Tahiti was hosting the World Surf League competition at Teahupo’o. We could not miss an opportunity to see professional surfers from all over the world attempt to tame some of the deadliest waves in the world. Rachel and Josh (from Voyages of Agape) and Mike (from Easy) accompanied me on this adventure. Matt stayed on the boat to fix a leaking water pump to our dismay. We had rented a car to provision the boat and kept it an extra day to drive to Teahupo’o. This town is located at the end of Tahiti Iti (the smaller of the two Tahiti islands) and is about a 90-minute drive.
The WSL event started at 0600 and we arrived around 0900. We were stoked to be there, but many others had arrived before us. The competition is located at the surf break which is about a mile away from shore. You can either pay $25/pp/hr on a tour boat or you can go by SUP, kayak, outrigger, surfboard. We went by SUP. Mike is an Olympic medalist (snowboarder) and a big athlete. Josh and Rachel are 20 years younger and in impeccable shape. And then there is me. I am not horribly out of shape, but I am “challenged” to keep up with these 3! The photo below shows where we paddled to from shore (small boats on the horizon under the blue arrow).
We stopped half way at a marker to rest, thank goodness! I was desperately trying to be cool and not act like a baby. It took us about 45 minutes to paddle upwind, against the waves and current. It was a workout!
At Your Own Risk – the Viewing Area
We finally made it to the viewing area which was ridiculously close to the breaking waves. We were surrounded by lots of other boats, boarders, kayakers, floaters and swimmers. The top photo shows you where the judge stand is on the reef.
The Safety Line
There is a safety line with little floats on it that surround the viewing area. They are anchored with moorings that several small boats tied to. We paddled up to the first spot in the middle of the safety line. You had to hold on to the line to avoid being pulled back by the current. It took me almost a half hour to calm my heart and nerves. Just as I was starting to feel comfortable, we decided to move closer to the breaking waves. We edged up, grabbed the safety line and settled in to watch the competition. Safety line is purple.
Up Close and Personal
We were about 100 meters from the break. We could see them drop in and come out of the waves. Unfortunately, we could not see the center of the wave as it curved around hiding the rider from us. We were so close that we often felt the spray from the larger waves.
Between us and the surfers were the rescue teams, surfers in the next heat and support teams. The bottom left image shows my paddle board and the wave (no zoom) to give you an idea of our proximity.
We saw a few crashes, aborts and funny landings as well. But, thank God, nobody was hurt.
We walked ashore and found a picture-perfect opportunity.
Not sure I would have paddled out that far to land myself in the midst of those dangerous waves under normal circumstances. However, Rachel has a way of convincing me I am invincible and can do anything. She is encouraging and supportive throughout each of our adventures. This was an experience of a lifetime!
The Exhilaration of Teahupo’o
Teahupo’o translates “to sever the head” or “place of skulls.” It is where thrill seeking surfers go to experience the heaviest waves in the world. It was first discovered as an underground spot for bodyboarders and surfers in 1986. However, it took 12 more years before the world recognized it for its “thick” waves and named it as a go to surf destination. In 2015, Nathan Florence further extended its reputation by setting the record for successfully paddling the biggest wave.
For my non native surf readers, you might be wandering what is a “thick” wave? A thick wave is a large wave with a lot of weight behind it referring to how “thick” it is. In addition to having thick waves, there are several other characteristics that make this surf spot dangerous and challenging for surf enthusiasts.
Teahupo’o Reef Break
Teahupo’o is a reef break. The swells mainly break left. But the outer reef also creates right breaks that surfers must avoid when paddling out.
Unique Wave Formations
Teahupo’o’s reputation for wave riding is partly due to its unique form. There is an extremely shallow coral reef, which ranges up to 20 inches (51 cm) beneath the water’s surface. This is responsible for a very hollow-breaking wave. Due to the specific shape of the reef beneath the waves it almost force the waves to break below sea level.
The waves form in a semi-circular nature, which drops down sharply creating a ‘below water’ effect. The extreme angles in descent create an instant instability to the wave. A steep wall of reef causes the entire mass to fold onto a scalloped semi-circle breaking arc. The wave bends and races along into a dry reef closeout and the lip of the wave is often as thick as it is tall
Teahupo’o is also renowned for the consistent number of barrels it delivers. It is a rewarding location and is widely regarded as being on the ‘must-surf’ list of every enthusiastic surfer. However, only experienced surfers in peak physical condition should attempt Teahupo’o.
The heavy waves combined with a shallow shoreline can result in serious injuries and even death in a wipeout. Teapupo’o is one of the top 10 deadliest places to surf in the world.