I had been to Tahiti for the first time back in 2000. It was a life-changing and memorable trip designed to capture cover shots for SG magazine that became the background for many firsts. I did secure my first cover shot, a frontside turn at the super fun left called Hapiti on Moorea. I also broke a board (not quite a first) and greatly improved my barrel riding skills. It was the first surf trip that forced me to find a way to overcome fear every single session. The omnipresent danger factors of powerful waves heaving onto shallow colorful reef culminated in the unforgettable first of towing into large waves in a session during which in the span of about twenty minutes I claimed the biggest wave, the biggest barrel, and the biggest wipeout of my life. One of those waves would haunt me in dreams for years with the dreaded, "if only..." feeling.
I had been back to Tahiti in 2006, but other than a brief stop in the airport before heading over to an outer island, I hadn't revisited the main island. In May 2008, I returned for the first time, knowing i'd be there for nearly a full month and mentally anticipating and preparing to overcome that fear once again.
Tahiti embodies the undeniable beauty of a tropical island paradise. Steep lush green mountains fall directly into crystal clear blue water that is calm and inviting inside of the shallow outer reefs.
Following the main road that loops around the island from the airport, one road branches off and then ends abruptly at Teahupoo. Pronounced "Cho-po", the wave formed by a break in the reef just past the end of the road is one of the most feared and revered in the surfing world. A perfectly hollow and amazingly powerful left that rears up out of deep water to cascade onto nearly dry reef with what seems like the force of the entire ocean folding over onto itself, it's the stuff of dreams and nightmares where heroes rise as quickly as they can be crushed. It's a feature of countless surf films and magazine covers, as well as one of the most anticipated stops on the elite ASP Dream Tour.
The Billabong Pro brought me to Tahiti. I had covered the first two ASP tour stops in Australia for Go211.com and was excited that they wanted to send me to Tahiti to cover stop #3 as well.
With no hotels at Teahupoo, home stays are the only option. The Tahitian families at the end of the road earn their living for the entire year by temporarily moving out of their homes, lining the floors with as many mattresses as will fit, and feeding and housing all the surfers, media, and ASP staff for nearly a month. I was lucky enough to find some space in the Billabong media house which was filled with Billabong staff, security staff, and journalists. There were quite a few of us, but since there was only one other female, she and I got to share our own room.
Dinner time feeding frenzy
One of the entertainment highlights was the night Donovan Frankenrieter performed, accompanied by Dave Rastavich on bongoes. Even Occy got up and shared the mic for a few songs.
By the end of the event, nearly the entire WCT was up on stage singing and dancing. Donovan's 6 year old son Hendrix stole the show with his harmonica skills.
Good times, with beautiful people: Freddy P, Alana, Greg and Kelly
I even had a chance to learn how to hold a fishing pole, but we didn't get any bites : (
Jordy Smith waiting for his heat while bailing out his leaky boat. At least he had plenty of boards to float on if it sank!
After much anticipation, the contest finally began. The scene in the channel was quite entertaining. Since the contest takes place far offshore, the spectators and competitors form a waterworld with all sorts of boats, kayaks, inflatables, and surfboards.
Parko and Bruce, heading out to join the flotilla.
After their heats, surfers were carried by jet-ski to the media boat for their interviews.
The media boat was crowded, so I hopped overboard and floated on CJ Hobgood's board while he was interviewed by GT for the Billabong webcast.
Believe it or not, I was actually doing interviews as well, although all the photos were of me very "busy" taking in the action so I could ask intelligent questions about what went on in the heat, I did actually do some work.
Not a bad work environment, huh? No complaints here!
Unfortunately for the local fans, local hero Manoa Drollet, who had beaten Kelly Slater (the event favorite) on his way to the final, lost to fellow wildcard, Brazilian Bruno Santos in an inconsistent and anticlimactic final.
Team Brazil, always the most patriotic, was thrilled with the result!
When the contest finally finished and everyone recovered from the massive after-party, there were still a few slow days with flat surf. Then, the day before team Body Glove was scheduled to arrive and the next leg of my Tahitian adventure began, the surf jumped up overnight and by morning was booming on the outer reefs.
Up until then, i'd only surfed a few times. I had scored a few little tubes out at Teahupoo but nothing significant. The night before, the swell had begun building and I sat in the lineup for a while with way too many others, picking off a few little waves. By morning it was way bigger than anything I wanted to paddle into.
Knowing that when team Body Glove showed up the following day I would have to surf, I kept getting excited to paddle out and give it a test run. I would see a few that weren't as big as the others, and think about just paddling out to sit in the lineup and feel the power from so much closer, then a huge set would come in and I was perfectly happy sitting in the boat. To watch a video of that morning, click below.