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Where are you from?
I’m from here in Papara. I was raised by my grandparents since I was 2 years old because my mom and dad separated when I was very young and my mom had to go and work in Pape’ete. I am very grateful for everything from my grandparents. They only made like $200 a month from retirement money, which was not much to get by, but they always gave me so much love and support growing up. They would fish a lot, sell the fish for extra money and would also borrow money from my aunts to chip in to help me travel. They never even told me that, I found out after they died. They just wanted me to have a good life. I grew up here, went to school here—all my education, playing around in the water, on land. I would also steal fruits on the mountain. We used to go up and steal fruits from the big properties up there. In about 2004 I started to turn the corner and really build my business here at Teahupo’o where I accommodate and host surfers. I saw what the brands were doing on the North Shore in Hawaii, how they have big houses right on the beach in front of Pipe and all the surfers have a place to come right there from out of town, and I wanted to build that for Tahiti. I used to have one boat, now I rent other boats, Red Bull gives me jet skis, and I am now working on this house to make it a great place to relax and host guests. I am also looking at another property to lease to have more houses to host more guests. We have the right people involved to make it all really great, and I am really excited.
How did you first start surfing?
I started surfing when I was older, around 19 or 20. It was when the Gotcha surf team came here in like 1996 with Martin Potter, Brock Little, and Rob Machado. I was their guide, but I was a boogie boarder at the time. I saw how many surfboards they had in their bags—like five boards per guy in these big bags. I asked them why they had so many boards, and they said their sponsors gave them to them. I was blown away how they had so many. I asked about the sponsors and they told me how they gave them all the boards and free clothes and they even paid them. I was like, "Free boards, free clothes, and they pay you too?!" And it wasn’t just one brand, it was every sticker on their board, they got free stuff and paid by each different brand. So I looked at what I had—one boogie board, one leash, one fin that I paid for—and I said to myself, maybe I’m in the wrong sport. The last day of their trip, they told me to put my boogie board in the boat and try one of the surfboards. The first wave I caught on a surfboard I got barreled. I learned how to ride the barrel before I could even turn. One month after that, I was already getting pictures in the mags and Gotcha sponsored me. It was on. I am very grateful for the success early on
Who all stays here when they come to Tahiti?
Kelly [Slater], Laird [Hamilton], John John [Florence] all stay here these days. Pancho Sullivan back in the day. Johnny Boy Gomes, Larry Haynes back in the day—those guys were bad ass. I miss those guys. Then you have Brian Keaulana, Brock Little—those guys were insane. We had some classic stories and good times. Now we have John John. We spend a lot of time together; he’s like my son. Also Strider is also one of my best friends; he is my brother. We used to surf Pipeline together. He was this blonde kid from California trying to prove himself out there. Luckily, he was part of the Quiksilver crew and such a big charger; that helped him to make a name for himself. Then he became team manager for Quik and started paying my salary and making my contract! I love him. He’s gonna be my best man in my wedding.Tell me about Teahupo’o.It’s a perfect wave, like Pipeline, but the barrel and the power is quite different. The full ocean comes at the reef all at once, super slow at first, then breaks below sea level. The bigger it gets, the longer and more hollow it gets.
What has been your worst wipeout there?
My worst wipeout was during the Code Red swell. First of all, I told people not to go that day, but some people were already out there surfing already, so I took the ski out to check it out and it was really gnarly. The cops were stopping people at the marina at that point, not letting any more people out. So I was trying to convince people not to go too. I tried to tell people it was too dangerous. All the surfers listened to me; everybody stopped. Then I went back to the beach to wait it out and I saw some Brazilian guys back out there on the skis. At that point I was like "F-that. I’m not gonna let these foreign guys surf those waves before I surf those waves!" So I decided to go out with my tow partner. When I got out there, they asked me if I wanted to go first and I said, "No, you guys go ahead." So they caught a couple. Then I saw one behind them, really big, and I said, "Turn, let’s go!" As soon as I went and let go of the rope, I knew I was too far deep, but I tried to make it. I couldn’t make it, I got blown up inside it and went straight from the lip to the reef, no water. It took me down, and I got hurt really bad. I had a full suit on that got all torn up by the reef; it sliced me through the suit.
When you travel, what do you miss most about Tahiti?
The smell. When you get off the plane for the first time, it smells like home. Also poisson cru, our local seafood dish [raw fish in coconut milk], and our local Hinano beer—my favorite.
What do you want visitors to know about Tahiti?
I want everyone who visits here—no matter if they surf or not, to get what they pay for. It could be surfing, diving, hiking, whatever. We make sure you get what you came here for—and paid for. Because if you came here, you paid a lot of money to get here, so the experiences you go home with are most important. Oh, and don’t get Chikungunya!
This article was originally published on Indoek as part of the Surf Shacks series, featuring the homes of creative surfers from coast to coast and overseas. See the full interview and photo gallery here.