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Charles ‘Charliboy’ Vandemeulebroucke is an expat French windsurfer who has made Tahiti his home and lives for big days at the island’s infamous break – Teahupo’o. He tells us about a highlight session from last year.

Words  Charles ‘Charliboy’ Vandemeulebroucke  // Photos  Pauline Le Meur & Charles ‘Charliboy’ Vandemeulebroucke

2019 was a really good season for waves in Tahiti. For 4 months in the prime season there was many big and clean swells. There is not many options with these kind of swells, as only a couple of breaks can handle that size with tow-in surfing sessions for those that want to chase the biggest waves! The wind has been not too bad with a good synchronicity with the peak of the swells. Not a lot of windsurfing sessions, but most of the time unforgettable days – quality not quantity.

Usually May and June are great and July and August a bit stormy, but there was not too much of that this year. September started out super well with an out of control big windsurfing session on the first week. I’ve had some memorable moments this year like an unsuccessful mission out at sea with Kevin Pritchard, the biggest wipeout of my life and many other good days with friends, but the highlight was a crazy day in August, that day I will never forget!

I was hungry for a massive Teahupo’o day and during the second week of August the forecast really picked up. Thursday was set to be huge with a very west swell and stormy winds and then Friday more fun, with the swell going down a bit. I work as physiotherapist and osteopath and I have my own business; I had a lunch break on Thursday just long enough to go to ‘Chopes’ (a.k.a Teahupo’o). Going for a big windsurf session at Teahupo’o during your lunch break is a nerve-racking experience and to stand any chance of success, everything would  have to be perfectly prepared.

So on Wednesday night, after a long day of work, I rigged my magic 4.7 Goya Fringe in the garden and checked my special big wave custom board by master shaper Keith Teboul, the perfect combo to tackle big Teahupo’o.

The board is a 2019 82 litre quad custom Quatro in ‘Ultralight Pro’ construction with personal graphics that I love. Its size is 7’6” / 228.6 cm long and 56.6 cm wide. Keith has evolved the bottom shape and rails to get extra control and speed during carves and it’s insanely fast and versatile, a perfect blend of rocker and outline shape for me at 82 kgs. I love this board! My height is 1.75 metres, but the distance from my front to back strap is super wide for control. I don’t have the precise dimensions of the shape; if you really want to know that level of detail you’ll have to hack Keith’s computer! I normally use a MFC K300 quad set with 9 cm side fins and 13 cm main fins for hollow waves, but if it gets bigger and faster like Jaws I sometimes go with the MFC QS RV1 set. For sails I use the Goya Fringe, a 3 batten wave sail, it’s light, neutral and stable and works super good in down the line conditions with the 90% Goya 400 mast. I’m lucky to have the famous skinny diameter Goya carbon wave boom and pair it with 28’’ harness lines spaced close together; allowing me to play with the sail whilst still being hooked in. I used to use 30’’ lines years ago, but I quickly realized I was destroying my hands; it seems that my arms are not that long, even with the boom at shoulder high! That is my perfect setup for big and fast waves; it takes time to find out all these different settings as big wave riding by it’s infrequent nature doesn’t give you a lot of training or tuning time! For more all-round conditions and contests I also use a custom thruster board with 4-batten Goya Banzai sails in 5.0, 4.5 and 4.0 sizes.

Big Thursday lived up to its name! The waves were thundering in and I could already hear them from my office. But I was stuck in work until 12 and then when I eventually got free at 1 p.m. I got stuck in traffic from roadworks. It wasn’t the ideal start and left me little time to go to my house, get my gear and jet ski, go windsurfing and still make it back to work in time after my lunch break.

Stressed and tired I opted to play it safe and rather than sail decided it was a day for watching not riding. A tough decision on what to me was the biggest ‘easily sailable’ day I’ve seen at Teahupo’o. But when things aren’t going the right way, it’s better to listen to the message being sent! It was the kind of session where you needed time to get ready and rest, watch the waves and be able to acclimatize. Teahupo’o is not a place where you want to be disrespectful! It was a good call, the wind was gusty and sets around 25 feet, not a day for a warm up! Even so, I went back to work with a deep sense of frustration and disappointment.

Come Friday I was working like planned when my friend and windsurfing mate Gael Vaast sent me a text at 9 a.m. – “Swell is great, west and powerful, and wind is here already. Kauli just got the most insane barrels of his life! – just go!” (Kauli Vaast is Gael’s son, a young pro surfer who won this year’s trials event for the pro surfing contest at Teahupo’o!)

Immediately I switched off everything  – A.C., phone, patients and brain and drove back home straight away. I parked the car, grabbed my gear and jumped on the jet ski for the 5 minute trip to the break; 45 minutes after receiving the text message I was in the channel with professional big wave surfer and Red Bull athlete Lucas ‘Chumbo’ Chianca who was training at Teahupo’o for the trials event of the pro surfing contest.


The waves were between 2.5 and 3.0 metres with a couple of bigger sets. There was a lot of west to the swell angle, which makes the bowl hollower and gives it its famous hollow and gnarly shape. The sky was crystal clear and the wind holding steady at a perfect 17 knots side-offshore – it was showtime!

I anchored the ski to the buoy in the channel and realized I’d forgotten my floatation. I have 2 different kinds of floatation – a CO2 inflatable vest and a foam impact suit. Inflatable devices are meaningless in Teahupo’o as you wouldn’t even have time to pull the trigger; you just want to float and be protected as much as possible … dead or alive! So I built my own floatation device made of a shorty wetsuit filled with foam from 2 sailing school life vests – it feels bulletproof, ha ha !! Unfortunately I would have none of them today as I had been hurrying too much! Lucas and I had a 3 hour session on our own, watching and screaming at each other’s waves. Lucas got about 30 barrels and I had some really intense and committed rides that day. It was crazy it was just us two out considering the crowds normally around at that time of the year, I guess the pro surfers were taking some rest before the heats of the pro contest at the weekend.

I came back home slowly, arriving a bit before sunset and ended up falling asleep in the garden beside my equipment – redemption day done!

“ The waves were thundering in and I could already hear them from my office.”

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