Surfing in Tahiti - Guide
For our latest Corona Journey, we embarked on an epic adventure to Tahiti, the centre of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. We were in search of perfect waves, crystal clear lagoons, and endless Tahitian sunsets, and we weren’t disappointed. Venturing deep into the heart of the island, we discovered a place bursting at the seams with history, colour, culture and sounds.
It’s a bit of a mission to Tahiti, but well worth the effort. Flying out of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, you’ll need to go through Auckland, change planes and continue on to Tahiti. Qantas code shares with Air Tahiti Nui, which will ease your travels by booking through them. Also, both airlines count surfboards as part of your checked luggage, so you won’t get stung at the airport. Just double check your baggage weight before arriving.
Tahiti has a blend of ancient Polynesian heritage and French élan. Since the 1700’s, the overlay of French culture has been undeniable, however, Polynesian heritage is strong and proud, driving their way of life. You’ll find about 80% of people on the island are Polynesian, 10% are Chinese and the remaining are made up of Europeans, mostly the French.
Regardless of heritage, food, the ocean, dance and music are a part of everyone’s lives. People are happy, welcoming and having a good time. As soon as you arrive, you’ll realise how important the ocean is to Tahitians. It’s alive with people surfing, powering across the water on outrigger canoes, fishing, swimming and diving. Most people live on the coast of Tahiti or next to the water, so the ocean is everything.
Once you arrive, it’s a good idea to find a bicycle and go for a cruise. You’ll sink into island time easily, and it will give you an opportunity to check out the local area, beaches and get a feel for the place.
There’s pretty much two roads around Tahiti – one runs a circle around Tahiti Nui and one around Tahiti Iti. Once you get a feel for the place, hire a car, strap the boards to the roof, throw an esky with Coronas into the back and go exploring.
Apart from Papara and Papenoo River Mouth, all of Tahiti’s waves are reef breaks. You’ll need a boat to access them, or enjoy a leisurely 40-minute paddle from the mainland to the outer reefs. The guys at Teahupoo Adventure are legends and will take you to the best reefs in the area. They’re located in the marina near Teahupoʻo. Tell them Corona sent you.
You’ve all heard about Teahupoʻo. Nestled within ancient volcanic mountains, it’s a legendary wave, unlike any other on the planet. Enormous walls of water, slam against a coral reef, forming a heaving left-hand barrel. Teahupoʻo is one the biggest spectacles in the surfing world – it’s raw energy has attracted surfing’s elite since the 1960’s. For thousands of years, fresh water from the mountains has drifted down the valley, through the rivers and into the ocean to form the pass at Teahupoʻo – it’s a truly incredible place.
Type: Reef Pass
Swell Direction: S-SW
Best Wind: Glassy, Light NE
Surf Height: 6ft – massive
On the south side of Tahiti Nui is Papara, one of Tahiti’s only beach breaks. Right and left peaks break off the side of a river mouth – a fun rippable wave. Get down there for the early; you’ll get magic wind that comes from the valley of Taharuu. The natural, crisp air grooms the lineup – it’s something pretty special. When it’s big, Papara Reef will break as a hollow left – and sometimes a rare right.
Type: River mouth
Swell Direction: SE-WSW
Best Wind: Glassy, Light East
Tides: Mid Tide
Surf Height: 4-8ft
ump in a boat and about 20 minutes north of Teahupoʻo marina is one of Tahiti’s best waves. Vairao or Big Pass is a left-hander with a steep, hollow barrel which on the right swell, can wall up 100 metres down the line. The reef here is beautiful but razor sharp. Be careful on low tide and have some limes on hand.
Type: Reef Pass
Swell Direction: S-SW
Best Wind: SE-E
Tides: Mid – high on incoming
Surf Height: 4-12ft
There are about ten other breaks on Tahiti, mostly reef breaks. Chat to some locals for some intel and go for a search.
Everything is fresh on the island. Taharuu Lodge had bananas, mangoes, pineapples, custard apple, coconuts, and nonis, all growing from the trees, all ready for the picking.
For something a bit more substantial, Tahiti has an abundance of fish. Just take a drive down the road and they’ll be fresh whole tuna for sale for around $15. You’ll find yourself eating a ridiculous amount of sashimi – tuna, kingfish, mahi-mahi – huge plates prepared and ready to eat for around $10.
But one local dish that will blow you mind is poisson cru, or ia ota in Tahitian. It’s a twist on ceviche: raw red tuna marinated in a delicious blend of lime juice, fresh coconut milk, onion, ginger, herbs and spices. Our local legend Tikanui prepared a feast ofpoisson cru from on our second last night on the island, and it’s safe to say it was the best thing we ate on the entire trip.
We left Tararuru Lodge early in the morning to head to the Papenoo Valley. It was sunny, with light offshore winds and we felt the expected tropical Tahitian vibes. 40 minutes later, we made our way across the North-Eastern coastline of Tahiti Nui and came head on with thick grey clouds and rain.
Tikanui explained that a number of conditions, including water that is held within the mountains, create a completely different weather system up here.
From the valley floor, up sheer cliffs and all the way to the peak, the mountains here are completely carpeted in green. Streams of cloud wrap around the mountains, moving as if they have a mind of their own. There’s an incredible energy in this place – the Tahitian’s call it mana – the power of the island. It kind of felt like we were in Jurassic Park.
They’re over 100 waterfalls in the valley, with 500 waterfalls pouring down the cliffs after heavy rain. The water is super cold but well worth the swim. If you really want to feel the mana, take a sip of the water, fresh from the falls.
This island lights up. Golden sunsets here are amazing, and hypnotic at times. If you’re in the water or on the sand, you’ll probably lose yourself as the sun sets. During winter (April – October) your best bet to catch the light is on the south-west coastline of Tahiti Nui or anywhere around Teahupoʻo on Tahiti Iti. We scored an epic session down at Papara on our first day, fun waves and then a few ice-cold Coronas to watch the sinking sun.
Photos: Chris Searl
Photos & Words: Jam Hassan