EVER SINCE WE FIRST STARTED PLANNING TO LAUNCH WINGSURFWORLD AS A MAGAZINE, ONE THING WAS FOR SURE: WE WANTED TO FEATURE TITOUAN GALEA IN THE FIRST ISSUE. FROM THE MOMENT WE SAW THE FIRST IMAGES OF HIM EFFORTLESSLY CATCHING ROLLING OCEAN WIND SWELLS, AND THEN MORE RECENTLY CLIPS OF HIM RIPPING ALONG WAVE FACES AT HIGH SPEED, HE’S INSPIRED US MORE THAN ANYONE IN THE LAST 18 MONTHS
WORDS AND INTERVIEW: Jim Gaunt PHOTOS: F-ONE and Valerie Mouren
TITOUAN GALEA AGE: 23 BORN AND RAISED: New Caledonia PREVIOUSLY: Taught to kitesurf aged 9 by his dad in 2013, started kite foiling in 2015. Won two Hobie Cat catamaran racing World Championships. Fifth overall Kite Race World Championship in Oman, 2017. European SUP Foil Race Champion NOW: Works in testing and development for F-One and races in international kite foil events
“I think my advantage is that I’m used to riding a foil at really high speed as a kite racer.”
“I think my advantage is that I’m used to riding a foil at really high speed as a kite racer.”
How do you think kiting compares to winging, in terms of the sensation? It’s a completely different sensation and really depends on the conditions. I like to do both. When I go to the waves, I usually do a kitesurf session and a wing session. If I only wing, then I really feel like I’m missing being able to hit-the-lip like I can when I’m kiting. If I only kite then I miss winging for the sensation of going fast on a wave with a foil. It’s crazy. Are many people wingsurfing in New Caledonia yet? Yeah, it was cloudy and there wasn’t much wind today in the bay in the capital city, Noumea, but there were maybe 20 people winging. On a good day there are over 30. There are usually the same amount windsurfing and many more kitesurfing. On a good day there will be more than 100 people on the water. You started wingsurfing in March 2019 after building a lot of kitesurfing experience in waves and on a hydrofoil. Can you tell us about the experience of freedom that you now enjoy with the wing? The wing brings a really nice aspect to riding waves. I was already doing some surf foiling, but I can catch far more waves with a wing. I can also use a much smaller wing which means I can catch much bigger waves. Riding smaller, mushier waves with a wing is also more fun than it would be on a surfboard. On a downwinder I actually prefer to paddle a small SUP hydrofoil though because then I don’t have the wing in my hands. It’s not for everyone because it’s the most technical of the sports I do. You need a lof of strength and technical ability to take-off and then lots of knowledge to continue cruising and pumping.
You obviously don’t use the same board now for SUP and winging? No. I weigh 73 kilos and my SUP is 80 litres and 5’7’’, which is big compared to my main wing board, which is around 4’2’’ or 4’4’’ and 25 litres. Tell me about the waves you ride at home in New Caledonia. I’ve had the best waves ever for winging here. Just outside my house there’s a big lagoon (which takes an hour to cross in a boat), there’s a reef outside and a steep wave spot called Dumbea Left. In terms of speed it’s in between Manawa and One Eye in Mauritius, so it’s pretty much perfect, though can be a bit shallow at times. The other spot, called Tenia, is an hour’s drive and then another hour in a boat across the lagoon. The wave is generally bigger, but it’s softer. Tenia is a good wave for winging because it catches a lot of swell and most of the time the wind is side-offshore. It’s a bit complicated for collecting media out there because of the distance, but the conditions can be really good.
Boosting one on the way back out at Dumbea Left
How did you build up to riding waves with the wing. Is your experience with surf foiling the most important thing? I think my advantage is that I’m used to riding a foil at really high speed as a kite racer. The very top riders can go over 45 knots, but most international kite racers like me can go over 40 quite easily. When I moved to winging I immediately felt that the foil was big and quickly started using smaller foils. I started riding waves soon after, which still didn’t feel fast compared to kite foiling, so I quickly built confidence. You ride a really low volume board (25 litres) which you need to sink under your body when you do a board start. You must need about two metres underneath you to get going again when you fall off. How does that work at wave spots where the reef is shallower than that? I never fall! If you fall off in big steep waves, you have problems anyway, because the wing can be broken easily and if you’re in shallow water where the wave breaks you can’t get up. On a good day there are always people on the reef and either my boat or my friend’s boat is there, too. If I’m in good size waves I never wear leashes. I fell while riding waves at Manawa once and the white water pulled the wing hard and, as a result, my arm. Now I don’t use a leash in waves and if I fall I’ll release all my equipment and let it drift over the reef and into the lagoon where I’ll then pick it up with the boat. What do you think is the limit for small boards? I dont think there is a limit, it just depends on the wind. In the south of France where the Tramontana wind gets up to over 40 knots, you could start on a one litre board without a problem. I was using a 3’11 board with a volume of 18 litres this summer in the stronger winds because a small board feels really good for jumping. I’m sure I get higher with smaller boards and having less weight and momentum when you’re riding in waves allows for much more aggressive turns.
“I’m sure I get higher with smaller boards and having less weight and momentum when you’re riding in waves allows for much more aggressive turns.”
Tell me about the front hydrofoil wings you’re using. My most used wing for waves is now the F-One Escape 530. Wow, that’s small! It’s perfect for any wave over two feet. As I mostly start from a boat and rarely fall I try to use the smallest wing I can. The 530 holds speed so well on a wave and in certain big wave situations I’m actually finding that it’s still too big. The waves were big the other day, unfortunately we didn’t have a camera, but it was like 12 – 15 foot and I hit over 30 knots of speed. I had so much front foot pressure to try to keep the foil down, so all I could do was go in a straight line. When kite foiling the kite pulls you from the side and you can lean (cant) the foil over to resist the pressure, so the lift sensation is different. When winging on a wave you only have your speed, your weight and the lift of the wave. The 530 was lifting so much! I know that guys like Laird Hamilton and Kai Lenny use wings under 300cm² when riding Nazarre in Portugal when it’s big and now I completely understand why.
In terms of riding the wave, what’s your approach? Surfers, kitesurfers and windsurfers all mainly want to surf vertically and hit-the-lip hard. That’s not possible yet with a hydrofoil, so what is special about wingsurfing in the waves? For sure we can’t hit the lip like people when riding a short surfboard, so it’s more about making some nice bottom turns, taking nice angles off-the-lip and starting to do some airs. Is it like kitesurfing or windsurfing where you want to be underpowered in terms of your kite / sail size to allow you to ride the wave better? You lose all the power by grabbing the neutral handle on the front of the wing when you ride the wave, but a big wing creates more drag behind you. So yes, a smaller wing feels lighter and is easier to manoeuvre in your hands, however I try to power myself normally so that if I fall on a gybe 800 metres away from the boat on the outside I can still get re-started again.
How many bits of equipment do you have in your quiver that you would use on a regular basis? Right now I have the F-One Escape 530 front wing which I use in waves, and I also use that for freeride kite foiling. I also have the Mirage 800 front wing which I use for freeriding and trying to learn some tricks with a bigger 40 litre 5’0’’ board. I also have another foil for downwind SUP, but for winging I only use a 530 and the 800 front wings. And Swings (F-One’s wind wing), I guess you use the 3.5, 4.2 and 5 metre sizes mostly? Yes, those three. The 4.2 and the 5 mainly. Sometimes the 3.5 on the really windy summer days. Is there any aspect that you feel limited by in wingsurfing at the moment? Is there some element of performance that is holding you back? As I mentioned, I just need a smaller foil for bigger waves. For sure we can improve the foils so the turns can be closer to those we do on short surfboards. I feel more limited when I kite or do other sports because with a wing I can start from a boat or a harbour because it’s really easy to set up the gear in smaller spaces. Also, if there’s no wind in the harbour you can paddle out to reach the wind if you’re using an 80+ litre board. If the wind drops you can also float and paddle back. The range of use is huge and I don’t feel limited at all.
Who impresses you? Kai Lenny, for sure, because he’s so good in waves, whatever he’s riding. Balz Müller is really good at freestyle and the Spencer brothers on Maui are doing cool things, too. How excited are you to be involved in the very beginning of the sport? I will maybe realise it later when I’m older and when I hope the sport will be bigger. There’s seemingly a big interest in wingsurfing, but it’s not as big as windsurfing or kitesurfing. If it gets big like than those then I’ll be stoked to have been involved in the beginning. I’m just enjoying myself.