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Ambre Victoire – “I Just Want to be Free!”

Quixotic French longboarder and recently crowned champion of the Vans Duct Tape Invitational’s Cape Town leg, 29 year-old Ambre Victoire honestly moves and grooves to the bewitching beat of her own drum.  We sat down for a chat with Ambre, fresh off the release of her first film RAW, directed by Aljaz Babnik.  RAW’s wild adventure took them across the globe, set against the backdrop of the global pandemic and wild high-jinx on the road, translating across her art with intoxicating fireworks. We discover Ambre’s world of wildness and weirdness and tumultuous wondrous happenings.  

AN OPEN BOOK

The recently crowned champion of Joel Tudor’s revered and loved Vans Duct Tape Invitational series in Cape Town, Ambre Victoire, has an enigmatic aura akin to a jungle panther.  Her soulful, dark, almond eyes, tawny skin and infectious energy captivating even across the grainy screen of a Zoom call.  Laughing, Ambre tells me “maybe I’m enigmatic because you don’t know me, but I’m like I’m very open, I’m not scared to express myself…you can read me like an open book”.  Enigmatic seemingly, with few interviews yet globally or information about her back-story about, I’m keen to pry open Pandora’s box, and understand the background of this tornado and talent.  Ambre’s surfing captured the eye of the Duct Tape Invitational crew who invited her to her first Duct Tape event this July, which she won, despite landing in Cape Town feeling relatively “unbalanced” after a wild year on the road working on her first film RAW by former partner, Director Aljaz Babnik.

Like torrid love stories of yesteryear’s twilight, the tangibly turbulent brilliance, passion and pain evoked through art, the Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks, Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin style joining together of l’amour fou + art, has made for a potent oeuvre in RAW. Ambre and Aljazs’s film was a 2 year project that began in Morocco, by-way of Sri Lanka, Mexico and Indonesia, set against the backdrop of the erupting COVID-19 pandemic.  Aljaz and Ambre met  shooting in the water, “he wanted to make a movie about me”…and as star-crossed lovers who make art together and then the relationship unquietly reaches its demise, it sometimes adds an extra element of fiery je-ne-sais-quoi to the art itself.  “Exactly” she agrees, “when you see the movie, it’s…his way of seeing me….so it’s like very light, very dark, very heavy sometimes, or very bright.  There’s a lot of emotions in this movie”.

Ambre recounts “it (the movie) took a while because we were always moving, and weren’t very stable”.  Like many an intrepid surf traveller stopped short in their tracks by an infection abroad, a bad illness Ambre picked up proved a derailment to the anticipated filming plan.  The severity of her illness led to her “peeing blood…vomiting, losing my hair, having like, infection everywhere. But I was very stupid, you know. I was like no, I want to keep pushing. I’m very much like that.”  Ambre’s illness eventually landed her in dire-straits in an Indonesian hospital for 15 days during Ramadan, after which she “wanted to keep surfing and shooting”, heading back to France.  

BONNIE AND CLYDE

On the eve of the final period of bruising and freedom-limiting (remember the gendarmes chasing surfers out the water anyone? Sacre bleu) European lockdowns dawning upon France, Ambre and Aljaz de-camped to Mexico, high-tailing it Bonnie and Clyde style across the Spanish border, where they stayed for 7 months.  “I was like, there’s no fucking way” when describing whether she’d have ridden out the strict lockdown in France.  And so Mexico, with its soul-seeped longboard mecca sweetness, became her next home.  It feels like the backdrop to shooting RAW was a non-stop changeable wild road, a passion-saturated backdrop providing ample inspiration? 

“I think there was a lot of inspiration, but there was also a lot of drama” she explains, “it was like up and down all the time and really hard to commit to.”  The content Ambre has put out which has slowly been entrancing audiences doesn’t feel de trop; no daily Instagram stories detailing her favourite surf wax + smoothie bowls…I wonder if that’s purposeful, a path of choosing select projects and the output of beautiful content leaving one wanting more?

“Yeah…” she starts. “I think I’ve been lucky with people that I met too…I’ve been very guided by meeting people.  I connect to the personalities I want to create with… If I connect to the person, I was up to create but I didn’t push any creation, like contacting people to shoot me. It was like more… letting it happen. Like oh yeah, we vibe, so let’s create.”  

WE VIBE, SO LET’S CREATE

Ambre grew up in Bordeaux, France, studying ballet, surfing not forming a large part of her life until later on.  Ambre’s dad was actually a shaper, but “the shaper of performance shortboards ….he was making boards for really good surfers that were doing contests.”  Though her shaping père was a passionate surfer, “I tried surfing a little bit as a kid, but once my dad wanted to make me a short board and I hated it. I was already liking more longboards… more inertia…an alternative approach… like longboarding, fish or mid-length or single fin…”.

After finishing High School, Ambre decided upon studying medicine, which she quickly realised she didn’t enjoy, and changed to study “sciences of physical activity” and to “discover new sports”.  Her studies took her to one surf mecca of the globe, though one at the time with a historic surfing ban.  So still, Ambre wasn’t yet heavily into surfing, especially when living in La Reunion it was illegal after a few too many surfers met an unfortunate and unanticipated end at the jaws of the local marine life, and went into rock climbing instead.  

THE STARS ALIGN

It was to be a life-changing trip to Australia’s East Coast where the stars aligned and dots connected, Ambre following her nose upon the advice of a friend who proposed that “I think you would really love longboarding” after some time back in Guéthary, France, playing around on different shaped boards but not yet finding her groove.  And so, off she went to Australia on a one-way ticket at age 23, not speaking a word of English.  “I was really shit” she chuckles telling me, “I wanted to learn English, it was my main target, and to start surfing…”. A serendipitous moment and instantaneous reaction at a one Byron Bay had a life-changing impact on Ambre. “I remember I was like…crying, just watching people longboarding in Byron. I was like why I didn’t grow up here. This is what I should have done all my life”.  Byron’s soulful bay of talented longboarders and consistent swell became a natural home and classroom for Ambre, who eventually found herself working with local shaper Sean Nettleton who crafted her own log, and added her to the team as a rider.  “I was really stoked I got that, and I got some wetsuits from Atmosea. I was super happy because I was living like a backpacker, you know, struggling a bit financially.”  After pouring her time into surfing and yoga, she then headed to Bali, draining the remains of her bank account before heading back to France “I didn’t want to work” she laughs, “I just wanted to surf and have fun!”.  Back in SW France, she began immersing herself in the European log communities, scraping together cash in order to keep surfing, and began being invited to longboarding events like Portugal’s Gliding Barnacles.  

This takes us close to the life-changing events of this summer, where it feels Ambre’s life stepped up 60 gears. The Vans Duct Tape is clearly a huge moment for Ambre, who screams when recalling receiving her invite “Oh my God, that was so unbelievable for me already to just be invited to the Duct Tape!”  As her preparation was happening, so too was a torrid period of flat-hunting and finding her feet back in Europe, “I had this crazy, crazy time for two months. It was really intense…I actually had so much energy, not sleeping… I didn’t surf much….I stopped yoga. I stopped everything…I moved my stuff out of my apartment… Just threw myself in different places of my friends. I couldn’t chill out.” 

DARK TECHNO CAVES

Arriving in Cape Town on her birthday feeling a bit beaten down and with a hardcore flu developing, Ambre found herself radically lifted up and immersed into the positive juju and crew of the Duct Tape, linking up with like-minded souls Karina Rozunko, Hallie Rohr and Lola Mignot, “they were a bit more wild, you know” she laughs, “they’re a bit more like, badass! We ended up going to a party …then an after party in a dark techno cave.” Fellow Biarritz sliders Eliza Arbelbide, Jules Lepecheux, Marina Carbonell, Victoria Vergara and Zoé Grospiron also in attendance made for a solid, nourishing crew she connected with. Sometimes shakin’ it off with your friends is just the medicine, and it’s clear the Duct Tape was a pretty “life-changing experience” for Ambre as she tells me, “it was an incredible experience to be invited and vibe with the Duct Tape Crew and the girls, a lot of people I linked with who I know I’ll see around the world. It’s really important to create that community”.

Making it to the finals, lurgie-riddled, exhausted, and with zero expectations of victory, Ambre rocked up to the cold event location one wetsuit in tow “full grippe (flu), pain everywhere, a really big fever…I was like oh no….and then I remembered when I had grippe as a kid, I was still going to my ballet class. And sometimes, I would dance better…I would be really tired, so I would be more smooth and have to save a bit of my energy…I was like… that can be beneficial for me, you know, because sometimes I have too much energy and I just go too crazy… I was like OK…you’re OK, let’s just have fun.” A slowed-down tactical approach proved the path for Ambre to enjoy the ride, and after a performance by which just 2 waves was all it took to seal victory, Ambre attests “I couldn’t believe I won the Duct Tape!…winning it had seemed impossible in my head. But then while I was in the water, there was something inside me that was like, you can do it. Nothing is impossible.  You’re here so why not do your best?”

STARRY-DUST

With the starry-dust settling from the torrid and brilliant ride of the start of the summer’s happenings, enjoying her movie release, the Duct Tape, and more, I wonder what could be coming next for Ambre?  “This is a really crazy question for me, as I’m in a big transition… I feel like a tornado…full of excitement for the future!” she laughs, telling me she is also seeking grounding energy, flat-hunting in the increasingly difficult-to-find populated shores of SW France.  “I just want to be super free…with great energy and feeling like myself. I just want to dance, release everything, create connections and have friends around…it’s a wild ride”.