Tahiti is the holy grail of surfing. The water is pristine and the waves arrive in endless perfect barrels. But the island's greatest thrill may be when storms roll in and conditions can turn dangerous – or magical. "You get these crazy sunsets that go on for hours," says photographer Chris Burkard, who shot Patagonia-sponsored pro surfer Dan Malloy there in July.

Less than five miles south of the west coast's notorious Teahupo'o break – where two-story-high waves rise so quickly it looks like the ocean is folding in on itself – Malloy prefers surfing the mellow (and secret) Small Pass break. "It's almost the exact opposite of Teahupo'o," he says. "I was doing an aerial on a six-foot break."

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Riding waves atop shallow coral reefs between thunderstorms, Malloy says, "is surreal because you almost can't feel the water – it's the same temperature as your body. It's so clear that you see fish during every ride. You take off on a wave and then all of a sudden it's over and you're having a hard time remembering what happened – that's when you know it was really good."