Despite being on the other side of the world (literally), when the call came in for a photo shoot in the Canary Islands, Julia Castro stepped up to her duties as a pro rider, braved the inevitable jet lag, and settled into the flight… And, despite the weather’s occasional reluctance to play ball, it was all worth it.
Words: Julia Castro
Photographer: Samuel Cardenas
Imagine yourself in Japan. Well, not actually anywhere in Japan… You’re in Miyakojima, an island that’s closer to Taiwan than to Japan. So, yes, you’re quite far from the rest of the world. You’ve just finished the job for which you went there, when you get a message from the Fanatic Marketing team: “Hey Julia, we know you’re in Japan but could you be in Gran Canaria in like two or three days? We need you last minute for the new Slick wing shoot and we also planned a little adventure around it…”. Wow, yes, I totally can be there. Just give me two days…
Originally the shoot was supposed to take place on Tenerife, however there was no wind at all, and after two days of waiting for better conditions at the Duotone Pro Center in El Medano, the team moved to Gran Canaria. I flew straight there as the connection from Japan was better as well.
Stop #1: Gran Canaria
Five planes and 37 hours later, I was in Gran Canaria. I arrived in the middle of the night and went straight to bed. The next thing I knew it was 7am and I’m waking up to start the shoot. I am exhausted, but here I go.
Nia Suardiaz, Jerome Cloetens, photographer Samu Cardenas and I arrived at the beach (Wesley Brito was still on his way), and it was so not typical Canaries weather… cold, rainy, windy (usually it´s not very windy in the mornings, the wind builds up during the day). But there’s always a good side to everything – there was a rainbow! And we managed to get quite some cool shots with it.
A few hours later, we packed everything back in the cars and moved spots for session number two after eating some yummy food. Compared to the first one, this session was way more Canary Islands style – it was very freaking windy, sunny and warm… It was also my first time on the water in Pozo Izquierdo, the famous windsurf spot that is very much forbidden for kitesurfers. But it seemed that wingfoilers were totally welcome (or so I thought, since there were more of us on the water). I was quite stoked to be rocking the spot with the team.
After a few hours, we checked the area around us for new locations to capture fresh perspectives and angles. I am not a local in Gran Canaria, but I do know a few spots. We went straight to the next one and finished the day with a stunning sunset light wind session (we also had a bunch of Slick D/Labs which were just perfect for this). I can assure you that we were exhausted. I felt like I wasn’t even on this planet, battling with 12-hour jetlag after a 37-hour trip and not enough sleep… And that was just day one of the shoot done.
Day two started with a bit of bad news. The plan was to go to some spots in Gran Canaria and then move over to Fuerteventura because the wind was changing direction and Fuerte was a good option to be able to keep shooting. But it turned out that the boats were fully booked, or at least that is what their websites said. So we made a plan and called the two companies doing the trip to see if they might have any spots left. It would have been a bit of a disaster if we missed the boat, for two reasons. One, it’s a day lost, as if there’s no wind, there’s no shoot. And two, having to find last minute accommodation for eight people is not easy. If you’ve ever been given this task, you know… Thankfully, we managed to book enough spots over the phone.
So we were back on track for another day’s shoot. Wesley arrived later that day, I picked him up and we went straight to the harbor to take off to Fuerte. The boat trip was, luckily, very chilled. No big waves, no strong wind. Half of the crew slept through the two hour ferry trip and the other half were going through the photos Samu had taken so far.
Stop #2: Fuerteventura
Shooting at home is always a pleasure. For sure the counterpart is that I don’t get to travel to an amazing location, but it makes me very proud that so many brands around the world choose the place I was born to shoot. The forecast was not very windy and, when this happens, the best option is always Sotavento beach, in the south of Fuerte. Yes, it is the famous beach where every year for the past 35 years the Windsurf and Kitesurf World Cup has taken place.
Why Sotavento? Easy answer: The Venturi Effect. It’s hard to explain without a drawing, but I’ll do my best to explain: you have a corridor that is 20 meters wide, and it's windy. This corridor happens to shrink to five meters wide at its end. Here, the wind doesn’t slow down – in fact it accelerates, so it’s able to blow through. This is exactly what happens at Sotavento. The wind is straight offshore, which means it comes from the other side of the island. The topography of the island just happens to be funnel-like, which creates the best Venturi effect.
Since I was born on Fuerteventura and I know this island very well, I booked us accommodation in the south. At some point I had the marvelous idea of trying a different spot that had never been winged before, just to have some different shots and angles and, yep, turns out that was not a good idea… We missed an afternoon of shooting due to this and the outcome was not very satisfactory. Thankfully, the days that followed were far better, if a little exhausting…
If you think shoots are always all 5-star hotels, free massages and epic sessions, you’d be mistaken. It’s usually about 90% shitty sessions on your own terms, but these sessions are a job, and they’re essential to make the gear look amazing, which is the goal. Sometimes we shoot in dangerous places, sometimes we have to do the same trick or tack 20 times over to have it on video, on photo, and in 20 different angles… Sometimes we don’t even ride, but we walk up and down the beach to get lifestyle shots. It’s not all fun and games, but I usually have a good time.
When I started kiteboarding back in 2011, my first kite trip was to Tarifa and the first pro kiter I met was Jerome (well, we didn’t actually meet, he was staring at me from the other side of the lagoon in Tarifa like, “who the heck are you and what are you doing in my lagoon?”). I was very intimidated; I had just started kiteboarding and my dream was to be a pro kiter. A few years later I was competing in some of the Freestyle World Cups, I traveled to Tarifa way more often and Jerome was always around with a big smile and an intense look. I also knew Samu, the photographer, but I didn’t know my teammates Nia and Wesley, so I was very excited to get to know them better.
I was utterly taken aback by Nia's maturity and independence. Despite a significant age difference of 13 years between us, I was amazed to discover that she is a very clever young lady with a seriously bright future ahead. And, hey, I am a woman so, I was happily surprised by how good looking Wesley is in person (given how people can look better in photos than in real life). Well, this Cabo Verdian powerhouse is just very handsome in real life too!
During the trip, we also played lots of ping pong and even bingo! I must admit we laughed a lot. Although I’ve been to quite a few shoots and have been in the team for some years now, it's always amazing to see new kiddos coming in. I am lucky to be able to see and get to know the new generation and future of the sport, and I can’t wait for the next wingfoil shoot, with plenty of juicy waves, and maybe slightly less jetlag…
What was your favorite moment of the trip?
During my last session on the 6m2 D/Lab wing with a wind speed of about six knots, I went out with no expectations other than to get some cruising shots, which we needed for the shoot. However, I ended up riding for three hours straight and landed some new tricks. It was a completely unexpected turn of events! The best part of the session was that there was no pressure to perform. I was able to ride free and experiment with new moves without worrying about the outcome. The relaxed atmosphere made it possible for me to really focus on my riding and enjoy. Although I didn't attempt many flipping tricks due to the light wind, I was able to pull off some impressive moves where the wing stayed powerful. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my technique and refine my skills. All in all, the session was one of the best I've had for a while. It reminded me that sometimes, it's the unexpected moments that lead to the most memorable experiences. I can't wait to get out on the water again and see where the wind takes me next!
Your favorite island?
Fuerteventura was probably the best, but I was also curious about Tenerife and Gran Canaria. I'm looking forward to going back because the conditions there look like they could be amazing once it is on. When we arrived, I checked the forecast on TV and the entire country of Spain was sunny except for this one cloud that was hovering over the Canaries. It rained for three days straight, which was quite strange and very unfortunate. However, we ended up taking some cool photos with the rainbow, so we definitely made the most of it!
How was the trip for you?
I enjoyed training with Jerome, Wesley, and Julia. We spent countless hours pushing ourselves to new limits. Each day was filled with excitement and adventure as we explored different locations and challenged ourselves to ride new spots.
But the fun didn't stop. After a long day on the water, we enjoyed hanging out together in the afternoons. We swapped stories, shared laughs, and bonded over our shared passion for water sports. What made the week truly special was that we grew together as a team. We supported each other, cheered and celebrated our moves. We also learned from the others, shared tips and tricks to improve our riding and pushed ourselves even further. Looking back, I'm grateful for the memories we created together. I'm already looking forward to the next time we can all train and hang out together again!
What are some essential skills to learn when starting out in wingfoil?
In my opinion, it's essential to take a few wing classes to get started. By doing so, you'll progress much faster and learn the essential skills you need to become a successful wing rider. One of the most important skills to learn is how to tack – a maneuver that involves turning the wing around while maintaining forward momentum. This skill is essential for changing direction and navigating around obstacles in the water.
How did the trip play out for you?
This trip to Fuerteventura was not in my plans at all. I was at home getting ready to go for a session when Duotone called me asking if it was possible to join the shoot on the Canaries. Of course I said yes straight away and started preparing. The mission started and I was looking for flights and boats for the fastest way to get there. Since it was last minute, I couldn’t fly or get in a boat to Sal (Cape Verde) for straight flights to the Canaries, so I had to go all the way from Boa Vista via Brussels, stayed all night there before I could jump on another flight to Tenerife and Gran Canaria after that. I arrived at sunset and watched the guys having a late session in Pozo. From there we went straight to Fuerteventura. We were using the new Slick which gave us the opportunity for more performance and Jerome and myself started thinking about new tricks and grabs. Jerome came up with a nice trick with a grab that we named the Palau Flip, and he was able to do it both regular and toe side. And we also had Nia, the little shredder, going for backflips so we ended up having a lot of fun pushing each other on the water.
What was your favorite moment of the trip?
For me the best moment of the trip was the last day when I woke up and saw all the palm trees shaking! I could finally feel the potential of the wing and had a good morning session together with Jerome and landed one of my best frontflips so far! I was really happy to get a proper session before leaving!
How did this shoot go for you, it sounds like a lot went down?!
What made this one particularly exciting was its unique concept of exploring different islands. I must admit, this shoot was quite challenging, looking for the right spot/island with wind and sun. We had to make quick decisions about when to move from one location to the next with eight people and quite a bit of gear.
What was your favorite moment of the trip?
One day, while doing photos with the water housing, we were struggling to come up with original shots. But then Jerome landed a nose-grab backflip, and I captured this incredible photo that I'd never seen before. It's not easy to get creative with water sports photography. But at that moment, Jerome's new trick was the perfect opportunity to create something truly unique and memorable. The colors of the water and the sky blended perfectly, and the composition of the shot was spot on. It was a moment that reminded me of the true beauty and creativity that can be found in water sports. As a photographer, it's always a challenge to capture something new and original. But when it does happen, it's a truly special moment.
What was the most challenging moment?
Toward the end of our trip on Fuerteventura, we realized that we were missing quite a few shots. The forecast wasn't very promising and we were struggling to get the shots we needed, especially with Wesley, who is a pretty heavy guy and requires stronger winds to get going. But despite the challenging conditions, we managed to capture some amazing shots. I was particularly impressed with the shots of Wesley – he may have needed more wind, but he was still able to pull off some incredible moves.
It was a great reminder that sometimes, the best shots come from unexpected situations. We had to think outside the box and try new things, but in the end, it was worth it. I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with such an amazing team and to be a part of the water sports community. Even when things don't go according to plan, we're always able to find a way to make the most of the situation and capture some incredible moments.