One of my goals and desires of this life is to be an all round waterman; to understand the ocean and its terrifying power and magnificent beauty. To experience the times when these two things coincide in a way that leave you with such a deep feelings that millions of poets and men more eloquent than I have tried to describe. A feeling of being truly humbled and where that moment is captured in your minds eye forever. I consider myself competent in the water, by no means a master of anything, but able to work, play and learn in the ocean. What I have seen in the last few days though has made me reassess things though and raise the bar so very much higher than before. In the last week I have observed true watermen, men and women that are able to tackle some of the forces of the ocean that are truly very terrifying and very beautiful. We had heard of the swell coming, lots of people did, all around the globe it was being watched and planes were being boarded and gear was being made ready. At this time of year huge storms surge off the coast of new Zealand and drive swell up into the pacific ocean, straight on a path to Tahiti and to one of the most amazing waves on the planet. Teahupoo. This was not something to be missed and were so lucky to be here for, so we finished up work in Papeete and headed down to be part of this raw display of nature.
Three boats headed out, Kuhela, Oceana, and Asgard, all good mates of mine that I have recently met and all crew aboard share a love for the ocean. We got down there the day before the swell and anchored up in a bay around the corner from the break, hopefully with a bit more protection from the surge. The other boys wasted no time and went to have a look and see what the waves were like and before leaving I threw my board in the dingy, they had boards so couldn’t exactly turn up without one. Even when small this place has a heavy reputation. I got out there to find the boys all ready out and readily admit to a rapid heartbeat and butterflies in the stomach as I paddled out. It was the day before the swell, still small, maybe four foot, but every wave that came through hit the reef, jacked up and barreled heavily as it sped off down the line. There were only four or five people out and the vibe in the water was amazing, a couple local lads swam straight up, shook my hand and greeted me, not a usual occurrence in the majority of places I have surfed. The entire day had a bright glow to it, the backdrop of this wave is one of huge green peaks shooting skyward, dark green valleys running away to the north, clouds just touching the mountains and aquamarine blue water showing the colors of the reef below and the feel or warm water as the offshore wind blew the shower of spray back to you as you sat in the lineup. It was simply magical and If this wasn’t enough, two humpback whales swam right into the lineup, maybe fifteen meters away and close enough to pick off a wave if they wanted. With a scene like this and with people shouting and cheering you on as you paddled in soon enough a wave came my way and I put my head down and went for it. It’s a fast and tricky wave; there is no running away from it, either get in the barrel or your toast. I made the drop and saw the lip begin to throw over me, just as the nose of my board dug into the water and I got absolutely swatted by the wall of water behind me and driven right up to the reef in ankle deep water. Even this couldn’t wipe the huge smile on my face though; it was my fist wave at chopes and I couldn’t wait for another. I did get a couple more, trying to figure out where to sit and how to pick them and managed to make the rest of the session without walking over the reef again. It was an amazing first day at Teahupoo.
That night the boat starting rocking and I knew the swell was picking up. At first light I was in the dingy and making my way out there to see what it was going to be like. You could tell from the amount of water being pushed over the reef that it had picked up quite a bit and it was forecast to get bigger all day. We got out there to find a few boats all ready lined up and the Tahitian water patrol assessing things and keeping an eye on everyone. There were some big names all ready on the scene as well, and the first person to have a crack at it was Jamie O’Brian, and he was on fire, literally. Must be for an ad or something, but he was dressed in flame retardant clothing, stepping off the jet ski and into the wave while up in flames and getting so deep in the barrel that the spit would explode and put him out right at the end, and he made it look easy. A few guys stared to paddle in and the boys would take these drops, pull up under the heavy lip above them and get spit out with a huge ball of spray at the end. It was heavy and those that didn’t make it paid the price accordingly. The swell kept building and every now and then one would come through that was an absolute bomb. Raimana, a local Tahitian that is truly and amazing waterman and someone I respect and admire a lot grabbed his board and got towed out with perfect timing to pick off one of these as they rolled through. I can’t describe it, I've seen it in videos and heard people talk about it, but it doesn’t even come close to what happens with this wave. He rolled in and the water rolled out, the reef in front of him sucked dry as the water warped off of it towards the oncoming mountain of water rushing towards onwards, he made the drop and fell away below sea level as this liquid mountain built behind him. There was nowhere for him to go and it was one of the heaviest things I have EVER seen. The noise as it exploded down the reef, the knowledge that somewhere in that boiling, surging force of nature, someone if getting absolutely worked and punished, I simply cant comprehend the forces and what it must feel like. The skis rushed in and got him out eventually, and he lay on the sled holding his head in his hands. It was heavy, you could see it had hurt, and this was someone who had this place wired and I have huge respect for. It took him a little while, but he was straight back out there with the ski, though this time wearing a jacket to help him get back to the surface if need be. To take a beating like that and not let fear creep in and paralyze you, that is something I truly admire.
Throughout the day it grew, the skis would whip people in on the bigger sets and those with the balls would paddle in. The display of skill and dedication I witnessed was amazing. These guys loved it. It was a really west swell which means it breaks a lot faster and doesn’t run off down the reef as much as break right on it and there were some serious beatings during the day, and some serious displays of skill and courage as well. One young local got whipped into an absolute bomb, I know its all over the news all ready and the pictures have gone around the world, but to be there and witness him roll into that thing, set up as that HUGE wall of water threw out and engulfed him and to see him come flying out the end through the spray is something I’ll never forget. I also lucked out and happened to have a perfect angle to see it, which sometimes isn’t easy with the amount of boats out there. There is more jockeying for position in the boats than in the water. Every now and then you’d find yourself with a wall of water in front of you and the reef draining off behind you and you twist the throttle as the view twists your stomach and you fly off to the safety of the shoulder. The view paddling or towing into one of these things I can only imagine. The boys were charging all day and we spent hours out there watching it all and taking it all in. For me it represented something to aspire to, it was amazing to see the boys so confident and competent to put themselves in the positions to charge. I saw some of the heaviest barrels and HEAVIEST beatings I have ever seen as the day went on. Raimana took another on the head that was even heavier than the first but I didn’t get a good look at, and at the end of the day, just as the sun was going down Coco Nogazales took off on something that I think my mind couldn’t even comprehend and I started doubting my own eyes. To me it was the heaviest wave of the day and he dropped away below sea level just as he passed me and the size of what exploded on him sent everyone quiet. You could feel the tension as every man there strained to see when and where he would pop up, it took a while, but suddenly there he was and the skis were finally able to get him out. Again we all held out collective breath as he lay on the sled and the boys got him to safety. It’s like watching an accident, waiting to see how bad it is, will he get up and be ok, or will the ambulance be coming? It took a while but he finally got up and climbed on to the back of the ski and came back out to the cheers of everyone there. It was hands down the heaviest thing I have ever witnessed in the surf. There were many other rides that day that were worth mentioning, and a lot I missed as I ran back in for lunch or ducked off to the shoulder to get out of the confusion for a little bit. It was a display of nature like nothing I have previously witnessed and a display of skill and courage in the water that was truly inspirational.
Its not necessarily that I want to surf at this size, its just inspiring to see people that are able to step up and have the combination of skill, timing, understanding, and balls to challenge themselves in this way. I am so stoked for them. They are true watermen and it’s really opened my eyes to what is means to have this connection with the ocean and what it is possible to cope with. I personally don’t think ill ever have the skill, or balls, to surf at that size, and that’s fine with me, but I did inspire me to train and learn and be able to put more confidence in the waves I do surf, to know what is possible and to train to be able to have that confidence to step up to the edge when it may get a bit bigger. The thing is that its all relative, I will work to improve and challenge myself against my mountains, not theirs, they can have that, I don’t want any part of it haha. I'm just so stoked to have seen it, stoked for all the great crew I met down there, the amazing vibe in the water and how ready people were to have a chat and a laugh and share in the experience. The whole culture down here seems to exude that, people shake your hand in the surf, there is always laughter drifting across the water, guys and girls paddle way off shore in the outrigger canoes every day, dive and spear fish for food and charge some of the biggest surf I have seen. The culture here is the essence of being a waterman. I am so stoked and lucky to have had some small chance to experience that, and to invite more of that into my life.