After two weeks in Tahiti covering the Billabong Pro for Go211.com, I shifted gears when team Body Glove arrived. From watching, reacting, and discussing the action as a spectator, I jumped into the mix myself as an actor and participant for the filming of Drop Zone - a diving and surfing film produced by Body Glove and PADI.
For this adventure, I packed up my boardbag and moved down the road from the Billabong house to Mommy and Poppy Maoni's home, situated right on the water with a view of Teahupoo.
Cheyne is one of the coolest guys ever, as well as one mean spearfisherman.
Team Body Glove showed up to the dreaded, "you should have been here yesterday" situation. Whereas the day before Teahupoo had been heaving to the point where I was quite content to sit and watch from the safety of the boat, the first morning of the Drop Zone trip looked to be much calmer. The boys were disappointed, but I wasn't. With five cameras on hand to document the adventure (more cameras than surfers!) I wanted the waves to be manageable, especially the first day.
Walking out to board the boat, quiver in hand, smile on face, butterflies in stomach.
What am I listening to? "Stranger Things Have Happened" - Foo Fighters
We motored out to the lineup full of anticipation.
Without the contest circus in town, the channel lineup was much more mellow.
I was thrilled that the waves looked smaller and perfect.
When the swell dropped significantly, we had the chance to try to get "the money shot". Since the goal of the trip and the film was to highlight the wonderfully complementary sports of surfing and diving, the producers wanted to capture a shot of both at once. I was chosen to be the diver with Transworld Surf's Justin Cote as the surfer.
I never thought I would be scuba diving on the reef at Teahupoo!
The view from below was worth checking out!
Here, i'm trying not to be tumbled onto the reef by the wave action, as Justin takes off above.
No, that isn't a gas mask.
Next up, underwater interviews! I was fitted with a specialized mask and microphone that would capture my words underwater. It was a little strange to be scuba diving without a regulator in my mouth, but once in the water the mask was actually really comfortable. In order to be heard I had to press a button on the mouth area.
My first underwater interview for filmer Tom Holden aka "the legend"!
Another day of small surf led us to look for other photogenic experiences. Local black pearl farmer and surf photographer, Josh Humbert, suggested we boat around the island to hike up to a waterfall. A massive fan of barefoot hiking, I was thrilled.
On the way, we spotted a rocky cliff to climb and jump off. Cheyne and I dove in immediately, swam over and began to scurry up.
Cheyne went for an insane backflip, but I just did the standard feet-first, loud-yelping jump.
We then swam from the boat up to a rocky beach.
Barefoot hiking over large smooth boulders might be my favorite non-surfing activity. These rocks were just textured enough to be easily toe-grippable and smooth enough not to hurt, so we ditched our sandals and let our toes do the exploring. We stepped through soft leaf covered reddish brown mud that squished delightfully through the toes, then into shallow cool refreshing pools, on our way to the towering waterfall and cold deep pool at the end.
Raimana is "the man" in Tahiti. One of the original local surfers and still one of the hardest charging when Teahupoo is huge and life-threatening, we were lucky to have him as our guide. He knew the lineup perfectly and was priceless when it came to getting waves. Seeing me struggle to be in the right spot and score waves from the aggressive boys, he paddled out and sat next to me. He would say, "stay close to me, babe," and I listened. When he told me to paddle, I paddled, then he would say, "this one, go, go, go!" Having him there removed most of the fear and all of the need for thought. Instead of spending too much time analyzing and considering whether the approaching wave might kill me or not, and then missing the opportunity to catch it, I trusted Raimana and when he told me to go, I went.
On the biggest day I paddled out, the swell was coming of of the West. Swell direction plays an important role in the way the waves break on the reef and is very noticeable. If the swell is mostly from the South, the waves peak at the top of the reef and move along it mostly evenly. You have more time to get into the wave, get to the bottom, and set your line before the tube. When the swell is more Westerly, it doesn't break at the top, but focuses all the energy to heave on the end section of the reef called the West bowl. Those waves are much more difficult to get into. You have to take off behind the peak in order to get tubed. On this day the swell was from the West and I was scared. I caught a couple smaller waves and then paddled around for an hour without catching anything.
Finally, Raimana swam out to me. He sat next to me and started coaching me. He told me when to sit patiently, when to scratch towards the outside to avoid a big set, and which waves to try to take. As I lay there on my board, he had one hand on my foot. I felt totally safe in that position. Finally, a bigger wave came and he told me to paddle. He swam along side of me and as the wave began to crest, he gave my foot a strong shove, propelling me into it with an extra burst of speed that helped me get down the face. I stood up, made the bottom turn, stalled to try to get tubed and the powerful spit covered me for a second. Cheyne was on the inside and was stoked to see me get one and cheered me on with arms raised. I pulled out safely in the channel and very grateful to Raimana. (see sequence below)