On September 7, 2005 swell maps started to turn red over a huge area of the South Pacific. A big storm was forming, creating a perfect 'onion slice'- shaped, low-pressure system. Miles of wind fetch were aiming due north towards the French Polynesian archipelago. One of the biggest south swells of the decade was rolling full speed toward the most dangerous reef in the world.
This was the kind of map to send shivers down the spine of the most dedicated tow-in surfers. It took only a moment for them to get organized and hop on the first flight to Tahiti. By Saturday the 10th, a crew of big wave riders and film crews were rocking up from Sydney, Hawaii and L.A., scrambling for any jet ski and boat available on the island. The Tahitian tow-in teams were as ready as ever to tackle the power of their favourite wave.
Before the swell had even hit, the whole surfing community was already commenting on the next level of madness that Teahupoo would deliver.
As usual, the swell arrived during the night and by dawn all the south-facing reefs were steaming with white water. The massive volume of water being pushed into the lagoons were creating treacherous currents and waves on shore. Sand and corals heads had been washed up onto the roads at Maraa, Papara and Vairao. That night the army was called in to evacuate 150 tourists from a 5 star hotel in Bora Bora, as the over-water bungalows fell like a pack of cards under the pressure of the rising lagoon and the waves.
By 6 am, the usually quiet Teahupoo marina was a hive of activity. Back to back 4 x4s were unloading jet-skis onto the ramp, shakas were flying all over the place as the crews met up again. Pelican cases, strapped boards and life-vests were lying around everywhere waiting to be loaded onto the boats. All eyes were attempting to pierce the morning mist, hypnotised by the white water explosions out on the reef.
The day was overcast and the wind slightly cross -shore. As the boats set out for the pass, the tow-in teams were popping out of the various boat ramps in the village. The line up was a bit messy, and the noise of the sets exploding like thunder on the reef made the atmosphere electric.
Raimana and Strider were the first into action, followed by Malik Joyeux and Manoa Drollet. The southerly wave direction meant that tubes were wider than the actual wave size, making it possible for the surfer to go deeper than ever. Local surfer Didier Tin Sin caught one of the best waves of the morning.
An Imax film crew had even flown in from L.A. and had spent the morning attempting to film the action. The massive Imax camera was supposed to be stabilized by a huge movement and vibration compensating tripod head, but the choppy conditions in the channel and the wind spray were doing their best to prevent this.
Around midday, windsurfing champion, Robert Teriitehau, rigged his sail and got Poto to drop him off on a set wave. As soon as he got down the face of the wave into the glassy zone he lost speed and was annihilated by the lip, while his equipment got sucked up into the massive Teahupoo washing machine and was crushed to smithereens.
The crowd scattered in the twenty odd boats, all screamed out in horror. As ever the Tahitian popped up a few seconds later practically unscathed. Robert has a reputation, totally justified, for being as solid as a rock, which allows him to do crazy things from time to time. Last year, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a windsurfer and in celebration climbed to the top of the Icebreaker that was acting as his security boat. He then jumped off the boat and plunged into the cold water 160 feet below and broke both his legs. There are limits to what the body can withstand!
You can always count on Teahupoo to come up with some dramatic image every time a big swell hits. Robert definitely stole the show on that front.
Shane Dorian and Ian Walsh opted to wait for the high tide around midday. The push of this tide often brings the largest sets of the day, with slightly more open tubes. After a long wait, Shane Dorian was dropped off on a very ugly beast. the kind that sucks all the water off the reef and gives the impression that the whole ocean is moving in. He managed to hold his line and complete one of the most memorable rides of the day. By the grin on his face going back out, you could just tell he had just experienced in a few seconds a year's worth of adrenaline.
Malik and Manoa Drollet once again proved to be the most consistent tow- in team, with perfect wave choice and positioning. A couple of day's prior, Manoa had finally removed a cast from his wrist. A month previously he had suffered multiple fractures when he crashed his motorbike at 120 miles per hour. He was lucky to fall off in the only wide open; double lane road in Tahiti and it was a miracle that he encountered nothing in the process. After that, charging massive Teahupoo was a run in the park for the talented backsider.
Malik and Garrett McNamara managed to ride one of the cleanest tubes of the day, riding side by side in the treacherous bowl section. Malik's concentration was such that he only realized Garrett was behind him at the end of the wave.
In the afternoon, Vetea David was in perfect rhythm. Thierry Tching dropped him off on the bomb of the session. A few minutes later, a huge black wall moved in and we could only guess at Poto's presence at the top trying to gain some speed for a late drop. At the very last moment, he pulled back when the face of the wave turned totally vertical. Even with a strapped board and some speed, riding down a 30 foot, 90-degree face at Teahupoo would have been suicide.
Unlike the last session in May. The next day was much smaller and the wind had messed up the line up. Another one day wonder south swell going down in the Teahupoo madness history books as the images make their way around the globe adding to the myth of the Polynesian miracle wave.
Manoa Drollet and Malik Joyeux
Shane Dorian and Ian Walsh
Raimana Van Bastolaer and Strider Wasilewski
Jamie Sterling and Carlos Burle
Ikaika Kalama, Garrett McNamara and Didier Tin Sinh
Vetea David and Thierry Tching,
Windsurfing champion : Robert Teriitehau
Mike Stewart pushing the limits on a body board.