Late August of 1995 saw growing outrage worldwide toward France’s decision to break a moratorium on nuclear testing. Even as global pressure grew hot, French President Jacques Chirac showed no sign of changing his mind about the eight planned nuclear tests in the South Pacific Ocean that would begin on September 1 on French Polynesia’s Moruroa atoll. Thousands led protests around the world. But the reaction couldn’t have been more dramatic than in Papeete, Tahiti, the capital of French Polynesia, where several-hundred rioters went on a rampage, virtually destroying Tahiti’s international airport, smashing shop-front windows, and torching several buildings before French foreign legionnaires and paramilitary troops arrived.
And in France itself, a group of a few-dozen Australian, American and French surfers took part in a two-hour walking protest in the small summer getaway of Hossegor. Colorful Australian shaper Maurice Cole, who’d taken up residence beside the golden-sand beaches of southwest France, organized the gathering with help from Rob Machado to make a rare political statement from the professional surfing community. “We were all pretty bummed as Australians that they started that whole program again,” Maurice remembers.
“I lived just next to the contest zone, 150 yards from the beach,” Maurice continues. “Round the corner, the French prime minister had his summer house, and we’d been told we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near that. Well, I got my directions a little mixed up (laughs), and there we were in front of his house. Just as we were getting there, police cars showed up–the riot squad–and we just kept marching on down to the beach. We made a really good point, as it turned up in a lot of the media. It was just surfers being concerned, I think, and yet it was one of those great bonding moments in our surf culture.”
Despite the efforts, nuclear detonation commenced. However, after provoking so much global anger, France finally bowed to international pressure and stopped its testing after six tests rather than the originally planned eight.
Did this particular moment play a part in the tests halting early? If you believe every little bit counts, then it surely did. As for Maurice and Rob, displaying some social conscience and rallying a group not well known for such acts? Well, perhaps a bit of karma bounced their way: Rob won the contest … on one of Maurice’s boards.–Scooter Leonard