Red Letter Day: TIGER BAY

Rider: Thomas Pinchon
Photos: Edouard Delaplage
Location: Ténia Island, New Caledonia
Date: Thursday January 19th, 2023

The long wait for the right conditions paid off for Thomas Pinchon, and after navigating their way to the spot, enjoyed plenty of empty waves and tropical tranquillity. That is, until one of the ‘locals’ showed up. That’s when it was time to call it a day and hand the spot back to those who were there first…

I am a municipal police officer in Pérols, near Montpellier in France, but working as a constable under contract. I lived and worked on a contract in New Caledonia 10 years ago and recently returned eight months ago as my wife also got a transfer to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. We’re here for another four-year stay, and I’m good friends with Hugo Marin, a renowned wingfoiler. We follow the conditions closely and always keep in contact over the forecasts. At this particular spot, it’s rare to get the right conditions and it’s tricky to score a session. You need wind but also long swells at the same time, and you need everything ready, with a boat to take you and the free time to do it! There is a lot of preparation at stake, and we waited for three or four months to have everything line up right. We knew that the conditions on this day were perfect with 2.5-3m waves, a 10-12 second period and 20-25 knots of wind.

Myself, Hugo, and his photographer father, Jean Pierre Marin, departed Noumea towards Boulouparis, towing the boat on a trailer and headed to a small village an hour away, ready to launch. Once in the water, it was a 20-minute navigation to get to the spot. Without hesitation Hugo immediately jumped into the water, scoring magnificent waves and connecting turns in front of us. Not knowing the spot, I was a bit more hesitant to get in and as soon as I did I realized there was no time to warm up – the waves were huge!

As I start, the foil picks up a lot of speed but it’s very stable and the water is nice and smooth. It was so clear that I could see the magnificent corals underneath, and after a few maneuvers, I gain confidence and sink deeper and deeper into the wave. The waves are so big that the wind doesn’t reach inside and everything is so calm and quiet. All I can hear is the sliding of the foil. My Eleveight Evolve 4’10 / 56l board is perfectly tuned and the ideal size for these conditions. I realize I should have taken the smaller 4m wing but I wanted to keep a margin of power too!

After 45 minutes of intense navigation to go upwind to return to the peak, I see a dark spot in front of me… It passes just 50cm away from me and I can tell up close that it's a 3.5m tiger shark. It was huge, yet so calm and extremely agile swimming. I decided no wave was worth another close-up encounter and went immediately back to the boat! Hugo had also seen it and was already on the boat himself. The shark encounter put an end to our session, but all was not lost as we moored up at the paradise of Ténia Island to eat, drink and share session stories before returning home. It really was a magical experience.


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