Touchdown in Tahiti - The Trials
Billabong Pro Tahiti 2011
Words, photos and video by Nick Gregory
After a four hour flight from Auckland, Tahiti’s humid night air hits you like a warm, wet blanket as the plane doors open in Papeete. My long-sleeve shirt, t-shirt and tight jeans are a regrettable choice. Inside the airport a couple of husky gentlemen sit on a wooden bench bashing away at their ukuleles and singing. I can't help but smile but am not quite ready to dance.
From the airport, it’s a one-hour journey to the end of the road, Teahupoo. The right window of the car overlooks the Pacific’s blue water, calmed by distant outer reefs. Matt Bromely sits next to me telling me his story. The tall skinny South African kid looks like your stereotypical surfer. As he talks I can't help but drift off as my attention has been taken away by the luscious green mountain range filling the entire island. I have never seen anything like this in my life!
We pull into Teahupoo and find our accommodation. They don't exactly have high-rise hotels or even Motel 6 here. Instead I am billeted out to a family. As part of French Polynesia, everyone speaks French here. Everyone except me, that is. But soon we’re having a great conversation of hand gestures, broken English, nods and smiles.
Later at night I listen to the waves while itching my mosquito bites. Arriving at night I have no idea how far away the reef is - although I can hear it roar – a deep rumble vibrating through my old wooden bed. I can't sleep.
By 4:30am the roosters have added a shrill melody to the ocean’s baritone. It’s too early and dark to get up so I just lay there and listen. Every now and then one of them chimes in off-key. Like Fran Drescher singing karaoke. Must be going through puberty. I lay there like a zombie until the sun reveals itself from behind the mountains and the smell of baguettes and coffee lures me out onto the deck for breakfast.
A boat to take us out to the reef, where we join the 15 other boats already tied-up in the channel. I jump into one of the three media boats hovering next to the break. Skippered by the local fishermen, these boats go back and forth all day and get as close as they can to the waves - so close that the hollow drainers occasionally blow your hat clean off your head. I stare at one of the drivers. A cigarette hangs from his mouth as he does his best to counter the boat against the swells rolling through. I wonder if he's as excited as me or if he is just bored out of his brain wondering what the big deal is all about.
After about ten minutes the tropical sun has taken to my pale skin. Not a good start. The waves are only about three-four foot but every now and again a set comes through and hit the reef at the perfect angle, throwing wider than it is high.
Out in the lineup the Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials are running. With a slight offshore breeze smoothing the swell, conditions are perfect. For about five minutes. The tropical weather is about as predictable as Charlie Sheen on a bender. One minute the sun is scorching me and the next minute the wind swings onshore and it starts to rain.
Anthony Walsh is a standout, picking the good waves, while local lad Heiarri Williams shows how well he knows the reef, putting on a show for the appreciative crowd. I was hoping to see Bruce Irons in full effect but he just seemed unlucky and never in the spot for the keepers. As Ricardo Dos Santos stiches up the trial with a plenty of tunnels and all-round consistent shredding, I take a moment to take in my surroundings. The water is so clear I can spot a single grain of sand on the bottom, the famous Teahupoo showing glimpses of what its capable of, the local crowd support for their fellow folk, the exotic women looking all exotic and the mean green peaks towering in front of me.
Is this what dreams are made of? It has to be close.
- Nick Gregory
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