Teahupo’o Like You’ve Never Seen It Before

It’s not always death and destruction at ‘Chopes-sometimes it’s actually fun.

We’ve all gotten used to seeing photos of Teahupo’o (a.k.a “The World’s Heaviest Wave”) with jet skis flying over the falls, surfers coming up from brutal wipeouts bleeding from every limb, and twenty-foot waves with no backs and lips as thick as the wave is tall.
But guess what?
It ain’t always like that.
When the annual Billabong Pro rolled into this sleepy little hamlet at the southern tip of Tahiti in early May, the straps on the tow boards were tightened, the skis filled with gas, and surfers with balls the size of Texas were frothing for their shot to be the next Laird, Malik, Cory, or Shane.
But it was all for naught.
The swells that usually slam headfirst into Teahupo’o and sell countless mags, videos, and first-aid supplies ended up pushing toward South America and not directly into Tahiti’s “death swell” window. The result was more whip-ats than whip-ins, long days bronzing in the channel, and waves that were more suited to people like you and me than Shane and Laird. In a word-it was perfect.-Justin Cotà‡

Andy Irons. Photo: Jones

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At four to six feet, Teahupo’o is as hollow as waves get and allows tube masters like Damien Hobgood to do twenty-yard-long 50-50 grinds on the foamball. Photo: Jones

How much more proof do you need to realize that stand-up paddling is the perfect total-body workout? Photo: Bielmann

While scrubbing lime into a reef cut isn’t exactly what the AMA would tell you to do, the acidic burn on fresh reef rash really lets you know that something’s going on in there. Robert Teriitehau about to feel the pain. Photo: Nelly

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An often-overlooked danger to surfing smaller days at Teahupo’o is that there’s less water between the surfer and the reef. Because the wave comes out of such deep water before it folds onto the reef, even the smallest days have a quality to them the locals call no sortie-no exit, just a trip over the falls. Unidentified about to meet the reef. Photo: Bielmann/AquaTech

Mikey Picon. Photo: Bielmann/AquaTech

The view from the “Suicide Tower”-dubbed so because if the swell had gotten over ten feet, this perch would have been turned into a twisted pile of impaling rebar and splintered planks. Photo: Andrews

The rope that you see under all those legs and butts is party central in the channel. It’s tied to the reef at two ends with buoys every eight feet. Boats, kayaks, surfboards, jet skis, inflatable tubes, and blow-up pool toys tie up to it and watch the show from the best seats in the house. Photo: Jones

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Last year the Billabong Pro was plagued with bad winds and torrential rain. This year was the complete opposite. Think Parko had a good time? Photo: Bielmann

Where else in the world can you find a floating snack bar? Photo: Bielmann

Hilton Dawe’s ink dedicated to fallen Tahitian hero Malik Joyeux. Photo: Bielmann

The 120-foot luxury yacht Haumana, home to the high rollers of the WCT-for $250 per night, you could eat a five-course meal with Andy, talk baseball with Taylor, and ask Kelly about his rib injury. You don’t even want to know about the Tahitian dancers Raimana brought out there … Photo: Bielmann

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Pancho Sullivan-the biggest surfer on the tour-at Small Pass, a little right that doubles as a photo studio when the WCT is in town. Photo: Bielmann

After fourteen trips to Tahiti, nobody should’ve been surprised when Hinano/VZ trialist Danny Fuller waxed Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow, and Adriano De Souza on his way to a ninth-place finish and won $2,000 for “Best Tube” during the Fosters Expression Session. Riding a Stretch quad, Fuller was like a new-age Glen Winton. Photo: Bielmann

Rochelle Ballard is one of the few women on tour who is disappointed that there won’t be a women’s event next year at Teahupo’oo. Photo: Bielmann

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Until I interviewed Manoa Drollet, I’d never heard anyone refer to Teahupo’o as mushy: “My favorite days at Teahupo’o are when it’s ten to twelve feet and southwest or four to six feet and south/southwest. I don’t like when it’s in between that size-it’s kinda mushy. When it’s smaller, it breaks on the inside shelf and gets square and every wave is barreling.” Photo: Jones

Just another day at the best place in the world to watch a contest. Photo: Bielmann

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Hira Terinatoofa with his Fosters Expression Session-winning tube ride (he and Danny Fuller were both given the award) had the Hinano-fueled crowd going nuts. Proudly repping Tahiti, Terinatoofa took down Phil MacDonald, Parko, and Cory Lopez before finally losing out to eventual runner-up Fred Patacchia. Photo: Bielmann

A dream scenario would have you getting shacked on this perfect four-footer, spit out into the channel, and, without leaving your feet, riding right up to Australian supermodel Megan Gale (pictured) for a back massage and some sunscreen. Photos: Bielmann

At the right size and direction, Teahupo’o is a walk in the park. All you gotta do is paddle, stand up, and let nature take care of the rest. Go there and this could be your view. Photo: Dawe

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Another “Suicide Tower” angle, this time with Freddy P, who, in an earlier round, seriously lost his cool with the judges after what he felt was a low score in. In a sign of his growing maturity, Fred gathered himself and rode toward a second-place finish. Photo: Andrews

During a lay day, photographer Brian Bielmann and I snuck off to an underwater zoo where you swim with turtles, reef sharks, huge stingrays, and fish of all size and shape. Bielmann called it the underwater shooting experience of his life, but paid for it with an ass full of sea-urchin spines-which I had the pleasure of pulling out. Photo: Bielmann/AquaTech

After falling square onto his board and aggravating a rib injury sustained during the Bells event, Kelly Slater was unable to paddle and could barely breathe. The defending Billabong Pro champion reluctantly had to call it quits toward the end of his semifinal clash with Fred Patacchia and couldn’t make it to the next event in Fiji. Photo: Bielmann

Bobby Martinez and his cholo-style mustache were on fire throughout the entire event and took home a well-deserved win-on his father’s birthday no less. For more on the red-hot rookie, go to page XX. Photo: Bielmann

Because the waves were perfectly suited for fish-eye photography, (i.e., not too big) there was an overload of flashes going off every evening, making the pass look like a mini-lightning storm. C.J. Hobgood-all lit up. Photo: Nelly

TransWorld SURF would like to thank Tahiti Tourisme North America, Air Tahiti Nui, Avis, the Maoni family, Billabong, Taaroa Lodge, Raimana World, Mana, and the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti for their generous assistance and legendary Tahitian hospitality. Photos: Bielmann
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