Stab Magazine | A Story About Surfing Big Teahupo’o When You Should Be Studying... And Helmets

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A Story About Surfing Big Teahupo’o When You Should Be Studying… And Helmets

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kauli Vaast!

style // Jul 19, 2019
Words by Brendan Buckley
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Remember when you were supposed to be preparing for your high school exams but then a consequential swell squared up with Teahupo’o so you stopped studying and packed the wave of your life instead? 


Then, we might assume, you are not Kauli Vaast. 

While the local talent at Teahupo’o has long been as deep as the reef is shallow, there’s been a boom lately. On the big days, a tight crew pushes the limits of what is physically possible to paddle into on a piece of foam. There’s a swell-by-swell display of arguably the most technical barrel riding in the world. 

It’s a scene. 

In that scene is 17-year-old Kauli Vaast. Kauli grew up there and a bit more than a few weeks ago, he got the wave of his life. In a helmet. When he should have been studying. 

Shall we discuss? 

kauli vast
kauli vast3

Teachers always claimed this boy is hard-headed.

Stab: What’s the backstory behind this wave? 
Kauli Vaast: I love Teahupo’o ,and my goal is always to catch the biggest wave I can there. I woke up early that morning and got out there. It was windy and the swell was super west. The waves looked crazy and dangerous — I was really scared. There were only like 10 people out and they were all local boys. I decided to give it a try. 

While I was out there, a few people got big ones, but they all ended up falling and getting pushed into the lagoon. I was scared, but I still knew I wanted one. 

I waited for two hours and had a few chances but nothing felt right. Then that wave came and everybody told me to go. I knew I had to. 

Damn. So did you think you were going to make it? 
I wasn’t even sure I would make the drop. Then I got to the bottom and saw this massive wall about to unfold over me. Right away, I realized it was the biggest wave of my life so far. When I was in the barrel, I thought I had no chance — I was even thinking about who was going to rescue me after the wipeout. 

I tried to take a higher line to get through the foam ball and I couldn’t see anything. Once I made it, I saw a friend claiming it on his Jet Ski in the channel, so I kind of felt like I had to claim too. [laughs] 

Was it a one wave session or did you try to get another? 
I paddled back out, but just to hang and enjoy it. I got my wave. It was the only one I needed that day. 


Here’s Kauli’s other biggest wave, this one using a rope. Photo: WSL 

And I heard you had your high school exams that day. Is that true? 
I got that wave on a Wednesday and my test was on Friday. I take school seriously and I was definitely supposed to be studying that day. 

So, how’d the test go? 
I don’t get the results for a few more weeks, but I think I did pretty well. I hope so, at least. We’ll see. 

Do you always wear a helmet? 
I always wear it Teahupo’o or other heavy waves. I definitely feel more confident in it. You can get really hurt out there. I’ve been lucky enough to not hit the reef with it yet, but you never know when that could happen. 

Do you think it’s weird that more people don’t wear them? 
Kind of, but I think it’s getting more and more common. A lot of the local boys use them here in Tahiti. It’s good, cause it means I’m not the only guy in the lineup with the helmet. [laughs] 

What’s next for you? 
I’m currently leading the European Pro Junior series so I want to win that, and I want to make the Quiksilver Young Guns. But my main goal in surfing is to make the CT, so I’m trying to do as many QS events as possible. And I want to keep surfing Teahupo’o whenever it’s on, and keep getting bigger and better waves.


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