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TKM 55 Trade Winds Franck Berthuot and Miles Taylor North 18 copiar 1200x800 - Trade Winds

Trade Winds

Things could have gone very wrong for the North photoshoot to the Philippines, with gear getting stuck in customs, a major oil spill disaster, and precarious journeys in the dark on rickety old boats. But the team had session after session thanks to the consistent Amihan trade winds, worked together to get the shots they needed, and all made it back home safely with some epic memories of a beautiful country.

PHOTOS: Franck Berthuot and Miles Taylor
TKM 55 Trade Winds Franck Berthuot and Miles Taylor North 4 - Trade Winds

Early March can be a tricky time to find consistent wind at most kite destinations, but when you’re governed by launch dates for an entire new season collection and rebrand, the Philippines is one of your best bets. The dominant “Amihan” trade winds blow constant side-onshore wind between 15 to 25 knots from November to April, with a beautiful warmth, not too hot in the day and not too cold at night. “It’s as if someone left a fan on, in a fixed setting in a warm room for 17 days,” says Brand Director Mike Raper. “With thousands of islands to explore, we were spoilt for choice – and by the end of the shoot, exhausted by the chase!”

“Heading back to the spot Mike discovered many years ago while on a kite recce from his Hong Kong base was the perfect call,” says Production Manager Rebecca Vaughan. “Our Kite and Wing Designer, Dano See, lives locally – he even has a sail loft there, and the teams at Kingfisher Lodge and Kitesurf Mindoro are always on hand to help. Most importantly, it was the most likely location to have consistent winds at that time of year. The biggest challenge we thought we’d face was the amount of gear we needed to shoot – every category, from Freestyle to Foiling, was part of the North Sails rebrand. How would we get so much equipment to the location? Not to mention 11 team riders, five North staff, plus five photo and video crew… Our adventures started with wave riding up in the north, at Kingfisher Lodge, Pagudpud. As luck would have it, all the kitesurfing gear got stuck in customs. But fortunately, Mike and I were able to hand-carry gear from the NZ Brand Headquarters. With only one of each board, there were plenty of moments when the riders had to swap gear mid-shoot, so the team had to get creative with how we got the gear out on the water to them.”

Kingfisher Lodge is uniquely positioned with perfect cross-shore conditions and a peaky swell wrapping onto a relatively shallow reef only 200m from the beach. This setup creates a natural amphitheater where you can sip on a coconut cocktail or a local San Miguel while taking in all the action. Team riders Camille and Capucine Delannoy could boost strapless freestyle in the water only meters away from the hammocks, then head out back to charge down the line on the bigger sets. “Kingfisher Resort even has a micro-brewery – 2919 Brewing Co – and a fresh sushi bar on the beach. It really is a dreamy location, and if you haven’t already been, it should be on your bucket list,” says Mike. “It’s a shame it’s so far from Europe and the US. But once you’re there, the Philippines is inexpensive – you could call it an undiscovered secret – and the local community is so friendly; Filipinos are known for their hospitality and smiling faces.” The government is investing heavily in roads and infrastructure, and, to their credit, wind energy. We did some of the Surf shoot near Pagudpud wind farm, which covers a large area, with the country aiming for 15.3 GW of renewable energy capacity in the grid by 2030.

A few days before the team were due to leave Kingfisher, news broke about MT Princess Empress sinking off Naujan, south of Manila, causing an oil spill in the waters of the next shoot location, Mindoro. The oil tanker was carrying 900,000 liters of industrial fuel oil before it sank in one of the world’s most diverse marine habitats. “We were grateful that the spill could be contained relatively quickly, and the channel where we were shooting wasn’t affected. But no fish could be consumed, and coastal communities there rely on fishing for their livelihood. Whenever we went to any island to film, we would take bags of rice and fresh drinking water to help the locals,” says Rebecca.

“For the Big Air, Freeride and Freestyle part of the shoot, we stayed at Kitesurf Mindoro, shooting out at smaller islands until after sunset, then navigating back in the dark on boats held together with zip ties,” says Content Creator, Morgan Blackmore. “The first attempt at a Big Air shoot didn’t really go to plan. The team set out to explore a spot where the wind was pumping, walking for kilometers through the mangroves, carrying all the camera gear. En route to the spot we walked through a local village. Naturally, all the little kids were fascinated with the camera gear, and wanted to help us carry things. Nick Jacobsen said, ‘Shall I give them some money for that?’ and pulled out 2500 of local currency. Handing the wad of cash to the children – about USD$70 – they sprinted back to the village, then come straight back to help us some more! But by the time we got to the spot, the wind had dropped and the tide had gone too far out, so the shoot ended up with Jesse giving kite piggyback rides to all the kids. But we did have days when it got up to 30 knots, ideal conditions for Jesse Richman, Nick Jacobsen and Marc Jacobs to send it large on the 2024 Orbit, Atmos Pro and Flex Pro bindings.”

On Mindoro, kite school and resort owner Kathrin Borgwardt dreamed of returning to basics, living a simpler life. Kitesurf Mindoro is based around a central meeting space with Wi-Fi and hammocks, surrounded by small bungalows. A typical day there consisted of getting up just after dawn and attending Team Manager Alex Vliege’s Wim Hoff breathing techniques, followed by an ice bath. “Nothing gets the blood flowing like an ice bath and a hot cup of coffee before diving into the amazing buffet breakfast Kathrin and her team put on,” says Mike. “After breakfast, tired and weary from the day before but frothing with anticipation for more epic conditions, we would plan our adventures based on the forecast, pack gear and cameras and go. We took the local fishing boats – bangkas – to get to different islands and the passes between them, where the wind and swell would compress and create ideal conditions for kiting.”

The boat rides made for some interesting experiences… “Often we’d be travelling in the dark on the bangkas,” says Rebecca. “One boat kept breaking down, the engine would stall, they’d tinker with it for a bit in the dark, then pull the string and it would go… Another day the boat almost capsized and we nearly lost all the camera gear overboard. However, all of this was still in the early days of post-pandemic travel, so we felt incredibly lucky to have the whole team back together. It was a huge production, with some big personalities, but all in all, it was a real celebration of teamwork. We really came together as One North.”

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Team rider Karlie Thoma concurs: “I had an epic time island-hopping and bonding with everyone. We made sure to get what we needed to get done and enjoyed a beer or two to wrap up the day. I was definitely not expecting Tom Bridge to be as funny as he was; that guy is classic!” Tom also has great travel memories, saying: “I really enjoyed shooting the Code Zero on short lines with Nick, Marc and Jesse. It was good having Jesse at me for not being in the right spot. That was funny. The highlight of the trip for me had to be the almost capsizing of the sketchy boat we were on after shooting. Being feet away from losing all the shots and gear was quite thrilling!”

The boat rides also provided a lasting memory for photographer Miles Taylor: “Returning from one of the more adventurous locations one evening, having pushed our limits with the timings and shooting until the sun went down, we had to rely solely on the stars and moonlight to guide us across the sea, while we were tossed about by the waves. As we crashed through the ocean swell, the sea was alive with bioluminescent algae. Every wave that struck our boat sent an explosion of bioluminescent spray around us. I recall thinking that this was the epitome of adventure. In one moment, I was in a state of fear for my life, yet simultaneously felt more alive than ever before. The stars above us sparkling in the night were mirrored by the twinkle from the bioluminescence below us. The experience left me with an overwhelming sense of pride, happiness and confidence, especially after working with such an incredible team.” The end results of a successful trip were all down to the team working together, as their proud Team Manager Alex says: “It was awesome to see the synergy between the disciplines; everyone connected so well and there was a real team spirit.”

And as Jesse says: “Kite trips are only as good as the people you go with. Sometimes, epic conditions can compensate for less than epic companions, but this is rare. Fortunately, this trip to the Philippines was freaking epic across the board. We had a badass crew and an epic itinerary amidst the breathtaking vistas of the Philippines’ turquoise waters and lush landscapes. The stoke was further amplified by a load of beautiful new 2024 North gear waiting to be tested and pushed to its limits. Having grown up where adventures shaped my days, I’ve always cherished an adventurous mindset. It’s a mindset where plans can change in an instant, where new paths are formed spontaneously. This trip, with minimal cell service and connection to “the real world”, felt like a surreal escape. I missed my family deeply, as being connected to them has become a foundational part of my heart and soul, but disconnecting from technology is simply awesome. The liberation that comes with turning off the phone, closing the computer, and grasping a kite bar is unparalleled. There’s something profoundly freeing about it, launching a kite with the wind blasting through your hair, running and jumping into the warm ocean with but one mission: to go full-send… nothing like it…

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