Teahupo’o. Having shared a big chunk of my life with someone who breathed, dreamed and lived surfing, I was somewhat educated on the waves of the world. And Teahupoo? I could fairly easily recognise the wave in a picture, that crazy, powerful reef break that has surfers around the world dreaming of making a trip to French Polynesia.
I’m a rubbish surfer. It used to wind up my ex. How can you surf for six years and barely progress? He wanted to be able to ride a two foot wave with me; actually, just riding a wave together – any wave – would probably have sufficed.
If I actually made it out the back, I stalled myself out of waves, freaking that they were too big for me. Often I was happiest on the smaller, reformed waves closer to the shore, or riding the white water when I got bored of waiting for a ‘proper’ set to push through (although when I started to finally take the little drops and get on the faces of waves, the white water lost a bit of its appeal).
Realistically, one to two foot on a sunny day in the UK suited me perfectly. I don’t like rips, I’m a bit over mid-winter surfs, and the necessary evils of stiff 5/4mm wetsuits and a full booty-glove-hood get-up makes me tired just thinking about it. I have, I suppose, given in to the fact that I am never going to be one of those girls that rip, and that maybe I am indeed a fair-weather surfer (yet, actually, if the waves are right on a British December day then I’ll definitely get in the water for a splash around, just don’t give me a biting wind and a troubled sky).
There was no way, then, that my trip to Tahiti would include me undertaking the giant paddle out to the Teahupo’o showpiece and scuffling for a place in the line-up.
But I wanted to see the magic first hand. I felt that this wave was part of my history, a wave that had been part of conversations and memories and dreams. So I wanted to see the wave and its birthplace, I wanted to experience the magic of bobbing about in a little boat close to the crashing power, and I wanted to watch surfers get barrelled, get air and then bail off the back before the wave closed out and slammed them onto the jagged reef.
From photos and calendars and videos, I knew what it should look like. So why the disenchantment?
Together with my Pacific crossing crew mates, I arrived into the village of Teahupo’o and to a little beach at a river mouth. The only people around were a few kids riding the beach break, twisting and turning on boogie boards, a couple more on stand-ups. The café was closed, the houses empty, the narrow, stony beach deserted.
A couple of boats were moored up by a house but captains were absent and a ride out to the mighty wave began to seem unlikely. I looked out to sea, out past the flatter near-water to a section of crashing waves that occasionally delivered a peel and spit but more typically smashed down on to the reef without any form. Closing out. Surely no one would be out there today trying to surf? I squinted but it was no good. I saw no one.
After a wander through the ghost village and along a rocky, coral beach, we weren’t any closer to the wave or to scoring a boat ride. I wondered if some of these houses were even occupied by locals and just how different this sleepy place was when the annual Billabong Pro surf comp came to town.
I gave up on getting out there to see it up close, and retreated back to the hire car. The only friends we made were some stray dogs. Oh, and one of the teens who gave us a wave as we left.
No barrels for me, or anyone else it would seem. Maybe I should have done some research before I left? Sometimes things just work out. This time it didn’t. Back to the perfect waves of picture books, then.