Teahupo’o: the world’s ‘heaviest’ surfing wave

, site of a legendary surfer break on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, has developed quite the reputation among big-wave surfers. Due to a shallow coral reef just off shore, waves here tend break as massive, chunky walls of water, a phenomenon that has earned Teahupo’o the distinction as the “heaviest” wave in the world.

The video above, filmed at Teahupo’o, offers a first-hand view from the ocean of what it’s like to ride the massive swells of this epic surf spot. Set to an ethereal soundtrack, the video follows surfers as they brave one of the biggest surfing days at Teahupo’o in recent memory, riding crushing “fists” of ocean that grow and collapse, threatening to swallow them whole at any minute. Sit back, click the play button, and let yourself be mesmerized by these awesome feats of athleticism.

Dreaming of Bali – Learning to surf

There was only one wetsuit top remaining for my first surfing lesson, and it was pink. Not to mention I spent most of my first day on a surfboard coughing up murky brown saltwater from my lungs. Kelly Slater I was not. But despite the humiliations involved in learning to surf for the first time, there are rewards for the patient. For instance the moment you catch your first wave, you will be struck by a feeling of indescribable euphoria and bliss – particularly if you’re catching that wave in Bali, one of the world’s great surfing hotspots.

Hawaii and California might be more famous with American surfers, but mention the word Bali to anyone with a board and a suntan, and their eyes will widen like saucers, a smile spreading across their face. Bali, it seems, is one of the world’s greatest places to surf: a paradise of consistent waves, warm water and some of the world’s most legendary surf spots.

But trying to get the hang of surfing, particularly during a short visit to this intriguing island, can be difficult. Which surfing school should you choose? Where are the best places to surf? Will you be able to get up after just a single lesson? The process can feel downright intimidating.

Thankfully, we’re here to help. Keep reading below to find out how you can learn to ride the waves in Bali.Picking an Instructor
The most difficult task when you’re interested in learning to surf is finding the right person to learn from. A tremendous array of surfing schools, profiteering guesthouses and private instructors compete for your hard earned tourist dollar. Frankly, it can get confusing. But there a few key ways to ensure you get the best possible result.

No matter which company you end up choosing, ask the right surfing questions before you start. Will you have your own personal instructor or is it with a group? Do they get in the water with you to help you learn? These issues may seem trivial now, but with a sport like surfing that takes awhile to learn, it’s crucial you get lots of help when you start.

Brand-name surfing schools like Rip Curl and ProSurf may be the best-known names in Bali, but they’re not always the best option. As it turns out, the surfing classes are often more expensive, conducted in large groups and the teachers don’t always get in the water with you. Eventually, based on recommendations I found on Southeast Asian backpacker site Travelfish, I ended up going with OBB Surf Adventures, a smaller surf company that prides itself on offering one-on-one in-water instruction for all students.

Where to Go
If you’re taking a lesson, the school/instructor will likely pick the location with the most beginner friendly waves that day. Often this will mean the beaches near Kuta. On the day I went surfing, the waves were rather strong at Kuta, so we moved to the practically smooth bay at Jimbaran Beach. As it turned out, Jimbaran was a good place to learn – the small waves are forgiving to beginners and there’s less people (this also means fewer onlookers will have a chance to laugh at you).

As you begin to get the hang of it and try out more surf spots, many of Bali’s best breaks are found around the island’s South. Ulu Watu, the most famous surf spot in Bali, is a popular choice, though probably too advanced for beginners. For more info on current water conditions and tips, check out the waverider resources at Wanna Surf, and of course, ask around when you arrive.

What It’s Like
Minor humiliations aside, my very first surfing lesson was a resounding success. My choice of OBB Surf Adventures proved a good one – their in-water instruction method ensured I was standing up (and riding on) waves after only a single lesson. Whichever company you choose, I can’t recommend this method enough. After helping position me properly, board facing toward the beach, to catch a wave the instructor helped me get the timing right for when to stand and how to stay up.

After a few wave misfires, I rode my first mini swell all the way to the beach. It’s hard to describe the feeling of confidence, excitement and joy that this moment will bring. That said, learning to surf requires a lot patience and swallowing of pride. You will fall down a lot. Little Balinese children will giggle at your awkwardness. And at the end of the day, you will be incredibly sore, bruised and sunburned. But you will also have gained something else – a chance to learn and explore the fun of surfing in the laid-back paradise of Bali.

Dreaming of your own visit to Bali? Read more about Gadling’s “visit to paradise” HERE.

[Flickr photos courtesy Jeda Villa Bali, Bruno [BRA]]

[Special thanks to Gadling writer Mike Barish for use of the above video]

Get a surfboard, help a kid

If you’ve got a surfing trip coming up and are looking for a new board, get into the holiday spirit by bidding on a surfboard that helps kids with autism.

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is currently hosting a Holiday Surfboard Auction with the help of Surfers Healing, an organization founded by a former competitive surfer and his wife whose son was diagnosed with autism at age three. Now the couple, Israel and Danielle Paskowitz, hosts days at the beach where autistic children can experience the thrill of surfing (with the help of a pro surfer steering at the back of the board). The Paskowitzes say that surfing has had “a profound impact” on their son.

To benefit Surfers Healing, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is auctioning off 26 one-of-a-kind boards signed by surfing legends including Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton, Matt Archbold, Makua Rothman, Sunny Garcia, Garrett McNamarra, Dustin Barca, Michael and Dereck Ho, Shane and Gavin Beshen, The Malloy Brothers, Joel Tudor, and Lisa Anderson, as well as celebrities Scott Caan, Benjiman Bratt, Robert Hays, Sarah McLachlan and Marc Jacobs.

The surfboards are on display at the resort now, and will remain there until the bidding closes on December 31 — if you win one, you can take it home the next day. Happy New Year!

To see all the boards and place a bid, visit their BiddingForGood site here.

No Wrong Turns: How to Surf, by a Wannabe Surfer

I believe the time people put in working, running errands, going to the gym and all the other daily stuff we feel we have to do starts to take its toll on how we live and think. This is a big reason why Tom and I decided to pack up and leave for a little while…to put things in perspective, do a bit of work on the road and to surf (ok…learn to surf for me).

My surfing experience is limited to three times…once in New Zealand, once in Australia and one time in Costa Rica where an encounter with a jellyfish put my surfing attempts on hold. But now, since we have stopped in the Baja and there are some good learning beaches, I have decided to dedicate a few months to surfing, though the extent of my abilities so far is to stand up on my board. I’m working on it.

A few things beginner surfers need to know and remember: it is not as easy as it looks. No matter how athletic you are, expect to fall over and over and over again; practice makes perfect. Coordination, decent physical fitness and sheer determination (stubbornness…call it what you will) to get back up and keep trying are ideal traits if you want to learn how to surf.

Get the right gear

Extreme beginners should rent a foam long board. These range from 9 to 10 feet long and are wider than most surfboards, which provide more stability allowing more opportunity for “newbies” to pull themselves up. Make sure your board has a leash to prevent it from getting away from you or from maiming some poor innocent bystander — drawing blood isn’t a good way to make friends.

You are going to be out there for a while so a wetsuit is vital. Keeping warm while you are battling the waves helps you focus on learning to surf instead of wondering why you can’t feel your feet.

Figure out your lead foot

Your lead foot is the foot that feels most comfortable in front when you are standing on the board. If you snowboard or skateboard you won’t have any trouble figuring out which foot feels more natural as your lead foot; if you have no clue ask for assistance at the surf shop. Or have a friend stand behind you and, when you are not ready, give you a little push…whatever leg comes out first to prevent you from falling is your lead foot. “Regular” stance is left foot front, while riding “goofy” refers to those who prefer their right foot forward. If you still cannot figure it out you just have to get out there and see what feels best to you.

Take a Lesson

From my meager experience it is valuable to either take a lesson or have a seasoned surfer walk you through the motions of surfing on the beach. Walking into the ocean without any idea of what you are supposed to do is a waste of your time and the surfboard rental fee.

How to stand up on your board

(Explaining this definitely makes it sounds much easier than it is.)

  1. Lie down in the center of your board with your feet just hanging over the tail end and your head facing the top (the “nose”) of the board.
  2. Grip the “rails” (the sides) of the board and push yourself into a “push up” position and drag one knee through your arms so you are in a crouching-lunge position.
  3. Use your front foot and push yourself up to stand.
  4. Try and stand with your feet about hip distance apart with your lead foot in the middle and you back foot closer to the tail end of the board.
  5. The most important thing you can do to keep your balance is to try and keep your feet around the center of the board.

Walk through these steps a few times on the beach before hitting the waves. After a couple run-throughs, pick up your board, strap on your leash, imagine yourself catching a wave and get out there. Though I would never call myself a “surfer,” in the past few weeks I have managed to stand up on my board. I am definitely not consistent but with a bit more practice I can only get better. I should warn you: once you start to get the hang of surfing it’s hard to think about anything else but getting back in the water. Oh yeah and one more tip from this wannabe surfer: keep your mouth shut when you wipeout.

No Wrong Turns: Buying or Renting a Surfboard in the Baja

Tom is a huge surfer and I have always wanted to learn. So when we set off on this adventure surfing was a definite part of the plan. I have tried a couple times on other vacations but since we have been living in Calgary (which is smack in the middle of the Canadian prairies) I have never had enough time to really learn how…until now.

Baja California Sur is a huge surfing destination. Many of the ex-pat locals are surfers who found a killer surf break, bought a bit of land (when it was cheap) and never left. From Todos Santos all the way down the coast past San Jose Del Cabo you can find anything from mini waves to learn on to massive breaks for the advanced. But you need a board, and maybe a few lessons, before you can ride the waves.

We knew we needed boards and, unfortunately did not listen to a good piece of advice we received about where to purchase a board. The best place to get a board is in the States. Most of the boards in Mexico are imported from the US making them more expensive to buy. We were rushing to get into Mexico and looking back it would have been smarter to shop around for boards in the US.

Ah well, live and learn. On a surfboard mission we ran into Andy, a surfer from way back who manages the San Pedrito Surf Hotel, his recommendation was to try Costa Azul Surf Shop in San Jose Del Cabo. We headed there and managed to buy pretty decent used boards. Tom ended up with a Lost board, and the one I now own (but cannot stand up on) is an Olea, a locally made brand by Alejandro Olea, Costa Azul’s owner.

Costa Azul offers rentals at a pretty decent rate, rates start around $20 US per day, wet suit not included (I suggest getting one, the water is pretty chilly!). They also rent skim boards, body boards and snorkeling equipment for those not into surfing. Lessons for $55 US include a board, rashguard and hour-long lesson with an instructor. Two other locations, Todos Santos and Los Cerritos, offer rentals and lessons for those looking to catch a wave.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.