Words by Rebecca Parsons
If New Caledonia isn't on your SUP radar, it should be.
A French territory comprised of a series of small islands in the South Pacific, New Caledonia is home to white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a lagoon and barrier reef, bustling with marine life. The third largest of all islands in the South Pacific, New Caledonia has been a tourist magnet for years due to its stunning views, delicious food and over-the-water bungalows. But more recently, it's gaining recognition as a breeding ground for top standup paddlers.
SUP racers Titouan Puyo, Noïc Garioud, and Clément Colmas all call the island nation their home. Puyo's been turning heads for years as a dominant force in the racing scene. No stranger to the podium, Puyo is currently ranked third in the world after a number of top finishes this season. Just two spots behind Puyo in the world rankings is sixteen-year-old Noic Garioud. After a strong 2018 season, the young paddler made a serious name for himself in the world of SUP racing when he secured a victory in the double downwinder at the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. Finishing just behind Garioud was seventeen-year-old Colmas, further proving that New Caledonian paddlers will be a force to reckon with for years to come.
"Before the race my father said to me: 'Son, you can win this race. The problem is you must beat 100% of the best downwinders in the world,'" Garioud recalls. "My heroes are Titouan [Puyo] and Lincoln Dews—I had an eye on them during the entire race. I enjoyed beating them but I also have a big respect for them and all the other riders."
"I was so glad to finish second before many SUP legends," says Colmas of the double downwinder. "I was even more surprised to be on the podium with my training mate, Noic [Garioud]. It was a really nice event for me."
Puyo, Garioud and Colmas all regularly train at the Territorial Center of Training (CTE) alongside a few other talented local paddlers. The group meets four times per week and training sessions are planned and organized by coaches Ben Riviera, Brian Rollan and Vincent Guillaume. Trainings usually consist of flatwater and downwind runs, but occasionally the crew will venture into the waves for some surf training.
"New Caledonia is paradise for watersports," says Colmas. "You can practice every day, the wind is good half the year to downwind and there are some nice swells in the winter. It's a really nice playground for anyone who wants to SUP."
Despite its presence on the world SUP stage, New Caledonia is a small nation comprised of just over 280 thousand citizens. With only a small pool of paddlers to draw from, it will be interesting to see if the island nation will continue its dominant streak. Garioud, Colmas, and even Puyo are still young and there are a few other groms that have been showing some serious potential.
"The CTE is a good way to improve and the government is very supportive of young paddlers," says Puyo. "I am proud to represent New Caledonia because the island and the sport have given me so much."