Why Are the Waves of Teahupo'o So Big?

Why Are the Waves of Teahupo'o So Big?

The Teahupo’o that the surfing community knows today did not reach the world stage until the second attempt by the ASP to hold the Gotcha Pro event there in 1998. It was during that event, when “Chopes” finally started to break big, that everyone there saw the incredible power they had heard about, but never seen before. The memories, images and footage coming out of that event put Teahupo’o on the world stage for big wave surf. Even in stills, anyone could see the incredible heaviness of the waves.

Teahupo’o has rocket fueled the growth of big wave surfing and it has become a truly legendary big wave surf spot. And with the continuing stream of riveting imagery and footage that this unique location continues to produce, its lore only grows.


So what is it about this location that makes it able to produce such incredible surf?

Teahupo’o lies on the southwest side of Tahiti. This location directly exposes it to storm-generated swells out of the South Pacific. These swells travel thousands of miles, unimpeded until they reach the offshore of Tahiti. 

About three miles offshore they encounter a steep incline that starts at 5000ft below sea level and quickly rises to 1000 ft by the time it is less than a quarter mile from shore. And from there it runs up to 300 feet deep at 150 feet away from shore. Any swell that originates from deep within the ocean that encounters an incline like that, would result in a massive wave, but wait, at Teahup’oo there’s more. 

At the end of the swell’s roll up to the Teahupo’o shore, it encounters a deep channel that effectively funnels the water into an even more powerful surge. And lastly, because of the way the reef lays, the water over the reef is drawn out at the same time the rush of water coming in forms a wave barrel. The combined effect is the formation of a massive, heavy wave barrel, the bottom of which is actually below sea level. In addition to making for an incredible wave barrel, this also leaves very little water between the surfer and the coral reef, making Teahupo’o an extremely dangerous place to surf when it’s big. This of course only adds to its allure.

Oh and one last thing. There’s a unique break in the reef that allows boats (with cameras), to capture surfers as they exit Teahupo’s barrels. Allowing for the capturing of truly unique images, that could not be captured at any other big wave surf location. 

Effrayant Teahupo’o!

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