As perfect as Teahupo'o can be, it's a daunting venue for even the most seasoned of pros who must paddle over the ledge to make Tahiti's prized barrel. When conditions align, the infamous reefbreak delivers some of the world's heaviest waves.
I'm a little nervous, imagining if it will be giant. -- Toledo
Fans got a taste of Teahupo'o's power during the 2014 Billabong Pro Tahiti and the recent Big Wave Strike Mission -- but the Top 34 surfers on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) don't need any reminding. They're already preparing for the 2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti, both physically and mentally.
World No. 4 Filipe Toledo (BRA) is among those with something to prove in Tahiti. After missing the 2014 event, some have questioned his ability to excel in heavy-water barrels.
"I actually got injured at J-Bay last year and surfed the US Open on the injury," Toledo said. He chatted during his recent run at the 2015 Vans US Open of Surfing. "So to get ready for Lowers [the Hurley Pro at Trestles] I skipped Teahupo'o, but this year I'll be there for sure."
Toledo is headed from his adopted home of San Clemente to Teahupo'o early to test a new batch of boards and get adjusted to the different type of wave. Nonetheless, the small-wave phenom isn't shy about Tahiti's intimidation factor.
"[I'm] a little nervous, imagining if it will be giant like last year," said Toledo. "Everyone was scared -- even when we were watching it from home."
Fellow Brazilian Miguel Pupo, meanwhile, has had a rough 2015 season with a string of 25th-place finishes, apart from a strong showing at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. Although he finished in Round 2 at last year's event in Tahiti, it's not the wave on which he's focusing his training, but his mental strategy.
"I sort of lost my rhythm, I've been getting 25th a lot," said Pupo. "In response I've been working with the QS [Qualifying Series] to find my rhythm again. I actually came [to the US Open] to train for Teahupo'o, not necessarily for waves but to be in a jersey for a little bit. The last few events I lost in the second round, I am just getting back to the feeling of being excited to be in a jersey again looking ahead to Tahiti."
There's no secret to Tahiti. If you're lucky you're going to get the barrel of your life. -- Andre
Like Pupo, Kolohe Andino (USA) has had a rocky first half of 2015. So far this year he has yet to make it past Round 3 of competition, and dropped to World No. 30 on the Jeep Rankings. Andino has been tackling Qualifying Series events to keep his requalification hopes alive (athletes can qualify for the elite CT through points on the Tour itself, or with points on the QS, albeit with fewer slots available) and considers that all the Tahiti prep he needs.
"I don't have any waves remotely close to that wave [in California]," he said. "The [US Open] will keep me in good shape because I'll be surfing a lot. I always think that no matter what the waves are like if you're surfing a lot you'll be more prepared than if you're not."
Last year was the first year Andino experienced the wrath of Tahiti at its harrowing potential, and was able to earn an equal-fifth place. The Californian is banking on confidence from last year to provide similar success whether or not the swell shows up.
Knowing that it's makeable even though it's really, really scary...you have to remind yourself. -- Andino
"Knowing that it's makeable even though it's really, really scary, that's something you have to remind yourself," said Andino. "The first time I surfed out there when it was huge I was like, 'There's no way this guy is going to make this drop.' And then they're fully making it, getting spit out of barrels. I was like 'Okay, I guess that's what I gotta do.' It's kind of blur once you know you're going, you black out."
While many consider the waves at Teahupo'o terrifying, there are a special few who relish in the challenge. Goofyfoot Adrian Buchan (AUS), fresh off his best result of the season with an equal third at the J-Bay Open, finished in the Quarterfinals at last year's event despite posting a 19.00 (one point shy of perfect) two-wave total.
"I'm really comfortable over there in Tahiti, both in the water and on land," Buchan said. "I feel like it's a second home to me, which is a really big help. I love the wave and love that I get the chance to compete out there, being able to relish that chance, reflects in my surfing."
Buchan knows just as well that the mental attitude is a huge factor in successful drops from the ledge.
It's about trusting my instincts. -- Buchan
"It's just about being mentally prepared," he said. "For me it's about trusting my instincts and competing, I know if I do that I will see the results come. At J-Bay I found that rhythm and turned it around."
Rhythm has been a recurring theme throughout the Championship Tour in 2015, with fewer than 2,000 points separating the top three surfers on the Jeep Leaderboard. At the end of the day, Brazilian Jadson Andre may hold the not-so-secret key to success at Teahupo'o.
"There's not a big secret to Tahiti," he said. "You just need to put your head down and paddle for the wave. Tahiti is my favorite contest by far, I really like the place, I really like the wave. People in Tahiti are so awesome. You just need to enjoy yourself and if you're lucky you're going to get the best wave and maybe the barrel of your life."