Surfing Teahupoo, Tahiti

Teahupoo, Tahiti is located on the South-West Coast of the French Polynesia. Teahupoo is known for it’s big, scary, glassy waves. Teahupoo waves break on a beautiful, yet dangerous reef. Teahupoo is filled with some of the best Tahitian surfers in the world. Many important World Surf League(wsl) contests have been held in Teahupoo, winners include surfing legends Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Adrian (Ace) Buchan, Jeremy Flores, and many more. Surfing Teahupoo can be fun yet dangerous.


On a normal day in Teahupoo the waves are around five to seven feet. The biggest wave that was ridden in Teahupoo was around 75 feet. Not only is it scary because it is that big, it is also scary because waves in Teahupoo are said to be “ as tall as they are thick”. The reef in Teahupoo is so large that you have to take a small boat to get to the lineup (which is where the surfers wait for waves), the boat ride takes about ten to fifteen minutes. Teahupoo is a reef break, which means that the waves break on a very shallow part of the reef.

In 1986 Mike Stewart and Ben Severson surfed Teahupoo for the first time. Teahupoo was not known to be a surf location, many people thought Teahupoo waves were too thick. Finally in 1998 the Gotcha Tahiti Pro was held and Teahupoo became known to have some of the heaviest waves in the world. Professional surfer Laird Hamilton surfed Teahupoo in late 2000 and was credited with surfing the “heaviest wave” . After that Teahupoo became more popular and more contests started being held there. One of the biggest contest held in Teahupoo is the Billabong Pro. The most recent winner of the Billabong Pro is wsl (world surf league) eleven time champion, Kelly Slater.  


Teahupoo’s  reef is around five feet deep where the waves are breaking. The wave energy moving towards the reef makes the waves break on the reef. Although Teahupoo’s reef helps the waves consistency it is very dangerous. Depending on the surf location, at some points some reefs are more dangerous than others. Many different things can cause injury on reefs. The most common type would just be making contact with the reef. Surfers have to be very careful while they are surfing a reef break because if they error, their leash can easily get caught on the reef causing the person to be held under and drown.The reef would probably be easier to avoid if it weren’t so shallow, but if it was deeper the waves most likely wouldn’t be as good or consistent.  


In 2000 local Tahitian surfer Briece Taerea died attempting to surf Teahupoo. Taerea went to duck dive a wave around twelve feet tall and did not make it. Unfortunately, this resulted in Taerea hitting the reef which landed him in the hospital where he later died. In 2011, professional surfer Keala Kennelly was surfing Teahupoo for the Andy Irons memorial. Keala took off on a wave going to the left, as she got in the barrel the top of the wave clipped her head, she quickly fell off her board, did some tumbles, and hit the reef. She was picked up by a jet ski and rushed to the Papeete hospital.  Keala got 30-40 internal and external stitches in the side of her face, 10-15 stitches on the top of her head, by her jaw, and mouth. While talking about the incident Keala says, “It felt like somebody had poured gasoline on my face and lit me on fire.” She also explained that after her accident it took her almost two years to return to Teahupoo, but when she did she caught the best wave of her life.

In 2012, my dad, Andrew Igloi and my family got the opportunity to shoot a surfing commercial, for Visa, in Teahupoo. Andrew said, “ When I heard that I was going to get to surf Teahupoo, I was nothing but scared. To me, the scariest part of surfing Teahupoo was being pulled into twelve foot waves and seeing that the water was only three feet deep.”

Andrew explained that his favorite part of being there was “being towed into waves by the Tahitian legend, Raimana Van Bastolaer.”  I told Andrew some stories of the injury that has happened in Teahupoo, and that just by riding a wave that big and making a slight error you could put yourself in the worst position possible. Andrew said, “ When I was there the waves had probably twelve foot faces, and yes, it can also be a very dangerous place. As careful as I tried to be, I still made a couple mistakes. I remember taking a wave just a little too far in and I cut my leg.” Andrew and I also looked at pictures of Teahupoo and spoke about what an amazing place it is and Andrew said, “ It was unbelieveable.”


Ethan Igloi also went to Teahupoo in 2012 and said, “Out of all the new places to travel to, we got to go to Teahupoo and it couldn’t have been a better experience.” Ethan has been surfing ever since he was little, he shot the commercial when he was just eleven years old. “ Watching my dad surf Teahupoo was the coolest thing ever. I remember that I started to cry because I wanted to surf because it seemed like a fun opportunity even though the waves were huge.”


Teahupoo, Tahiti is one of the largest and yet most dangerous places to surf. People that surfed Teahupoo have died, but some have been able to catch the best wave of their life. Would you surf Teahupoo?’o