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Thursday
Oct272005

The World's Heaviest Wave

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Thursday October 27
Paris

Yes it's Teahupoo in Tahiti. Pronounced "Chop-oo". And have I surfed it? No. Would I? Not these days. I'm off the pace. But 20 years ago I would've had a crack. I was there for the Billabong Pro 2003. You can watch the action from a boat right next to the Drop Zone. Costs about 10 bucks for an hour. Great fun. And yes it's awesome. Big mutha of a left closing out over a reef. So if you fuck up...you fuck up BIG TIME. As in "Hasta la Vista" baby. Teahupoo is literally at the "end of the road". It's a sleepy little unspoiled fishing village. Kinda like Bali used to be in the Seventies. You can get basic Backpacker-style accom nearby. Go HERE to Pension Bonjouir, the surfers camp. But if you're not used to big fast, close-out waves - forget it. Do Indo or Hawaii first before taking on Teahupoo. And pay your dues to the locals. They are mostly good guys but you need to earn your place in the line-up. I was mainly surfing Taapuna - the left near Papeete. It's a prick of a paddle out and can get crowded but it's a great wave. Respect the locals. And if you're a KOOK...don't even think about surfing here. You could paddle out and hang off to the side near the channel and watch. Any closer and you'll be in everybody's way. If you go, say hello to a local Legend, Terai Tehaa, who's a giant Kahuna switchfooter riding a mini-mal. He loves to do Tow-In while high on Scotch! Serious. I got the following info from SURFLINE

Teahupoo

This isn't your father's perfect wave, and unless seeing your next birthday doesn't rank on your list of priorities, it isn't yours either. Tahiti's Teahupoo (pronounced cho-pu) is essentially a glorified closeout -- a hideous, deadly barrel promising a heap of trouble for even the most capable of surfers. In recent years, professional contests and high-profile tow-ins have bombarded us with images of her seemingly flawless barrels, but no other surf spot extracts a higher toll than Teahupoo, the heaviest wave in the world.

The quiet town of Teahupoo rests along the southwest corner of the smaller of Tahiti's two dormant volcanoes, Tahiti Iti, separated from the larger by the Isthmus of Taravao. Literally translated as "the hot head," King Teahupoo's son once avenged his father's death by feasting on the fresh brain of the son of his murderer. The town of Teahupoo has vehemently retained its native culture, despite the influx of tourists, who are confronted with an array of local crafts but not a single McDonald's. Recognized as a surf destination since the '60s, the island is ringed with coral atolls receiving abundant swell via the roaring 40s. No land stands in its way, so Tahiti enjoys Hawaiian power during our summer months, providing an off-season challenge comparable to the North Shore. Finding a suitable reef pass is the only job.

Ages ago, freshwater from the mountains flowed into the ocean, eroding the reef and creating what is known today as Passe Havae. The pass is located where the town's paved road ends, thus its early name, "The End of the Road." The channel at Teahupoo isn't actually a channel at all, as the wave bends and races along into a below sea level dry reef closeout. A 15-minute paddle from land, Teahupoo's severe shape results from a drastic change in gradient as powerful swells leave a gently sloping bottom and are hurled forward by the reef. The lip -- as thick as it is tall -- pitches with such velocity that one must take off under it to avoid being launched. Guts alone may cut it at some big-wave venues, but here they'll get you killed. An iron sack must be accompanied by finesse in negotiating a wave that has relegated Pipeline to mere warm-up status.

Tahitian Thierry Vernaudon claims he was the first to ride Teahupoo in 1985 with a few other locals, but the small waves they surfed were hardly the beasts we've come to know. Bodyboarders Mike Stewart and Ben Severson stumbled upon the End of the Road the following year, and it soon became something of an underground spot for psychotic bodyboarders. A handful of pro surfers rode Teahupoo through the early '90s, but it took a contest situation before they really charged. After a WQS event in 1997 failed to deliver a serious swell, the 1998 event proved to be a coming-out party for the heaviest wave in the world. The Gotcha Tahiti Pro, a four-star qualifier, opened the world's eyes to Teahupoo, but it was only the beginning.

Gotcha bumped its event up to WCT-status in 1999, and the surf bumped up to unimaginable proportions. The world's best surfers stared into the heart of the beast and many wanted no part of it. All the horrifying stories they'd heard were true; the barrel at Teahupoo did make Pipeline look tame. With the channel flooded with paparazzi and peers, there was no escaping the spotlight. Mark Occhilupo won the event, putting him on track for his improbable comeback world title, while Floridians Cory Lopez and C.J. Hobgood established reputations as fledgling hellmen.

The 2000 event was notable not for its surf (which ranged from perfect for the trials to huge and stormy for the early rounds to small and playful for the finals) but for the tragic death of local surfer Briece Taerea a week earlier. Taerea attempted to duck-dive a macker, hit the reef and spent two days in a coma before passing away, casting a shadow over the contest. Kelly Slater went on to win, but not before Andy Irons could leave his mark as the King of Teahupoo.

As it turned out, every surfer and every wave ridden to that point was just the ante; the heavy betting would take place August 17, 2000. Tow-in pioneer and unrivaled hellman Laird Hamilton was pulled into a wave that by all accounts was the heaviest ever ridden. On his backhand, Hamilton got in early, set his line and rocketed through the Lincoln Tunnel, an experience so moving it would bring him to tears trying to describe it. One mistake, and he certainly would have died.

It's hard to imagine Teahupoo one day seeming bland and being relieved of its "heaviest wave in the world" status by some other, more horrific spot. Unexplored reefs dwindle in number each day and the chances are reduced. The wave in front of the sleepy little town of Teahupoo may just be the end of the road. -- Jason Borte, January 2001

For the latest report from some heavy tow-ins at Teahupoo three weeks ago (Oct 2)go to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" at SURFERMAG Biggest waves ever ridden at Teahupoo! I freak just looking at the photos.

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