Children From The End of The Road
There’s a rumble at Teahupoo.
The Billabong Pro, Tahiti starts later this week (pray for swell). But, there’s plenty of Teahupoo surfers you should know about outside the Top 34. Here’s five local kids from the underground, who you can expect to see as wildcards in the coming years…
Matahi Drollet, 18, Teahupoo
Little brother of Teahupoo big wave legend, Manoa, and the youngest XXL Big Wave Award winner ever, Matahi Drollet, is The End of The Road’s brightest star.
“He’s kind of the first full on local that lives there, who surfs there after school,” explains veteran Teahupoo photographer, Tim Mckenna. “Chopes has become really important for him in his life.”
Matahi first laid eyes on the wave as an eight year old while watching older brother Manoa surf it. It was eight-to-10 feet and it scared the bejesus out of him. Yet, a year later he was out there.
“At the start I was doing turns on the beachbreak (at Teahupoo lagoon) and you get bored a little bit,” he says. “The reefbreak has more power and it’s easier to surf. My first surf was at nine or 10 but around 12 I start to surf it everyday because I was a little bit bigger so I could paddle stronger. When I was 14 that’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
That same year he shocked the surfing world with what has to be the heaviest wave ever ridden by a 14 year old – a 12-foot chamber of death he was towed into by his brother Manoa.
“When you have the rope that’s the part when it’s the most scary,” he says of the experience. “Once you let go, you ride the wave and it’s fun. Then when you make the bottom turn you realise how big it is and you just have to focus, you’re not scared, you just want to make it and not eat shit ‘cos you’re 13 or 14 years old. You don’t appreciate it in the moment, it’s not until the adrenaline comes down two days after and you’re like, yeah, fuck it was so good.”
Matahi was dispatched to boarding school as a teenager, meaning he could only surf weekends. After his sister returned from studying in France she found the family a house on the point at Teahupoo where they now run a water taxi and reef exploration business. Following high school Matahi moved back there, where he now shares a house with her family and their grandma. It’s a humble island home though it’s become the main hang spot for Teahupoo’s young chargers.
“The last few years when it was over 10 to 12 feet you wouldn’t see many locals out there and definitely no kids,” explains Tim Mckenna. “But now with Matahi Drollet’s house right there they can take a boat out there, and there’s a house for them to hang out at and they’re kind of taking back the break. In the past, any pro could come and take whatever wave, but now these grommets are there with the best of them and they will take the big ones.”
Matahi credits his brother Manoa with teaching him “everything he knows” about Teahupoo. He’s also quick to point to some of the other young products from the End of The Road; the likes of Matehau Tetopata, his longtime sparing partner, school mate, and main competitor.
“He is one of my best friends, probably the guy who makes me pushes my limit the most cos he’s charging, he’s getting the good ones and it makes me want to get more. He is way stronger than me he can get bigger ones.”
Matahi got his big break in 2014 when he jagged the wave of the day from beneath the noses of Bruce Irons and the Point Break II film crew. The wave scored him the XXL Big Wave Award Tube of the Year, making him the youngest to ever claim the award.
“He’s just a really good tuberider,” says Tim. “He can pump through sections, reads it really well with all the hours he’s spent there and he has a cool style, really mellow in the big stuff. He’s a big part of the future out there.”
He’s suffered a couple of serious injuries in the process, though neither at Teahupoo. The most recent came while at a nearby reef where he was struck just below the eye by the nose of his board, damaging his eyesight. He is expected to make a full recovery, though it’s a ways off yet. In the meantime, he’s still surfing.
“In April I had my first surf back at Teahupoo and I stood up and had double vision. It was worst thing ever, I ate shit. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to surf again because of the double vision and it is a little bit weird, sometimes it’s a little bad, but I get used to it.”
This is Tahitian photographer Kirvan Baldassari’s first ever published photograph, and what a way to start! Matehau negotiated the bubble caused by the bodyboarder in the foreground and emerged triumphant in a blaze of spit. Quite possibly the most vibrant photo we’ve seen of The End of the Road.
Matehau Tetopata, 19, Teahupoo
If Matahi (pronounced matter-hi) is the fresh prince of Teahupoo, Matehau (pronounced matter-ho) is the undisputed king of the underground. Famous for his heroics on weather-beaten yellow hand-me-down boards, the 19-year-old has made a name for himself at the End of The Road stuffing bombs in front of the world’s best. All paddle and just four years after he picked up a surfboard.
“You’re out there shooting for the whole day on these big tow swells waiting for tow sets and at the end of the day he paddles out and paddles the biggest wave of the day, drops from the sky, pulls in and makes it,” recalls veteran photographer, Tim Mckenna. “Two swells in a row now, he’s done that.”
The son of a local fisherman, and with a mother who works at the harbour, Matehau only started surfing four-ish years ago.
“It was difficult because he not have a board in the beginning,” says Matahi. “He borrow board, he trained, and we surf every weekend ‘cos we have school (in the week), and now he is one of my best friends and probably the guy who makes me push my limit the most cos he’s charging. He’s getting the good ones, and it makes me want to get more.”
With no access to a jet ski and no history of surfing in his family, Matehau is a self-made hellman of the highest order. His heroics, using nothing more than beaten up boards and paddle power, have earned him cult figure status by the age of 19.
“He’s riding this yellow board, no sponsor, and then he gets this perfect glassy crystal bomb,” says Mckenna. “A couple of swells later he gets a sponsorship. It’s good for the kids who can see now that if they charge, they will get boards. It’s funny that Matahi’s friend has nearly surpassed him in paddling because Matehau doesn’t have the jet skis. You can see that Matahi likes towing in but I think he wants to keep going down the paddling path because of what Matehau is doing out there.”
Kevin Bourez’s got a hell of a lot of ground to make to find a safe exit on this Chopes orb. You’ll be happy to know that he scooped under the lip just in time, got high and set his line for the bottom of the slope, avoiding the dreaded tour of the Teahupoo reef. Victory!
Kevin Bourez, 22, Toahotu
The younger brother of Tahiti’s best ever, Michel Bourez, Kevin was introduced to Teahupoo as a 12-year-old by the nightly news bulletins during the Billabong Pro, Teahupoo.
“I went there on a small day, nothing crazy, but I was already scared of the wave,” he says. “I kept going every day, surfing it at six feet, little bit more little bit more every time, just to gain experience.”
Kevin suffered multiple skull fractures and deep facial lacerations after face planting the reef in last year’s Billabong Pro trials.
“To know the wave is the important part,” he says. “You can’t go there and not know the wave and charge. For me I had to learn the wave, watch what it is doing, and get confident, then go the bigger ones. Chopes is another level. So perfect, easy to read and so good.”
Part of the older crew feeling the fire from young bucks Matahi Drollet and Matehau Tetopata.
“The young guys were getting inspired and we just wanted to surf and show the world that the local guys can surf Chopes as well as anyone else. Also we saw that with every swell there’s so many strangers coming to Chopes, to surf our wave, and we wanted to show them we are here and we surf good too. Because of all the strangers the locals stick together and it’s created this family with all the local boys. We all motivate everyone to go and charge,” he says.
Life’s not cheap at the End of The Road. Incomes are low, boards are expensive. It is the developing world after all. “Some people don’t have the money to practice surfing. They have the pros or somebody give them a board and they just surf with it until it breaks. They surf Chopes because they like it, not because they have to for sponsors or anything,” he says.
The older guys have been huge. Tahiti is a small and very tight surfing community. The likes of Vetea ‘Poto’ David, Raimana and Manoa Drollet have been a guiding force.
“Their generation was crazy good, charging, surfing good, real watermen, then younger guys like my brother Michel were really inspiring. Tahiti (local legend who nearly died at Backdoor last winter) was so good surfing Chopes on backhand, one of the best. Then younger guys like Matehau and Matahi are now pushing the limits, just so good to see that,” he says.
This shot of Tika’s a perfect example of his tenacity in the surf. Arms out, mouth open, screaming his way towards the light.
Tikanui Smith, 24, Moorea
Tikanui Smith’s the quintessential Tahitian surfer with a house on the island of Moorea that sits right in front of a world-class slab of coral. Doesn’t do much good in preparing you for Teahupoo, but through sheer persistence the 24 year old has developed arguably the strongest backside tube game in the Tahitian underground.
“He comes to Chopes every swell,” says elder statesman and brother of Michel, Kevin Bourez. “He loves big waves and every time he has the chance to come here he just enjoys it and charges.”
The Teahupoo line-up is famously friendly and full of characters (as long as you take note of who’s who and pay your respects before scratching into a set). Tikanui owns the strangest quirks.
“When its big he’s psyching, paddling around, speaking to everyone, like, ‘Man! We have to charge! Oh man, I’m so scared, sooo scared,’” laughs Kevin Bourez. “Then next minute he goes on the biggest one and I’m like, are you really scared or joking?”
With Tikanui, Matahi and Mateahau coming up at Teahupoo the motivation to perform is at fever pitch right now. “He’s charging hard, he’s reaching another level with Matahi and Mateahau,” says Kevin. “It’s so good to see the motivation between us and looking out for each other. We are like family.”
Ariihoe spends much of his time grinding his way around the globe on the dreaded QS. When he’s home however, he likes to reacquaint himself with the terrifying mistress that is Teahupoo.
Ariihoe Tefaafana, 20, Papara
Tahitian national taekwondo champion, Ariihoe Tefaafana, is powered by unrelenting self-discipline and a firm belief in his exceptional sporting ability.
“He was a taekwondo champion and then he start surfing,” says longtime friend, Matahi Drollet. “When he starts something he gets really good at it – boxing, he’s really good, surfing, he’s really good, taekwondo…”
The son of a first generation Tahitian surfer, Ariihoe grew up in Papara, a small town halfway between the capital Papeete and the End of The Road. He’s been surfing Teahupoo for only three years but word is he has the potential to outstrip them all.
“I think taekwondo helps your flexibility a lot and he was already in shape so he could paddle hard and surf a lot,” explains Kevin Bourez. “He had the mental ability and discipline with taekwondo and when he transferred it into surfing, he became really good, really fast.”
Known for his patience, premium wave selection, and millimetre perfect positioning, Tefaafana is clinical in his dissection of the Teahupoo bowl.
“He has a lot of respect for the wave,” says Matahi Drollet. “He wait and take the good one, and the deep one, and I like the way he rides the foam ball. Very technical.”
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