Should The Women Have An Event At Teahupo’o, Too?
Fifteen years after the women lost their Tahitian event, Tatiana Weston-Webb makes a case for equality.
Did you notice, amongst the digital stampede of Teahupo’o content clogging your feed this week and last, that one of the valiant ledge-hoppers wore long, Targaryan-blonde hair and a short neoprene jumper?
The lone female in the Teahupo’o lineup this week (to our knowledge, at least) was Women’s world number eight Tatiana Weston-Webb, of Hawaiian residence and Brazilian lineage.
“I’d been to Tahiti before in 2014,” Weston-Webb told Stab, “and I just fell in love with everything about the wave and the place, so I wanted to come back. I’ve been so busy competing that I didn’t really have a chance until now, so I asked Jesse [Mendes, Weston-Webb’s boyfriend and a competitor on the Men’s CT] if I could come. He was like, ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’ [laughs].”
While Mendes’ “why not?” was clearly rhetorical, there are actually a number of legitimate reasons why Women’s CTers might be inclined to avoid surfing Teahupo’o. For instance:
- the inherent danger of the wave
- the cost of travel
- the time it takes out of their already-busy schedule
- (and this is the kicker) the fact that it will do nothing to further their competitive careers, as no Teahupo’o-esque wave exists on the Women’s Tour.
But that wasn’t always the case.
In the early 2000s, the Billabong Pro Tahiti included both men and women (though this fact is curiously scrubbed from the Billabong Pro’s wikipedia page). Then, in 2006, the ASP (now WSL) decided to eliminate the women’s event without any warning. According to seven-time World Champion and past-Teahupo’o winner, Layne Beachley, the athletes weren’t consulted about this decision; they discovered Teahupo’o’s absence when the 2006 schedule was publicly released.
The ASP had replaced the Tahiti event with another in Brazil.
This made some surfers, Beachley included, quite mad. In a 2006 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, she said:
“There’s been a rumour going around that the girls all got together and decided they didn’t want to go there because we were too scared. That’s completely untrue. It’s annoying that people would think that. I report to the ASP board about what the girls wanted and we definitely wanted to keep going back.”
Beachley felt this way despite her personal distaste for Teahupo’o, knowing that the women’s equality movement superseded the relevance of her personal fears.
“I don’t like Teahupoo, but I know how beneficial it is for women’s surfing,” Beachley said. “It’s of huge importance. It shows the women have the depth, the ability and the courage to confront the challenge. Not one girl on tour doesn’t have the guts to take off now.”
Melanie Reddman-Carr, a multiple CT winner from the Beachley era, provided more incisive accusations of the ASP.
“It’s a pretty sexist decision,” she said. “If the men can go there, why can’t we? They’re scared about one of us getting badly hurt and having all the bad publicity coming from that.
“They seem to think it’s too heavy and dangerous for us. We want to show that’s wrong, and we’ve been doing it. To lose Teahupoo – it’s just pointless.”
It’s been 15 years since the ASP took Teahupo’o away from the women, apparently due to the fear of a lack of ability in waves of consequence would lead to severe injuries, or worse, bad press.
But a lot has changed in the past decade and a half, including the performance gap between men and women.
Carissa Moore, a three-time World Champ who is widely considered one the best female surfers of all time, visited Teahupo’o on her own accord earlier this year.
Via her Instagram, Riss offered some thoughtful perspective:
Carissa’s caption read:
I’m not going to lie, I was more nervous than excited when I saw the swell for Teahupo’o on the charts.
The anticipation built with each passing day in preparation. How big was it going to get? What were the conditions going to be like?
The swell arrived on the second day of our trip. I was shaking with fear as I watched the first big set of the day roll in from the boat. “Why am I doing this?” I asked myself.
In that moment, Raimana pulled up next to us on his ski. Wrapped around his waist were tiny arms and a little girl peering around his shoulder. That was it.
In a lineup of boys, at one of the most challenging waves in the world, despite my fears, I wanted to show that little girl what is possible.
Like Carissa, Tatiana Weston-Webb has found success at the folding lefthander, as evidenced on her social channels. However, this most recent trip wasn’t all sunshine and daisies.
“I’ve hit the reef twice while I was here,” Tatiana revealed. “One wave was the day after the trials. Kamalei [Alexander] gave me a set wave, and I ate crap on the drop and went straight to the bottom. I got slammed and dragged across the reef, resulting in bruises on my head and bad scrape on my back. That was pretty gnarly.”
“Then yesterday, I got called into a west bowl and made the drop but ate shit again. I was pretty stoked I made the drop though [laughs].
“I had wetsuits on both times when I hit the reef, but it still cut me through the suit. If I was just in a bikini, my back would be totally scratched. I probably would have been out for at least a week.”
But such is the reality of surfing Teahupo’o. Many of the male competitors also earned reef tattoos on their 2019 visit, and four of the surfers in the event wore helmets to protect themselves from slamming their melons on the shallow bottom. Luckily there were no serious injuries during the 2019 event, but that has not always been the case.
So we asked Tati straight up: Should the WSL consider holding another women’s CT at Teahupo’o? And do you think the majority of the top-18 would even want that opportunity?
“Honestly, yeah I think they should consider it,” she replied. “I think the women on Tour nowadays are really capable of surfing wave like this—maybe not on the big day, but on the smaller days I think they would have a lot of fun.
“I know if I had a wave that was similar to this going right on tour, it would be really hard for me, because I need to get better at backside tube-riding, but I think I would have a go. And I think it would be good for this generation of female surfers to start surfing heavier waves, to continuously feel more comfortable and know that we can surf waves like this.”
“The other day Sally [Fitzgibbons] and Paige [Hareb] came up to me at the Surf Ranch and asked why we don’t have an event at a wave like Teahupo’o. I was like, ‘Well, I’m the only one who voices my opinion usually, so if you guys want an event at Teahupo’o, say it out loud, because usually it’s just me.’” [laughs]
This begs the question: Is the theoretical prevention of injuries reasonable cause for the WSL to withhold a women’s CT event at Teahupo’o… in the year 2019? And for an organization that “allows” women to compete at Jaws, how is Teahupo’o even up for debate?
Might we propose that the athletes make a decision like that for themselves, rather than the WSL taking an authoritative stance on the subject?
Perhaps a blind vote could be in order. If half or more of the Women’s CT are in favor of an event at Teahupo’o, they’ll go. If a majority of the women still don’t feel ready, they won’t.
As the WSL is a for-profit entity, their financial wellbeing should also be considered in this conversation, and as we know, adding another event to the Tour has substantial costs.
However, what Layne Beachley said back in 2006 still rings true:
“It’s the most extreme event on tour and gets worldwide interest. Why would you walk away from such a huge marketing opportunity?”
If the women got an event at Chopes, we’d certainly watch it.
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