Teahupo’o – big swell day

A storm track in the SW Pacific Ocean during the past week resulted in another huge SSW ocean swell that hit Tahiti over the weekend.

We knew the swell was coming; On Friday night we felt it. Huge waves were crashing over the protective reef on Tahiti’s west coast turning the normally flat calm anchorage/mooring area into a surging mess of water with some waves even breaking inside the reef.  We had already lined up a rental car since Teahupo’o is located on Tahiti Iti (the small island), an hour drive from Marina Taina, where we’ve spent the past week on a mooring ball.

Teahupo’o (pronounced Cho-Poo) is the heaviest wave in the world. The name translates in English to “to severe the head” or “broken skulls” so it’s predictably hardcore.

None of us slept well on our rocking boats on Friday night, but we were still rearing to go on Saturday morning.  Driving with Lionel and Irene from SV Kiapa and Caroline and Johannes from SV Orkestern, we made our way down the coast.  SV Double Diamond followed in a second vehicle.

We parked at the small boat marina near Teahupo’o. An American guy walked by with a surf board in hand.

“Is it good?” we asked.

“Ya,” he replied, “but watch out which boat you go out on.  Don’t take the green one – he got way too close and the boat when vertical on the wave and a girl fell off and broke her back.”

“Uh – okay. Thanks.”

Jeff and Melody from Double Diamond secured a red boat, captained by Maurice, and minutes later we were heading through the channel and over to the pass.

Seeing the wave from such a close vantage point takes your breath away. Literally. There’s no time to breathe – only to watch. Jaw open. Eyes wide. With the long swell a big wave broke every couple of minutes and created a perfect barrel that was over 5 meters (16 feet) tall. It was insane.  More insane were the guys, about ten of them, professionals, out there waiting to be towed in to surf it.

The boats, such as the one we were on, bob around in the water with engines idling. They sit near the reef pass, close to where the wave ends. It’s safe-ish, but there’re still thousands of pounds of water slamming into the reef right next to you. When the big sets come through all of the boats have to hammer the throttle forward to get beyond the breaking wave and re-position.  You don’t want to be too close, yet not too far either. Even as a spectator your adrenaline is pumping the whole time.

It was one of the coolest experiences ever.

** This video isn’t high res, so not as clear in full screen. Sorry! Photos and video footage thanks to SV Kiapa and SV Orkestern.

I can’t help but post even more photos:

12 thoughts on “Teahupo’o – big swell day

  1. Gina Campagnolo says:

    This is so cool!!!! Those waves are massive – thanks for adding all the pics guys, what an experience. Miss ya


  2. Mary and Dick says:

    Very interested in the area of smooth sloping water on the left of the main picture, which is well explained by the cross-section in the last photo.


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