Every surfer or ocean lover recognizes the pictures. Often, when we hear about this specific island, images of the giant slab of wave at Teahupo’o come to mind. This square, perfectly shaped tube which becomes a monster when the wave goes XL throws a lip as thick as a third of the wave’s height. Going to Teahupo’o and witnessing all of this beauty and violence has been a dream of mine since I was young.
Over my career as a professional windsurfer, I’ve seen a few images of my windsurfing buddies riding the waves of Tahiti - especially Teahupo’o - some more and some less successfully. Mostly there is a good amount of gear being broken and sometimes injuries are involved. A friend of mine broke his back while surfing there and hasn’t been able to walk since. This event obviously left a mark on the scene and makes me view this wave from a respectful perspective. That same friend owned a house on Maui back in the day. I stayed with him a few times around twenty years ago, sharing rooms with a young French photographer who wanted to shoot us windsurfing at Ho’okipa every day to gain experience. His goal of becoming a professional water photographer. He moved to Tahiti and now is one of the most renowned water photographers in the world. His name is Ben Thouard. The photos in this feature show some of his latest work.
When the decision was made to merge Fanatic Foils and Boards into the Duotone environment in order to bring it all under one brand going forward, I knew we needed to do something special to introduce this merger. Not only would our Tahiti shoot be important for the launch of Duotone Foils and Foil Boards, but every single product was brand new and needed to be shot for both stills and moving images. We gathered together a team of experienced surfers and foilers to help us achieve this mission, and headed for Tahiti.
Early afternoon on June 12, 2023, our dream to get there was crushed for the second time. Our filmer Jakob and I had just spent seven hours at Hamburg Airport in Germany talking with ground staff, calling the Air France hotline, and moving our nine bags of surf and camera equipment from A to B. The crazy thing is we had tickets and reservations for us and every single one of our nine bags. This was Day Two of three attempts to take off.
Our first attempt to fly to Tahiti had been the previous day. Jakob and I had shown up at the airport with our luggage the required 3.5 hours before our flight. I was feeling confident due to our written reservations for everything. It gave me the assurance that we’d be done with check-in quickly. However, after thirty minutes, it was clear that life wouldn’t be an easy walk in the park. Our gear reservations did not show up in the airport reservation system and the hostess at the check-in was forced to make some calls. The line filled up behind us and the staff behind the counter became stressed and left us waiting. When I realized they hadn’t achieved anything through their phone calls, I pulled out my laptop and showed them the reservations for our excess baggage. More phone calls ensued, but time was ticking down fast.
It was thirty minutes before take off when I started to raise my voice. I felt we were being ignored with our 270kg of baggage lying right in front of the check-in. After helping the last of the other passengers, the staff finally turned to us. By no surprise, it was too late to check us into our flight. With a slight sense of guilt, the airline staff then tried everything to make up for the mess and rebooked us on the next flight 24 hours later. We were told there would be a rebooking-fee which we should then claim from Air France and which we shouldn’t pay until the next morning when our gear would be in the system.
Luckily, my friend with his van was still waiting even though it was four hours later. He drove us 100km back home with all our gear, then back to the airport again the next morning.
“Sir, there is no ticket in your name!” When the guy at the counter said these words the next morning I was like, “You’re kidding. Where's the hidden cam?” Apparently, the tickets for Jakob and I were deleted when we didn’t pay the rebooking fee the previous day! Ground staff told us we could only resolve that with the Air France hotline. So, we spent the next seven hours sitting on our bags trying to find whatever option would help us make it to Tahiti. Ultimately, we were rebooked for another two days later, knowing we would have to reserve all the luggage again and face the same situation as on Day One. Meanwhile, our team was already in Tahiti with no gear, and the conditions were firing!
Initially, I planned to have the boards, foils and new wings ready for shooting in early May and therefore would have all of May and June to shoot the equipment. But it hadn’t worked out like that. Delays on the production side made our photoshoot time slot smaller and smaller until, ultimately, we had a window of about two weeks to shoot all of it before we had to present the new range at our Distributor Meeting in early July 2023.
Some of my friends in Hawaii knew that Tahiti was starting to light up with wind and waves in May and June. From Hawaii, it’s not a much longer flight than for us Europeans visiting the Canary Islands with a non-stop connection of less than six hours from Honolulu to Papeete. Three of our top foilers are based on Maui, so that part of the crew had quick and easy travel.
I contacted Ben Thouard early in the year to check what he thought about the idea of us coming over to shoot wingfoiling, prone and downwind foiling. He was fired up and said the timing was perfect. We should just come with a compact crew because all locations are accessible only by boat. During the following weeks, Ben pulled strings for us to get accommodations and boat services. Once everything was lined up and I knew the gear was in the making, we purchased our tickets for our crew of six, plus Ben and Tim, our additional local filmers. Athletes Olivia Jenkins, and Finn and Jeffrey Spencer were coming over from Hawaii. Clement Rosaryo, Jakob and myself would be coming from France and Germany. It was arranged so that all of us would arrive roughly at the same time in Tahiti. Jakob and I were bringing all the equipment, while the others arrived basically with only a surfboard and a pair of shorts.
It turned out the Hawaiians had to wait. Three days after our initial departure we gave it our third attempt and finally – but not without discussions - the excess
baggage again didn’t show up in their system even though we were promised it would. At last, the gear went onto the belt and into the plane. Roughly thirty hours later, I sent a picture to my wife of all the bags loaded on two trolleys with a text which read, “Made it! Now just out through customs and onto the trucks with this mountain.”
Well – I jinxed it. After three or four hours in the customs office, they released us with three of the bags and kept the other six bags there. I had to wait for Ben to drive an hour and a half to visit the customs head officer at the harbor with me. Then we had to wait another hour and a half for Finn, Jeffrey, Clement and Olivia. Finally, together we were able to receive the rest of the baggage at the airport. By the time we made it to the ‘End of the Road’, it was dark and another day was lost.
The Turning Point
The team was a little stressed by all the gear we had to shoot. We no longer had optimal conditions as we were four days late. So the next morning at 7AM we jumped in a boat and started our mission of looking for the best conditions. But that’s when it all changed. It was as if someone wanted to make up for all the stress and trouble in getting there because the following days turned out to be the most incredible wing and prone foiling conditions you can ever imagine – and all in magical light! We photographed all of the equipment in just a few days, plus had an additional day trip to the beautiful island of Moorea where we swam with sharks and stingrays, and had the bonus of finding some epic surfing and winging at Teahupo’o in a golden light with only us on the water. Now, I can say Tahiti is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. “Mauruuru” (Thank you) magical Tahiti for this wonderful time!
OLIVIA JENKINS: Team Rider
In Tahiti, we stayed in the incredible home of Cindy, sister to pro surfer Matahi Drollet. She runs the “Teahupo’o Tahiti Surfari” at the end of the road. Her house is located right across the street from the ocean with a dock for her two boats. Each morning, our team would walk across the street with a mass of gear for the day, load the boats to capacity, and go off in search of wind and waves up and down the coast. There were multiple reef passes within an hour of one another down the coast, and each day we would choose an area according to the wind or wave conditions.
There was a wave directly in front of Cindy’ house that was incredible for surf foiling. One morning we arose at the crack of dawn. The water was glassy, so we rushed to the reef pass with our surf foil gear and traded off tow foiling each other into the waves. The surf was around head high, glassy, and completely empty.
We were the only ones out for some time, until three local surfers came in their canoes which they tied to a buoy and then paddled into the break for surfing. There were plenty of waves for everyone and towards the end of the session the boys took some endless rollers into the lagoon with the glide foils. It was magical.
All of us were really excited to work with Ben Thouard as we had all previously seen and highly admired his incredible photography. It was exciting to have him on board! As a local for many years, he knows everything about the local conditions, ideal locations, and special photogenic spots in this area. He acted as both photographer and guide. Ben also knew the best window for us to have a shot at Teahupo’o. It’s tricky to find the right moment when there are no surfers there and it's windy enough with a sufficient swell. Our team was stoked to score two wing sessions there all by ourselves.
The first session was around head high with a steady wind. We were all trying to get our bearings on the wave since this was our first time wing foiling out there. Teahupo’o is a tricky wave because if you fall, it is likely that you will be washed over the reef shelf (unless you get lucky and there is no set behind you).
If you take waves that come in from the wrong swell direction, the wave can wrap wide, and then you can get caught too deep. So there is definitely quite a bit of thought that goes into wave selection and positioning. Everyone caught some fun waves and no one ended up over the reef. It was a huge success.
The second session came on the last day of the trip. Now the surf was much bigger, and rain squalls were intermittently passing by, shutting off the wind. We had one really special moment in the middle of the session when a full rainbow lit up the sky. There are some incredible photographs that came out of that day.
In the middle of the week, we noticed that the waves were fading, so we decided to take a day trip to Moorea. Finn, Klaas, Ben, Jakob and I woke up around 5AM to hop on board the first ferry to Moorea. After an hour boat ride, a forty-five minute taxi, and another thirty minute boat ride, we finally ended up at the location for the day. Moorea is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been to in my life! All day we were surrounded by crystal blue water, stunning landscapes, rays, and reef sharks. We shot some of the beginner gear along with the lighter wind boards and wings. At one point, Ben and Jakob were in the shallow water photographing us surrounded by the rays and sharks while we carefully foiled by.
On the last day of the trip, Finn took the new downwind board for an incredible downwinder along the coast. That day there were some of the biggest ocean swells I have ever seen someone catch on a SUP foil downwinder. The Teahupo’o backdrop is an absolutely insane view while gliding down the coast. Midway through the run, Clement made a bet with Finn that he would give him $1,000 if he ended his run on a set at Teahupo’o. We all laughed it off thinking it wouldn’t happen as he was on the large downwind board and the high aspect foil. However, at the end, Finn got on a bomb from the outside, and rode that wave all the way into the channel with all of us screaming from the boat. It was a hilarious and exhilarating way to wrap up the trip.