Kelly Slater this week won a major surf competition in large waves at a notoriously treacherous venue in Tahiti. But the buzz around the Billabong Pro still is mostly about what transpired during an off day in the middle of the event, when more than a dozen tow surfers took over in gargantuan surf and participated in what some observers described as the most incredible and intense big-wave session ever recorded.
Waves at Teahupoo, which break over an extremely shallow reef, were peaking at 25-plus feet. The ASP World Tour had declared a “code red” situation because the swells were too large and breaking too swiftly too be safely caught by paddle power. Slater mentioned how they’re more like tsunamis because of the force with which the fast-moving swells shove against the reef. “They reach a point where they don’t get any taller. They just get thicker,” he said.
Tow surfers enjoy the benefit of skiing onto building waves behind personal watercraft, then letting go of the rope and surfing on customized boards. Many expert tow surfers, who had arrived in anticipation of the giant swell, eagerly took to the lineup, although this was no carefree day of surfing.
As viewers can tell by the footage, some of the barrels are cavernous enough to harbor a schoolbus. Just observing from nearby in the channel, a rollicking adventure in itself, is an unforgettable experience.
Among the men and women who conquered the thunderous breakers, including a handful of World Tour surfers and some who endured monumental wipeouts and can offer bruises and scrapes as proof, were Dylan Longbottom, Dean Morrison, Julian Wilson, Bruce Irons, Nathan Fletcher, Maya Gabeira, Keala Kennelly and Danilo Costa.
There were others but nobody kept a roster. It was not a tour-sanctioned event or a competition, just a very heavy day of surfing that, to this day, might be unrivaled.
As for the ASP World Tour, it now travels to New York, which is reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, for the Quiksilver Pro in Long Beach.
— For more evidence of the size and scope of the waves at Teahupoo, please visit the Surfer magazine photo gallery.