Rider & Words: Willow-River Tonkin
Photos: Thomas Burblies
Location: Mauritius
Date: Tuesday 17th May, 2022

The stars and conditions seemed to align for Willow-River Tonkin and the rest of the CORE crew as they prepared for a photoshoot of the new CORE gear in Mauritius… But the swell wasn’t quite sure when to stop building… 

Growing up in Mauritius my whole life has taught me so many things. But one of the biggest lessons I have learnt is to respect the power of the ocean. 

After arriving home in Mauritius with not being able to get back here for over one and a half years, I knew that I wanted to spend as much of the season as possible here to score the biggest and best swells of the winter. I came to Mauritius with the entire CORE team as excited as ever. I had just spent the last two years essentially undercover, working on the entire new wing range with the R&D team. And, finally, we were able to put all this gear to its ultimate test. I had one goal in mind of how we were going to push the gear to its absolute limit… And that was to ride the gnarliest waves of the season.

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It was only a couple weeks until we were gifted with the first proper swell of the season. And our full focus went on preparing for this swell… We tracked it all the way up from the coast of South Africa, up past Madagascar, right up to the day it arrived in Mauritius…

We started with an early morning wake up call to check the spot and see what the start of the swell had to offer. Arriving at the spot, we were treated to perfect clean walls, pumping wind and blue skies, exactly what you need for the first day of a one-and-a-half-month long photoshoot.

The swell didn’t really show the size that we were hoping for, but it still looked WAY too good to not go give it a try. We decided for the green light and it was a go! The rest of the team came down to the beach and, as we had planned this day since starting to track the swell, everyone knew exactly what to do. Some of the team started to prep the wing gear with additional back up gear for the boat. The camera crew got straight into action to make sure we didn’t miss a single moment on camera. Everything was on autopilot while myself, Joshua Emanuel and Bart Labonne mentally prepared to get in the water. 

When venturing out into big and rough conditions, it's very important that your head is in the right place. Things can turn very bad, very quickly, so you always need to be fully aware of your surroundings. 

Together with Bart, we headed out on the water, with Joshua following us as back-up and safety on a kite. Jet skis are banned in Mauritius, so in terms of safety out there, it can be pretty gnarly when the surf is big. So having Josh out there with his kite and knowing that if something goes wrong, he's going to be there in a second to get you out of the impact zone made us push it that little bit harder. 

“The conditions started to get pretty eerie, with big clouds, rain and strong gusts starting to pull in.”

Once we got out there, the tide started to push and so did the swell. We started getting pulses of big sets every 20 minutes. And each time there was a set, it just got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Joshua stayed a couple hundred meters outside to communicate through our radios when the sets started to roll in. Bart and I eventually started to push each other into catching the bigger sets, to a point where we even rode some together. 

After a really big wipeout, I decided to switch to a 2.5m XC but after a couple more waves, we decided to call it a day. The conditions started to get pretty eerie, with big clouds, rain and strong gusts starting to pull in. After spending nearly four hours out on the water, we got out of the water full of adrenaline, pumped and extremely stoked but most importantly grateful to come out unscathed. I had some gnarly moments, big wipeouts that took me and the gear over the falls but always managed to come up safe.

It was a very special day for me, firstly as it's been a day I have been dreaming about since I started wing foiling. I have always dreamt about dropping into big waves, flying above the chop and feeling the acceleration and speed of the foil.

Secondly, it was amazing to have the entire CORE team with me. To have Thomas Burblies and Julieta Pererya, who have both taken some of my greatest kitesurfing photos and have been there since the start of my kitesurfing career… Now to have them on the first day of riding big waves at my home break in Mauritius, I couldn't have wished for anyone else to be hanging onto the boat and capturing the moment.

And of course having the amazing team in the water with me, from Joshua as safety, Bart that pushed me on the water, the Dace Brothers that assisted us, Talis for capturing everything that happened behind the scenes and Steven for capturing the moving moments out on the water. 

This day will be a day remembered forever. And I am so grateful to have such amazing photos to hold those memories in time. You’ll find me on the beach in Mauritius waiting patiently for the next Red Flag Day…   

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