21/12/2007 | by Mark Patterson
Location: Teahupoo 17 degrees, 51′South, 149 degrees, 15′ West
So this blog has been a work in progress for about, oh, 2½ months now! Ooops, well, better late than never I suppose. Believe it or not, it can actually be hard to find time to sit down and focus on writing out on the water. Especially on passages like the one we had from Rarotonga when the boat is soaked and all you want to do is sip tea and sleep! A while back I wrote about my first week ‘solo’ in Tahiti when the boys were back in Canada for Alexi’s wedding. I promised a part two, so here it finally is!
Going back and reading a few of my blogs from earlier on, as well as reflecting on conversations about the trip so far with a few people back home, I realized that perhaps I’d dwelt a bit too much on some of the tougher parts of the trip, being bit negative maybe. That certainly isn’t the impression I want to give. I think what I was trying to convey is that this trip isn’t all about blissed out tropical paradise. The voyage, like most everything in life, has been series of ups and downs. Like a friend of mine Neil says, “Vicious highs, and vicious lows”; and the bad times make the good ones so much better. I know it is a cliché, but lots of those sayings about life ring much truer out here where life and the experiences are stripped down to a much more basic level.
So with that being said, I’m going to relate just some of the highs from the few weeks spent in Tahiti and the Society Islands.
Same Island, Different World
Firstly, visiting Teahupoo. The day that Suzi and I left Moorea for Teahupoo couldn’t have been more different from the day we had tried to get there 5 days earlier. The wind barely caused a ripple on the ocean and the sun blazed down on us as we motored towards the famous wave. A far cry from the +40 knot winds we had seen earlier in the week. After a few hours we were inside the big reef pass and making our way towards the ‘town’ of Teahupoo, which is little more than a cluster of houses at the very end of the road around Tahiti-iti (the small island). The trip up the channel took us past idyllic scenes of island life; kids playing in the water, folks fishing practically from their back yards, and people paddling outrigger canoes around the lagoon. The scene couldn’t have been more different than that of hectic Papeete, an hour away by car. I knew right away we were in a special place.
Our arrival time was a little too late to get an evening surf in, so we contented ourselves with sundowners and a tasty dinner. While we let our dinner settle, a light music drifted gently over the boat. We realized that we were anchored just off a church (one of 7 in the area) on shore and they were having a Friday evening choir practice. Setting sun, waves peeling in the distance, haunting choir voices: magic!
In the morning we had a quick breakfast and then went to check out the waves at “Pass Avaiti” or “little pass” where there were perfect shoulder high lefts peeling and a few friendly locals out to share them with. Halfway through the surf, a girl paddled up to me and said “Hugh?” It was Nina Heiberg-Joyeux, a friend Janicke and Chad (our friends in San Diego who took us in on the trip down to Mexico). Nina and I had been in touch, but neither of us knew where we’d be surfing that day. I guess that’s just the kind of place Teahupoo is: on a sunny Saturday morning you know you’ll meet old friends and make new ones in the surf.
Nina and her husband Teiva live at Teahupoo, fully embracing the slower pace and wealth of water-based adventures to be had. Nina and I chatted between picking off some glassy waves, and after a while Teiva joined us, paddling into some outsiders on his stand-up paddleboard. Do a quick search online to check out Tieva on his paddle board surfing some incredible Tahitian monsters.
When I found out that Nina was a crack shot with a spear gun, I hinted that I’d like a spear-fishing lesson from her. Despite having an really nice spear gun on board, we hadn’t used it yet because of the risk of fish-poisoning in the Tuamotu’s. So the next morning Nina took Suzi and I out in the lagoon to try it out. After a lesson on how to load the gun, where to look for fish, and free-diving safety tips, we got in the water. I was instructed to shoot “the cute red ones”. After a couple of hours free diving around coral heads or ‘les potate’ I had little to show for my efforts, but I did notice an increase in the time I could stay under the water for. This helped, because staying down long enough to sneak up on the fish was probably the trickiest bit.
The next five days involved more of the same: surf, fishing, beautiful sunsets, and the company of some great people. I worked out a few muscles at yoga class with Nina, hitched to the eastern shore of Tahiti-iti to do garbage study, surfed an incredibly shallow, pitching left-hander at “Big Pass” and generally got into full chill mode.
Stoke in the line up
By most measures, my surfing ability falls squarely in the ‘beginner’ realm. In Canada that lands me with the “kook” label. At most cold, mediocre BC surf breaks, you’re lucky to get head-nod acknowledgement from the ‘locals’, let alone a smile. It is pretty strange that some people don’t show any outward signs of enjoyment or pleasure when engaged in an activity that a large portion of their life is dedicated to. There are far too many opinions, many of them strong, on this subject, so I won’t go into them here. What I want to relate is my experience with the locals of the Society Islands.
I have never encountered such cool, happy, friendly people in the water as in the Societies. During our first day out at the Papara beach break on Tahiti-nui there must have been 30 or 40 people hustling for waves on 2 peaks. In the middle of the mêlée there was huge, tattooed Tahitian on a paddle-board who was commanding everyone’s respect. One set came through and he looked directly at me and said “The 2nd wave back is yours” I looked around, but he was definitely talking to me. “OK, paddle NOW”!!! I couldn’t believe it; here’s this local guy calling waves for me, obviously a tourist!?! On subsequent sets he was giving me more pointers on where to paddle for the peaks and when to go.
Later while surfing at a pass north of Teahupoo, three young guys paddled out to the peak and straight away gave me the “locals hand-shake” at the start of their session. This happened many more times at other breaks as well. It is super cool, because it instantly gives everyone in the lineup respect and acknowledgement. Sure, it doesn’t stop the locals from scoring all the good set waves, but at least everyone has a shared level of respect. I can’t tell you how cool it is to be surfing with big, tattooed locals who are happily sharing their local break with a skinny, white boy from Canada.
After an idyllic week at Teahupoo it was time for me to head back north to Papeete, do a little boat maintenance, and provision Khulula for the next leg with Andy, Nancy, Ryan and Bryson.
When it all comes together
Andy covered most of the highlights of our time on the Sous Les Vent (Leeward) Society Islands, including Raiatea and Bora Bora. But I’d like to tell you about one moment that was particularly memorable for me.
We spent most of our time on Raiatea anchored in a protected bay towards the north-west part of the island. There was a perfect right-hand reef break only 5 minutes away in the dingy. But one day we took Khulula outside the pass and down 5 miles to another reef pass with a left-hander. As we pulled in the pass there were perfect, head-high waves peeling in. Ryan and I looked at each other knowingly.
“Bryson, are you OK to anchor the boat” “For sure” I grabbed my board, tossed it over the side and jumped in after it with Ryan in hot pursuit. We paddled away from Khulula and into some of the best left-hand waves we’d surfed yet. It was a moment that I had played out in my head hundreds of times back in Vancouver when dreaming about this trip, and here we were finally living it. Magic!