Bucket list no. 5: Surfing the Superwaves of Teahupo’o

“Imagine, if you will, a wave that has a 20 foot face, is thick and as heavy as a building, breaking into a razor sharp reef that is just a couple of feet deep." - Paul Westlake


No one paints the picture of Teahupo’o’s superwaves better than lifestyle photographer Paul Westlake, a snapper who regularly travels to far-off lands capturing unreal adventures. Truth be told, these savage adventures are only unreal to most of us, for some, such as Westlake, these adventures are just another Tuesday. However, your Tuesday (the less eventful kind) is about to take an unexpected turn as Westlake talks us through his journey to Teahupo’o. Now get up and go see these manhandling waves for yourself - we dare you.

Welcome to Teahupo’o, otherwise known as “a place of skulls.”

The island has seen an explosion of popularity in the last 15 years as it has transformed into a hot surfing destination. Every August since 1999, the Billabong Pro Teahupoo is held in the village. Huge names in surfing, from Kelly Slater to Mick Fanning ride the waves yearly. Yet, there is a reason only the best of the best are advised to ride here: the waves typically reach heights of seven to 10 feet, and occasionally as high as 21 feet. For you Game of Thrones fanatics, that’s three Hodors stacked on one another, for scientific comparisons (obviously).

Thus, Teahupo’o waves are routinely ranked among the 10 most dangerous in the world, a nomadic place where five lives have been claimed since 2000. Anyone in less than peak, physical condition will fail. Even the best are conquered at times.

“I watched Kelly Slater wipe out and break a rib,” Westlake said. “So, not for the faint of heart.” Westlake explained. “Once you are out there the power of the wave is staggering.”

Getting There

But first, one must make the journey to Tahiti Island, where Teahupo’o is located. It isn’t easily found on a world map, but it’s there in the South Pacific Ocean--trust us. Since this is an island located in the French Polynesia, the only means of transportation are by airplane, and the only place to catch a flight from the continental United States to Tahiti is from Los Angeles. The trip will cover roughly 80 percent of a Thrones season. So while you’re engrossed by watching the epic battles involving John Snow, you will still have plenty of time to undoubtedly question your sanity.

Average flight cost (one ticket) from LAX: off-season: +/- $1901.00 USD. Peak season +/- $2500.00 USD.


Where to Stay

After landing at Fa’a’ā International Airport, transportation will whisk you to one of the 20 or more hotels and lodges located in the village, depending on which you booked, of course. There are countless more options in Tahiti as well. Westlake recommended staying at the Vanira Lodge, located in Teahupo’o.


What to do

Do we need to s-p-e-l-l this out for you? Pick up your board, and get in that clear blue water. For those of you who may end up in the hospital if you attempt to take on these superwaves, don’t. There is plenty more to do around the island. Snorkeling? Check. Diving? Yup. Getting sand in your feet along the coast? Of course. There is even a 155 year old public mart in Tahiti called Le Marché to satisfy those shopping urges. Whatever you decide to do, just remember to bask in the sights and sound of the crashing waves.


It is the middle of August and summer is swiftly coming to an end. Where did you go on vacation this summer, if at all? Or, did you just binge watch House of Cards and Orange is the New Black? With no debate on the genius of those shows, it’s time explore this tiny area tucked away in the South Pacific. Convince yourself that you are Frank Underwood and this vacations needs happen, no matter the cost. Because when all is said and done, what will you remember more: Underwood’s fictional political power, or 20 foot, beautifully, monstrous waves engulfing you and fellow surfers?

Photography: Images #2 - #9 by Tim Mckenna // Image #1 Paul Westlake @paul_westlake in association with Elyse Connolly