Vahine's semi-permanent residence. Photo: Seth de Roulet
A Brief Chat With The Most Barreled Woman On Earth
Getting to know the Teahupo'o heiress, Vahine Fierro.
Vahine Fierro is a 20-year-old surfer from Huahine-Iti, a small outer-island of the French Polynesian archipelago, some 100 km northwest of the main island, Tahiti.
After years of going strictly right (backside for Vahine) on her home island, the Tahitian started surfing Teahupo’o when she was 15 and hasn’t slowed down since. Vahine’s dreams of joining the CT have been postponed this year along with the WSL tour season, but she’s made the most of her forced reprieve by spending more at Teahupo’o, which had a remarkable early season.
This experience might prove invaluable over the course of Vahine’s career, as the WSL plans to bring women’s competition back to Teahupoo for the first time in 15 years. With this news comes hope of a 2021 wildcard entry for Vahine and the chance to show the world what she can do on this wave—which has long been regarded as one of the essential proving grounds for all great surfers.
Below, we speak to Vahine about how she (seemingly effortlessly) became a regular at one of the heaviest waves on the planet, about being the only local woman surfing Teahupoo, and what she thinks about her Pipeline equivalent, Moana Jones.
Vahine in her island paradise.
Stab: Hey Vahine, how is life in Huahine?
Vahine Fierro: Good, I just got here yesterday for a week. I stayed on the main island (Tahiti) for a couple of days and yesterday I just got back here and it’s great I’m super happy.
What was it like growing up there? Is there any nightlife or what did you do with your friends?
My island is pretty remote so there’s not much in town because the town is so small. So just being in the ocean, being close to nature when I was growing up. And then when I was 14 I had to move to the main island to go to school because there’s no school on my island past 9th grade because there’s not enough students. So I lived in a dorm for 4 years on the main island. And that’s actually when I started competing.
That’s cool, so you were always just pretty focused on your surfing?
Well, I used to not compete at all. I used to do it just for fun with my friends but it was nothing I was really into at first. But when I moved to Tahiti I kinda decided oh maybe I should compete and make it a career and it might be super fun. Also, when I was 14 that’s when I first went left and when I first surfed a beach break. Because on my island there’s no beach breaks. So it was a lot of new things. And that’s when I started competing and I liked it and I kept doing that.
So was that around the first time you surfed Teahupoo?
Well, I used to be very very intimidated by surfing waves that were scary, so I wouldn’t necessarily push myself to go out there. I think when I was around 15 I went there for the first time. I did not have a great time out there. It was intense. Then I started going a lot more but I never really was excited to go out there. But last year, 2019, that’s when I actually started wanting to go out and wanting to push myself more. And I felt like I was more ready as well because I’d always be super scared of getting pulled down.
Nobody gets lucky every time.
What’s it like in the lineup there? Are people quiet and really serious, or since you know a lot of people, do you talk with your friends?
Well, that place is definitely dominated by men—every single time I’m out there I’m the only girl. There was a time when Caroline Marks, Carissa Moore, and Johanne Defay came in February, and that was the last time I surfed with girls out. Since then, I’ve only been with the guys. It’s been pretty fun. The guys are very supportive and they always help me and give me advice. Michel Bourez, Matahi Drollet, and Kauli Vaast are the ones that I trust a lot when they tell me to go. But it’s always fun to spend some time in the water and try to figure out this wave.
So how do you feel about the women’s event going there? Are you excited?
I think a lot of people are excited that they’re doing this women’s contest, and I wasn’t really surprised when they announced that because it was kind of obvious. A lot of girls were coming out and actually asking for it to come back, which is good because it will show that we can do it. We’re not necessarily going to be out there on the biggest days, but there's really fun days out there really glassy fun size. I think the girls are excited and when the event comes around the women will be prepared.
Do you think you’re going to get the wildcard?
I mean, when the WSL announced that it was back for the women, a lot of people from Tahiti and from everywhere in the world they sent me messages and like. “Oh yeah, I can’t wait to watch you surf there blah-blah-blah,” and I was like yeah well I hope so too, because I’m not on the CT yet so I’m not sure I’ll be in it. But I know they have trials and a wildcard for the men, so I hope they do that for the women as well. Keala Kenelly won it multiple times when it was on and she deserves it as well—she charges like nobody else.
No one deserves it more, WSL.
So say you do get it—not to jinx anything, just theoretically—who do you think is your biggest competition at that wave?
Like I said, earlier this year Tatiana, Caroline Marks, and Carissa Moore came out, and they all seem to understand the wave really well. Then I know Tyler Wright, Courtney Conlogue, Stephanie Gilmore… there are a lot of girls that are not afraid, and I’m sure they are going to come out this year and practice a little bit more. So I think there’s a lot of girls that will come out and show that they’re big chargers as well.
I’m really looking forward to it. But why do you think that so few women are surfing there now?
Well obviously when there are no events at that spot like Teahupo’o, the girls won’t necessarily push themselves to go out there. And it’s pretty far, too. When the tour is on it’s a lot of traveling, so they won’t necessarily travel to a place where they don’t really need to practice. Also the sport has progressed a lot in that direction recently, and women are stepping up more as well, trying to go for bigger waves. So I think that now the event is back there will be more women out there.
I hope so, because it’s obviously hard to do something that you don’t really see anyone else doing, but we’re getting to a point where it’s like why not, you know?
Well, for me, I used to see the guys just go for it and charge and be so stoked about it and so I was like, maybe I should try it. I’m going on the smaller ones, but the smaller ones give so much joy and it’s a lot of adrenaline going out to that place. So for me, seeing all the boys going for it, it was like OK, I want to go for it and do the same things and have the same feelings. And like, why are they craving going out every single swell? And, yeah, that feeling… like I couldn’t understand at first why they were craving going out in bigger waves, and now I’m starting to get the adrenaline and the excitement out of it.
Have you had any scary wipeouts? What was the worst?
My worst wipeout out there... I haven’t had like a scary wipeout where I was like I’m never going back out there.
Don't let the flower behind her ear fool you—Vahine is far from delicate.
And also when there’s swell there are jet skis out and water patrol out there. The Tahitian water patrol is really good at reading the conditions. They’re really good at what they do and they’re really fast, so every time I fall or have waves break on my head, they always come get me really quickly and help get me out of those situations.
But… I see all the boys, all the boys that are the best out there, they’re like falling and getting dragged on the reef, so I’m pretty sure it’ll be my turn soon if I step it up and go for it. But I didn’t have a big wipeout there yet that scared me.
Glad to hear, but I’m sure you can handle it too. Have you surfed Pipe yet?
I surfed Pipeline three years ago in a contest. It was a QS1000 event. I had never surfed it before, but there was water patrol there as well, and it was really cool to be just four in the lineup out there. Freddy Patacchia was out there helping me, coaching the Roxy and Quiksilver team. It was really small but it was nice. I got a couple barrels. I only got to surf it in that event, but I went from round one to finals so I got to surf it five times with only four people out so that was great [laughs]. But yeah, this winter I think I’m going to go there. I have this friend, her name is Moana Jones, I bet you probably saw a couple videos of her on Instagram. She charges.
Oh yeah, I’m such a fan of both of you guys.
I might go stay with her this winter and try to tag along and get a couple tips from her [laughs].
That was actually the next question...what you think of her surfing at Pipeline?
She’s amazing. I think she’s one of the only girls who is consistently out there on every swell, and she is not scared. A couple of my friends were telling me like, “Yeah she goes for it, she’s the only girl out and she’s out there for hours and she’s putting her time in.” So yeah, I think she’s the best woman out there.
So cool, I can’t wait to see the clips out there I’m sure you’re going to kill it.
You’re like, “Yeah I know.”
I hope so [laughs].
So, any tips for girls trying to get barreled?
I don’t want to give my tips away! [Laughs] Well, just going out and practicing to get comfortable will definitely help you to get more barreled. So just spending more time in the water and seeking out that type of wave is the best advice I can give.