Teahupoo – Southwest Shore, Tahiti
Since the discovery of Jaws on Maui, no other wave has caught the attention of the big wave surfing world like Teahupoo. Teahupoo is a different kind of big wave than Jaws and many other big wave spots. It is a regular reef break that breaks semi-similar to Pipeline: a left that breaks over a very shallow and sharp reef, producing a super round barrel. The difference between Teahupoo and other similar reef breaks is that when a massive southern swell comes in, it turns into one of the heaviest barreling tow-in waves in the world. Unlike the deep water of Jaws and Waimea Bay, Teahupoo breaks in very shallow water, even when the wave reaches heights of over 20 feet. It sucks so much water out from underneath it as the wave hits the reef that it often looks like the ocean slopes down into the mouth of the wave. The wave is so thick that the backside of the wave looks like the whole ocean is behind it. Since it was first towed into on a big swell, Teahupoo has become synonymous with big wave surfing.
Teahupoo is located on the southwest side of the main island in Tahiti. It is often called “the end of the road” because it literally is at the end of the paved sidewalk at the end of town.
Swell & Weather Conditions
Teahupoo comes to life during the summertime’s big south swells. There is no land blocking the swell energy that comes at Tahiti, so Teahupoo takes it all in. The best winds are north, though most of the epic days at Teahupoo seem to happen when there is virtually no wind and it is perfectly glassy.
The best boards to paddle in with are pintails and rounded pins that are thick enough and long enough to get you into the wave as early as possible. But if you are there when the waves are really pumping, you’ll need a tow board with straps.
Teahupoo’s history really is brief. The wave was first surfed in contests in the late ‘90s and didn’t really gain a reputation as a heavy wave until the 1998 WQS event. The 1999 and 2000 WCT events were what really shocked the surfing world. In 2000, competitors didn’t even want to get into the water, fearing the gaping barrel they were viewing from the channel. To make matters worse for that event, a local Tahitian had been killed a week earlier after being thrown into the reef by a massive wave. August of 2000 was when Teahupoo first became known as the heaviest wave in the world, when Laird Hamilton towed into a few waves that were the gnarliest ever seen in surfing at that point in time.
Each year, there is a Billabong Pro WCT event at Teahupoo. If you get a chance to get over there and sit in the channel, you’ll be in for the show of a lifetime. Otherwise, you’ll just have to watch it live online like the rest of us.
Brief Travel Info
Traveling to Tahiti is not too hard to figure out, though the airfare can get a little pricey. Fly into Papeete and make your way down to Teahupoo. It’s not that necessary to get a car, as it’s cheap to use the public transportation and all the surf spots are only accessible by boat anyway. There is not much in the way of hotels down at the “end of the road.” Most surfers find families to stay with, which is the most convenient because they’ll take care of the food and all. Once you get to Teahupoo, it’s best to find a boat to take you out. You can paddle, but it takes at least 20 minutes each way.