The next morning the engine rumbled beneath my feet as Swell and I made our way slowly south through the lagoon between the green and red markers. It was time”¦ there was swell on the way and after almost a year of surfing Polynesia’s reef passes, the moment had come to test my skills at Tahiti’s most famous wave: Teahupo’o. From the zillion photos I’d seen, a part of me wanted nothing to do with this wave’s disturbingly thick lip and ledgy take-off”¦ but that OTHER part of me”¦ that slightly insane part couldn’t sail away without at least an attempt. I’d heard there was a free little marina, just a half-mile from the Teahupoo pass”¦ and even if it got too big to surf, it would just be a spectacle to witness”¦ I told myself.
I saw two masts in the marina as I came around the next point. A man in a single outrigger canoe with a surfboard across its front guided me into around the coral heads of the shallow entrance. I appeared to be making him very nervous as I drifted a few feet from the coral head, hopping from the wheel to the bow to tie on a dock line and then back to the wheel and then mid-ship to throw on a bumper. I spun Swell 180 degrees and we nudged silently up into our premiere Teahupoo parking spot. The fishermen across the marina stared. A crowd of girls gathered at the end of the dock stared. I waved. They waved. The fishermen raised their beers. The girls went back to gabbing. It was Saturday afternoon in the quiet little town at the end of the road. Swell and I had found ourselves a new home”¦
I hopped on my bike and peddled around to introduce myself to the local crew. The two other sailboats looked as if they hadn’t moved in decades, but the opposite side of the marina hosted a flash line-up of poti marara and other local fishing boats. A group of salty old Tahitian fishermen gathered near the ice house, seated on crates and car hoods and a rusty wheeled trolley.
“Iaorana!” I offered, skidding to a halt with my bare feet as brakes (my current bike has no brakes and I’d forgotten my flipflops). For a moment they were silent and I felt a wave of shyness coming until”¦
“Iaorana..eaha huru?!” The biggest one asked.
“Maitai!” I replied. “e oe?”
Amused by my effort to speak Tahitian, the conversation waterfalled into who the heck am I and are you really alone? And how long will you be here? And do I want a beer? Need any ice? Some fish too? Be careful on the street and lock up your boat”¦The kids around here steal! and on and on”¦I shared a beer with the white-haired one while they smiled and laughed and told me the story of the 4-meter tiger shark they’d mistakenly caught just a few weeks before”¦And after twenty minutes, I had eight new Tahitian fathers watching out for me (and Swell)…and with a smile, a big “Maruru! (thank you)” and “Ananahei! (see you tomorrow)” I peddled off down the road to check out my new stomping grounds.