THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN WASTED TALENT VOLUME VI, DECEMBER 2019.
We’ve crossed paths with Jules Lepecheux a fair few times lately.
In the surf in Biarritz, at underground concerts around Hossegor, at the Duct Tape Festival in Ericeira…and before even properly meeting him, we’d been digging his approach from the get go.
In a European surf scene that’s arguably more sterile than ever, he’s one of the few individuals bringing a bit of originality. At only 17 years old, he rides longboards beautifully, slides on the shorter crafts with equal steeze, skates, plays music, shoots photos with his group of friends, and most importantly, he does it all without paying too much attention to what haters might say.
And we dig that. We dig that a lot.
Winter has this ability of bringing people together; this November, after ten consecutive days of rain, we thought it was a good occasion to invite Jules for a coffee in Les Halles (if you’re ever in Biarritz, you simply must go) and learn more about who he is. On top of being very talented at everything he touches, it turned out Jules is a lovely young man. Extremely articulate and knowledgeable about most things that matter, Jules proved he is mature way beyond his years whilst doing so in the most natural and humble way – a refreshing sight indeed. Without further ado, here’s an introduction to a kid you’ll be hearing a lot from in future years. You heard it here first…
WT: Jules! Can you introduce yourself for those who don’t know you? Where are you from and how did you fall into surfing in the first place?
JL: I was born in Nogent-sur-Marne, a city near Paris, although I moved to the South West when I was one month old. My parents had already lived here before going to Paris: my dad surfed and both my parents were fed up with the big city lifestyle, so they thought it would be a great time for the family to move back. My dad put me on a surfboard and pushed me out on the waves at La Côte des Basques when I was five, and I got straight hooked on it. I was living near La Côte as a kid and when I was around ten I used to just grab my board and walk to the spot to surf by myself…I first started surfing standard shortboards, but as I grew up I started trying different shapes. Since then, I’ve been slowly figuring out what I like and what I don’t like riding. Around two or three years ago, this local shaper called Daniel’s Surfboards let me try some longboards and I really enjoyed it, so I got myself one and since then I have been surfing this kind of board a lot. Now a lot of my friends have also gotten into it. We have a big crew and we’re all into the same type of surfing, which is epic.
Most kids when they get into surfing are usually drawn to shortboards. What got you to stick with longboarding?
With Côte des Basque being my home spot, I watched a few people longboarding when I was growing up. Slowly I became friends with some of the better dudes and it inspired me to try it out. What was happening on the internet also influenced me a lot. When I found out about Alex Knost, and this new generation of people surfing alternative boards, it really spoke to me. It was about more than the way these guys surfed waves, it was the whole culture around it that attracted me. I liked the concept of searching for something aesthetically pleasing over pure performance. There was this shop called Wallako at this stage, and they really were the best in the area. They had amazing boards from worldwide renowned shapers. Some really nice longboards, nice twins, bonzers…A friend of mine talked to the owner, and he was nice enough to give me a small sponsorship: he offered to shape my first longboard for me and it all started from there. I got help from RVCA for one year, and I ended up signing with Vans last year as they asked me to ride for them, ‘head to toe’ as they call it. I also got super lucky to pick up a sponsorship with Thomas Surfboards. He’s Australian and makes some of the best longboards I’ve ever surfed. It all happened in the past two years and I’m super hyped of where things are at for me at the moment!
It seems like there’s a real enthusiasm for longboarding globally at the moment.
Completely! The past two years have been really inspiring with Vans organising all these Duct Tape events. Seeing more and more people experimenting with boards around the world has been really nice. Joel (Tudor) is like the father figure of it all to be honest; he has always been this guy keeping traditional longboarding up to date, and seeing this revival of sorts in the past few years has been great. Vans has now turned this thing into an international event that goes even further than surfing; people come for the concerts and the vibe around it. There is one on almost every continent and people come from every corner of the world to attend each one.
Who do you look up to in the longboarding world at the moment?
Joel has always been up there. He’s the one that’s been keeping the longboarding scene alive for a long time. Then I have to mention Alex (Knost) because he’s such a huge influence on the scene and has helped broaden a lot of people’s minds. Other than them, it’s mostly a group effect in my opinion, with all this young longboarders coming from California, Hawaii…etc. People that you might not have heard of, but when you meet them at these events you’re tripping on how good they are. Then there’s all the girls in California… Makala Harmony Smith, Karina Rozunko… Australia also has a great scene with all the boys in Noosa… I feel like Europe is a bit dormant on the other side… There’s a few good shapers here in South West France but the whole culture is really different from what it is in the States or in Australia. There’s always been the differentiation between performance surfers that ride thruster and longboarders, although the cohabitation seems natural in these countries. In Europe it feels like there’s always been a rivalry between the two… and it’s been even more prominent the past few years in Biarritz. In San Onofre, everybody comes in their van, everybody surfs without a leash and nobody cares. Surf culture is so strong there. You talk to people and you feel like you’re on the same page. On the other hand, it feels like most people don’t even know Endless Summer or who George Greenough and Miki Dora are here. There’s this amazing book called Biarritz 60s, in which there’s these amazing pictures of people longboarding in La Côte des Basque… having a good time. It shows that this culture definitely reached France at some point, but it feels like most people forgot about it. Here, it feels like if you’re different to the mould created by high performance surfing culture, people hate you for it…
Have you ever got in trouble?
Me and my friends run into trouble sometimes for sure… I feel like everybody around here has… haha. I’ve been kicked out of the water once or twice when I was starting out and people still get pissed if they see that you’re riding something that’s not a shortboard. You’re called a ‘Hipster’ or even better, someone asked me ‘if I thought I was in the 80s’ the other day, even though that kind of surfing is more from the 60s. It’s quite funny when you look back on it. But once people start noticing that you can actually surf and that you don’t lose your board, they’re actually ok with you. It feels like more and more people are receptive to it, I’ve gotta say. People are maybe realising that surfing different boards is actually fun, and that the people doing it aren’t a bunch of dudes doing it to be provocative.
Have you been to California?
The first time I went there was two years ago, and I’ve been back five or six times. I first went there with my mom and dad. They’re both flight attendants, so that helps. They’ve always told me it’s a great place and I loved it straight away. I’ve made friends there now, so now I just go back on my own and stay with them. But yeah, I really love the lifestyle over in California. It feels like they haven’t forgotten about the past.
Could you see yourself living there?
Yes. I’d love to live there. My parents always tell me life is different than Europe in many ways, and I realise that. When I go to California, most of the people I stay with cook at home, but in general, people eat out a lot, and most of the time they go to fast food joints. It’s pretty far from our eating customs here in France where we like to cook for each other and value good food. But apart from this I love the zone at the South of Los Angeles. San Clemente, Costa Messa…I also went to Joel’s house in La Jolla near San Diego last time I was in the States and it was amazing. Everything is so big over there and there’s so many places to visit. Even up North…Malibu is probably the best wave I’ve ever surfed. But anyway, thanks to my parents and now my sponsors, I was lucky enough to be able to travel, and I think that if you live in Europe, you really need to travel and discover other surf cultures.
Talk to us about music.
My parents have always had good taste in music; they listened to The Doors and Led Zeppelin and that influenced me a lot. I then started listening to Jimmy Hendrix, bought a vinyl player, some records and got into it myself. When you reflect on how much good stuff has been created in the past, it’s pretty amazing. There’s some good music being released now, but the amount of great albums you find when digging back is just insane. I feel like the music that was being made back then was more moving than what’s being created nowadays…if that makes sense. I’m quite nostalgic for that era. Sometimes I feel like I would have preferred to live back then to experience everything; the music, the way people dressed, the way people photographed things. Even the way surfing was. It just feels like everybody was living way more intensely.
We’ve heard you play music too?
Yeah. My parents bought me a guitar and I’ve been playing it a lot since then, whether it’s with my little brother (he’s got a drum kit) or with my group of friends. Me and my friend Victor play a lot together. He’s been a strong influence on me regarding music. He’s been raised playing guitar, base, piano…he’s good at everything, it’s insane. Anyways, we’re always hanging together and messing around with instruments. I’m not that good of a musician technically but we have similar music tastes, so we quickly started finding stuff that sounded good to us, and decided to start this little band called Werewolf Colours Orchestra. The concept of the band is that it’s an orchestra, so people can join the band and play with us for the night if they want. What we do sounds more like jams than anything. There is no structure in our songs. We pass the instruments around…sometimes I play guitar and Victor plays synth, sometimes it’s the opposite. Random people come in and play. The other day this guy that we didn’t even know came and played saxophone with us. We’re just trying to find a good flow and vibe on it. We started playing live only recently actually. We played in public here and there this summer, but the first time we properly got invited to play was about a month ago; Surfin Estate had an event going and they asked us if we were keen to play. Then there was this other event at Pension Marienia in Guetary a few weeks ago. It’s like an artist residence place where people have a room and can stay to create. It’s really nice. There was an exhibition going on, but nobody was playing music, so we asked if we could come play. Alex (Knost) was there and he took one of the additional guitars we had and started playing with us. I was there playing synth, and out of nowhere I hear a guitar and see Knost playing with us. It was pretty surreal. Such a cool moment.
Is it inspiring to be hanging out with these guys?
It’s super inspiring to see what they’re doing, for sure. That night we also played with Robin Kegel from Gato Heroi; that guy is amazing. He’s actually one of the guys making change happen in longboarding and the alternative scene. Guys like him and Alex bring something new into surfing. Robin has done a collaboration with Acne Studio, which is crazy when you think of a surf brand… Anyways, I like the fact that they show something different. Surfing is a sport, yes, but there are ways to do it aesthetically, even in high performance surfing. Someone who starts surfing now can easily stop at the WSL and think that’s it. If you look at people who’re doing it right now it’s insane how they’re selling themselves to mainstream brands…Medina being on billboards for shaving cream adverts…etc. It’s pretty ridiculous. Although it seems like the more commercial it goes one way, the more creative people go on the opposite side of the spectrum; there’s some people who are bringing their own twist into it, and try to do it beautifully like Craig Anderson, even Dane Reynolds, Dion Agius, or Chippa Wilson. Even the whole crowd from the 80s and what Christian Fletcher did. I love this world too. All these guys make you want to create your own identity and do things your own way and it’s inspiring. Surfing can connect you with so many different other disciplines when you think about it, and surfers have done things on their own forever. Whether it’s playing music, shooting photographs, writing, making their own movies…it can teach you a lot. I want to learn as much as I can from it.
What’s the next for you?
Well, I’m still at school at the moment. I’m currently in my last year in high school before what we call Baccalauréat in France, which is our final exams. Last year I was studying sciences. It was super strict and I didn’t really like it. I managed to change for literature this year and I’ve been loving it. I’m studying philosophy which I really enjoy too. I believe it’s important to have time to think, reflect on things…We do a lot of writing and I also really love the fact that we learn a lot about French and European cultures. It’s been raining non-stop for a week and a half here and I’ve been locked inside watching a lot of French films… A lot of stuff from the Nouvelle Vague movement…I’m really into Godard at the moment. Masculin Féminin with Jean Pierre Léaud is the most recent one I watched and it’s just amazing. That’s maybe one thing I would miss if I lived in the States; being connected with such a deep history and culture…But yeah, I wouldn’t mind testing it out for a little while…haha.
Video & edit : Vincent Lauzel