If Kelly Slater is to be believed, surfer Nathan Florence might have pulled off one of the greatest rides ever at Teahupo’o. “Hands-down, the best wave paddled ever at Teahupo’o, in my book,” says Slater. Florence caught a massive, snapping wave and came flying out the other side. He’s now being compared with the late surfing legend Andy Irons, whose 2002 ride at Teahupo’o also turned heads.
For anyone who has watched a Laird Hamilton video, Florence’s ride looks cool but unremarkable. Here’s why the world’s best surfers are so impressed: Florence committed early to his wave, paddling almost before the wave had formed. Then, he drops steeply down the face, hanging briefly, suspended. Unlike Irons’s famous ride, Florence goes straight down the face and looks almost casual as he grabs his outside rail and stalls to get in the barrel.
A great tube ride is also measured by how deep the surfer gets in the barrel — and Florence was deep, entirely covered up by the breaking wave and invisible from the shore. It’s not for the faint of heart, especially at a wave like Teahupo’o. If something goes wrong, the full weight of the wave will crash down on him.
At the very back of the barrel is what surfers call “the foam ball.” As the wave breaks, white water forms inside the barrel, just like what you can see from the beach on the outside of the wave. It’s turbulent and difficult to surf. The foam ball is as deep as you can go in the barrel — behind it is a solid wall of turbulent water. Watch the clip of Florence and at around 40 seconds, he’s deep in the barrel, riding the foam ball. Eventually, he disappeared.
In a fast-breaking wave like Teahupo’o, the compression of air and water causes the wave to spit. The spit sent Florence flying out of the barrel and into the Teahupo’o channel.
Though Florence made it all look pretty effortless, he told Surfline he doesn’t really remember much of his now-famous ride. “I kind of just blacked out. I barely remember the drop,” he says. When the spit hit him, he nearly lost control. “I ended up getting almost knocked off, I didn’t even know what was going on.”
Florence, 20, is the younger brother of World Tour surfer John John Florence. He’s less interested in competing than his older brother. Instead his passion is chasing big surf at spots like Teahupo’o and his home break, Pipeline.
It’s too early to say for sure that this is the wave of the year. There’s still some solid surf yet to come before January rolls around. But the best wave ever surfed at Teahupo’o? Let’s just say we’re not about to argue with Kelly Slater.