The World No. 8 has had two months of lockdown in Reunion Island. But even if measures are relaxed, surfing is still banned due to sharks.
Of all the CT athletes having their lives affected by the Covid-19, it is safe to say that Johanne Defay has probably had her world upended the most. The World No. 8 has been based in her home of Reunion Island, which has been under strict lockdown laws for the past eight weeks. Yet that is nothing new for Reunion Island surfers, where surfing has been banned since a series of shark attacks in 2012. So instead of getting ready to represent France at the Olympics at Tokyo she finds herself unable to surf and unsure if and when she can leave. We caught up with her to see how she is getting on.
Tracks: Hi Johanne, what's your current situation?
Well, all the beaches and oceans are closed. We’ve been under the same rules that apply as in France. We've been told the beaches will be closed to the 1st of June. However, in the last few days we have been allowed out to exercise and without the need for paperwork. I walked to a waterfall. I could have watched it all day.
How has the lockdown been?
It’s been weird. It’s hard to know even how you feel because you don’t feel yourself when you are not in the ocean, so it's tricky. Some days you feel like you have forgotten about it, and there is time to do other things, but then other days, you miss the ocean so much. I’m in my element in the water, so it has been really hard.
What have you been doing instead of surfing?
I’ve been training and running a lot, as that was the only thing we could do outside as a permitted exercise. I’ve done drawing, cooking and yoga, a lot of family time, a lot of puzzles… and a lot of tv.
What will happen after the measures are fully relaxed?
Well, even here in Reunion, even if the lockdown ends I can’t really surf because of the sharks situation. So the aim is to get back to France. As a professional athlete hopefully that will be allowed. But with all the air travel in doubt, I’m not sure what will happen.
How would your life work in a normal year?
I travel nice months of the year surfing and competing and come back to Reunion in between the different legs of the tour. I have time with the family and it’s okay if I don’t surf. I find it adds balance to my life and I really look forward to the events so I can surf. Now though without the events or travel, to not surf is incredibly difficult.
Johanne enjoying a pre-Covid session at Teahupoo.
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In some ways the Reunion Island surfers have been in lockdown since 2012.
Exactly, for the local surfers, it’s been their reality for a long time. It’s been eight years that surfing has been forbidden at some of the best breaks. That has largely gone unnoticed and we have felt that no one has really cared. Maybe some surfers around the world will understand their situation better now.
So, it’s a double whammy of sharks and Covid-19?
Yes, we are used to dealing with that situation, but not being able to live outside, which is how we live here on the island, has been much different.
I’m not sure. I’ll try to get to France to train and in the meantime stay positive, fit and focussed. The only goal is to get back in the water. We’ll see what happens.
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