The biggest, gnarliest, deadliest surf spots have big, gnarly, deadly names: Dungeons in South Africa, Mavericks in Northern California, Jaws on Maui, and Avalanche on the North Shore of Oahu.
Seventeen degrees south of the equator on the southeast corner of the main island of Tahiti is Teahupoo (pronounced cho-poo). It’s not the biggest or the deadliest wave in the world, but it is by far the gnarliest—and by gnarly we mean it’s tall, wide, and powerful, and it rises above a very shallow reef. It is an almost impossibly hollow, nasty beast of a wave, and it’s fast becoming the gateway for surfers who are desperate to make the big leagues.
Teahupoo is a freak of nature, formed when powerful swells generated deep in the southern oceansuddenly trip over a shallow reef in the middle of the South Pacific. These swells roar in protest at their unexpected demise, and riding them on their biggest days has become one of the most extreme pleasures of modern surfing, enjoyed only by elite watermen.
“It’s not like the wave breaks,” Noah Johnson (the ’90s surfing legend—not MF’s current Outdoors editor) has said of the wave. “It’s like the whole ocean just pulls back and heaves forward.”
Today, with global warming putting a serious dent in the Antarctic ice pack, the swells generated in the Southern Hemisphere have gotten even stronger and bigger. Now, every time the South Pacific is ready to rumble, the world’s most extreme surfers flock to the islands in droves, ride out to the reef like a scene from Water World, and attack the gnarliest wave on the planet.
If you’re thinking about joining them, don’t—unless you can already surf huge waves in your sleep. If Teahupoo were a ski run, it would be 10 black diamonds with a skull and crossbones on top. However, it is a great place to visit and catch some amazing surfing events, such as the Billabong Pro Teahupoo, which takes place late each spring.
Although boats and Jet Skis are hard to come by when the surf world descends on this sleepy corner of Tahiti, buying a ticket will score you the best seat in the house for the greatest show on earth. Check out billabong.com for more info.