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Biggest Teahupo'o EVER
January 15, 2012 10:20 PM   Subscribe

Teahupo'o was included on Transworld Surf's list of the' Top 10 Deadliest Waves' and is commonly referred to as the "heaviest wave in the world".[6][1] The name 'Teahupo'o' loosely translates to English as “to sever the head” or "place of skulls"."

Previously
posted by philip-random (62 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Youtube version with different music, no annoying ad tacked onto the end.
posted by philip-random at 10:31 PM on January 15, 2012


Max that out to full screen and it's breathtaking.
posted by arcticseal at 10:32 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


... but I do prefer the music on the original link. Pretty darned epic.
posted by philip-random at 10:33 PM on January 15, 2012


This is the kind of thing for which saying "awesome" is entirely appropriate. I can't think of another word right now, actually.
posted by vidur at 10:38 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's pretty damned great, especially when the shot was above the surfer from the camera crew in the boat riding just near the crest of the wave. And, in the moments where the surfer attained a kind of parity with the wave and it seemed like he was motionless helped me understand surfing in a new way.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's absolutely beautiful, and I am never going near the ocean again.
posted by aubilenon at 10:48 PM on January 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wow, just WOW. Thanks philip-random. Going into a barrel on a normal wave must be exhilarating but having some 90-odd foot gargantuan monster blot out your daytime must be like the coming of the apocalypse.

Is it even worth noting that noone made it through? OK then.
posted by peacay at 10:50 PM on January 15, 2012


The HolyFuckingShit tag is criminally underused.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:52 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Laird Hamilton goes into the barrel and comes out standing.

Keala Kennelly is not so lucky. (Pictures graphic, though she's OK.)
posted by KathrynT at 11:07 PM on January 15, 2012


Beautiful. Now if I could just get some assistance in getting my testicles to descend to their normal resting places.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:12 PM on January 15, 2012


Which one was supposed to be the biggest?
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:16 PM on January 15, 2012


Ok, that was just ridiculous. Totally ominous looking. It's like watching someone surf a liquid methane tsunami on Neptune or something.

I can't think of another word right now, actually.

Fearsome. Terrifying. Unreal. Lethal. Unwise. Foolish.

I've surfed some really big and heavy waves. A few of them were in the the top 10-20 in the world, but even at my peak when I was a kid I'd never, ever even suggest I could survive Teahupo'o. I wouldn't even think of trying it, ever, and there's a slim handful of known breaks I've seen pictures of that I ever said to myself "No fucking way!" instead of "Hey, I could probably surf that!" even when I was young and I thought I was immortal - and Teahupo'o is at the top of that list and has been there ever since I first saw pictures of it in some surf magazine 20+ years ago.

It's not just big, it's not just thick - but it's breaking on a coral reef. When it's breaking really big it's said that it sucks all the water off of the reef (which is the big mound of water you can see to the left-front of the wave) so when/if you're surfing the face of the wave - you're headed directly towards exposed reef and the only way out is duck-diving through 40-60 feet of solid, high-velocity wave or cutting out over the shoulder.

If you bail and get sucked "over the falls" in that big, thick lip of gravity defying water you're almost guaranteed to make contact with the reef with hundreds and hundreds of tons of water and turbulent hydraulic forces behind you grinding you against the sharp, surf-battered coral in infinitely novel ways.

And, in the moments where the surfer attained a kind of parity with the wave and it seemed like he was motionless helped me understand surfing in a new way.


A lot of big wave surfing is like this, but less pronounced. Most of the California/Pacific breaks I surfed would do that when it got big and the tide was right. Your relative velocity across the surface of the moving water may be really high, but your absolute motion relative towards the shore or ground may be zero, or even briefly negative.

I think there's a couple of moments in the linked video where the surfers may actually be moving backwards compared to the sea floor or shore, but that's because really big waves like that are often sucking the water away from the shoreline, and the water is only "replenished" and moving forward after the crest of the wave breaks - just like shorebreak on any lake or ocean - but thousands of times bigger.

Keala Kennelly is not so lucky. (Pictures graphic, though she's OK.)

Ow. That's exactly what I'm talking about. Fuck reef breaks. They're just there to knife you in the face.
posted by loquacious at 11:19 PM on January 15, 2012 [24 favorites]


It's like having an entire pool dumped on your head in a single instant. Yikes.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:20 PM on January 15, 2012


Which one was supposed to be the biggest?

All of them. I've never seen pictures or video of that break any bigger, and I've probably seen hundreds of pictures of it over 2-3 decades. (I probably first saw pics of it in a surfing magazine in the early 80s.)

It looks like they're surfing in an incoming (if still distant) hurricane break. I've never seen any recorded evidence of that break looking so gray, bleak and chaotic or ominous looking, much less with lips 50 feet thick just pitching out into space like someone messed with gravity or the viscosity of the water.
posted by loquacious at 11:24 PM on January 15, 2012


Not for me. I don't like getting water up my nose.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:30 PM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I used to surf, and every time I have seen waves at Teahupo they BLOW ME away. i USED TO THINK THAT lAIRD HAMILTON FILM OF HIM MAKING IT THROUGH WAS THE COOLEST THING i HAD EVER SEEN, BUT this takes the cake.

Those waves are just wrong, man.
posted by sobersearchparty at 11:32 PM on January 15, 2012


There's a point in the second video link where you get a great illustration of just what a fucking monster this wave is. It's around 6:20. You can actually see that the break is BELOW sea level (due to the shape of the reef). Dude falls off and you can actually watch him fall UP on the face of the damn thing. Just afterward there's that shot over the shoulder of it, down into the barrel and you can see that it's really less of a wave and more a moving chunk of ocean.
Absolutely beautiful footage, this whole thing is breathtaking. I have no idea how anyone can have balls big enough to ride that monster.
posted by kaiseki at 11:32 PM on January 15, 2012


Oh that's just great. Just go ahead and add Teahupo'o to the list of things that gives me nightmares.

I shed a tear for every one of those poor fools falling off their boards after valiantly trying to gain enough speed to get out of that meat grinder. That pearl was in the first video was especially painful to watch.
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:49 PM on January 15, 2012


I wasn't able to find any info on the music on the main link or on the Chris Bryan's site - does anyone know who did the soundtrack?
posted by victory_laser at 12:14 AM on January 16, 2012


Waking up to scary-ass surf porn first thing on a Monday morning? I like it!
posted by iamkimiam at 12:15 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't mean to sound like an asshole but the picture should be a lot clearer than it is. Looks like its been compressed to shit.
posted by phaedon at 12:17 AM on January 16, 2012


There can only be one.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:17 AM on January 16, 2012


victory_laser: It's M83
posted by aubilenon at 12:17 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Vaya con dios, brah!
posted by metaxa at 12:26 AM on January 16, 2012


When I was in Hawaii in 2010, I spent a fair amount of time paddling about in chest deep water like a particularly cautious Victorian maiden. I got pulled under a couple of times, and while unpleasant, I was still happy to continue happily paddling, after moving to a bit closer to the shore.

On our next to last day there, I got pulled under for real. I panicked and struggled, but that only seemed to make me spin around underwater more. Then had a moment of clarity. I had to stop fighting and figure that either buoyancy would allow me to surface, or I'd drown, but there was very little I could do to change the outcome. It was as close to pissing myself with fear as I've ever been. Eventually I surfaced and was thrown to the beach, gasping and scraping my knee against the sand. I didn't paddle anymore that day.

Which is to say, watching that video was like witnessing a terrifying super power in action. I can absolutely imagine that the adrenalin of conquering such an awesome force of nature would be amazing, but I'd rather have my skin peeled off with grapefruit spoons than willingly put myself at the mercy of a monster even a fraction that majestic.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:34 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. The immensity of that particular bit of nature is simply overwhelming. It makes one feel a bit insignificant, doesn't it?





Can we have your liver, then?
posted by frodisaur at 12:38 AM on January 16, 2012


Required reading....
Surfline.com: The Mechanics of Teahupo'o
posted by prinado at 12:44 AM on January 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


"I don't mean to sound like an asshole but the picture should be a lot clearer than it is. Looks like its been compressed to shit."

It's a safety measure, so that we don't involuntarily empty our bladders at our workdesks.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:45 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Too late. I'm surfing my own wave.
posted by pracowity at 12:48 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


holy f*ing crap....did any of those surfers live?
posted by eggtooth at 1:42 AM on January 16, 2012


Al Mennie thinks he's found two spots off the coast of Ireland that can produce 100-120 foot waves and are, in theory, rideable, but they need the proper weather conditions that don't happen very often.

I've found world's biggest waves off Ireland.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 2:00 AM on January 16, 2012


I don't mean to sound like an asshole but the picture should be a lot clearer than it is. Looks like its been compressed to shit.

Moving foamy water is really, really challenging for video codecs to compress. Lots of high detail action all over the screen, none of it very similar to any other part of the image. So it ends up with blocky compression artifacts everywhere because there just isn't enough entropy available in the bitstream to give a representation of the source image that will successfully fool the eye.
posted by pharm at 2:18 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The sheer mass of those waves made me squirm. Lots and lots (and lots) of water is a motherfucker of a force.
posted by maxwelton at 2:20 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never surfed, never cared to, never saw a wave bigger than a mild Panama City Beach breaker. So tell me two things, please.

It looks like nearly everybody in these videos is wiping out. Are every one of those who weren't on their board at the end of their run now sporting fresh coral gashes?

And, what's the velocity of that sideways spout of water that hits from the left as you near the end of the run? Is it like to shove you off your board, or just a nuisance?

Great post. I learned a lot.
posted by Infinity_8 at 3:45 AM on January 16, 2012


I mean, I know they're not all grievously wounded. What I mean is, how great is the risk for the type of wipeout I seem to be seeing there? How far along the run do you get before what looks to me like a wipeout is actually a dismount?
posted by Infinity_8 at 3:59 AM on January 16, 2012


Along the line of Infinity's questions, I wonder: When you go under in a wave like that, isn't that an instant pressure increase, likely to pop eardrums?
posted by Goofyy at 4:17 AM on January 16, 2012


I'm pretty sure I've cast water spells in RPGs that produced waves that were smaller and safer than what's in that video.

And those spells KILLED ORCS DEAD.
posted by delfin at 4:34 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you've never seen the film Riding Giants before (covers the history and the who's who of big-wave surfing), I strongly recommend it. One of the best documentaries I've ever seen, with lots of the "now that is just not physically possible" moments that this video inspires. Kind of makes me want to take up surfing, until I remember that I actually quite like having all four of my limbs basically intact.
posted by ZsigE at 4:58 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh how I love you, insane people. For a moment, I feel that I too could accomplish anything.
posted by hat_eater at 5:24 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sea was angry that day, my friends.
posted by Danf at 6:17 AM on January 16, 2012


"Keala Kennelly is not so lucky. (Pictures graphic, though she's OK.)"

I know; I know. "Graphic" was indeed there. But some of us see "graphic" and think, "Hey great! National Geo"... "graphic." Maybe next time, the "Sorry if you were eating dinner" apology could be placed well clear of, and WAAAAAY in front of the image. Judging by that shot, the original Polynesian "to sever the head" meaning of "Teahupoo" came within a whisker of being notched as "Well, I told you so!"
posted by Mike D at 6:19 AM on January 16, 2012


That looks like a great wave for a beginner to learn on. If I showed up, would they rent me a board?

Holy crap, that is terrifying to watch, especially when you can see that the first surfer just doesn't have the velocity to make it out.
posted by Forktine at 6:48 AM on January 16, 2012


I've found world's biggest waves off Ireland.

They're about 50 miles east of this place, where a rogue wave flooded a lighthouse through the window once. The window was at 87 feet. The lighthouse stands 200 feet above the sea level.
posted by hat_eater at 7:04 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm kookish, getting better, and I probably the only guy with a 10' epoxy longboard in anything over 8 feet. The hydraulics of big waves are ferocious, and the bigger your board, the bigger the liability. I can't even imagine the experience at Teahupoo. I don't try anything as even half insane as Mavericks, but when it gets to 10 or 15 feet anywhere, the ocean will cause you to consider your death a few times per set.

There's a special sort of terror when you look back to the ocean, and shadows start darkening on the horizon: it's a freak set. The waves rise out of the ocean, unthinking, indifferent, immutable. I try to listen to my heartbeat in the few moments I have to make one of three choices: take the set on the head, timing my breath to hopefully get some air between waves; try to catch the first wave to get out of the impact zone; or paddle full speed at them, hoping I make it outside before they start breaking. Option two can lead to some serious situations: wrapped up in your leash or banging around with your board while it tries to suck you under for the other waves to finish you off. A knock to head, and I'm dead. Can't get oriented to get a breath before the third wave? Dead. Cramp while I'm in the wash? Possibly dead. But option two is also where the waves are.

Duck diving would be my savior, but usually I've got a twenty pound floating anvil, and the only way I can get under the wave is to either roll with the board or slip off the side, grab the nose, and swim backward underwater as hard as I can, trying to get under the wave. Sometimes the hydraulic can get under the board and throw me in front of the wave like a trebuchet. Sometimes I am almost hanging in the air while the board tries to tombstone, and I'm trying not to land in the on the business end of the falls. If it sucks me closer to shore, the next wave will be much worse.

And if I get hit... heaven help me. I don't care how strong you are, if the lip comes on top of you, anything you are holding will no longer be in your arms. You'll swear up is up, until you feel your feet tickle the open air before it sucks you down again. Or you'll find yourself on the ocean floor, unable to move as the hydraulic spins and pins you (which can incidentally shove an amazing assortment of sea floor sand and creatures into your knickers.) Then you rush for the surface when you find it, wait for the foam to die down, hopefully before the next wave, which is already rising above you.

And that's why I love it. That's why I am hooked. Sometimes death stares me in the face and I'm forced to consider leaving the rest of my life unlived and sometimes I glide down the face of the next wave, not cheating death, but playing with it, shaking its hand as I drag my fingers through the open face. The wave doesn't care. Death does not care. This confrontation is healing to me; it makes time imminent. I can interact with it. The current moment moves through me as waves move through the ocean, but just before the waves disappear forever against the shore, I fly with them. And possibly just before my own death, the waves will be with me.
posted by deanklear at 7:51 AM on January 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


I mean, I know they're not all grievously wounded. What I mean is, how great is the risk for the type of wipeout I seem to be seeing there? How far along the run do you get before what looks to me like a wipeout is actually a dismount?

Loquacious pointed it out above, but if you're never experienced going 'over the falls' it's a terrifying experience on a normal wave, let alove a big wave.

A wave is not just a single piece of water forming an ar and falling over itself. It may look that way from the outside, but inside the 'barrel' is a rotational force produced as a result of the larger wave's mass and speed. When you fall of a wave this big, you get pushed back up the wave's face by this rotational force, and then sucked down hard on the leading edge of the wave straight towards the reef face.

I've surfed on coral breaks (my experience mostly on Maui) and they can make very nice, consistent waves. They're also mildly terrifying as often the water you're riding in front is often only 1-2 feet deep - you can see the entirety of the reef (and nasty spiny urchins like this that live on the reef waiting to impale you) through crystal clear water as you're skimming along behind tons of water. Typically the bigger the rideable wave, the more water you have under you.

Not so in this case. On a wave like Teahupo'o the wave emerges so quickly and breaks so violently because the reef goes from very depp to very shallow very quickly. It's just an instant, abrupt trough of death that doesn't have a lot of run on either side. It's up, it's breaking, it's over. Those surfers are not only having to deal with an immensely fast wave face, but also the very shallow water in front. The problem with riding that wave is that the shallow water in front of the wave isn't moving at all - so to maintain speed and avoid bogging down and getting bowled over by the wave behind you, you need to stay on the face. Surfer's instincts are to head out into the shallow water to slow their pace and turn on the wave. This wave slows so abruptly on the flat water that if you stray into it you're dead - all of the available speed on that wave is vertical/lateral in nature. Most of those guys' boards are short tow-in boards that aren't going to float much at all. A lot of these guys are either bogging the tips of their boards, or getting pushed out into that slow water by the sheer power of the wave the moment you get up on the face, or getting wiped by the sheer speed. Then, you face the crash nightmare above by getting dropped and ground across a very sharp reef by tons and tons of water moving faster than you're likely to drive on that day.

It's the stuff of my fucking nightmares.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:53 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


"We are doing the same as Hawaii but they're in board shorts and sun cream. This is the extreme. We're wearing six millimetre-thick wetsuits in water 10C and near freezing air temperatures."

I grew up on the Donegal coast - even in summer you'd be wanting a full length wetsuit to be out any length of time.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:07 AM on January 16, 2012


I watched this a couple of days ago while sitting at my desk, and I realized a minute or two in that I was holding my breath and about to fall out of my chair.

Then had a moment of clarity. I had to stop fighting

Pretty much. When I was a kid, in Hawaii, my mom used to take us out to Sunset to watch the surfing competitions. The beach was full of little kids bodysurfing in the near-shore waves while the big guys did their thing farther out. The waves at the shore weren't anything like they were out at the break, but when you're six, a 3- or 4-foot wave might still be bigger than you are. We all got washing-machined a lot while out parents drank beer on the beach. The only way through it is to relax, pull your arms and legs in so they don't get yanked off, and allow the forces of water to shove sand in places sand should not be. Then you pop to the surface - or get tossed up on the sand - run to mom or dad to get money for a shave ice or a malasada, and then go back and do it all over again. Funnest thing ever!
posted by rtha at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Then had a moment of clarity. I had to stop fighting

Time, of course, is hard to measure in such situations but I'm pretty sure I spent at least a minute under water once, unclear as to where up was. I was 14. It was Maui the day after a major windstorm with rather giant waves hitting what was normally just a swimming beach. As I remember it, I never really got that scared, because I kept expecting to find the sand (the water wasn't that deep) and just push myself up. Except I kept getting tossed, spun, churned -- completely at the whim of the force I was dealing with. Which on reflection (I've thought about this a lot over decades) was as ancient a force as this planet offers -- four billion years of evolution eruption, ebb and flow, and it manifests in these astonishing things we call waves which astonishingly, can be ridden. Which is enough to make one not so much believe in God as know Her soul. And then She turns on you. Crazy woman.
posted by philip-random at 8:24 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes death stares me in the face and I'm forced to consider leaving the rest of my life unlived and sometimes I glide down the face of the next wave, not cheating death, but playing with it, shaking its hand as I drag my fingers through the open face.

This is the problem with surfers. Not the pros who are out there on waves like this, where no sane person would go. But this attitude infects other surfers, especially the amateurs. Like for example one day when I was a little kid, my sister and I were swimming at a beach, well away from the surfing area. Some amateur is riding a 3 foot swell, cowabunga dude he's on a long run, cheating death. He wasn't looking where he was going, as he rode straight into the group of swimmers, putting the tip of his board right into my sister's nose. She was knocked out, and other swimmers frantically tried to find her underwater before she drowned. They dragged her to shore, her face was stoved in and she was bleeding heavily. She was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, where she received surgery for facial and cranial fractures. Cowabunga dude, make sure the death you're cheating isn't someone else's.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:26 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


^Eponyserious
posted by d1rge at 9:22 AM on January 16, 2012


jimmythefish: "It's just an instant, abrupt trough of death that doesn't have a lot of run on either side. It's up, it's breaking, it's over. "

I'm not a surfer (I managed to stand up once woo hoo), so excuse the dumb question but: doesn't this imply a really strong undertow that will drag you along the reef on the way back out? There was a beach in SE Australia (Koonya I think) that had this kind of shore break, and the undertow was vicious. I've always assumed the two things are usually related.
posted by vanar sena at 9:31 AM on January 16, 2012


Utterly amazing, all of it - the beauty, the physics, the insanity. It's also amazing that a coral reef could survive that kind of pounding. I know the waves at Teahupo'o aren't always this big, but even an average day here must be pretty active.
posted by Quietgal at 9:43 AM on January 16, 2012


I watched a lot of these waves while they were happening, on the Billabong Pro webcast. This was a lay-day for the contest itself, but they kept the webcast and commentary going while the hell men and women towed in.

Some people did make the wave.

The interesting thing about Chopes is that if you're going to try to make the wave at this size, you don't aim down the line like on a regular wave, but more or less point the board directly toward the "shore"--you aim, counterintuitively, as if you want to get smashed by the falling lip.

I watched more than one wave that day where it looked like the surfer was on a suicide mission, heading too straight (as opposed to down the line) and watched them come out, as if by miracle.

You notice, too, on Laird's "millennium wave," that he ends up instinctively dragging his right hand, the one not closest to the wave face, in order to keep his board oriented straight toward the lip. This is the opposite of what you do on almost any other wave.

One of the guys in this video does the same thing, just before eating it.

Also, I cannot overstate how much I love surfing.
posted by dontoine at 10:08 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cowabunga dude, make sure the death you're cheating isn't someone else's.

I'm sorry about your sister, but you're projecting some unfortunate facts of life on to surfing because it's an outlier activity. It's far more likely that you'll kill someone driving your car to work than I'll kill anyone surfing. Would you care to hear me lecture you on some basic automobile safety tips — in addition to reminding you not to hurt other people on accident — or would you consider that condescending and nonsensical?
posted by deanklear at 10:11 AM on January 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Infinity_8 asked: It looks like nearly everybody in these videos is wiping out. Are every one of those who weren't on their board at the end of their run now sporting fresh coral gashes?

It depends how strong of a swimmer they are and where/when they were on the wave when they wiped out.

With a wave that thick and with that fast of a break, the backside of the wave is very, very thick, typically about 2/3rds to 3/4ths the full height of the wave. This thickness falls away as a gradual, curved slope from the peak.

What you're going to want to do immediately upon wiping out is dive down and away from the wave. You want to swim as hard and fast as you can away from the tube, the swirling horizontal vortex of water. The closer you are to that vortex or the lip, the more likely you'll get sucked up into the lip and over the falls.

This is obviously not easy since you were just intentionally surfing the face of that vortex on the inside of it, and now suddenly you want to get far, far away from it.

So... did they get mangled? I honestly have no idea, but I would guess that most of them survived with little more than a few small scrapes.

When you surf a lot you develop a lot of self-preservation skills. You can hold your breath for a long time. You develop a sense of hydraulics and current flows and how to use them to your advantage. You learn how to figure out which way is up even while you're getting tumbled.

If I found myself going over the falls at Teahupo'o I'd probably tuck and roll in the lip of the wave, and try to do a forward flip or somersault so I came down feet-first instead of face-first.

I know this sounds ludicrous, but I used to intentionally do this exact thing when body surfing for the sheer fun of it while bodysurfing big places like The Wedge in Southern California. I'd intentionally "pearl" (IE, dive) my hands and arms into the surface of the wave and dive, which would flip my forward inertia into a somersault, which would suck me right over the falls. By the time my rotation completed I'd be airborne, embedded in the pitching lip of the wave and falling feet first, ready to be pile-driven right to the bottom of the seafloor by the hydraulic forces of the wave. Which at the Wedge is usually just a few feet of water because it's a steep break like Teahupo'o, except with a nice comfy sandy bottom instead of coral. At other, slower breaks in the area like Huntington Beach Pier it can be a dozen feet or more, and you can still be pushed all the way down.

Anyway, these surfers are insanely strong swimmers. You have to be to be able to paddle into large breaks and survive the incredible hydraulic forces.

And I don't think I saw anyone in the video actually get fully sucked over the falls. Most of them seem to be diving successfully and cutting themselves out of the wave one way or another.

And, what's the velocity of that sideways spout of water that hits from the left as you near the end of the run? Is it like to shove you off your board, or just a nuisance?

That spout of water is from the tube of the wave collapsing. A large, open volume filled with air, mist and froth suddenly collapses with the force of thousands and thousands of tons of water behind it like someone stomping on a giant tube of toothpaste. As we all know, water doesn't compress very well - so the reaction is very energetic, and all of that froth and air have to go somewhere, fast.

The actual force and velocity wildly varies from wave to wave, even at the same break. It can be a light mist, or it can be tons of water with more than enough force to shove you right off your board.

It's both an annoying nuisance and indescribably awesome. On a slower or more sideways-moving point break it's awesome. Getting "tubed" is the basically the steak and lobster dinner of surfing. It's like fresh, untracked powder to a snow skier.

Surfers sometimes call it "the green room", the "glass house" or sometimes the "green house" because on a good day it's not at all like being inside a small garden green house. On a glassy, smooth break you can actually see out through the flowing lip of the wave while you're back in the tube. It echoes in there a little like you're inside a glass house. You can hear the water splashing and echoing around you off the walls of moving water. The air feels weird in there as though it's over-pressurized. It's humid, stuffy and closed in like a greenhouse.

And if you're in just the right spot on just the right break when the tube finally closes in on itself it makes this fearsomely loud, hollow-sounding WHOOMPF noise and you rocket out of the tube with a rush of mist and water like you were just shot out of a pneumatic cannon.

Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Just getting pocketed deep inside the tube is pretty great all on it's own, like riding inside a tornado, or the inside of a whirpool or maelstrom, except it's horizontal and more gentle and more structured.

But getting launched out of a tube like that is probably one of the finer things available in life. It's probably only second to flying or experiencing micro-gravity or going to space. It's such a brief moment, but it's incredibly sublime and otherworldly while still being very comfortable and mellow. It's also extremely aesthetically pretty, and it's not just the visuals. The sounds are cool. The sensations are cool. The water feels nice. It's like being in a womb or a cocoon - and it's really hard to explain how nice it feels and how it's different than the sheer adrenalin rush of, say, skydiving or the speed and cold of skiing or snowboarding.

When you get a really good tube ride, it's like you're not actually moving at all. You're just hanging there for a few moments, weightless, while countless tons of water spin around you and defy physics. It's suddenly quiet and calm for a brief moment, and you're very much just in the here and now, and there's nothing else. No worries, no cares. There's just you, your board and the wave.
posted by loquacious at 1:01 PM on January 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


Absolutely fantastically incredibly gorgeous! That is one of the most beautiful natural wonders I have ever seen.

It's like having an entire pool dumped on your head in a single instant. Yikes.
Actually, what I thought it would be like was 900,000,000 tons of wet cement.

I don't surf. I barely swim. And I'd probably wet myself just standing on that beach.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2012


loquacious, you are opening up new worlds of understanding to me. I've never surfed -- I'm dyspraxic and I have terrible balance -- but I always knew it was cool, but I literally never thought much about what it must feel like to be inside the barrel like that. Thank you.
posted by KathrynT at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


loquacious:"As we all know, water doesn't compress very well..."

HAHAHA. That was awesome.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:07 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, what I thought it would be like was 900,000,000 tons of wet cement.

Yeah, water is surprisingly hard in large volumes or at high velocities. I have no idea how to calculate the volume of a moving wave, but even on much smaller West Coast waves it's generally an order of magnitude or two more than "swimming pool". Getting hit by the lip of Teahupo'o would be like a few hundred or even a few thousand Olympic sized swimming pools dropped on your head. You could stack up about ten pools worth of water and it still wouldn't be as thick as the lip of that wave, not to mention as wide or deep.

I don't surf. I barely swim. And I'd probably wet myself just standing on that beach.

Luckily Teahupo'o is an offshore reef break. It's about a half mile or mile offshore. Map here.

Anyway, you wouldn't see much from the actual shore. All of these videos and photographs of Teahupo'o are either from boats, watercraft or swimmers with waterproof cameras, but come to think of it I don't think I've seen any shots of the break from someone who is actually in the water like they do at other breaks, because it's probably way too dangerous.

If you look at the map I linked above, you'll notice that the actual surf spot is what is called a "point break", meaning that the seafloor or shoreline the wave is breaking on isn't flat - it's a prominence or promontory that juts out into the deeper water. This causes the wave to "peak" and reliably break in the same place, over and over again.

This enables tow-in surfing as well as traditional paddle-in surfing, because you can place yourself on the water at a position that enables you to catch the wave and then cut left or right (in this case, left) and ride the "shoulder" of the wave.

Waves at flat beaches tend to not "peak" or have shoulders, and instead do what is called a "close out". In a close out, the entire lip of the wave rises up and crashes down all at once. The tube doesn't last very long, and you can't ride it because it quickly closes itself off and just turns into white water, aka, "soup" in surfer glossia. Soup is unrideable because there's no surface to plane off of. It's just foam. Sure, it'll push you along in front of it but you can't carve on it or get tubed or do any of the things that make surfing different than just floating in front of a wave on an innertube.

So... this is how and why that wave curves like it does. If you look at the map, the boats that haul surfers out to the break hang out in that channel in the coral off to the side of the break. Because they're in deeper water than where the surf break is - the swell rolls by harmlessly beneath them, just like it would if they were in open water.

But just a few hundred yards away over the reef and steeply sloping sea floor approaching the reef, there's huge, huge waves happening.
posted by loquacious at 4:26 PM on January 16, 2012


That wave is heavy man.
posted by Newbie23 at 10:13 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loving the stoke here - I haven't enjoyed a thread so much since the heydays of alt.surfing (Mama Süs here) - makes me yearn to paddle out. So sad. (Sadder even to be reading this in a snowstorm!)

Teahupo'o ... whew ... I remember first hearing of it when Briece Taerea died there in 2000 ... shallow reef drop (pretty grisly story): http://www.stonecoldcyber.com/davidthatcher/archive.html

... if that doesn't keep you away from the big waves, then you can always read Titus Kinimaka's Waimea 'dangling leg' story.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:17 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is the problem with surfers kooks
posted by eddydamascene at 1:39 AM on January 17, 2012


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