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Children of the Point
By Gilles Calvet
Translated by Nico Ostermann and Sylvie Johnson
When the F-One wave team got news through an internet forecast that a massive swell was going to hit Cabo Verde, they all jumped onto the first available plane to the island of Sal, located less than 400 miles off the west coast of Africa.
They would score the swell of the decade, but they were just visitors here. The swell gave the local crew, who grew up poor and learned to ride on donated gear, their chance to shine.
It all started back in February 1993 when, after three long weeks of endless waiting during which our patience was tested, a largely unknown wave –Punta Preta – finally showed us its potential.
At the time, there were no internet wave-forecasting sites to follow or Twitter updates that would explain the lack of swell or give us a hint of when, if ever, it would arrive. Nevertheless, we believed in the rare rumors of unbelievable waves that had been spread by a few lucky ones who had been here before us.
One of them was Raphael Salles. He had travelled to Sal a couple of times in 1986 and 1987 for its warm waters and perfect wind conditions as his winter windsurfing training ground. He was fine tuning his prototype course racing board, tacking back and forth along the west coast, and during one of his training sessions he spotted breaking waves.
Raphael told a few people about the waves, but the Cabo Verde archipelago quickly sunk back into obscurity. No one seemed interested with these poor desert-like islands except maybe for a handful of hardcore windsurfers. In 1993, we were searching for hypothetical waves on the west coast, and when we found them, we were rewarded.
After three weeks of waiting, our reward surpassed anything we could have imagined: a gorgeous right tube, smoothed by 20-knot trade winds, just for Raoul Lequertier and myself, for no less than twelve consecutive days. Since then, this world-class wave has fed many magazines with incredible photos, but it has also been the source of inspiration for the creation of the local kitesurfing team.
Today, you can’t talk about Punta Preta without mentioning Mitu Monteiro, Djo, Matchu, and many more local riders. They belong to a league of their own and are directly connected to this spot: They are the children of the point.
For most of them, life has been no bed of roses. I watched them grow up here. Since my very first trip in 1993, I have not missed one winter in Cabo Verde where I have lived by their side with all my gear, which consisted of one surfboard, my camera gear, and a surf housing.
We shared food and shelter, and they taught me their language. They started out with not much: four bare brick walls with a dirt floor and conch-shell roof. Their toys were made of rusted metal tins and broken balls.
They began by loading and transporting the tourist windsurfers’ equipment when they could, and on Santa Maria beach, their passion for watersports was born. Slowly, they began to work for the windsurfing schools, then the kiteboarding schools. Before long, they were able to get out for short sessions at the end of their work schedules.
These sessions were enough to make them the best riders on the beach. Rapidly, both local and traveling surfers, windsurfers, and kiteboarders (particularly Jerome Boggio Pascua, a Cabo Verde watersports pioneer) began to take notice and gave them a used board, a kite, or a wetsuit.
Then, whether walking or hitch-hiking with their gear in tow, they started to defy the Queen of the North Atlantic: The Black Point, their own Punta Preta!
Santa Maria Boys Take Control of the Point
With each passing session, each member of the local crew earned their spots one step at a time. During the early years, a broken mast or a torn kite meant endless months of patience before being able to ride again.
Many ripped kites and broken masts later, they are still here, humble, unhurried, smiling, and always welcoming to visitors whether on land or in the water. They try to show up every day, as long as the wind and waves are “au rendez-vous.”
Typically, sixteen-year old Matchu opens the riding session, since he is the lightest of them all. He can get going with an 8m kite in only in 12 knots of wind. The others watch him quietly. If Matchu can stay upwind, then Djo and Mitu know what kite size they need to start pumping.
As the spot comes alive, curiously the waves seem to always get better and the wind smoother and Djo and Mitu take turns pushing each other. With each explosive move from Djo, Mitu gives us a slashed lip and a grabbed air. To a powerful bottom turn followed by a table top, Mitu responds with a snap under the lip followed with a deep tube ride. To a strapped Djo, Mitu needs only wax on his strapless board.
In Cabo Verde, Mitu is now a household name and local hero. He has been featured in the F-One videos, and is a quiet and meticulous person who has succeeded through strength and patience to make his dream a reality: to live from and by his passion for watersports. Mitu, Djo, and Matchu are not only pushing and inspiring each other, but they are also a huge inspiration to the local children in Santa Maria.
You can be sure that there will be children here in this poor town that will follow in their footsteps, dancing atop of the big waves armed with a kite.
When Raphael called me for this last minute trip, I was already packed, since I had already seen the forecast for this swell. I still don’t know how Raphael managed to magically gather all his team of riders, cameramen, and kite designer Sylvain Peretti so quickly, but we all arrived in town one day before the swell arrived.
Of all the times I have been to Cabo Verde since 1993, this swell was the largest, no question about it. However, as we all know, large and massive swell does not always mean perfect conditions. For the first two days, huge foamy waves rolled in every 15 minutes making the filming hardly enjoyable and mostly unsuccessful.
We used a crane to shoot, posted about 20 meters above the point break area. With each passing day, the wind turned a bit more offshore and the swell became more organized. The fourth day, Wednesday February 10, was the most intense and rare day I have experienced anywhere. Upon our arrival to the spot, everything was perfectly aligned: The blue sky, beautiful swell, and the wind direction. As usual, Matchu went in the water first, followed by Mitu.
All of the sudden, almost magically, the point really started to shine as the waves cleaned up even more, leaving clean faces and barreling waves. In the end, Alex Caizergues, who rode the biggest wave of this historic winter in Punta Preta, summed it up perfectly: “It’s a pleasure and an honor to share this point with Mitu and his posse.”
That day, I swam for six hours shooting photos: three in the morning and three in the afternoon. I shot about 1200 pictures, and I believe a dozen of them came out really nicely.
I really want to thank Mother Nature for this epic day, Mitu and the rest of the team for their great performance, and also Jerome, who lent me the board on which I also caught the best wave of the set, just a few hours before flying back home, which gave me the desire to write these few words.