Words by Ryan Hardy. All images by Josh Tabone.
Ah, the El Fronton Pro – the most jaw-dropping three days of bodyboarding competition in recent years. If you tuned into the recent Canaries comp (and managed to persevere through the patchy livestream), you witnessed history. If not, shame on you – and praise be to Ryan Hardy. Not only did he roll into El Fronton like a sweet-smelling nostalgic breeze and blow half the world’s best out the water, man also gifted our inbox with a gripping first-hand dispatch from the competition frontlines. Relive what went down at the 2017 El Fronton Pro through the eyes of RH, right here right now.
“Competing in the Canaries comp was everything I imagined it would be – the best competitors in the world tour in an incredibly powerful wave for bodyboarding. Watching some of the best guys in the world take on big, heavy El Fronton was amping in itself. Then to go out and ride some sick, heavy waves and be cheered by the crowd… that was incredible.
I’d been surfing loads in the months previous to the comp, mostly at my coaching camps in Bali. My main goal was just to go hard and hope things went my way to allow me to surf as many heats as possible in sick waves. It worked pretty well, as I got to surf through five heats, and they were all pumping.
[El Fronton] is probably scariest when you’re watching it from the rocks, gazing down as the heavy groundswells march in and explode on the reef. It’s the sort of wave that starts out really fun at a friendly 2-3ft size; then with each 2ft increase it gets more intense, until it gets to about 8ft-plus. That’s when it’s borderline makeable, and the only way you’ll ever find out is if you push yourself over the ledge. Every part of it is intimidating, yet somehow it’s extremely rideable and, generally, you can get out of trouble after a wipeout and not get washed over the rocks.
The swells that hit the reef are also moving so fast with so much water behind them. Watching Fronton on a livestream makes it looks so glassy and nice; but when you’re out there, the current is moving so quickly around the reef that it makes riding the waves really hectic. You can see from the footage how crucial your takeoff positioning is – slightly too far out, and you’ll get pitched over the ledge; slightly too far under the lip, and you’ll freefall and land with no forward projection. So the tricky thing is taking off in the exact 1-metre-square position on a swell that’s coming in faster than any other 6ft-plus wave you’ve ever surfed.
The surf was probably in the 8ft-plus range for the comp; guys were charging the rights and pretty much free-falling into thick slabs with no speed. It’s such a gnarly situation as the shockwave throws you straight up into the lip and over the falls. I know Diego Cabrera got rolled on one of these rights and hit his and elbow pretty hard.
I was feeling pretty nervous prior to my heats – a combination of nerves from competing in front of a cliff of bystanders, and the sheer volume of the waves – but I knew it’d just be a matter of getting in the water to push through those nerves and feel good about competing. The feeling after a heat, especially if you have some good waves and progress, is always incredible. Especially when you snag a high-scoring rides on a heavy wave, come out the end and hear the crowd go nuts from the cliff.
My hardest heat was definitely against Moz in the quarters. I was chasing big scores, but getting flogged from pulling in too deep. Moz is so strong at a wave like Fronton, so you have to be going your hardest the whole time. The heat was non-stop pumping waves. I got out of combination with two minutes left and was already so knackered after paddling my ass off to get a wave, but I had to fight to the bitter end. Pushing myself to the edge against a competitor who is willing to go just as far… I really love that shit.
My competitive ego got a hold of me after I got knocked out, though. I thought I’d be pretty satisfied with a 5th place and quarter-final show, but deep down I knew I could’ve won my final heat against Amaury if I’d been more precise in my decisions. As a driven competitor, full satisfaction is never reached unless you are standing tall at the end of the day with the winners trophy.
To me, the standouts were the guys consistently charging like Diego Cabrera, Pierre-Louis Costes, Amaury Lavernhe, Jared Houston, Jacob Romero and Alex Uranga. If a set was coming their way, you knew they would be turning round.
I think Iain is an unbelievable competitor and after the incredibly dominant year he had, I don’t think you could doubt that he deserved the world title. He was surfing good at the event, but I know that he really switches on his precision when he is motivated by competitive goals, so the fact that he’d just won the world title meant he was kind of in cruise mode and I think he would have got further in the event had it counted for the world title. Like last year, when he was going for the world title and he was in the dying seconds of his heat going for a score, he charged into a huge, dry, unrideable closeout simply because it was the last shot he had to get the score. His determination and mindset is next level when it comes to competing, and I think he'll be up there as the guy to beat for many years to come.
I’d never retired from the comp saddle – it was just finding a window between my coaching camps and family commitments to be able to get amongst it. I’d had my eyes on Fronton since early 2017. I guess one of my main motivations for competing at this stage is helping to push the level in the sport through my own riding, and pushing the riding of others to lift the level of the sport too. It can be frustrating at times looking at the level from the outside, knowing that I can have a positive influence on the way people look at bodyboarding. I felt good in that I achieved some inspiration through my riding in the contest.”