Keala Kennelly won multiple women's titles at Teahupo'o before the WSL stopped women from competing there in 2006; (photo/WSL)

Pro Women Surfers Make Long-Awaited Return to One of Earth’s ‘Most Dangerous Waves’

For the first time since 2006, women return to Tahiti’s Teahupo’o to face one of the world’s most exacting — and intimidating — waves.

It doesn’t get gnarlier than Teahupo’o. The scene comes on innocently enough, with a crystalline beach surrounded by bright green jungle-covered volcanoes dotted with clouds.

But you’ll probably shrivel as soon as you see the wave and think about riding it over the razor-sharp reef just below the ocean surface.

Kennelly rides Teahupo’o; (photo/Tim McKenna via WSL)

For the first time in 16 years, women of the World Surf League (WSL) return to Tahiti to test their abilities against it. Not only that, but they’ll get a taste of the wave ahead of riding it at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Surfers call it “The End of the Road.” The challenge is a near-vertical drop into a heavy wave that barrels over the reef, according to Olympics.com. Surfers have to first commit to the steep drop, and then accept the flesh-shredding consequences of a wipeout.

In Tahitian, Teahupo’o translates roughly to “wall of skulls.”

“It’s one of the heaviest, most dangerous waves in the world. I assure you that this wave doesn’t care about your gender; it will destroy you if it wants to,” Keala Kennelly, who has won multiple Teahupo’o titles, told AFP via the Express Tribune.

Women Return to Tahiti After ‘Sexist’ Decision

Regarding the WSL, this week’s event is the Outerknown Tahiti Pro. Top surfers like Carissa Moore and apparent Teahupo’o natural Caroline Marks will seek to revitalize the women’s competition there. Surfing started Aug. 11 and continues through Sunday.


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That comes after a 16-year hiatus triggered by a WSL decision perennial Teahupo’o champ Melanie Redman-Carr called “pretty sexist.” According to NBC, she said in 2006, “[i]f the men can go there, why can’t we? They’re scared about one of us getting badly hurt and having all the bad publicity coming from that.”

The WSL previously reversed its decision, but COVID-19 stopped the last scheduled women’s stop in Tahiti last year.

The aggressive reef break does produce its share of scary incidents. But by all accounts, it’s only claimed one life: local surfer Brice Taerea, who died there in 2000.

“Teahupo’o is a very scary and intimidating wave,” Moore told WSL. “It is a heavy slab that requires a lot of technical barrel riding skills. I am really looking forward to the challenge and excited to see how the girls step up and perform out there.”

Talented barrel rider and Tokyo 2020 Olympian Tatiana Weston-Webb spoke to the same challenge.

“I think it would be good for this generation of female surfers to start surfing heavier waves, to continuously feel more comfortable and know that we can surf waves like this,” she told Stab magazine.

WSL Season Ends Soon: Watch Now

The final Outerknown Tahiti Pro event is live now, and you can stream for free!

Wednesday’s competition is the next-to-last event on the 2022 WSL Championship regular season schedule. Results will determine the five women and men competing in the WSL Finals next month. The world title goes up for grabs at Lower Trestles, Calif., on Sept. 8.

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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.