We all know what this bitch can do. Photo: Domenic Mosqueira

Words by Jake Howard

“There’s something in a Sunday makes a body feel alone,” scribbled Kris Kristofferson in 1969. The song, Sunday Morning Coming Down, was later recorded by Johnny Cash and subsequently transformed into a country standard. In the case of Michel Bourez this past Sunday, that something making him feel alone might’ve been the reef at Teahupoo. It’s certainly a place capable of making a man feel alone when the Pacific comes thundering down. Or perhaps it was the hospital bed he was laying in after having reconstructive surgery on a shattered hand. Either way, Sunday morning came down on the Spartan.

On Sunday, May 3, with a forecast calling for clean, 10-foot conditions, Michel and a small crew got to work at the end of the road. By midday things went from big to bad as Bourez got hung up on a set wave and paid a hefty price. Suffering three broken bones in his hand, a broken vertebrae and numerous lacerations to his back and head, he’s out of the water for at least six weeks while his wounds heal. Stab dialled him in shortly after he’d left the white hospital gown behind. Battered and broken, his first lament was that “the waves have been pumping yesterday and today, I wish I was out there.” Here’s what else we learned:

The Swell:
“I knew the peak of the swell would be around 12pm, so I didn’t rush in the morning. I got there at about 8am. As soon as my brother and I paddled out it started getting bigger and bigger. There were a few people out, like Owen (Wright), and it was good to see people out there charging. It was going to be a good day. Matahi Drollet was back from the XXL Awards, so I was stoked to see him. The conditions were so nice. It was big and pretty crazy because there was a lot of west in the swell. I decided to go slowly and catch the little ones first, to get used to it. Then that wave came through and I thought, “Oh, I gotta go on this thing.” I had enough confidence from the last waves just to go on it. I charged it, but obviously I didn’t make it.”

The Board:
“I was on a 6’0”. I think that’s the reason I got smashed. I have a couple bigger boards here, but I’ve tried them out there and they’re not good for Chopes. I didn’t order boards for this swell because I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was. Normally I get big boards for Fiji and then save them for Chopes. This year I didn’t have any big boards so I just decided to go out on my 6’0”. Last year during the contest I rode the 6’0” as well, I I figured I would just go for it and try it. It actually worked well, but that wave I went down on, I just needed a little more length on the board. The take-off was gnarly, I was in the air most of the time. When I landed I knew if I had a 6’8” I would’ve made it. A 6’8” would have been perfect. I would have made the drop perfect. Usually you don’t really need to ride a big board because they always break in the same place. I feel like Chopes, when it’s that big, you need to catch the waves under the lip to make it right. You don’t have to rush on the paddle or anything like that, you just have to be in the right place, and the right place is under the lip. I told myself that I know I can make it, I trusted my skills and I tried to do what I could. That’s just how it goes.”

The Beating:
“I turned around, started paddling to get myself in the right place at the right time. I felt like I’d done everything right. I was just focused on the take-off. I remember thinking that I’d been in that position before and made the drop, so the take-off was perfect, but when I looked at the sequence of photos I could see that there was a little bump in the wave, and that’s why my nose dove under. Before I saw the photos I was wondering why I didn’t make it. After that, when I got smashed, I was like, “Oh, here we go again.” The lip threw me straight on the reef. I landed on my hand first, then my back and my neck and my head. I broke my hand and back right there. My back’s nothing major, just a vertebrae, it’s just like the end of the bone is broken. The doctors said I just need to rest and it will be fine.

Anyway, when I came up, the next wave hit me and it was bigger and gnarlier than the one I went down on. I knew I just had to stay calm. I got on my board and just took it. I did whatever I could to hold onto my board. It was like safety, you know. It was going to bring me back up to the surface, to air. So I just held onto my board with everything I had and I felt it break in two pieces in my hand. I couldn’t get back to the surface. It was maybe only a couple seconds, but it felt like forever. I didn’t feel my hand, I just knew something had happened to it and was hoping it was okay. Then there was another wave behind it. I grabbed the rest of my board and got smashed again. Next thing I knew I was in the lagoon. After that I was picked up by a ski. I tried to grab what was left of my board with my hand and I couldn’t lift it. That’s when I knew it was broken.
My little brother took me to the harbour on the ski. We called an ambulance and they came and met me there. It happened around 11:00 or 11:30 in the morning, and by 7:00 that night I was having surgery on it. It took about two hours. The doctors put a lot of metal in there and told me it’s going to be about six weeks. After that I can start to work again and regain power in my hand. I’m not going to do Rio, for sure, and probably not Fiji.”

The Recovery:
“It’s pretty heavy, but it’s the first time in my life I won’t be able to do anything for a number of weeks. Basically I’m just going to rest for a few weeks. Glenn Hall emailed me and asked me if I need anything because he’s gone through back issues. He wished me the best on my recovery. It’s always good to have friends like that from the tour. Julian sent me a message. Kelly as well, he sent me a message. It’s always good to have that family. All of the friends I have on tour, they are my family as well.”

“I might talk to Firewire about working on a model specifically for Chopes. I thought about it when I was in the hospital and have some ideas. Maybe a 6’3” and 6’6” designed just for Chopes. I might work on that for the next month. What I’m on now is a rounded pin-tail. It’s 6’0”, 19” wide. It’s the same board I would ride at Bells, I rode it at The Box. But you lay in a hospital bed and think about these things… and I can’t do anything else for a while.”