"Yeah, I'm scared," CJ Hobgood told me via a sketchy Skype connection Tuesday afternoon from Teahupoo, Tahiti, "everyone is scared." Then the line just went dead.
I had called Hobgood to gauge the level of anxiety among the World Tour competitors who have been sitting around contemplating what forecasters are calling one of the biggest swells for the contest since 2002.
Every contest arrives with fresh hype about an epic swell on its way, but when the little Tahitian village at the end of the road is the location in question, these stories inspire disproportionally more dread. Backless slabs that blot out the sun and roar like 747s on takeoff come to mind, as do heroic performances, like those that put Laird Hamilton, Nathan Fletcher, Andy Irons, Raimana Van Bastolaer, and others into surfing's subconscious forever.
"The models are kinda freaking out on this swell," Surfline's Sean Collins told me after I was unable to get CJ back on the line, "but I figure at Teahupoo it will be 12- to 15-foot Hawaiian—20- 30-foot-plus faces—with some larger sets. We'll see some early signs late Friday evening and by Saturday morning it will be on and peaking by midday. In a perfect world, the event finishes off in great surf on Thursday and Friday, because I think Saturday will be too big for paddle and the tow guys will be on it."
While it's still unclear the maximum size that ASP officials would allow competitors to paddle out in, Collins says 12-foot Hawaiian is pretty much the maximum paddle-in size, but not for safety reasons—it's about the simple mechanics of the place.
"A lot of the guys are really pushing the limits with paddle-in surfing these days," Collins concedes, "but considering that the wave at Teahupoo breaks in the same place as the swell gets bigger, I'm not sure if the paddle-in range can be extended much more than it already is. Considering the nearly concave shape of the bigger waves out there, a bigger board would also work against you making the drop, so the only option would be to take off under the lip and try to make a sideslip freefall. Maybe Kelly or Bruce could pull that, or Andy could have. But at that size, the penalty for not making that size of a wave at Teahupoo is pretty severe."
It was with that penalty in mind that I emailed Hobgood later to follow up on our dropped call and press him on exactly how much fear the forecast inspires.
His reply: "3 poops a day."