Teahupoo: photographer Gaëtan Charlin merged the energy of the outer and inner waves through contrast and a hint of light snow | Photo: Gaëtan Charlin/Red Bull Illume

My name is Gaëtan Charlin. I'm originally from Lyon, France, and grew up far from the sea.

To be honest, I only discovered surfing at the age of 12 when I had my first introduction, but it wasn't until I turned 18 that I truly fell in love with the ocean.

This sport became a real passion that shaped the rest of my life, and nurturing it led me to the world of photography.

My obsession with surfing and the sea eventually made city life unbearable, and I felt the need to move.

Six months later, I left school in the middle of the year and headed to Hawaii.

In November 2018, at the age of 20, I landed on the island of Hawaii armed with my first camera.

I spent three months there, surfing and photographing every day.

I started capturing landscape and surfer images, as well as waves and lineups, inspired by what I saw in magazines.

With the ocean and photography as my main passions, it felt natural to combine them and pursue my dream.

Since then, I've spent the past year traveling the world in search of waves and moments to capture.

Gaëtan Charlin: a surf photographer from Lyon, France | Photo: Gaëtan Charlin

The Tahiti Click

It wasn't until six years later that I decided to go to Tahiti, this time with proper photography gear, a new Canon camera, and a telephoto lens.

Tahiti became the place where everything began.

My lifelong dream had always been to live near the ocean, so I stayed here for two years, mainly for its legendary Teahupoo wave.

It's a perfect, long, hollow tube that every surfer dreams of riding.

It's really a cylinder that you can surf, not one where you have to be towed in unless it's huge.

Teahupoo is the pinnacle.

It's also set against a unique backdrop with the mountains and the valley of the village of Teahupoo.

What makes it even more special is that this very substantial wave breaks over a coral reef, and just beside it, it's deep, allowing boats to get very close.

You can document and film the wave from the side, with a direct view into the tube, which is quite rare.

It's unlike at Pipeline or many other surf spots where you're on the beach, seeing the wave from afar.

At Teahupoo, anyone, even with a smartphone, can capture an incredible image from a boat.

This is how I met many surfers and got noticed by magazines and brands.

It opened doors for me. From that moment on, I decided to become a photographer and make it my real profession.

Teahupoo, Code Red: when it's big, it's always busy | Photo: Gaëtan Charlin

The Power of Photography

Photography is such an incredible medium; it has the power to tell stories and remember specific moments.

When I look at each of my images, I have so many flashbacks - the journey that led to that moment, random memories about the subject of the photo, and fun moments that happened during the trip.

Everything that comes to mind.

In 20 years, I want to look back on my life and remember all these amazing memories.

I love documenting my life through images and sharing it on various platforms.

I want to show people how many beautiful places there are in the world.

My best memories are from traveling. On the road, you meet so many new people and experience different things in life.

I want people to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. You only live once.

Teahupoo, Tahiti: one of the heaviest barreling waves on the planet | Photo: Gaëtan Charlin

The Teahupoo Shot

Let's talk about the photo I was selected for in the Red Bull Illume 2023 photography contest in the Best of Instagram category.

It's the first one you see in this article, up above.

It was taken during the April/May 2023 Code Red event in Tahiti, at the Teahupoo spot, where everything started professionally for me.

When I first arrived at Teahupoo, I fell in love with what I saw, and since then, I haven't stopped photographing this wave.

It's a fascinating world!

So, I stay there all year, watching the weather conditions and waiting for everything to align.

It's one of the challenges of surf photography - all conditions must come together.

Sometimes, just a few days in the year make up my entire photographic year. So, you must be present, ready, and not miss them.

The day before the Code Red, we were all excited about the upcoming day. Surfers from around the world had traveled for this day.

We had a lot of trouble with the police, who put an end to all boat trips, but finally, by the end of the day, I managed to find a boat that took me to the wave.

The moment had come, getting up very early in the morning to be ready to be the first one at the spot.

I took the boat and realized that after all this time dreaming of surfing here, I was finally part of this world.

I was with the Hawaiian team and many great photographers and videographers.

It's both very intimidating, and at the same time, you feel so proud to be there.

Just after a few waves, I saw Kai Lenny get towed in by Lucas Chumbo on the first bomb of the day.

The elements were aligned, and I had always had this image in mind for this particular surf spot.

I wanted to show that an avalanche could happen in the water as well as in the mountains.

In the process of editing the image, I love how you can dive into a picture and see what's there and what's not.

You become an integral part of the image.

I aimed to highlight and merge the energy of the outer and inner waves through contrast and a hint of light snow.

The photo is now one of the 250 semifinalists of the Red Bull Illume 2023.

You can check out my Instagram account @gaetancharlin to explore more of my work. Soon, I'll create my website and offer photo prints.

Technical Settings

Camera: Canon EOS R5
Lens: Canon 70-200mm
ISO: 200D+
F-Stop: 2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/2500


Words by Gaëtan Charlin | Photographer and Surfer

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