The Birth of a Star(board) – Titouan Puyo (And The Story Behind The Story)

Who is Titouan Puyo? Take a SUP journey around the world and find out. Peak behind the scenes at Starboard’s HQ in Thailand, go downwinding on Titou’s home island, New Caledonia, then travel across to Nicaragua, where he wins gold at the ISA Worlds.

This guy is not only an incredibly fast paddler, he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. Remember the name Titouan Puyo (or just “Titou”) because I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

Watch the full clip above and I hope you enjoy.

Video filmed and edited by the very talented Thaissa MDC. Nicaragua footage courtesy of the International Surfing Association.

Oh and if you’re curious, here’s the entire back story behind this clip:

So last November, France held their National Titles to decide who’d be going to the ISA Worlds in Nicaragua six months later.

Everybody assumed Eric Terrien would win and that the young guns (such as Arthur Daniel and Arthur Arutkin) and older guard (including Gaetene Sene, Greg Closier and Yoann Cornelis) would battle it out for the other spot.

The guy nobody saw coming was a 22-year-old named Titouan Puyo.

Even in France this guy was a virtual unknown. For two reasons.

The first is that Titou lives on the French colonial outpost of New Caledonia, which sits as far away from France as you can get (the island sits off the East Coast of Australia). The second is that Titou only began stand up paddling at the start of 2013, less than a year before the national titles race.

It’s hard to believe, but even today this guy has only been on a SUP for about a year and a half. Of course there’s more to it than that: Titou has been paddling Va’a (outrigger canoes) and surf skis for the last ten years. The 22-year-old is the New Caledonian outrigger champ and one of the few guys who can stay within shouting distance of the Tahitians. Though even with this background, his crossover into SUP has been amazingly fast and incredibly smooth.

But back to the 2013 French National Titles: On the opening day of the event Titou won the Long Distance race, defeating Eric Terrien and the rest of France’s finest paddlers in the process. I was left scratching my head when Greg Closier sent me through the results. So was everybody else.

Who was this guy? And where on earth had he come from?

Greg explained Titou’s story to me and suggested that, seeing New Caledonia is so close to Australia, it would be cool to see him come out and race the Aussies. I asked Greg if he could introduce me to Titou, after which we invited him to compete in one of Australia’s biggest events: The 12 Towers.

Fast forward a couple of months and Titou flies in to Aus, then proceeds to win the 12 Towers downwind race, defeating several of Australia’s (and the world’s) best paddlers (Beau O’Brian, Jake Jensen, Paul Jackson, Kelly Margetts, etc) in the process.

Titou stayed on the Gold Coast for a couple of weeks to train with the local crew, in which time we got to know him a little better. Titou is not only an incredibly fast paddler (especially when the wind is blowing), he’s also a very humble, entertaining and laid back character. Kinda like a French-speaking version of Travis Grant.

Before Titou departed, we were all invited back to New Caledonia for one of their big events. I jumped at the chance. I’ve always heard of New Cal being an island paradise and the way Titou was describing their downwind runs made it that much more tempting.

So a month later a few of us were on the plane from Brisbane to Noumea.

However right before that trip, I’d taken a little holiday Thailand that included a few days at the Starboard headquarters outside Bangkok. Starboard’s founder and owner, Svein Rasmussen, was extremely generous in showing us around the offices and factories, sharing insights into board design and construction as well as discussing the future of the sport in general.

It was an awesome trip that afforded me a new found respect for the Starboard team (I can see why their boards are so damn fast…).

I told the crew about our upcoming trip to New Caledonia and how it would be cool to do a special feature on Titou, who Starboard had signed to their International Dream Team a couple of months earlier. I was also captivated by the whole board design and construction process. So after chatting with the company’s head of marketing, Caren Forbes, we came up with the idea for the “Birth of a Star(board)” video, which would combine the birth of a new board with the birth of a new star.

I’ve got no idea about video production, but fortunately my traveling partner, Thaissa, is a graphic design whiz.

So we filmed a bunch of different pieces of the board creation process. From the CNC machine, which cuts the blank into the rough shape of a board, to the shaping bay, where Starboard’s design guru Mathieu Rauzier finished it off, to the carbon wrapping, to the glassing, to the finishing and finally, into the box and ready for shipping.

That was Thailand done. Straight after which we flew to New Caledonia to meet back up with Titou.

We spent a week in New Caledonia, racing, downwinding and enjoying the island in general. This place has some amazing paddlers and gets some serious downwind conditions.

On one of the days we planned a marathon downwinder, so I took out my GoPro to get some clips of Titou. I asked him to stop halfway through the run so we could get some footage. Titou was very patient but that can’t have been much fun… For one, he had to sit and wait for about 10 minutes while I even caught up to him. But also the conditions were firing that day and he had to watch all of his buddies paddle off into the distance while I said “Oh sorry didn’t get that one, can you paddle back upwind and do it again?” about 20 times in a row.

Conditions were pretty good in the video, though it got absolutely epic about 30 minutes further down the coast. That island scores bumps that would rival Maui…

It was one of the funnest downwinders I’ve ever done and highlighted just how much potential and room for growth this sport has in every corner of the globe.

So anyway, now we had the Starboard clips from Thailand plus the New Caledonia downwind clips, however something was still missing…

Fortunately Titou stepped it up and brought the story full circle the following month. We met back up in Nicaragua, where Titou was representing France and I was representing… the media at the ISA World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championship.

This was the event he’d qualified for during the 2013 French Nationals. That was the first time anyone in the paddling world had really heard of him and now here he was, six months later, at the Worlds.

In the long distance event on the penultimate date of the Championship, in a race featuring a very stacked field and a unique course, Titou put in an absolutely stunning performance to claim the gold medal.

It was the perfect race: After 13 kilometres of flat water grinding and draft train tactics through the protected isles that ring the edge of Lake Nicaragua, the lead pack of a dozen guys hit the exposed part of the lake for a final, four kilometre downwind run to the finish.

As soon as the leaders rounded the buoy that marked the start of the downwind leg, Titou instantly took off. And nobody could stay with him. It was amazing to watch. This guy is an absolute machine in the bumps.

He instantly broke the field and by the time he hit the finish it was spread out all over the place. Such was his speed over the downwind section that Titou finished the race six minutes ahead of some of the guys who’d been sitting on his tail only 25 minutes earlier.

It was an amazing moment for Titou, for New Caledonia, for France and for the sport of stand up paddling in general. A guy from some island that most people have never heard of, who had only been paddling standing up for just over a year, was suddenly the new ISA World Champion.

I’d given Titou the nickname of “World’s #1 Dark Horse” after his efforts in France and Australia, but now he was a dark horse no more…

Now Titouan Puyo is officially a star of the sport.

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