I had thought my only travel companion on this trip would be David, but I now find out we were joined, without a by your leave, by El Niño. It is he who has imposed his disagreeable countenance upon us, with his heavy cloud, his winds and rain. But we have managed to ignore him and shake him off like the obnoxious bore at a dinner party – in part by running away to Tahiti!
It was not to search out better weather that we came to French Polynesia but to tick off one of the items on our bucket list. This was one for David and is called Teahupoo, (pronounced cho-poo), or Le Vague Bleu, the most technically difficult wave in the world to surf. It’s not the height of the wave, though it can reach 30 feet, it’s the flat and steep face and the thickness that causes surfers to both fear and crave this wave. This is caused by the mass of water from the deep ocean rapidly approaching the very shallow reef, creating a fast moving, thick, surging wave which, as heavy as a building, breaks on to that unforgiving razor sharp reef. It is only surfed by those at the top of their game.
El Niño may have limited some of the opportunities we had in the Cook Islands, but it did deliver some magnificent ocean swells. We had been tracking these via the Internet and with the gods now on our side their arrival on Tahiti coincided with ours, meaning Teahupoo would be big and beautiful. So, on our first full day, in a flurry of excitement and anticipation we hired a car and headed down the coast. Teahupoo lies at the end of the road on the southern tip of Tahiti Iti the smaller of the two Tahitian islands which are joined by a narrow strip of land. We drove for an hour and a half on the one road that circumnavigates the islands, hugging the coast all the way. Palm trees, red and pink hibiscus hedges and narrow beaches on one side, and on the other on the strip of flat land lay strings of simple one storey houses, banana and vanilla plantations. Beyond these the magnificent, tree covered, ancient volcano rises up ensuring its presence is seen and felt wherever you are.
The village of Teahupoo is small and for hosting an internationally renowned phenomena it was surprisingly undeveloped and charmingly low key. Here we boarded a motor boat and headed out to sea. The expert skippers of these boats manoeuvre them on to the shoulder of this huge wave giving us a thrilling view straight down the tube of the barrelling blue water. It was a five metre (16ft) wave this day, a terrifying prospect to me, but all in a days “work” for the few international surfers who were out there. At this height they are unable to use their own paddle power to get on to the wave so a jet-ski tows them in.
They let go of the rope at the top of the wave and come hurtling down, arms outstretched, faces locked in concentration as they position themselves to power through the ever tightening tube.
The tons of water which curls over their head detonates on the reef in an explosion of boiling white foam and spray. One mistake and these fragile bodies are engulfed by the jaws of this enormous hissing monster whirling and tumbling out of sight, before bobbing back up and heading out to lay down the gauntlet once more against this superb force of nature. It was thrilling to watch, to be drenched by the spray from these enormous waves and to be fulfilling one of David’s long held dreams.