Mega Swell in Tahiti: "Code Red" Redux?

Could an impending swell at Teahupo'o bring the surf world another round of “best-ever?”
Julian Wilson surfing a big wave in Tahiti
Julian Wilson Surfs in Tahiti © Brian Bielmann/Red Bull Content Pool

Come Monday, Teahupo'o could see a swell to rival the infamous “Code Red” day of August 27, 2011. Maybe that's hyperbole considering August 27 has been deemed by some experts to be the most intense swell in recorded history (others point to the July 1996 swell). But with a 16-to-18-foot southerly bearing down on Tahiti at a healthy 18-second interval, it could be “Code Red” all over again.

In big-wave riding circles the term “purple blob” is bandied about frequently these days, as in, “There’s a purple blob taking over the South Pacific.” It refers to the colors used on satellite animation; purple being the color designated for the biggest low-pressure areas. The more purple covering the map typically the bigger the swell. In this day and age of super-sized storms, the “purple blob” is a catchall for good things to come (hopefully).

For his part in it Fletcher shrugs it off, “I thought when I came up my head wasn’t going to be attached to my neck anymore.”

So yes, there is a purple blob lurking out there, aimed directly at Tahiti. Whether it compares to August 27 remains to be seen; that’s always the case with storm chasing, but it is fair to say people are starting to scramble. Surfers are dusting off tow boards, which have gone more or less out of vogue save for rare days like this that can’t be paddled.

Even the man himself, Laird Hamilton, noted on Twitter that he’d just bought an airline ticket, which is a good indication the surf’s going to be serious. Photographers and videographers are diligently packing their Pelican cases and making travel plans of their own, because you never know when you're going to snap that historic frame and the angle from channel is too good to pass up.

© Alfredo Escobar/Red Bull Content Pool

If we learned anything from the August 27 “Code Red” session it’s that one frame from one wave can make a man immortal. Nathan Fletcher’s glorious ride into frantic oblivion transformed him from semi-underground, ciggie-smoking, big-wave guy to straight-up icon. “It was the ride of the millennium,” noted 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.

For his part in it Fletcher shrugs it off, “I thought when I came up my head wasn’t going to be attached to my neck anymore.”

There are an estimated 23 million surfers worldwide. About 1.7 million of those live in the United States. Out of all those humans who float around in the brine on a regular basis, there are maybe two dozen that will tempt fate should Teahupo'o touch “Code Red” status this coming Monday and Tuesday.’s forecast models are showing that the surf could top out somewhere in the 18-to-22-foot range. Considering those waves will break in only a few feet of water, there’s a fine line between death and glory. Most of us are smart enough to know that, but to the brave few heading towards French Polynesia right now, we frickin’ salute you.

Oh, and if you're looking for somewhere to stay, check Twitter. Green Room Villa says, “17' - 18' at 17 seconds headed for Tahiti for this coming Monday. Have vacancy for anyone wanting to experience possible code red Teahupo'o!”

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