[This photo feature, where we break down our ever-shifting definition of the perfect wave through the last six decades, originally appeared in our April 2017 Issue, “Evolution,” on newsstands and available for download now.]
Bodyboarders Mike Stewart and Ben Severson are credited as the first to charge heavy Teahupoo in the '80s, which makes sense; at a glance, oversized Teahupoo would have looked impossible to ride on a traditional surfboard by any sane person's standards. Rising from a shallow slab of Tahitian reef that juts up from deep water, Teahupoo breaks with perhaps more power per foot than any other wave in the world. Over the next two decades, surfers' standards of rideability slowly nudged into less-sane territory. By 1997, Teahupoo was a 'QS venue, and the nerve-wracking drama of every ride made the wave's graduation to the World Tour two years later all but inevitable. But Teahupoo's real glory days started in the early 2000s, when Laird Hamilton, Malik Joyeux, and Cory Lopez (pictured here) pushed surfing Teahupoo—and barrel riding in general—into a wholly unhinged frontier. All the while, the thing that made Teahupoo so intriguing to everyday surfers was that its power was matched by its perfection; you'd be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful wave anywhere on Earth. For most of us, however, this perfection was best enjoyed from a safe distance, through a screen or on a printed page, while wearing a helmet and water wings…just in case.
[Check back on Tuesday to see our selection for the perfect wave of the 2010s]