Being in a tumultuous relationship is not one way I would recommend spending time in paradise. Especially a two month trip. I would have loved to have done this adventure solo however, without my involvement in a particular surf project, my dreams to travel to this part of the world, would continue to remain unfulfilled.
Traveling for a surf project
I quit my job rather suddenly (and not the 1st time) to pack up and head to the islands for what was a surf project I worked very tirelessly on.
To cut a long story short, I had applied for a role working with a ‘company’ teaching local surfers in remote islands how to shape timber surfboards in their own back yard.
Given lack of money, access to fibreglass boards and ding repair, it seemed like a perfect scenario and one that was relatively unchartered by Westerners at the time. The discovery of surfing by troubled youths living in remote islands would be a life-changer.
Somewhere along the way, I fell for the guy behind the movement. Things quickly progressed into a relationship. By quickly I mean by rocket-ship type proportions.
We discussed project launches in PNG where he originated from. Solomon Islands was also a heavy contender. But in the end, my ultimate dream destination won hands down.
There were many red flags along the way, but I was committed to the project and to French Polynesia come hell or high water.
This would be my first planned trip away with another man, rather than flying solo.
Little did I know, I would be leaving him on a remote island somewhere in the archipelago.
The trip was nearly two years ago, yet I still find it quite hard to put into words just how spectacular French Polynesia is.
Ribs of jagged coral reef in rainbow spectrums meet turquoise blue waters, contrasted by deep channels of dark purple waters. Unexplored lush green islands appear sporadically with unmissable volcanic mountaintops rising from the ocean.
Flying into the capital Papeete is an experience rich in culture, big smiles, seafood, cruise ships and lively markets. Not to mention spectacular island backdrops. I only had one thing in mind, and that was to touch down at Teahupoʻo, a dream I’ve wanted to fulfill since I first learnt to surf.
My ex however had other ideas, with zero interest in helping me reach that very spot by rental car. Instead he erupted into an endless tangent about how commercialism is killing the soul of surfing. Red flag number 248.
The village of Teahupoʻo was a lot further from the capital than I expected, around an hour’s drive to the south-west coast. Oh, yes I had won the uphill battle to make it there. The drive is littered with fruit stalls, care-free kids, lush mountains, valleys and creeks and no shortage of black sand beach breaks.
The swell was small but I was so stoked to arrive at the dead-end street and stand at the foot of the infamous Teahupoʻo sign, that I’d seen in some of the best surf movies growing up. The energy of the village is pretty special. It’s just raw.
I could only imagine what it would be like when the swell is 20ft with guys towing in. I’d still love to return to sit in a boat in the channel, watching fearless locals drop down the faces of monsters.
While I’d love to tell you where we next flew to for the two months that followed, I simply can’t. But I can fill you in on what one might experience if they choose to visit.
My ex had explored this particular island for a couple of months prior, which allowed him to get to know the locals, the waves and ideas of where our shack could be based for the project.
And of course to skip out on some expensive nightly rates. I’m sure our experience would have been vastly different had he not worked to carve the path ahead.
I’d never before witnessed the type of waves that we would soon discover. The shack was set up in a small bay, caressed by the most perfect grinding right hander I’d ever seen. On the other side, an equally as perfect left hander. I’d heard that professional guys had died on the right before.
Luckily it wasn’t the season for it and I was quite happy I had missed it. The wave however continued to run relentlessly perfect spitting barrels. It was just too shallow.
I’d done my research. It wasn’t pretty. But I was confident in the captain that was leading me into the project and didn’t feel I had anything to worry about.
The level of respect in the lineup here is next level. The waves are an epitome of perfection, depending of course on your level of surfing.
Whichever way you look at it, the locals make sure to strongly protect their ground.
I noticed there was no such thing as crowds.
Taking your camera
If you think you’re going in with a camera to shoot the waves, from land or from sea, you’ll quickly end up on the wrong side of any local. I heard many stories of cameras being carelessly ripped from visiting surfer’s hands and tossed into the ocean.
Along with violence.
The Red Bull team visited a nearby island on a big swell and it wasn’t a good ending.
Surfing in groups
You’re not going to just paddle out and start taking waves without first approaching and acknowledging each local in the water. There’s barely any lineup in the world left with this level of respect. Enough to leave you speechless. Tattoos. Bisects. Some big humans.
You just do it. But paddle out with more than two of your mates (especially two males) and you’ll be sent in. I know of one local who brags about the amount of blow-ins he’s knocked out in a day.
“Each lineup is continually patrolled by locals with binoculars on hillside shacks, ready to call out boats if any trouble is spotted. Be prepared to paddle. Some breaks sit 1KM offshore and include some brutal currents and bone crushing sections over dry reef to leave you out of breath“
Other efforts to fit in
Refuse to take up an offer to drink tequila shots at the bar when it’s one of the guy’s birthdays, well you’ll probably lose some respect too.
And they know how to drink.
Try too hard to fit in without invites, you’re likely to be sniffed out pretty quick and asked to leave the island.
Nine out of ten locals you have nothing to worry about, but there certainly are some that will take it to the extremes.
The level of surfing
Some of the waves had me on the edge of crying with fear. I wrote about one particular session here.
Would I recommend solo travel for a female surfer?
The island is full of 360 degree views of every colour spectrum of flowers and tropical fruit you can imagine. It is a rich ground for deep sea pearls and sacred blue-eyed eels. It truly is something you could imagine out of a dream.
My experience however, was not without being woken from an afternoon nap, with death threats dished out to my ex, simply for making one silly mistake. The relationship turned into a brutal mess and in the end, I decided it was not a place for me to stay and once again departed solo. Narrowly missing out on a wedding proposal but perhaps that’s a story for another time.
Would I recommend another girl to travel here solo? Papeete and Tahiti waves yes. Outer islands I would suggest bringing a guy that has experience with locals of smaller islands, unless you have contacts in the area. Oh, and your surfing needs to be at a pretty high level.