Kauli Vaast surfing at Teahupo'o in Tahiti on May 29, 2022.
© Domenic Mosqueira/Red Bull Content Pool
Surfing

Everything you need to know about Teahupo'o, with hometown hero Kauli Vaast

As the surfing leg of the Paris Games readies to roll in Tahiti, local tour guide and red-hot favorite Kauli Vaast breaks down the finer points of his favorite wave.
By Chris Binns
7 min readUpdated on
"I surfed Teahupo'o for the first time at eight years old," says 21-year-old Tahitian Kauli Vaast. "I always heard it's a dangerous and scary wave, and I was scared and thought it was big all the time, but the first time I went out there it was two-foot and perfect. So fun!"
Teahupo’o, in French Polynesia, is widely regarded as the most perfect and powerful wave in the world. Let's find out a little more about the incredible wave that will host the surfing event at the Games in 2024.
01

Where is Teahupo'o located?

Teahupo’o is a small and quiet fishing village on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. Teahupo’o village is nestled on the southwest corner of Tahiti’s smaller dormant volcano, Tahiti Iti. Teahupo'o is known as 'The End Of The Road' because it's just that, once you cross the bridge over the river there's nothing but dirt tracks and foot traffic. Those who reside there live for and from the Pacific Ocean.
The most famous village in the surfing world, Teahupo'o

The most famous village in the surfing world, Teahupo'o

© Ryan Miller

02

How do you get there?

The Tahitian capital of Papeete is an eight-hour direct flight from Los Angeles, USA or a 10-12 hour flight via Auckland from Sydney, Australia. Air Tahiti Nui also fly to Paris via Seattle, which takes a massive 21 hours. Once you land at Tahiti-Faa'a International Airport it's a further 90-minute drive to Teahupo'o. Be sure to bring plenty of Polynesian Francs as Tahiti is not cheap!
03

How is the Teahupo’o wave formed?

For thousands of years freshwater has run down from the mountains that stand proudly behind Teahupo’o. Once the river finds the ocean it eats away at the fringing coral reef, and over time this has created Passa Hava'e. It is in this reef pass that the famed and feared wave roars to life.
The southern hemisphere winter is when swell trains roll out of the Southern Ocean and head north. Building up steam and whipped into a frenzy by strong winds, these swells don’t stop until they hit land, or in the case of Teahupo’o, the shallow reef shelf that rears rapidly from a deep seafloor at Passa Hava'e, creating some of the world’s wildest waves in the process.

3 min

No Contest Tahiti

The world's finest surfers take on the world's most fearsome wave, Teahupo'o.

Wave direction

Left

Bottom

Coral Reef

Best Tide

Mid

Skill level

Advanced

Optimal swell direction

SW

Optimal wind

E

04

What makes the Teahupo'o wave so special?

"There are three things," says Vaast. "The perfection of the wave. It's flawless from small to huge and has the perfect barrel.
Teahupo'o Big Empty

Teahupo'o Big Empty

© Ryan Miller

"Then there's the landscape. You'll never see anything else like this in the world. As a spectator you can be in the channel super close to the action, then as a surfer when you're in the barrel you're looking at everyone on the boats watching you and cheering for you. The water is so clear, the backdrop with the mountains is amazing, and at sunrise, it all looks incredible.
Kauli Vaast paddling in Tahiti on May 29, 2022.

Kauli Vaast greets a golden Tahiti morning

© Domenic Mosqueira/Red Bull Content Pool

"Finally there's the mana. When you come out through the reef pass you can feel that good mana, that good energy, and you know you have to be respectful and understand how crazy the wave is."
05

When is the best time of year to surf Teahupo'o?

Teahupo'o breaks consistently from autumn in April and May through to spring in September and October. This is the best window for the powerful southern storms needed to serve up the terrifying days that have put Teahupo'o on the bucket list of any seriously committed surfer.

10 min

XXL Teahupo’o waves

Enormous waves see the world’s best big wave surfers drawn to Tahiti as the 2023 southern swell season opens.

English +2

Not for the faint-hearted, surfing big Teahupo'o requires a lot of planning, and even greater levels of intestinal fortitude. Once Teahupo'o goes XXL, you'll need a friend with a jetski to get you into the biggest waves of the day.
"When it's big I like to grab my tow board and go wait for my wave," says Vaast. "Paddle waves are crazy because you have the paddle, the takeoff, the ride and the kick out, whereas towing is special because you know if you go, it's going to be on something huge."
06

The history of surfing in Teahupo'o

Although the good folk of Teahupo'o have known about the fearsome wave breaking in Passa Hava'e for over 100 years, it is local man Thierry Vernaudon who is widely credited with being the first to surf it, after taking to the break in 1985. A year later renowned bodyboarders Mike Stewart and Ben Severson tackled the perfect Tahitian tube, and the resulting images were seen around the world, leading to an increase in visitors year on year.
It was in 1998, however, that the Gotcha Tahitian Pro well and truly put Teahupo'o on the map, when the contest was broadsided by some of the most insane waves ever seen in professional competition. Australian Koby Abberton hoisted the trophy, but the surfing world was the big winner; Teahupo'o had arrived in full force. Two years later, when Laird Hamilton rode the legendary Millennium Wave, Teahupo'o's status as the world's craziest reef break was set in stone.
Andy Irons, Teahupo'o

Andy Irons, Teahupo'o

© Pat Stacy

The late Andy Irons forged a reputation as the all time best competitor in Tahiti with two event wins and endless iconic free surf sessions. In modern competition at Teahupo'o, the Andy Irons Most Committed Performance Award has been given to the hardest-charging competitor since 2011.
Nathan Fletcher rides an enormous wave during 2011's Code Red swell in Tahiti

Nathan Fletcher tackles Teahupo'o's 2011 Code Red swell head on

© Brian Bielmann/Heavy Water

2011 was also the year the world watched on in terror as the infamous Code Red swell saw surfers tackling the craziest waves in history, while water police did all they could to send boats and watercraft back to safe harbor. Nathan Fletcher, Bruce Irons and many more hellmen etched their names into the history books on that day, and it is still regarded as the heaviest session in surfing folklore.
07

What surfing competitions take place on the Teahupo'o wave?

Since 1999 the Tahiti Pro has run at the highest level on the ASP/WSL tour, and since 1999 it has been the most anticipated event of the year. From Andy Irons to Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina and Jeremy Flores legends have been forged in competition at The End Of The Road.
Mick Fanning Won The 2012 Billabong Pro, Tahiti

Mick Fanning Won The 2012 Billabong Pro, Tahiti

© ASP/Kirstin

In 2024 Teahupo'o will play host to the surfing competition at the Paris Games. How? As a part of French Polynesia, Tahiti is a semi-autonomous territory of France, and surf fans around the planet are the biggest winners, along with the next generation of golden hopefuls – Vaast, Jack Robinson, Joao Chianca, Griffin Colapinto, Caroline Marks and Molly Picklum who have all proved their worth at Teahupo'o in the past. Now's their time to shine on the world's greatest stage.
Kauli Vaast and Michel Bourez ride a Red Bull jetski in Tahiti on May 30, 2022.

Kauli Vaast and Michel Bourez – proud Tahitians, proud Olympians

© Domenic Mosqueira/Red Bull Content Pool

08

Special moments out of competition at Teahupo'o

In 2016 precocious Australian teenager Leroy Bellet first detailed his dream: to surf Teahupo'o, camera in-hand, and capture the world's wildest wave like never before. The stunning result was Chasing The Shot, and the shot in question, of Michel Bourez looking out at the incredible Tahitian landscape, landed covers and was lauded around the world.

23 min

Chasing the Shot – Leroy Bellet

Follow photographer Leroy Bellet on his quest to film some of the world’s best barrel riders.

English +1

A couple of years later, in 2018, filmmaker Ryan Moss spent the better part of the winter season in the channel at Teahupo'o, filming one epic swell after another. The Sessions edit below is the final product.

3 min

A season of heavy barrels at Teahupo'o

Filmmaker Ryan Moss spent the better part of the winter season in the channel at Teahupo'o, filming one epic swell after another. This is the final product.

In 2021, Moss again linked up with the world's best at The End Of The Road, as Lucas Chumbo, Justine Dupont and Vaast took on one of the biggest and most perfect swells in recent memory. Vaast caught one wave so big that "nobody with a real camera captured it because all the boats were scrambling for the horizon."
Vaast's take was a little more sobering. "The wave closed out to the channel. I've never seen that before. I went over the falls and thought if I hit the bottom I was going to die because the power of the wave is next level."
Somehow Vaast didn't hit the bottom – that's a whole 'nother story – and survived the "craziest wave, craziest wipeout of my life."
09

What to do if there are no waves?

Aside from Teahupo'o, there's plenty of surfing spots nearby such as Papeno’o, Papara and Taapuna. With Tahiti world-renowned for its warm sparkling blue waters and sand beaches, there's plenty to do other than surf.
"Growing up in Tahiti was the best," says Vaast. "Everything is about the ocean or the beach. Surfing, hanging out, playing football, fishing, diving, that kind of stuff. Island style."

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