When you think of surfing in Tahiti, what images do you conjure? Is it the postcard wave of Teahupoo, with its heavy lip and thick, flawless yet brutal barrels? For most, that would be the go to thought chain, but given that Tahiti, and the 200 odd islands that make up French Polynesia in the South Pacific, are just off the southern storm-belt, you know full well there are bountiful setups stretched across the island.
The thing about Tahiti is, the decent swells come from the south – and if you look at Teahupoo's location, it's primed to suck up all that energy on the island's south coast. Those swells generate off New Zealand or shoot up from the Antarctic, during the peak season from May through October.
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But that's not all – because Tahiti can also soak up swells from the north, too. Those same swells that pulse into Hawaii during the northern hemi's peak from November and into March will also tear down the Pacific and into Tahiti, albeit with much less power behind them. That can work in Tahiti's favour though, setting off the island's north and east coast for some more manageable, mere-mortal waves. We say that lightly though, because they're still some of the most pristine, warm watered setups you're likely to come across.
Romuald Pliquet has been documenting Tahiti for years, so much so, it's like a second home for him. The French-born photographer is one of our go to lensman when Chopes is busy doing its thing and has shot some of the more iconic images from there over the past few years. And he'll be the first to tell you that Chopes is just the tip of the Tahitian iceberg when it comes to wave setups.
“All spots located along the west coast of Tahiti are exposed to S or SW swells and most of them are coral reef breaks, with a couple of exceptions,” he tells MSW – remember, Teahupoo is on the south coast.
“Without significant tidal effect and shallow water, waves are very powerful and hollow. But think of Teahupoo as the tree that hides the forest. All waves do not break on reef, some jewels break on black sand.”
And of those less powerful north swells during the summer? “When the North Shore at Oahu is on fire, three days after, the north shore of Tahiti is on fire too,” says Romu. “Black sand spots come alive like the magnificent Papenoo Rivermouth can offer all kinds of surfing experiences.
“This wave is the Polynesian cousin of La Graviere. There's only one goal; to rush into the biggest barrel possible before the wave explodes on the sand and pebbles. But rest of north beachbreaks are more accessible and the high number of surf schools is kind of testament to that. There are reef breaks up north that are a lot more manageable during that season, too.
“When the seasons are shifting, it is possible to be able to surf all around the island and sometimes alone because the swells are present on both sides. The swell generated by the trade winds can also offer up surprises in improbable places; you just have to listen to the island and the elements will align.”
Spot guide: Tahiti