Taking On Teahupoo

Words by Ru Hill

When we close for our mid season break in May, I like to take a week or two to explore new waves in other parts of the world. This year I headed to Teahupoo, in Tahiti along with our resort manger, Dani Acosta, coach Kerianne Kreger and team rider Brad Wedding. These team trips are fun but they are also for exploring potential locations for satellite coaching weeks. In the past we’ve run courses in Indonesia and France and this year we’re also looking at Peru, Nicaragua, Portugal and French Polynesia (though not Teahupoo itself, I hasten to add, as it is one of the heaviest waves in the world).


Above: Kerianne taking photos and making worried mom noises from the boat in the channel at Teahupoo.

As a coach at Surf Simply, I spend a lot of time helping people overcome their fear though a combination of: understanding the mechanics of the waves; ocean safety techniques; and learning to rationalize away emotional reactions. The thing is, it’s been years since I have felt intimidated in the ocean, and so I wanted to remind myself what it feels like. I wanted to be a better coach by getting back in touch with the emotions that the people I work with are going through.


Above: This is how shallow the reef at Teahupoo is when you fall and this is what happened when Brad hit it (below).



I think it’s also important to keep doing things that you find scary. When you’re a kid, adults make you do new and intimidating things all the time. As adults though, we tend to only spend our time doing things that we are comfortable with. If you take on intimidating new challenges though, then either you succeed and get good, which will bring you a lot of joy or you’ll remind yourself that it’s ok to try new things and suck at them. That way you won’t be afraid to keep picking up new things throughout your life, some of which will bring you a lot of pleasure (and some good anecdotes too).


Above: This bird fell out of it’s nest but was rescued by one of the local surfers at Teahupoo. Now it flies around the line up during the day and sits on surfer’s heads in between sets.

My challenge was to stand in one of the monstrous barrels that Teahupoo is capable of serving up. I didn’t quite succeed this time around but I felt good about what I achieved. I did get some medium sized barrels, which were still the fastest and most powerful tubes I have ever been in.


Above: Racing over the reef, inside one of the most powerful tubes of my life at Teahupoo. Photo: Renato Tinoco

Below: Later that day I swam out with the GoPro and took a photo of Renato who, hours later, was still putting himself right in the critical part of the wave every time.


I also talked myself into taking off on some of the biggest waves but just not quite deep enough to disappear behind the curtain. I made mistakes too and took off too deep more than once as well as getting caught inside by big sets which resulted in some of the most savage beatings of my life. Usually I can laugh off a big wipeout, but Teahupoo’s hold downs left me shaking and very quiet afterwards.


Above: Caught inside with nowhere to run and trying to keep calm.

I came away in awe of the wave and the surfers who make it look easy. Teahupoo is a far more challenging wave than I had imagined. The hardest part of surfing Teahupoo is predicting what the wave is going to do and then knowing exactly where to be to take off. Too wide or too southerly a set, and you make the wave but ride ahead of the tube, too deep and you’ll get the beating of your life. That’s the game.

All the while, there were surfers out there for whom this was just play time. Among them were John John Florence and Rob Machado, as well as locals like Matahi Drollet and Matehau Tetopata who were taking off in just the right place and choosing waves that barreled perfectly. They were also getting it wrong sometimes and taking some heavy wipeouts too but they took those in stride with the calmness that only comes with repetition and familiarity. They would just methodically do what was needed in order to safely return to the line up from the impact zone each time.


Above: Brad trying to make friends with some of the more aloof locals.

The biggest eye opener for me though was the attitude of the local surfers at Teahupoo. They would take the time to introduce themselves to every new surfer in the line up with a smile, a handshake and a few friendly questions. They would call us into waves and hoot when we got a good one. They did not demand respect, or priority on waves, but because of the way they behaved, they were gladly given both by all the visitors. Perhaps a lesson for locals everywhere.


Above: Matehau Tetopata relaxing in his backyard.

Surf Simply would like to thank: the Drollet family (Teahupoo Tahiti Surfari) for taking such good care of us at Teahupoo; Matehau Tetopata for making us feel so welcome  in the line up; and Marika & Georges Riou (Tahiti Iti Tour & Surf) for all the wonderful sessions at Big Pass and for welcoming us into their home. We’ll be back.

-by Ru Hill

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