Jeremy Flores rose from humble backgrounds and a distant island in Africa to become a teen surf prodigy, getting on to the world tour and snatching rookie of the year at age 19. A few years later he beat Slater to win the Pipe Masters in 2010 but went on to plunge into the dark depths of failure in recent years. A few days ago, he once again rose from his own ashes to win the Tahiti Pro in 2015 and the hearts of surf fans worldwide.
Flores was born in Reunion Island but at age 5, moved to Madagascar with his parents to chase better opportunities. While they were managing the Le Lakana Vezo hotel, young Jeremy roamed the fishing village, watched his father and the fisherman glide into occasional waves and surfed whenever he could. The hotel had a TV and one surfing video cassette, Searching for Tom Curren. He watched it every day for four years.
His father recognized Jeremy’s talent early and the family saved up enough to send him to the Quiksilver World Pro Juniors in France where he slid away with both the under 12 and the under 14 win. Quiksilver signed him on immediately and sent him to train in Australia and France for months at a time with his family by his side. At 18, he went into the QS and won it in his first year. At 19, he hit the world tour and grabbed rookie of the year followed by the Pipeline Masters in 2010.
However, since things haven’t looked as good. In the last few years, this talented athlete began to loose his mojo. His acknowledgement of failure showed up on his pre-heat social media posts. He went into heats expecting to suck and when he lost, his frustration showed. He called out journalists, fellow competitors and finally things took a drastic turn in mid 2014, when he lost to Seabass in a round 2 buzzer beater at J-Bay Open. He punched, he ranted and the WSL imposed a hefty ban that made him pay up and sit out of 2 events. As a result, he couldn’t compete last year at his favorite tour stop, the Tahiti Pro. Angry, self piteous and unlucky, he had hit rock bottom. Many thought this was the end of the road for him.
Then came the reset button. He reached deep down for positivity to find his way back out of the depths. He went back to his roots, the island life, away from press and media, spent time with family and loved ones. He started to enjoy the thrill of free surfing once again. He realized the suspension wasn’t a bad thing. It had to happen for him to let go and focus on the future.
He ground his way back on tour through the WQS and right from the beginning of the 2015 season, people began to notice a visibly different, more positive Flores. Even in spite of last place finishes.
But fate had yet another twist for him. On a trip to Indonesia, Lakey Peak, Sumbawa, he landed head first in the reef and suffered major concussions and severe memory loss. Buckets of blood, a delayed ambulance helicopter ride, facial surgery and 35 stitches later, he was finally able to reflect on his surf career.
Flores wasn’t able to surf J-Bay. But that was still OK. He wanted to make sure he was fit for his favorite stop. At long last, he donned a helmet, stayed patient, played his own game, late dropped, stalling deep in the barrel, refusing to loose control and ultimately took out the win at the 2015 Tahiti Pro. Patience, positivity and a calm demeanor had won him the trophy.
This is a story of the human journey. It is yet another tale of man’s indestructible spirit. It is a modern day narrative of one man’s rise from the ashes. It reignites age old myths that teach the young of the tribe of the inevitable passage of life, the way things are done and why. The Rising Phoenix is present in one form or another through folktales of China, Japan, Russia, Egypt and Native America. The Phoenix was a magnificent and rare bird that burnt ferociously and rose from its own ashes to be reborn and transformed. Flores’ story has a similar streak, unnatural talent, early success, blinding failure, darkness and finally rebirth.
The experience is not unique to Flores. We are all faced with a similar coming of age at some point of our lives, in forms big or small. It may feel blindingly dark in the depths, but eventually the fog lifts and clarity prevails. “Suffering and joy teach us. If we only allow them.”