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TAHItI

Manu laying one into the pit of a tropical beast

WORDS MANU BOUVET | PHOTOS BEN THOUARD

Carine Camboulives, Manu Bouvet, their 5 year old daughter Lou and photographer Ben Thouard go on an exploration mission to the paradise that is Tuamotu. The ‘islands far away’ are to be found in Polynesia, located north of Tahiti and are legendary amongst the numerous sailors who have laid anchor in their crystal clear waters. Aboard Sauvage, a round the world sailboat, the team discover and enjoy some amazing windsurfing conditions with an idyllic backdrop of stunning tropical scenery. If you could picture in your mind’s eye the perfect windsurf trip, then this would surely be what that image would look like in reality. Over to Manu to recount the tail of the group’s trip into paradise…
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IN

1968, French sailor Bernard Moitessier competed in the first solitary, non-stop, round the world yacht race called The Golden Globe Challenge. After leading the event he decided to not cross the finish line, abandon the race and start a second non-stop round the world journey! Such a decision seems crazy. He left without any communication device to the outside world and let his decisions be known by throwing a letter with a slingshot to a cargo-ship that was passing by. “I will keep on sailing towards the islands of the Pacific because I am happy on the water and it may save my soul”. After 10 months his trip ended in Tuamotu. Since then, Bernard Moitessier has become a legend and his writing has inspired hundreds of sailors. His disciples are littered all across the world’s oceans and our crew are people such as these. Ever since I have been visiting Tahiti and her close neighboring islands (Moorea, Raiatea,Tahaa) I have been wondering what Tuamotu was hiding. The island’s draw is powerful enough to entice numerous nomads of the sea to set anchor there and seek out her treasures. I kept in a corner of my head the saying of Sophie and Didier, skippers of the Sauvage and who took us to the Marshall Islands two years ago. They said that Tuamotu was one of their favorite places on Earth. Both of them are true nature lovers, always looking for beautiful, peaceful and remote places where few get to go. They keep an eye on the reef passes. Not only because they are the entrance door to the quietness of the lagoons but also because they host the waves we are looking to ride. Since our Marshall Islands trip they know what hollow, peeling and side-off-shore means. While planing this trip Ben and I studied many maps and charts which took up a significant chunk of the months before we made our journey. We had a good idea of where we would like to go but we decided to also seek a little local knowledge. Word of mouth did not work out very good this time. The few Tahitian surfers who discretely get away to these islands on the right swell stayed very quiet when our questions became too specific. We don’t blame them but their silence gave us the extra motivation to dig a little deeper. By keeping their secrets they also kept alive the greatest pleasure of surf travelling; discovery. It was with great excitement that we met up again with Sophie and Didier. Since we left Sauvage, their 60 ft steel monohull, a year and a half ago she has sailed across the entire Pacific Ocean from the Marshall Islands to Alaska then back to Antarctica and Polynesia again! 26 MAY 2012

Manu throws some spray in paradise.

“ Our eyes couldn’t get enough of the place. We kept staring at the view like alcoholics at a bottle! “

We loaded the 400kg of equipment we came with (300kg for the video crew!) before setting sail and starting our crossing. I won’t bore you with the usual equipment transport hassle speech but I just want to thank Heifara from Air Tahiti. If she had not removed part of their air cargo, to make room for our stuff, we would never have understood why Moitessier and the nomads of the sea had chosen Tuamotu as their final destination. ‘Maururu’ to you Heifara. Our crew does not travel light, that is an understatment. On top of us three (Carine, Lou and I) Ben brought for the first time his motorized paraglider. In these times of economic gloom and ecological consciousness, the ‘helicopter of the poor’ is the only way to keep the aerial shot dream alive. Some credit has to be given to photographer Jerome Houyvet who fist came up with the idea. He couldn’t help but share his excitement with Ben who quickly became a convert.
Full steam ahead for the crew as they set out for new discoveries

Ben pushed the project further by taking the machine on his travels. We are all super excited about the idea of getting aerial shots where ever we go, even though flight conditions are very specific. Maximum 10 knots of wind, clear and spacious take off area with limited cloud activity. On aproaching our destination we took advantage of a steady 20 knot trade wind to cross the lagoon from north to south. At the south there is a promising reef pass we spotted on the map. As we got close to it, our expectations were confirmed. The left-hander had 3 to 5 foot sets peeling perfectly with a sideshore wind. Even though the direction of the wind was a little too side-shore, at the beginning of the wave, I couldn’t complain as a logo high sets were unfolding and nobody else could be seen. The water is so tempting that even the sun can’t wait to dive in. It was just past 5pm and had the wind not started to

drop I would still be ridding waves, even though the greatest focus is required here. Avoiding the colorful but deadly coral heads that are sticking out of the water is a challenge. One shows up after take-off while a second one sticks out mid way through the ride. At the end of my wave I had to kick out before hitting dry reef! Other than that it is a hell of a great spot but wiping out is not an option. Bleeding in those waters is the last thing you want to do, especially as this area is well known for being extremely sharky. I won’t give you the full Jaws story but there are so many ‘big fish’ around that when I put my head under water I could spot quite a few, including some of a good size. Our captain soon wanted us to leave the pass while there is still some day light. We needed to find our way through the coral heads so we could reach our safe anchorage. This place is the closest version I have ever seen to Heaven on Earth.

Contemplating the stunning surroundings Aerial tastic from Manu Bouvet

American truck ready to roll.

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An immense area of sand was covered by a small blob of turquoise liquid. In the background were several motus (small islands) perfectly lined up along the reef that protect the lagoon. At low tide some sand bars turn pink as the sun goes down. Nobody had much to say as all we could do was stare in awe. The only noise we could hear came from our anchor’s chain that went “clac-clac-clac-clac-clac” until it reached the bottom. That noise reminds me of the one made by the wheel of fortune before it stops and ends the unbearable suspense. I don’t think we look any smarter than the happy winners on TV staring at their sudden fortune. Ben couldn’t stand still any longer, he wanted to see that piece of heaven from the sky. The sand banks at low tide were his only chance of take off. The small islands covered in thick vegetation offered no space. There was one last problem, the wind! It had been blowing night and day since our arrival. As mentioned earlier, the motorised paraglider can only handle 10 knots maximum. We were waiting for the wind to die for a day so Ben can show what the spot looks like from the air. After a week of steady 15 to 20 knots of trades, we got an entire 2 days of sheet glass. Ben spent most of it in the sky with a smile that could be seen 100 meters below! After the aerial shots were completed, the paraglider was packed away and we got straight back on the water to enjoy what is probably the greatest free ride spot on Earth. Everybody wanted to use the SUP that has a mast track fitted. Carine cruised the lagoon for more than a mile, stopping here and there on a sand bar or under a coconut tree. Our daughter Lou got a kite ride on our friend Ian’s shoulder’s while Didier and I got the diving equipment ready.
Time to talk story

“ The island’s draw is powerful enough to entice numerous nomads of the sea to set anchor there and seek out her treasures “

Sometimes you just need to plant your feet back on dry land

Jalama Beach Park.

Fantastic scenery and surrounds make for a perfect freeride spot.

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TAHItI

Laying a rail on a sick wall

Days passed by and we windsurfed, surfed, SUPed and went diving. We were hypnotized by the place and felt the attraction many had experienced before here in Tuamotu. Our eyes couldn’t get enough of the place. We kept staring at the view like alcoholics at a bottle. Here the sirens don’t need to sing, they just have to be looked at. Moitessier and many more could not resist the attraction. If Mother Nature is a siren, whose goal is to seduce human kind, then men have found a radical way to resist her by destroying her. Luckily these isalnds haven’t been touched yet, but they could be next. As I write this, skipper Loic Peron crosses the finish line of the fastest round the world journey by sailboat after 45 days at sea. Moitessier’s decision to finish his world tour whenever he felt like it seems mystical nowadays. 30 MAY 2012

Nonetheless, his followers are not sponsored by industrial corporations that wish to clean their image with salt water. They live the dream of an ocean that would be the last space of freedom and not a competition field. I believe that humanist and ecological ocean philosophies deserve a better voice from people, including me, who choose the ocean as their play ground. Luckily, one of the greatest skippers of all time, Ellen Mc Arthur, stepped out of that scene so we can realise that no one will win the race against the life clock and that our materialist obsession is overdue its end. There is only one true challenge left and that is saving our planet so we can continue enjoy its fruits.z

“ This place is the closest version I have ever seen to Heaven on Earth“

Aerial view of the sublime transport

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