On an outer Tahitian reef break known as Teahupo’o, Laird Hamilton road a wave so massive, so powerful, it redefined what big wave riders thought was possible.
There may be more ways of pronouncing Teahupo’o than there are letters in the English alphabet. Two of the most common are Chee-yow-po and Cho-poo. No matter how it is pronounced, when there’s large surf, Teahupo’o’s reef break is one of the most dangerous that can be surfed.
Unlike most of the world’s big wave spots that break as cresting waves in deep water, Teahupo’o is just a huge mass moving forward as a solid wall of water. As it reaches the reef, it creates an incredible, perfectly cylindrical tube for those brave enough to ride it. As the water hits the reef, forces of the crashing wave and this solid wall of water (that continues to push forward) literally explode into each other. And below the surfer? A shallow, razor sharp reef that has had almost all the water sucked out of it.
Below is a clip from Riding Giants about Laird Hamilton’s ride that redefined Big Wave Surfing.
From the clip:
I am only arriving at this level because I am being driven by these guys to this level.
Greg Noll Big Wave Surfer
There is just no question, this guy is just the best big wave rider the world has ever seen.
In August of 2000, Hamilton took another giant leap by riding a wave so treacherous, and so outrageous, that it affected the course of Big Wave Surfing history.
The wave broke 3000 miles south of Maui on a French Polynesian island of Tahiti, at a reef pass simply known as Teahupoo (pronounced Cho- poo or Chee-yow-po).
Sam George Big Wave Surfer and editor of Surfer
Who ever would have thought that wave could suck so much water off the reef, that a wave could be so powerful and cylindrical…
The wave Laird encountered at Teahupoo is a freak of hydrodynamics. Unlike the deep water, big wave breaks of Waimea, Mavericks and Peahi, Teahupoo exploded laterally, onto an extremely shallow, razor sharp reef.
The result is an extraordinary wave. That while not as high as Peihi, is almost unfathomable in its mass, power and ferocity.
Teahupoo’s reputation is already fearsome but neither Laird nor Darrick Doerner could have imagined the once in a lifetime wave that eventually appeared on the horizon.
Darrick Doerner Big Wave Surfer
I towed him on this wave. It was to the point where I almost said, ‘Don’t let go of the rope’. But when I looked back he was gone.
Matt Warsaw The Encyclopedia of Surfing
I think it is the single heaviest thing I have seen in surfing. What could be heavier than that.
Laird’s wave at Teahupoo was the most amazing, single most significant ride in surfing history. More than any other ride. Because what it did was completely restructured collectively our entire perception of what was possible.
Steve Pezman Big Wave Surfer and Editor of Surfer’s Journal
You go through a surf magazine, you’ve seen Pipeline, you’ve seen Off-the-Wall, you’ve seen Waimea. You’ve seen everything and none of it has any impact but when that photo came out, it stopped everyone’s heart. They went, ‘Where and what is that’.
I remember picking up that magazine…look at that magazine and just going, ‘Man, that shits impossible. You don’t do that’.
Pat Curren Big Wave Surfer
In my absolute prime, there is absolutely no way I could ride a wave like that.
Normally, surfers are dragging this hand along the face. Laird had to drag his right, his back hand on the opposite side of the board to keep himself from getting sucked up in that hydraulic. In the middle of that maelstrom, how did his mind say this is what I have to do. No one has ever ridden as Laird road on that wave before. So it was the imagination of dealing with that unimaginable energy and coming up with the plan spontaneously. He couldn’t practice.
Billy Hamilton North Shore Surfer and Shaper
I asked Laird, ‘Laird, why do you ride waves like this? Why do you risk your life?’ And he looked at me and…this is a week after he did this. And he was kind of drained, he was very mellow and I think he was humbled by the experience. And he goes, ‘Dad, I trained my whole life for this. I don’t want to miss an opportunity like that.’
I don’t want to not live because my fear of what could happen…
It softened some hard corners in my life, I would say. And I felt honored to be awarded with something so…magnificent that it made me appreciate that what I have been able to have, experience and do.