On location in Tahiti for Greg Browning's Latest Project—Drop Zone.
There are some trips you get unwittingly corralled into, and there are others where you'd give your left nut to be a part of. When Greg Browning (of Drive Thru series fame) asked Transworld SURF to join him in Tahiti and Moorea to document the filming of his surfing and scuba-diving project, Drop Zone, I immediately got scuba certified by PADI (Professional Association Of Dive Instructors) and got ready to … scuba dive with sharks? Wait a minute here …
The plan was to surf Teahupoo with legendary Tahitian surfers Raimana Van Bastolaer and Arsene Harehoe as our hosts, and then scuba dive on the nearby island of Moorea when the swell had dropped.
There's a state of mind in Tahiti called "Raimana World" that everyone should experience at least once before they kick the proverbial bucket. It goes something like this: eat, surf, fish, eat, surf, sleep. It's not always in that order and sometimes a midday Hinano is in the mix as well, but regardless—it's the best way of life ever.
While I was already on Tahiti covering the Billabong Pro, our crew, consisting of PADI-certified divers/pro surfers Cheyne Magnusson, Alex Gray, and Holly Beck arrived just a few days after the event wrapped up. It was perfect timing too as we caught the tail end of an eight- to ten-foot swell at the fabled "End Of The Road." For Alex Gray, it was his first time surfing Chopes, and the kid was chomping at the bit to get some solid barrel time in. He wouldn't be disappointed…
Sometimes swells take time to shape up and deliver the goods, and in that regard, the swell we got was no different than many before it—except that it was more west than any of us had ever seen—including Raimana and our photog/guide Josh Humbert, who lives in the village of Teahupoo and is president of the Teahupoo Surf Club. Sitting out the back waiting for a wave, you'd be looking straight toward the channel instead of down the reef, when a dark lump would pop out of nowhere, daring anyone to have a sniff at it. With no crowd, more waves were passed on than ridden, and at times it must have looked like a rodeo with all the pullbacks. That's no knock on our crew, either. Teahupoo on a six- to eight-foot straight west swell like that is a beast—way heavier than a ten- to twelve-foot south swell.
Alex Gray at Teahupoo. Photo: Josh Humbert
Cheyne Mags was on fire, pulling into any and everything that swung his way, while Alex patiently waited out the back for the biggest sets. The real story of those sessions was Holly Beck though …
Intimidated by the swell direction and girth of the barrels coming through, Holly sat on the boat and watched with a mix of fear and hesitation—as many a male pro surfer has. After a while, Raimana stepped in: "Babe, get your board, we're going out."
"Holy shit, he's gonna kill her," I thought.
What happened next was probably the coolest thing I'd ever seen out there: Raimana swam out with a slightly rattled Holly and quickly negated her fears with some expert advice about where to be and where not to be. For Holly, it was game on. With Raimana at her side and giving her a little push on the takeoff, homegirl was charging!
With a couple of busted boards and several minor lacerations, we bid adieu to our hosts and hopped onto the ferry bound for Moorea, seven miles to the west of Tahiti. Swapping bunk beds, barking dogs, and mosquito nets for pinot noir and fruity cocktails with umbrellas in them, we pulled the Tahitian version of the Beverly Hillbillies and checked into the decadent Moorea Pearl Resort And Spa for the second leg of the trip.
"I didn't know you liked to get wet!"
"You like zee scuba?"
Oh, we were a funny bunch compared to the typical resort crowd, but jokes at the bar and French scuba instructor impressions came to an abrupt end when our dive boat pulled up to the "drop zone."
Holly Beck scuba diving the reef at Teahupoo. Photo: Justin Lewis
"Hey, is that a barracuda or a dolphin?" I'd never seen a barracuda in the water, much less one the size of a large mammal. With razor-sharp teeth protruding from its mouth, a 'cuda was circling lazily under our boat, looking for a handout—hopefully not literally a hand, though.
Then came the sharks—lots of sharks. Everywhere you looked a shark circled below. As I started to nervously put on my scuba gear, I thought to myself, "What the f—k have I got myself into?" And God forbid Holly hear me squeal like a little baby. Now I was the one who needed Raimana's soothing speech!
"Ah, screw it, better to be part of the food chain than die in a car wreck."
Upon descent, I took long deep breaths (per the PADI course), so as not to waste my air, and slowly descended to the bottom where I was greeted by a laundry list of creatures, the largest being an eight-foot lemon shark with a toothy grille. The sharks didn't seem to be too interested in any of us, but they did get into a legit feeding frenzy when a big fish head was presented to them—definitely not a good time to get in between the bait and sharks.
After seeing just about every fish the South Pacific had to offer, the crew started itching for our first love again. Rounding the corner of the two-lane road, the first hints of a new swell were showing at a heavily localized right. Cheyne, Alex, and Holly ripped it, but cameras at this spot are a no-no so we kept them on the down low, leaving only memories (and maybe a couple video clips … ) of triple section barrels and perilous paddle outs.
Surfing and scuba diving is a match made in an underwater heaven and meant for those with a spirit of adventure and a thirst for the unknown. So get certified by PADI and join the party. And Tahiti? It's just the most magical place in the world … above water and below.
Transworld SURF would like to thank Body Glove, PADI, tahiti-tourisme.com, Mami and Poppy Maoni, Josh Humbert, Raimana Van Bastolaer, Arsene Harehoe, and the Moorea Pearl Resort And Spa.