It’s another morning in the Teahupo’o marina. There is grass growing out from the cracks in the rotting wooden planks. Some are missing completely; the water pipe below the dock nearest Swell is cracked and constantly spewing freshwater into the sea. But the sky water spews constantly, too, so maybe that’s why no one around here seems to think the cracked pipe is much of a problem. A cup of tea, a scan of the reef, and a bit of yoga. It’s bigger again today and I can see Raimana’s boat tied to the buoy in the channel, trailed by a flotilla of other smaller boats all in a line like baby ducks.
I load up and head over. There’s a funky morning bump and the thickest crowd I’ve seen yet, but Josh motions wildly for me to paddle out, so I tie my ‘duck’ in the back of the line and go sit amongst the chaos. After a half hour, I finally scrap to catch one small wave then paddle back to my ‘duck’ and doze off under my pareo.
“It’s not the time,” I tell myself. “With sets like today, I know I don’t want to be battling for the inside waves.”
Waking from my nap, I find that the crowd has thinned and it’s actually beginning to glass-off. The sets look bigger, but Raimana is here. Just his presence makes me feel safer.
As I paddle back out, a flock of guys paddle away at once. The sun breaks through the clouds and there are only five locals out, including Raimana. I stroke into a wide one on my own, then sit in the channel for a while just to watch this natural wonder of a wave — the power and beauty and colors — just look at that wave!! Raimana’s voice interrupts my awe.
“Liz, come here. Sit here, beside me. No, THIS side of me,” He directs, pointing me to the inside of him. “You ready? Relax, take deep breaths, it’s okay.”
But I already felt surprisingly calm. He sensed it. This was the biggest I’d surfed it yet, but I’d made some of these drops now and he’d already taught me how to catch the west ones, and okay, here we go, here comes a set!
Michelle Burrez caught the first one. His little brother was on the second. The third rolled in and Raimana called the boys off.
“Heeeeeeeeeeep! This is yours, Liz. Paddle, GO, PADDLE HARD! TOWARDS THE REEF!” He yelled. I did everything he said, totally committed. Got under it. Made the drop. No tube but a big roar… and in another instant I went launching out the now familiar exit ramp.
“Good.” He said as I paddled back, unable to contain my smile. “Now come here again. Sit here. I gonna push you this time. A bigger one.”
I followed his instructions. “Let’s move out. Okay, a little more. Little more… more. THERE.”
We were sitting way west and way outside. I couldn’t imagine how we were going to catch a wave there, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue with this Tahitian waterking. I felt a bit more nervous now.
“Breath. Don’t worry, you’ll get in early,” he cooed.
I felt selfish, like he should get a wave before me, but I’d seen how patient he was. He’d wait for nearly an hour sometimes and give all the other waves away, and then stroke casually into the best wave of the day, get frighteningly barrelled, and then paddle back to his boat. It seemed like he truly enjoyed sharing and teaching, and I appreciated every moment of his advice and direction and encouragement. I knew this was a RARE moment, with his guidance and the small crowd. I had to embrace this chance.
And then it came. A big west set wave. The mere sight of it almost took my breath away. My stomach dropped…
“Okay, now, NOW, this one! HEY GUYS, HEY, IT’S LIZ! Okay, girl, turn your board, turn your board, paddle past me to the inside. THE INSIDE! NOW GO GO GO!!”
I DEFINITELY hadn’t caught one this big yet, and I was DEFINITELY afraid, and I DEFINITELY needed to make this drop or there would be harsh consequences, but I put my trust in Raimana, put my head down, and paddled like hell.
He followed closely behind, until the mass of water surged up below us. I felt his hand press against the flat of my foot and with a strong shove, he launched me over the lip of the beast–I could NEVER have caught that wave on my 6’4″ without his push. I hopped to my feet before the drop was too critical, with a locomotive of water behind me. When the wave sucked vertical, I held my rail and ‘bonsai’-ed down the face, the lip grinding down behind me. It crashed in a thunder and rocketed me across its deep blue face. I made the safety zone, drifting for a few moments in total shock and then again came my uncontainable smile. I couldn’t believe it!! That was incredible!!!!! I paddled back up to thank him. He could see the gleam in my eye. I couldn’t explain my gratitude, but I’m sure he felt it.
Raimana, thank you from the bottom of my surf-loving heart, I’ll NEVER forget that wave!
*He continued to push me into sets until the crowd came back out… I returned to Swell glowing brighter than a Christmas tree!