Pauline Ado has already had a remarkable career. By winning the Roxy Pro Casablanca on Sunday she clinched her third straight European Championship; her fifth overall. She's also jumped to No. 8 on the Qualifying Series (QS), which puts her within reach of qualifying for the Championship Tour next season. It wouldn't be new turf for Ado: She first qualified in 2010, competing among the world's best for four years before falling off the tour.
Ado recently stopped by the WSL HQ in Hossegor to talk about her competitive journey.
WSL: When did your surf career begin in earnest?
Pauline Ado: When I was 13 I got a chance to be on the French team to go to the world juniors with the ISA in Tahiti. That was the first time I saw all the big names. I saw Stephanie Gilmore, I saw Jessi Miley-Dyer. They were all 17 or 18 coming in from Australia and Hawaii. For us, for French people, it was like, ‘Oh, look at them, they're so good.'
So they were ripping, but I thought, ‘I think we can make it! In a few years, I can be there.' It really started in my head, this was the point where I started thinking I want to be a pro surfer. I wasn't saying it too much, but the idea started to grow.
I saw Stephanie Gilmore, I saw Jessi Miley-Dyer. They were all 17 or 18, coming in from Australia and Hawaii. For us, for French people, it was like, ‘Oh, look at them, they're so good.'
Two years later, I won that event, in Brazil. I was the first French person to win it, and I was a bit of an outsider. Sally [Fitzgibbons] was in that event, Courtney [Conlogue] and more. It was huge for France -- as a team we came in second in the world, which was also a first. I remember when we came back from Brazil, in the Biarritz airport, the airport was full of friends and families coming to greet us. It was amazing. All my friends missed school to come and welcome us. It was a really special moment.
WSL: And eventually, you made it to the QS?
PA: Yes. It was hard at first, because I didn't see the results I was expecting. Doing it full time was more pressure. So I didn't do that well the first year, and the second year, mid-way through the year I had good results. And also made the final in Brazil, so I qualified.
The first year on [the CT] tour I was discovering everything a bit. It was really good. The first year I did pretty well, I made ninth. It was the first time a French surfer had requalified for the women's Tour. Jeremy [Flores] had done so well already, but among the women I was the first.
Back then, when I was making a Quarter it was huge. But now, there's Johanne and she's doing so well, so a Quarter is almost nothing for her!
Back then, when I was making a Quarter it was huge. But now, there's Johanne and she's doing so well, so a Quarter is almost nothing for her! [laughing] You know how people always want more? The next step, next step next step...
WSL: Is that how you feel now?
PA: Yeah, well if you've done something you always want to do better the next time.
WSL: What did it feel like, making the tour?
PA: I was 20. When I qualified it was overwhelming. And I took it really seriously. Back then the year was a little shorter. But that year, I made a Semifinal in France, in Biarritz. It was my best result in France, and the result that made me requalify. It was a special moment.
WSL: What was the biggest surprise, going from the QS to the Tour?
PA: The professional approach was way different. On the CT the surfers always had coaches, and someone traveling with them. And one thing that was really surprising for me was that I felt we were treated like princesses [giggles]. Every event, we were given gifts, I was like, ‘Wow, this is so different!' And obviously the waves were so good -- surfing Snapper by yourself, and Bells. It was so sick.
On the CT the surfers always had coaches, and someone traveling with them. One thing that was really surprising for me was that I felt we were treated like princesses. And obviously the waves were so good.
It was more about pure surfing than the QS. Because of the quality of the waves, and also because it's only woman-on-woman heats. It's a lot of strategy too.
And back then on the QS, we didn't have the priority. It was different, the QS felt more busy in a way -- a lot of people, results, the waiting periods were longer on the CT, and you're selecting the best time to surf. And I understand, for some people it's hard to adapt to the CT.
WSL: It takes a lot of work to make your way back up the QS ranks and requalify. For you, what has that entailed?
PA: What I always say is that I don't have a routine. Because first, I'm traveling a lot. But also, we always depend on weather and waves. So it's hard to predict and I'm going to look at the forecast and say, ‘this is a good time tomorrow for training.' But if it's not good, I go to the gym, work out and do other things.
And also, surfing is getting popular more and more in Europe, so there's always more people interested in talking. Maybe it was always seen for people as a tough sport -- hard to do, people would say, it's too hard. Now it's getting more and more popular. All the surf schools here, it's crazy. So why? I don't know. But the lifestyle is great. You're close to nature.
WSL: Maybe having someone like you and the other French surfers as figureheads for surfing helps, too.
PA: Maybe. When I started in my surf club we were maybe three or four women. And now, maybe half of them are girls. And a lot of little girls are starting surfing. I think it's a great sport for girls. You don't have contact-you don't fall on concrete. People have injuries, but you don't get hurt that much. It makes you strong. I think it's a great sport for women and guys also.
When I started in my surf club we were maybe three or four women. And now, maybe half of them are girls. And a lot of little girls are starting surfing. I think it's a great sport for girls.
WSL: So going back to your year now, do you have a coach that you work with, or a team here?
PA: I have a coach that I work with here in France. It's J.R. - Jean-Robert Vignes - he works at the French Federation, he trains with the younger kids. And I also go to those trainings and do trainings with him. It's been really good, I started at the end of last year, and I can see the benefits. I feel like I'm surfing better. And a lot of times for the big QS contest, my mom comes with me. She loves to come with me.
When I started my career I was traveling on my own a lot. I was very independent, I felt really grown up. Because when I was 13 or 14 I had to go to Hawaii by myself. I was super excited. I had to text my parents every time I was landing and taking off, and landing and taking off.
WSL: Did they have any rules for you when you were traveling?
PA: No. It was more when we were going as a group: Behave well and help people. Not really rules. They just wanted me to be safe, so they wanted news, that's it. I'd say, ‘ah, it's annoying to send you texts every time…' The first time I went to Australia, we didn't have Skype, and not much internet. I was actually going to the phone booth to call my parents in France.
Two years ago I had a bit of burnout. I was tired of competing, and when I was going home I didn't want to go surf. That was really hard for me because I never felt that way before.
WSL: So what's been the best part of this scenario that you're in now? Where you're still doing the QS grind, but coming close to the tour again. What's the rewarding part of that?
PA: I think, I love surfing and I love competing. Just being able to make a living out of it. To do it 100 percent, it's a great thing. Two years ago I had a bit of burnout. I was tired of competing, and when I was going home I didn't want to go surf. That was really hard for me because I never felt that way before. That was my last year on tour, and I was doing pretty badly.
I had a little break and came back re-energized and got my motivation back. It made me realize, what I'm living is amazing and I should make the most out of it.