For the past few months, Tahiti’s borders have been closed to travelers in an attempt to keep the spread of COVID-19 under control. For local surfers, the byproduct of this decision has resulted in uncrowded lineups, with plenty of waves (like this) to go around and not a traveling surfer in sight.
As soon as French Polynesia’s borders were reopened to tourists a few weeks ago, California-based surf photographer Ryan Craig decided to head to Tahiti, with his camera gear in tow, to get a glimpse at what the island’s lineups look like without the traveling hordes. He booked a ticket, scrambled to get a COVID test and headed straight to Teahupo’o.
“With the exception of a couple clean and decent-sized swells in May and early June, the waves have been quiet compared to years past,” says Chachi. “But an average swell in Tahiti can produce more barrels in one afternoon that California will see in a month, so it’s a great place to roll the dice and see what may happen.”
Last week while Chachi was on the island, a fresh swell arrived, greeted by near-idllyic conditions. “It produced some classic inside ledge tubes, albeit, a little more spread out across the reef than what is ideal,” says Chachi. “Just another typical run of surf in this wave-rich region, but without the heavy influx of traveling surfers. It was a locals affair with great vibes in the water, no more than 10 people surfing at the most crowded moments. For four days the sun illuminated the blue water and brought me right back to when I first visited the place in 2013. For now, the rain has returned and the ocean has gone quiet. But when it returns the locals will be here, doing what they’ve done for years at the End of the Road, getting barreled at one of the most picturesque places in the world”
Keep scrolling to feast your eyes on Teahupo’o’s most recent tube fest, with the likes of Michel Bourez, Kauli Vaast, Vahine Fierro, Eimeo Czermak and more local talents enjoyable plenty of hollow fare on tap.
“Aelan Vaast is part of the younger generation that is already surfing Teahupo’o on a regular basis and seems super comfortable on the shallow reef,” says Chachi. ” Her older brother is Kauli Vaast and her father is a professional windsurfer so it’s no surprise that she’s making a name for herself already.”
“Eimeo Czermak is 17-year-old phenom who lives a stone’s throw away from Teahupo’o and he has incredible barrel riding skills for being so young,” says Chachi. ” I can’t wait to see him when it’s 10-feet; his comfort level is simply surreal.”
“On a west swell, the end section at Teahupo’o often runs dry and your only option is to get off and out of the wave by any means necessary,” says Chachi. “Pictured is Eimeo Czermak flying away from danger
“I’m sure this exact moment has happened a few thousand times for Michel Bourez — kicking out of a wave after another fun Teahupo’o barrel,” says Chachi.
“One of the most well-known faces in the lineup at Chopes, Vahine Fierro rode a few amazing tubes this past week, including this wave that flared wide open further along the inside shelf,” says Chachi.
A birds-eye perspective of the End of the Road on a glassy evening.
“By midday, the winds tend to swirl a little too much onshore and most everyone takes a little break from the surf,” explains Chachi. “If you’re lucky though, you can come back in the early afternoon and score the lineup to yourself, like Eimeo Czermak here, seen picking off a perfect wave with no one around.”
“Over the millennia, water has flowed through these mountains cutting out the pass that we now know as Teahupo’o,” says Chachi. “They are also part of the amazing visual landscape you see when you’re threading through the tube.”
Eimeo Czermak, stylishly threading the inside ledge at Teahupo’o like few can.
“This wave was one of the many incredible waves that Kauli Vaast airdropped into on the first evening of the swell,” remembers Chachi. “I can’t wait to see him surf in larger swell; his level of comfort out there is at the highest level and he is a very very good barrel rider.”
“Barron Mamiya is one of the few surfers that escaped to Tahiti in hopes of getting a few waves this month,” says Chachi. “Not surprisingly, he jumped at the chance to surf something bigger than what Oahu has provided so far in the past couple of months.”
“The evening light out at Teahupo’o can be magical and a drone angle only accentuates the beauty of the place,” says Chachi. “With near-transparent water clarity, the reefs textures can be seen in amazing detail from above. In this photo, visiting surfer Kanoa Igarashi carefully knifes his take-of and sets up for an evening vision.
“Light winds with blue skies and a declining swell was the perfect recipe for super clear and clean waves,” says Chachi. “Michel Bourez flies by me as not a drop of water is out of place.”
“Matahi Drollet has taken the reigns as the next Tahitian surfing star with countless displays of bravado in heavy surf over the past few years,” says Chachi. “At this size, he was almost toying with the waves and I’m pretty confident he knows every inch of reef out there.”