Tahiti 2002 The Transformation

Tahiti 2002 The Transformation

Let’s get some things straight: Teahupo’o is a village. Within this village there’re several breaks in the barrier reef that create surfable waves. Please don’t call it cho-poooh, like the contest announcer did a million times. It’s pronounced more like choh-poh, just ask the mayor. The most popular and treacherous wave in the village is called Havae Pass. Locals refer to this pass as Kumbaya. Whatever you call it, it’s a freight train of a wave with no back to it. The face of the wave could be twenty feet tall, while the back of the wave is maybe two feet. Normally, the village of Teahupo’o is a sleepy place. You’ll see stores and restaurants, but they’re rarely open. Cats, chickens, and dogs constitute the majority of the traffic on the road, and sometimes a car won’t pass for a half hour.

During the month of May, this all changes. All along the road, temporary food and vendor stands are erected. A stage is built featuring obnoxiously loud music, beautiful Tahitian dance shows, and local ukulele-strumming bands. Local families rent rooms or guesthouses to visiting surfers and the entourages following them. This is a month of prosperity in the village of Teahupo’o-some folks make most of their yearly income during this time. Accommodations range from super-pimped-out to tromping-through-mud-to-get-to-your-tent. Guys like Pat O’Connell, Kelly Slater, and Eddie Vedder (surf groupie) stayed at a guesthouse right on the beach built with local hardwoods and made to look like the tree house of your dreams. On the other end of the spectrum was Mark Healy, who pitched a tent and prayed for it not to rain. He forgot, however, to pray that the rats wouldn’t eat his food. Those little f-ks ate more of his saimin and dried mango than he did.

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Alas, with the good comes the bad. Dudes from Papeete, the big city of Tahiti, like to ride down on their undersized minibikes, looking to tax those who leave their belongings lying around unattended. Luckily, all the nice people who live in the village are able to spot these punks and kick them out of town quickly, before the Fat Albert look-alike gang snakes anything.

The Hinano/Von Zipper TrialsLast year people were literally fighting to get into the trials. Apparently this mayhem scared a bunch of folks away. This year, spaces were available for those who wished to compete. I wasn’t looking forward to sitting on a boat, watching perfect waves go by without me. After knocking back a few with the boys, I wandered over to competition check-in area and asked the lady from the Tahitian Surfing Federation if there were any spots left. “Cash or credit?” she asked. Just like that I entered a contest at the most intense wave in the world. As I walked away, I started to get a bit nervous. I remembered how big and gnarly the trials had been in years past-they’re known for being held during the heaviest of conditions.

That evening the waves started to pick up. Poto, a longtime national hero in Tahiti, was breaking in his new jet ski by purposely getting caught inside to prepare for his duties as water patrol. As I tried to sleep in my tent that night, all I could hear was the pounding surf. I suffered from nightmares of pussing out while the world watched and of being annihilated by a ferocious ten-foot bomb. Not what you would call deep REM sleep. The first day of the trials was held in perfect three- to four-foot glassy waves. I was relieved it wasn’t giant and actually felt a bit confident. My confidence grew when I saw my competitor. He looked like a scraggly French heroin addict. “They let anybody in this thing,” I thought to myself. I took out the Frenchy for my first taste of victory in years.

Next up was Glen Hall. I asked some people who the hell Glen Hall was. Some yahoo told me he’s tenth in the WQS at the moment and that I didn’t stand a chance: “You’re history-toast.” Thanks for the moral support. Tamayo Perry,ho was schooling the WCT surfers the whole time, lended more support, “Fuck ’em, man. Get fired up!”

The next day my professional surfing career dreams were smashed by upstart Aussie Glen Hall. I predict he’ll be the world champion one day. Shit, he beat me! No really, though, the kid rips. He managed to maintain priority throughout the heat and killed every one of his waves. By the end of the heat I needed an 8.2 to gain the lead. I know this because the freaking announcer said it over the P.A. system a million times. Glen and I sat out the back waiting for a set that never came, while the announcer droned on and on: “Justin Cote, you need an 8.2 to gain the lead.” Hall went on to the semifinals where he finally lost to eventual champ Vetea “Poto” David. At least I didn’t get stuck outside, too scared to catch a wave or washed over the reef and rescued by the Tahitian water patrol.

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Like a troll, I watched the finals from under the scaffolding erected on the reef, hiding from the blazing sun. Poto fearlessly and agelessly ripped. Where others would kick out, he would pull in or do a huge floater onto dry reef. He ended his rides like he was surfing a beachbreak, with absolutely no fear of the razor-sharp reef. He smoked everyone, proving he’s still the man in Tahiti, no matter how old he is.

Bring On The Big BoysAn incredible freesurfing performance was put on the day before the event started. The young Aussies showed up and tried to get used to the draining tubes of Kumbaya. The surf was about six to eight feet and growing. I paddled out feeling like I was totally in the way with my beat-up, sticker-free board. Time to watch and learn. Many of the backsiders who don’t regularly post-up at Teahupo’o were looking a little sketchy. They should’ve sat and watched Manoa Drollet of Tahiti. He easily cruised through sections most people would have crapped their pants on, demonstrating backside tube riding at its finest. I observed his work from underwater-how he jams the rail of his board into the wave and just parks it in the barrel, his fins about two feet above the reef.

WCT-Day One On our boat ride out to the break, we spotted the tail end of Rasta’s Dave Rastovich board floating lifelessly, foretelling of the day to come. Upon arrival, somebody asked Shane Dorian how big it was. “There’re some ten footers!” he claimed excitedly. Mr. Dorian doesn’t throw the “ten foot” phrase around loosely. Nor does Sunny Garcia often say that waves are bombing and spooky. This was some heavy shit. Guys were going for it. The Irons brothers seemed to one-two every set. When they didn’t catch the wave, the Hobgoods were on it. Rasta was the Aussie of the day in my book. He was super relaxed, and his shoulders just slumped down after life-threatening airdrops followed by gigantic, scary-looking tubes.

Just when most of the boats, kayaks, and other floatation devices arrived, a solid ten-foot set popped up almost instantly. People were panicking to untie their boats, the water patrol was yelling for everyone to get their asses in gear, and it was barely 8:00 a.m. Somehow, only one boat capsized, and nobody was injured. The water patrol got everybody farther out in the channel and the party started.

At eight in the morning our boat driver Komi, who grew up in Teahupo’o, parked our giant canoe in the prime spot. Luckily for us, his bro is the main man at Hinano (the Tahitian beverage company sponsoring the trials event) and came prepared with plenty of refreshments. We tied up with him, and it was on. Picture Lake Havasu minus the dickhead Arizona cops. Instead of watching idiots jump off cliffs, we watched lunatics take off on picture perfect, ten-foot barrels-sometimes making it, sometimes not. World Champ C.J. Hobgood took off on a ten-foot bomb, straightened out, and took the whole South Pacific on his noggin. I personally thought he was history, but somehow he surfaced just in time to be snatched up by the water patrol. Whatever these water-patrol guys were paid, it wasn’t enough. After each wave that didn’t end so well (and there were plenty of those), these guys charged into the pit and saved whoever’s ass was on the line.

Eventually there were nearly 30 boats in the water and all kinds of stragglers on kayaks, surfboards, or just treading water. The Bonjouir boat, our 30-foot canoe, was Grand Central Station. Maybe it was because of all the free drinks, the stability of an outrigger canoe, or the scantily clad girls hanging out. One Tahitian dude was videoing everything except the surf-especially the French chick paddling around her canoe topless. Whatever the reason, our boat was raging. I reluctantly dragged myself away from the boat and swam to the front row, where you can get spit on by a twelve-foot bomb while you relax in the sun.

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The competitors weren’t competing; they were just trying to ride a wave without perishing. So then, who was competing? The photographers. These guys had two boats, idling right in the pit. From the water you could hear them bickering and jostling with each other. They were way more competitive than the surfers. The heats were a bit boring with only two guys out, and most of the super gnarly waves went unridden. That all changed when the contest wrapped up for the day and the freesurf session got underway. It didn’t hurt that the swell was growing, either. One particularly large set came booming down the reef right toward the pack, and everybody started scratching for the horizon-everyone except Pancho Sullivan. It was crazy seeing him paddling against the grain. He took off, somehow pulled the drop, only to be engulfed by a giant tube. The wave spat super hard, and from behind the wave we could only wonder what happened to him. Our question was answered when he came flying off the back of the wave, holding his hands over his face like he’d just won a beauty pageant. The wave of the day caught by a non-WCT surfer. Go figure. Oh yeah, the swell was still getting bigger.

WCT-Day Two Pamu means “charge” or “get it” in Tahitian. Everybody was screaming this from the boats on day two. We arrived to find the waves bigger than the day before, clean conditions, and the swell was still coming from a good direction. Twelve-foot sets rolled in every twenty minutes. Calling these waves twelve feet does them no justice. The sets appeared 30 feet thick, and whitewash soared high into the air. My nuts squirmed deep into my stomach just sitting in the channel. I saw Pat O’Connell, and he looked whiter than ever as he stammered, “It’s so fuckin’ scary out there.” Luke Egan said a wave spit him out, doubling his speed in the process. The waves created their own wind patterns. C.J. Hobgood got stuffed on a ten-footer and was super pissed after rolling over the reef into the lagoon. He started flipping off the guy who stuffed him and screaming obscenities. It must have hurt. The other guy paddled up to him afterward and apologized-all was cool.

Halfway through the contest, I took a kayak to the scaffolding to get a different perspective. As I paddled toward the structure I came across flip-flops, a cooler, a piece of a boat, and some articles of clothing. The next thing I saw was a capsized aluminum skiff. It turns out a family of Tahitians was taking in the contest a little too closely and in the rush to escape a freak set, rolled their skiff. Men, women, and children scattered about in absolute terror due to the remaining and looming waves of the set. Miraculously, nobody was injured.

The remaining heats wrapped up, and once again the freesurf began. There weren’t as many guys on it this time, though. It was getting dark, and the average set was a threatening twelve feet. Sometime before dark, Mark Healy paddled into a wave that Tamayo Perry and others called one of the biggest ever caught here without mechanical assistance. Healy took off deep on ahed up by the water patrol. Whatever these water-patrol guys were paid, it wasn’t enough. After each wave that didn’t end so well (and there were plenty of those), these guys charged into the pit and saved whoever’s ass was on the line.

Eventually there were nearly 30 boats in the water and all kinds of stragglers on kayaks, surfboards, or just treading water. The Bonjouir boat, our 30-foot canoe, was Grand Central Station. Maybe it was because of all the free drinks, the stability of an outrigger canoe, or the scantily clad girls hanging out. One Tahitian dude was videoing everything except the surf-especially the French chick paddling around her canoe topless. Whatever the reason, our boat was raging. I reluctantly dragged myself away from the boat and swam to the front row, where you can get spit on by a twelve-foot bomb while you relax in the sun.

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The competitors weren’t competing; they were just trying to ride a wave without perishing. So then, who was competing? The photographers. These guys had two boats, idling right in the pit. From the water you could hear them bickering and jostling with each other. They were way more competitive than the surfers. The heats were a bit boring with only two guys out, and most of the super gnarly waves went unridden. That all changed when the contest wrapped up for the day and the freesurf session got underway. It didn’t hurt that the swell was growing, either. One particularly large set came booming down the reef right toward the pack, and everybody started scratching for the horizon-everyone except Pancho Sullivan. It was crazy seeing him paddling against the grain. He took off, somehow pulled the drop, only to be engulfed by a giant tube. The wave spat super hard, and from behind the wave we could only wonder what happened to him. Our question was answered when he came flying off the back of the wave, holding his hands over his face like he’d just won a beauty pageant. The wave of the day caught by a non-WCT surfer. Go figure. Oh yeah, the swell was still getting bigger.

WCT-Day Two Pamu means “charge” or “get it” in Tahitian. Everybody was screaming this from the boats on day two. We arrived to find the waves bigger than the day before, clean conditions, and the swell was still coming from a good direction. Twelve-foot sets rolled in every twenty minutes. Calling these waves twelve feet does them no justice. The sets appeared 30 feet thick, and whitewash soared high into the air. My nuts squirmed deep into my stomach just sitting in the channel. I saw Pat O’Connell, and he looked whiter than ever as he stammered, “It’s so fuckin’ scary out there.” Luke Egan said a wave spit him out, doubling his speed in the process. The waves created their own wind patterns. C.J. Hobgood got stuffed on a ten-footer and was super pissed after rolling over the reef into the lagoon. He started flipping off the guy who stuffed him and screaming obscenities. It must have hurt. The other guy paddled up to him afterward and apologized-all was cool.

Halfway through the contest, I took a kayak to the scaffolding to get a different perspective. As I paddled toward the structure I came across flip-flops, a cooler, a piece of a boat, and some articles of clothing. The next thing I saw was a capsized aluminum skiff. It turns out a family of Tahitians was taking in the contest a little too closely and in the rush to escape a freak set, rolled their skiff. Men, women, and children scattered about in absolute terror due to the remaining and looming waves of the set. Miraculously, nobody was injured.

The remaining heats wrapped up, and once again the freesurf began. There weren’t as many guys on it this time, though. It was getting dark, and the average set was a threatening twelve feet. Sometime before dark, Mark Healy paddled into a wave that Tamayo Perry and others called one of the biggest ever caught here without mechanical assistance. Healy took off deep on a ten-footer, barely making the drop. He gathered himself long enough to make it to the west bowl, where the wave jacked to twelve feet. It totally annihilated him from there, but he kept going for a bit-bodysurfing this huge foam ball. Tamayo said we needed to have a talk with him because he’s nuts, but Healy just shrugged it off-saying it wasn’t that big (he doesn’t want to worry his girlfriend). Soon after, a fifteen-foot set came in, pushing water across normally dry streets of Teahupo’o, and the Pacific Ocean declared itself the winner of the day. It seemed that the ocean said, “Don’t f-k with me!” with this set, and then went to sleep for a couple days.

Quarters, Semis, And FinalsAfter a couple days of bad maraa’mu winds (the Tahitians have a word for every direction of wind), the powers that be decided to wrap up the event. It was nothing like the days before, but thanks to the Hinano boys, still enjoyable. Andy Irons surfs better than everybody at Teahupo’o-ask any of the locals. It doesn’t matter how big and gnarly it is, on those huge days I looked at him to see if he was biting his nails. But no, he’s totally calm and collected. And when it got small he just took it another level, getting a nine when he needed an 8.7. They should’ve given him the first-place check after his first two days of freesurf.

Give ThanksProps must be given out. The Tahitian Water Patrol, with assistance from Brian Keaulana, totally ruled. Somebody would have died if those guys hadn’t been there-guaranteed. Poto, Raimana, Arsene, and the others all deserve medals. The first-aid crew led by Leland Dao, also deserve a mountain of credit. They patched, bandaged, and massaged nearly everyone involved with the event. The folks at Billabong should be commended for throwing an awesome contest, which is no easy feat in the land of “Tahitian time.” The residents of Teahupo’o deserve thanks for hosting this month-long party/surf contest. As for the wave itself? Thank you to Kumbaya for not killing any us and providing the best waves ever!-Justin Cote

[IMAGE 4][IMAGE 5]on a ten-footer, barely making the drop. He gathered himself long enough to make it to the west bowl, where the wave jacked to twelve feet. It totally annihilated him from there, but he kept going for a bit-bodysurfing this huge foam ball. Tamayo said we needed to have a talk with him because he’s nuts, but Healy just shrugged it off-saying it wasn’t that big (he doesn’t want to worry his girlfriend). Soon after, a fifteen-foot set came in, pushing water across normally dry streets of Teahupo’o, and the Pacific Ocean declared itself the winner of the day. It seemed that the ocean said, “Don’t f-k with me!” with this set, and then went to sleep for a couple days.

Quarters, Semis, And FinalsAfter a couple days of bad maraa’mu winds (the Tahitians have a word for every direction of wind), the powers that be decided to wrap up the event. It was nothing like the days before, but thanks to the Hinano boys, still enjoyable. Andy Irons surfs better than everybody at Teahupo’o-ask any of the locals. It doesn’t matter how big and gnarly it is, on those huge days I looked at him to see if he was biting his nails. But no, he’s totally calm and collected. And when it got small he just took it another level, getting a nine when he needed an 8.7. They should’ve given him the first-place check after his first two days of freesurf.

Give ThanksProps must be given out. The Tahitian Water Patrol, with assistance from Brian Keaulana, totally ruled. Somebody would have died if those guys hadn’t been there-guaranteed. Poto, Raimana, Arsene, and the others all deserve medals. The first-aid crew led by Leland Dao, also deserve a mountain of credit. They patched, bandaged, and massaged nearly everyone involved with the event. The folks at Billabong should be commended for throwing an awesome contest, which is no easy feat in the land of “Tahitian time.” The residents of Teahupo’o deserve thanks for hostingg this month-long party/surf contest. As for the wave itself? Thank you to Kumbaya for not killing any us and providing the best waves ever!-Justin Cote

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