Teahupo (spelled as Teahupo’o and pronounced Chop-pu) is one of the world’s mightiest waves. Teahupo, a small and tranquil community, nestled on the southwest corner of Tahiti’s smaller dormant volcano, Tahiti Iti, has kept much of its traditional culture.
The waves of Teahupo have a unique combination of size, force, and speed, which is made even more deadly because they break over a steep coral reef only meters beneath the surface. We can add sharks, capsizing boats, and the ability to pull your pants down to those scary possibilities.
Still, year by year, the world’s best surfers head to this surfing destination for pro competitions. Let’s take a look at Teahupo’s History and Surf Break and find out why it’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.
Table of Contents
Freshwater ruined the reef hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago when it flowed down from the mountains behind Teahupo’o, producing what is today known as Passe Havea, the point where the paved road stops in town and dirt roads begin.
Teahupo’o is now known as “The End of the Road” because of this.
As the ocean swell bends and races along the reef, the monstrous wave takes on its dramatic shape and pitch as it leaves a gently sloping bottom and is hurled towards a dry reef. To avoid being launched, a surfer must take off under the lip to successfully surf a wave at Teahupo’o.
That’s how close it comes to colliding with the live coral below.
The Late 1900s
When the surge of waves rolled in each year, Teahupo’o residents witnessed this monster build outside their homes – but no one thought of trying to surf it until the late 1900s.
Then, in 1985, Thierry Vernaudon, a Tahitian, and a few other locals embarked on a 15-minute paddle out and surfed Teahupo’o’s Surf Break for the first time. The waves they surfed were nothing like what we now call Teahupo’o – the thick, heaving wave that terrifies everyone.
Teahupo’o was still a closely guarded secret.
Then, barely a year later, bodyboarders Mike Stewart and Ben Severson found themselves crossing the bridge at the End of the Road – and they were the first to show off Teahupo’o’s potential, if only to their friends.
Teahupo’s Surf Break became a gathering site for the subterranean hellmen of the bodyboard scene, thanks to whispers and tall tales.
The Emergence of Professional Surfing
The rest of the world did not widely recognize Teahupoo until 1997. There had been some film up to that time, but not much, and what was accessible didn’t even scratch the surface of what was possible. The ASP World Tour then traveled to Tahiti to compete on this legendary slab.
They were unable to locate what they were looking for. And the Teahupo contest was practically never held.
“We came here in 1997 to run the first event,” recalls Steve Robertson, then-ASP Australasian Manager. Steve was given the task of organizing the event. “And it was a disaster.”
“The surf was terrible. The weather was terrible. We were using a big ferry boat for the Beach Marshall, and when there was a drastic wind change in the middle of the day, the ferry was blown up onto the reef causing thousands of dollars in damage. Then mid-event, the organizers up and left us because they ran out of money.”
This left Steve and the rest of the ASP team to foot the bill for the award money, nearly going bankrupt in the process. Steve remarked, “It was a terrible experience. And we decided that we weren’t going to come back.”
Teahupo’s Second Chance
The Tahitian government contacts Steve out of the blue and offers to pay everything back if the ASP can show them the invoices incurred during the accident. That is exactly what they did.
“Then they plead for us to return and run the event in 1998,” Steve continues.
So the ASP returned to Teahupo the following year, preparing to run the Gotcha Pro at Teahupoo — only to be met with calamity once more.
“It was the same old story – terrible weather, terrible surf – and the government was doing everything they could to welcome us, but at the end of the day, the ocean was still flat.”
“Halfway into the competition, almost everyone was frightened, fearful that they wouldn’t be able to finish. Almost everyone that is – with the exception of Teahupoo legends Raimana Van Bastolaer and Vetea Poto David. The waves will come shortly, do not worry,” Raimana stated over and over.
They did, as it turned out.
The Teahupo Wave that Changed Surfing Forever
“We got up the next morning, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen in my life,” Steve adds. “Richie Porta, the Head Judge at the time, was with me when we first saw it at daybreak. We couldn’t believe what we saw. It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever felt.”
“It was easily 12-foot, but it wasn’t the size that worried us. The sheer power was unbelievable and completely uncharted territory for an event. We thought, ‘Can we really run and make these guys go out in this surf?’ We had a really good field of surfers (it was a WQS 6-Star at the time), and it was just too perfect to call it off. We knew we could do it. So we did.”
The Gotcha Pro lasted three days, and each day was spectacular. The imagery spread like wildfire, and the event became an overnight sensation.
Had there been no persistence from the Tahitian government, particularly Pascall Luciani and the Tahitian Water Patrol, the team wouldn’t have returned. Teahupoo would have never made it to the history of surfing.
Teahupo’s Surf Break
Teahupo is one of the world’s most dangerous waves. It has the potential to give you a once-in-a-lifetime ride or to kill you.
The liquid gem of Tahiti is often referred to as a mutant species that courageous, experienced athletes can only handle because of its weight and thickness rather than its height.
Teahupoo’s reputation has only grown over time. It is the ultimate testing ground for many big wave surfers, the location that genuinely encapsulates the emotion of terror and panic.
Reasons Teahupo Is The World’s Most Dangerous Wave
It Can Rip Your Face
Queen of Teahupo Keala Kennelly has surfed and survived the greatest seas at the break. She recently caught the largest wave ever caught by a woman. In 2011, Kennelly almost died at the waves after a wipeout caused her face to smash with the coral reef. Corals were dug out of her face, and she got 30 stitches.
It Can Outrun A Motorcycle
Teahupoo is a fast-breaking surf break. How fast can it go? Superfast.
When Robbie Maddison tried to outrun the surf on a motorcycle lately, he discovered that the wave was far, much faster. What chance does a fiberglass surfboard have against a modified KTM 250 SX two-stroke engine driving a paddle steamer-like back tire?
It Can Rip Your Boardies Off
Another veteran and standout in the Tahitian wave is Hawaiian surfer Bruce Irons. During the Code Red swell in 2013, though, he was literally left with his pants down by the wave. Irons was rag-dolled over the reef and into the lagoon after collapsing in a monster tube, shedding his skin and boardshorts in the process.
Fortunately for him, his tow partner, Koby Abberton, arrived on his Jet Ski to save the day. He picked up the Irons, who were without their pants, and then completed a few victory laps to the delight of the cheering crowd.
It Can Send You Over the Falls
Niccolo Porcella told SURFER about a recent wipeout at Teahupoo, “I had one hand surrounded by water and the other surrounded by air. At this point, I realized I was getting sucked over the falls.” That happens when you are caught on the wave’s lip and are hurled toward the flat water in front of you.
In a surf break, this is the worst spot to be.
“The beating that followed was the most violent thing I have ever felt in my life,” Porcella claimed. “It instantly tore apart my wetsuit and life vest. I hit the reef five times, got held under for a bit, popped up, and fought for a breath before the next wave landed on top of me. That second wave sent me straight into the reef on my back. Then there were two or three more before I finally washed into the lagoon.”
Channels Aren’t Even Safe
A contest boat carrying all the marshals and judges capsized after a wave rolled the boat into the lagoon during one of the first-ever surfing events held at Teahupoo. A photographer famously bailed off a boat, leaving his girlfriend to hang on and barely make it over the wave.
In 2013, a Brazilian photojournalist suffered three shattered vertebrae as a wave tossed her boat into the air.
Tiger sharks may be enough to scare you away from the wave if all of the above isn’t enough. Grant and Didier Parker traveled out to the break in 2010 in search of the coral-eating starfish but instead caught a 1.29-ton tiger shark.
With Mick Fanning’s attack at the recent Billabong Pro in Jeffreys Bay still fresh in people’s thoughts, let’s hope the starfish, not the sharks, make an appearance.
Teahupo is just what surfing needs. Heart-stirring. Adrenaline pumping. Pivotal. Surreal. Surfing necessitates a diverse range of activities, but Teahupo? It is critical. It’s critical because it’s breathtaking, and that’s precisely what surfing requires.
Although getting to the End of the Road took some time, it proved to be well worth the wait.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: What time of year does Teahupo break?
A: Autumn – most commonly during April, is the best time of year for surfing Teahupo with continuous clean waves (rideable swell with light / offshore breezes).
- Different Types of Surf Breaks
- Biggest Wave Ever Surfed
- Best GoPro Surfboard Mounts
- What Is a Swell
- Surfing 5 Foot Waves
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at many of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which also rubbed off on my two young sons! I am also lucky to spend a lot of ocean-time in my favorite second home, Indonesia. In addition to SurfHungry I have founded several other websites in my areas of passion, namely coffee and rock climbing, and am also a regular rowing content contributor.