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Coordinates: 17°50′50″S 149°16′2″W / 17.84722°S 149.26722°W / -17.84722; -149.26722
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Teahupo'o is located in Tahiti
Location within Tahiti
Location of Teahupoʻo
Coordinates: 17°50′50″S 149°16′2″W / 17.84722°S 149.26722°W / -17.84722; -149.26722
Overseas collectivityFrench Polynesia
Time zoneUTC−10:00

Teahupoʻo (Tahitian pronunciation: [te.a.hu.ˈpo.ʔo])[2] is a village on the southwestern coast of the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, in the southern Pacific Ocean.[3]

Famous surf[edit]

It is known for the surf break and heavy, glassy waves offshore, often reaching 2 to 3 m (6.6 to 9.8 ft), and sometimes up to 7 meters (23 feet). It is the site of the annual Billabong Pro Tahiti surf competition, part of the World Championship Tour (WCT) of the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour surfing circuit, and used to be one stop in the World Tour of the International Bodyboarding Association.[4] Tahitian Thierry Vernaudon and a few other locals surfed Teahupo’o for the very first time in 1985. Bodyboarding pioneers Mike Stewart and Ben Severson showcased the spot in 1986 and it soon became an underground spot for thrill-seeking bodyboarders. Few professional surfers rode Teahupo'o during the early 1990s. The pro Surf Event was founded in 1997 by JC Clenet and Christophe Holozet. Teahupoo was virtually unknown when the Black Pearl Horue Pro debuted as a World Qualifying Series event in 1997. (The WQS is the ASP's minor league tour, below the original World Championship Tour.) surf magazines, RFO Polynesia covered the event. “Surf magazine” identified the break as Water-world. Nearly 200 surfers took part in the men's competition, worth $80,000, including legends like Sunny Garcia, Johnny Boy Gomez and Vetea David. A dramatic high point occurred on the third day of competition, when the Aremiti, a $1.5 million catamaran used as a floating contest base for surfers, judges and VIP spectators, ran aground on the coral reef and the disembowelment. Teenager Andy Irons from Hawaii won the event. The competition returned the following year under the name Gotcha Tahiti Pro; a women's division was added (won by Keala Kennelly of Hawaii); and the competition ended in chaos when Hawaii's Conan Hayes, the apparent winner after fearlessly charging through a series of Teahupoo barrels, was announced as runner-up behind Australia's Koby Abberton. Hayes stormed off the presentation stage and later said he had put his "life on the line and got robbed." Also the Judges tower, built on the reef adjacent to the pass, collapsed in the middle of the event. The event attracted worldwide attention and was featured in an ever-increasing number of surf videos. Tracks magazine published an 18-page article and a photo of Teahupoo was used for the cover of the issue titled “The Heaviest Contest Ever!”. Aussies face death in Tahitian perfection”. The 1999 Gotcha Tahiti Pro was elevated to World Championship Tour status and became the pro tour sensation. The biggest waves have mostly continued to roll in without takers, and Surfer magazine described Teahupoo as "a still-unconquered field of play." Australians Kate Skarratt and Mark Occhilupo won; Occhilupo was on his way to a world title. On the eve of the third edition, the judges' scaffolding collapsed again under the outburst of Teahupo'o. Six-time world champion Kelly Slater of Florida came out of semi-retirement to win the men's division; Keala Kennelly won the women's title. The competition was renamed Billabong's Pro Teahupoo in 2001. On August 17, 2000 Laird Hamilton is credited with surfing the "heaviest wave" ever ridden,[3] documented in the film Riding Giants. In 2003 the late Malik Joyeux successfully rode one of the largest waves ever ridden.[5]

Nathan Florence, younger brother of two-time World Surf League champion John John Florence, caught in May 2015 what some have considered to have been the biggest wave ever successfully paddled in Teahupo'o.[6] Keala Kennelly was the first woman to tow-surf Teahupo'o in May 2005, getting a 10-foot barrel ahead of the Billabong Tahiti Pro contest.[7] This challenging break has been conquered by many top windsurfers, including Jason Polakow, Ali Neil and Levi Siver. Yannick Salmon was the first kitesurfer to ride Teahupoʻo; however, it was incorrectly written in publications that others had ridden it before him.

Wave characteristics[edit]

Teahupoʻo is a pillow break. The swells mainly break backwards[clarification needed], but the outer reef also creates left breaks that surfers must be cautious of when paddling out. Teahupo'o is renowned for the consistent number of barrels it delivers. It is a rewarding location and is widely regarded as being on the 'must-surf' list of every enthusiastic surfer. However, only experienced surfers in peak physical condition should attempt Teahupoʻo; heavy waves combined with a shallow pillow can result in serious rest[clarification needed] and even swimming in a wipeout.

Teahupoʻo's reputation for wave riding is partly due to its unique form. An extremely shallow coral reef, which ranges up to 20 inches (51 cm) beneath the water's surface, is responsible for a very hollow-breaking wave.[8] The wave's unique shape, with an effect of almost breaking below sea level, is due to the shape of the reef beneath the wave. Its semi circular nature, which drops down sharply creates a 'below water' effect and the extreme angles in descent create an instant instability to the wave. A steep wall of reef causes the entire mass to fold onto a scalloped semi circle breaking arc.[9] The wave bends and races along into a dry reef closeout and the lip of the wave is often as thick as it is tall.[3]

Surfing deaths at Teahupoʻo[edit]

Teahupoʻo was included on Transworld Surf's list of the 'Top 10 Deadliest Waves' and is commonly referred to as the "heaviest wave in the world".[3][10] The name 'Teahupoʻo' loosely translates to English as “to sever the head” or "place of skulls".[10][11]

There has been one recorded surfing death at Teahupoʻo since 2000:[12] Tahitian surfer Brice Taerea who was killed at Teahupoʻo in 2000, just one week before the annual Teahupoʻo WCT event.[3] Taerea attempted to duck-dive a dangerous 12-foot (3.7-meter) wave but was thrown over the falls, and landed head first on the reef. He was recovered from the water, but died later in hospital, having suffered two broken cervical vertebra and a severed spinal cord, which resulted in paralysis from the neck down.[13]

Teahupoʻo WSL Championship Tour Event Champions[edit]

Billabong Pro Teahupoo

Olympic venue[edit]

Teahupoʻo is scheduled to host the surfing competition for the 2024 Summer Olympics, being hosted in Paris.[14][15] At a distance of 9,800 mi (15,800 km) from Paris, this venue choice was the first record broken in preparation of the games. The former record for the longest distance between a host city and a competition subvenue was set during the Melbourne 1956 games when, due to Australian quarantine regulations, the equestrian tournament was moved to Stockholm, some 9,700 mi (15,600 km) away from Melbourne.[16] In October 2023, residents of Teahupo'o protested against the construction of a three-story aluminimum judging tower, fearing that it would irreversibly damage the coral reef.[17] In response to local opposition, French Polynesia president, Moetai Brotherson, said the event could be moved to Taharuu, on Tahiti's west coast.[18] Tensions between local opposition and Olympic organizers continued to rise in December 2023, when a barge that was being used to build the controversial judging tower snagged the reef and damaged coral near the contest site.[19] The incident prompted the French Polynesian government to pause construction of the tower.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Les résultats du recensement de la population 2022 de Polynésie française" [Results of the 2022 population census of French Polynesia] (PDF) (in French). Institut de la statistique de la Polynésie française. January 2023.
  2. ^ "TEAHUPOO - Legend, True Meaning, True Story | Surf News". Onestopsurf. Archived from the original on June 25, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e Jason Borte (January 2001). "Teahupoo History". Surfing A-Z web site. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  4. ^ "ASP World Tour". official web site. Association of Surfing Professionals. Archived from the original on November 30, 2010. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  5. ^ "Malik Joyeux Surfing The Big One". The FactStory. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  6. ^ Williamson, Morgan (2015). "Heavyweights discuss Nate Florence and the best Teahupoo wave ever paddled".
  7. ^ Tracks magazine, August 2005, ISSN 1032-3317.
  8. ^ "Tahitian Dreams". Red Bull TV. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  9. ^ "Teahupoo - Anatomy Of A Monster". SurfingAtlas.com. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Brower, Ryan (2008). "The Top 10 Deadliest Waves".
  11. ^ "Local Knowledge - Billabong Pro Tahiti". Billabong Pro. 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  12. ^ McDonald, Margie (August 16, 2010). "Teahupoo hopefuls faced with huge swell". The Australian. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  13. ^ "Surfing Archived Stories". Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  14. ^ Mather, Victor; Minsberg, Talya (March 6, 2020). "For Paris Olympics, Surfing Will Head to Tahiti's 'Wall of Skulls'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  15. ^ "Teahupo'o". Paris 2024. Retrieved October 13, 2023.
  16. ^ "Tahiti approved as Olympic surfing venue for 2024 Paris Games". NBC Sports. March 3, 2020. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  17. ^ "Tahiti surf tower sparks protests against Olympics 'kooks' before Paris 2024". The Guardian. Reuters. October 27, 2023. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 21, 2023.
  18. ^ "Towering inferno: Olympics organisers stick to Tahiti site amid coral reef fears". The Guardian. Reuters. November 8, 2023. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 21, 2023.
  19. ^ a b "Solution will be found for Teahupo'o surfing site - Paris 2024". Reuters.

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