His small wooden house flirts with the dunes and sea spray, in the appropriately-named rue des Sables, or Sand Street, south of Mimizan-Plage. It's here that 30-year old Vincent Duvignac has been living his dream life of surfing for the past few years. Neither too close or too far from the inescapable spots of Hossegor and Capbreton, here the 2016 French Champion has access to a huge playground with miles and miles of almost deserted coast to explore. Mission accomplished 200% all year round, conditions permitting. And enough for him to be currently considered the leading wave “searcher” in France.
A rendez-vous is set. Early in the morning. And with the promise not to reveal the secret destination. First roads, then forest trails lead us to the foot of a dune where Vincent's neighbour Ruddy Dupouy and his son Noa, a promising 13-year old from Mimizan, are waiting. Alexandre Lesbats, a cameraman friend has driven from Seignosse in the hope of immortalizing the perfect wave. Will it come today? “Every time it's the same feeling of excitement as we can never really be sure. Even if all the conditions are favourable, there is always a large element of mystery”, explains the experienced surfer from Mimizan.
Addiction to “free surfing”
Once over the dune, and the view is stunning. The sand bank, spotted a few days earlier, runs to meet a beautiful rolling swell, "just like in the drawings I did as a kid", says Duvi. “That's what free surf is all about. It's not just about the quality of the waves. Obviously, that's important. But what counts most is the overall package, the environment, the preparation, the way you see things and your general approach to the day and to life. It's this approach, very different to the world of competitions, that keeps me wanting to go back in the water every day...”
“I was totally petrified. I used to hang on to my board for dear life, because until the age of 12 I didn't know how to swim...”
Almost like a “machine”, a collector of “tubes”, the tireless Vincent Duvignac spends more than three hours rolling out his moves. Two days earlier, the twice champion of the La Nord Surf Challenge (Hossegor) nearly flew off to the Cap Verde islands. The following day, he'll go and check out La Gravière (Hossegor) and the Penon (Seignosse). He gets the same buzz every time. “It's a passion and maybe an addiction too, but it's hard for me to talk about. I'm too into it, too hooked”, smiles the new Rip Curl member, involved in “The Search” project (in French, “La Quête”).
“I was king of the riptides”
Happy and proud to have won the 2017 Biarritz championships, a third national award, the former captain of the French team also backed by Reef, Freakytoys and the Biarritz Laboratories remembers his first waves very clearly. It was on his father's mini-malibu, on the La Garluche beach in Mimizan.
Taking part in competitions from an early age, the “child of the forest”, who lived in Pontenx-les-Forges at the time, explains his « fear of waves» during those early days at the Maeva Surf Club and school in Mimizan: “I was totally petrified. I used to hang on to my board for dear life, because until the age of 12 I didn't know how to swim...”
Two years later, Peyo Lizarazu, the brother of Bixente, gave him his break at Quiksilver. The following year, the young Duvi became French vice-champion and vice-champion of Europe, just behind a certain Jeremy Flores. “Until then, I had only surfed the breaks and currents in Mimizan. I think I can safely say I was the king of the riptides, but I needed to discover other waves to progress”.
Three years in the Top 100
Qualified on the professional world tour, Duvi marked some good performances but never managed to do all the dates. In spite of injuries, logistical and financial problems, he remained in the Top 100 three years running. The economic crisis hit, then he became father of a little Tom and decided to settle down in Mimizan. And to make it his number one speciality.
His motivation and tenacity paid off. In 2015 the man from Mimizan, along with the French team, clinched the title of European Champion in the Azores, his “best recollection of a competition”. In January 2016 he signed a new contract with Rip Curl and went off on several trips. He also featured in the Citroën Cactus ad shoot in Lisbon where he aimed to “show as accurate a picture as possible of surfing”.
Still determined to keep a foot in the European circuit, ”to continue measuring myself to others and to stay motivated”, he also want to “bring something new to the sport” through his “home-made surf trips” and other improvised tours (with or without Rip Curl). “I don't necessarily have John John's level (Florence, the Hawaiian World Champion) but there's more than just technical surfing. I'm just trying to create some fun visuals, with a different lifestyle approach that goes beyond surfing per se”.
“I'm just trying to create some fun visuals, with a different lifestyle approach”.