by Álvaro Vicente Martiarena.
A universal Basque. A friendly face in a professional sport where it is difficult to make a mark. But he has. Aritz Aranburu (Zarautz, 1985) is returning to the Word Championship Tour (WCT, the highest level of world surf competition) to stay. He has earned it. With hard work he has achieved what very few Europeans have, and under the Basque flag. “I like to do things well and I’ll continue with this mindset. It won’t be for lack of drive.”
Aranburu faces his third WCT experience. The surfer from Zarautz returns with a greater degree of maturity than at his first appearance at the WCT in 2008. Aritz shows up with lighter baggage, with less pressure, and ready to give it all each round of competition. Because, six years ago, Aritz’s premiere in the WCT was too much for him even though he had done an amazing job at the World Qualifying Series (WQS, second category of world surfing). Now he carries with him the respect of those at the top of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), including judges and surfers. Aritz has earned his place in the WCT circuit. He is no longer the Basque surfer sneaking in to the WCT.
His strong relationship with Kelly Slater or Mick Fanning, among others, has made Aritz welcome in the circuit nowadays. A good test is that his image has been included in the promotional video of the ASP. They look at him with different eyes, the main reason being his surfing. It is much more solid than six years ago. At first glance it doesn’t seem to have evolved much but his maneuvers are now sharper and more powerful than during his first season in the WCT. And also, we must say, it’s had a lot to do his relationship with the model Almudena Fernández.
Aritz is at his personal prime and his surfing shows it. While Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are the windows where surfers are sold to the world, Aritz opts for staying close to his roots, returning to Zarautz. He prefers the face-to-face over the virtual. He’d rather surf at home, in the neighboring town of Zumaia, than in California. He prefers taking the risk of surfing five-meter waves without cameras following him than
being seen on gentle waves of shores flocked by famous people. He knows his role. He is a mirror for young people, that’s why in recent months, he is using his brand image and taking it one step further: collaborating with the NGO Kind Surf. He’s helping children in situations of social exclusion or with physical problems to learn to take care of the environment.
“When I moved up a category in 2007, it was the only goal that I had at the time, nobody around me had achieved it and it was a great moment. I worked super hard with my coach Aitor Francesena to achieve this. Aitor Francesena, who by the way, is a great example of overcoming challenges after going blind last year. Now I’ve come to appreciate everything more and surfing competition is not my only goal. I am enjoying other things. What I like is living from surfing in every possible way, and lately I’ve been traveling a lot, exploring new places, countries and cultures with waves as an excuse. That has given me more experience and broadened my horizons. I am also helping different NGOs like Kind Surf and Surfrider Foundation, realizing that surfing is not only about competition. I’m a person with more experience, and thrilled to be able to enjoy it.”
Little remains of the surfer that debuted at the WCT, whose first season was affected by a knee and ankle injury. Aritz missed three events of eleven in his first year on the WCT. “The injury was all-consuming in my head, leaving little room for the things that you should be worrying about when facing a Championship. I reached the point of really being overwhelmed,” the Basque surfer reflects. Ninth place at Pipeline (Hawaii) was his best result and did not prevent moving down a category.
But an ‘injury card’ (an invitation that the ASP grants to long-term injured surfers) allowed him to return to compete in the WCT the following season, in 2009. A third place in Teahupoo (Tahiti) on the third circuit round, showed that this second season for Aritz was going to be different, but the results once again eluded him. He ended up moving down a category. He hadn’t found his spot. Everything that was happening around him prevented him from focusing.
What few of us expected is that Aritz, at that time so far away from his best surfing, would be able to return to the WCT circuit years later, and much less after changes in the classification system that make it harder to the climb from the WQS to WCT and thus, make it easier to stay in the WCT. It seemed like the promotional events and social scene distracted Aritz, who after years with only one goal in mind (the ascent to the WCT) decreased his level of intensity. But Aritz, “hungry for competition”, as some describe him, little by little, without making a big deal about it, participated occasionally in WQS events until realizing that the fight for a place on the WCT was once again possible. More sessions in the water and less physical work (in other words, a different approach) have made Aritz one of the 32 selected surfers.
Favorable results in the first events of the WQS encouraged him to fight with all his strength. He continued his exotic trips with Kepa Acero, another great Basque surfer who has been focused on the search for new sites to surf throughout the world lately. He also continued occasional appearances in Mundaka, Bizkaia, known around the world for its left wave. Aritz was back to enjoy it. “When I was younger I emphasized the physical work more. It was important to internalize the concept of discipline. Now it’s the waves that count. My day-to-day life depends on them. I make quality surfing a priority. When it’s not possible, I focus more on the physical side. The important thing is to be consistent and do something every day. If not, your body gets out of shape quickly,” Aritz explains.
This different way of focusing his training will also be reflected in how he tackles this new season, his season of achievement. “It’s something I have to really think about. First of all, the smart thing would be to make both the first and second division Championships. Schedules will have to be coordinated and depending on how things go, I’d like to have time for some traveling. There will be little time for resting, but what I like most is going surfing.” The results of the first competitions will mark the course. “My most important objective is to be at ease with myself. If I’m really happy with my results this past year it’s because of how I got there,” he affirms.
It is true that years of experience are now helping him see his return to the WCT very differently from his first appearance. “Now I’ve achieved it without obsessing, achieving an overall stability, in a natural way. Things have just turned out well. I want to repeat that. Clearly I’d love to be on top at the WCT, but that is not everything.”
The equipment will have a lot to do with it. Aritz has spent a lot of time this winter in the Pukas factory in Oiartzun (Gipuzkoa). Pukas is a Basque company which manufactures surfboards, the most important in Europe. He is happy with his choice. He’s been training in Indonesia just prior to the start of the circuit together with the Portuguese surfer Tiago Pires. “It’s very important to attend the Championships having confidence in your equipment. I’m thrilled with Pukas. Their role is key. The relationship with your shaper (board manufacturer) is similar to the one you have with your girlfriend. You have to think just alike. If not, it gets bad,” he explains.
Aritz won’t cave in if his results don’t accompany him in the first events. “No athlete likes to lose, but first you have to know how to lose in order to win. I think it’s something that everyone has to decide how to manage. I like to reflect with constructive criticism after each round. Seeing what is good and bad. A little self-evaluation seems essential to me. But I don’t get obsessed. I always try to learn something and, most of all, end up with more than just the competition: the culture, the people…” Aritz is ready to become big.
|Álvaro Vicente Martiarena is a reporter for El Diario Vasco|