Teahupo’o, Tahiti Cups Brazilian Surfer Pato Teixeira in All Its Terror
by Owen James Burke
Above: Brazilian big wave hellman Pato Teixeira under a Tahitian lip as thick as your house is tall. Photo: Tim McKenna Photography-TMK Tahiti
If you’re a surfer, you’ve probably seen upwards of a thousand photos of Teahupo’o (meaning place of skulls, loosely translated into English), but perhaps none that have given you such a feverish chill as I get looking at this one.
For obvious reasons, Teahupo’o is widely recognized as being one of the most dangerous waves in the world. It’s a wall of reef that at low tide leaves less than two feet of water between the trough of a wave and the coral reef below faces a vast Pacific Ocean with thousands of miles of fetch, piling all the Pacific Ocean has to offer onto what for all intents and purposes can be considered dry reef.
As one might imagine, it took a while for the idea of riding this wave to catch on for most, including professional surfers. It was first surfed — as the history books tell it — by bodyboard legends Mike Stewart and Ben Severson in 1986, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when it gained popularity. Since 1999, it’s been an annual stop for the ASPs, competitive surfing’s world tour, and since 2000, it has claimed, though miraculously not the one above. There have been many a famous spill here, not to mention the list of those that cut lives short, which quite nearly included Kelly Slater a few years ago.
Pato in Portuguese means “duck” — the animal, not the verb — but judging by his crouched stance and his friend calling out to him on the shoulder, I wonder whether he was being cheered on or instructed to find a lower center of gravity in preparation for the thousands of gallons of water about to spit him out of that precarious corner in which he’s sitting. — OJB