Surfing in Tahiti, Polynesia

Surfing in Tahiti is much more than just a sport; it is a way of life deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Polynesians. Located in the heart of French Polynesia in the vast Pacific Ocean, we find Tahiti, a beautiful island renowned for its lush vegetation, black and white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and perfect waves.

In this article, we will explore the history of Polynesian surfing, the best times to surf in Tahiti, the most popular beaches among surfers, the impact of surfing and bodyboarding on the daily lives of Polynesians, the passion for longboarding among enthusiasts, and the aspect of local culture in Tahiti.

1. The history of Polynesian surfing

Un trip en Polynésie – Desert Point école et surf shop à Messanges


Polynesian surfing has a rich and ancient history that dates back several centuries. The Polynesians, who inhabited the islands of Polynesia, including Tahiti, were skilled sailors and fishermen who maintained a deep relationship with the ocean.

Traditional Polynesian surfing, known as “he’e nalu” in Hawaiian, was practiced by Polynesians as a form of entertainment, competition, and means of transportation. They used solid wooden surfboards called “olo” or “alaia“.

Histoire du surf | Red Star Surf School Lanzarote

Hawaiian surfer with a wooden surfboard “alaia”

Alaia - Wikipedia

Surfer with a wooden surfboard

The traditional surfboard used in Tahiti is called “pahi.” The “pahi” is a traditional wooden surfboard used by the ancient Polynesians to ride the waves. It was made from local wood, typically from the breadfruit tree or the koa tree, which are durable and buoyant.

Fa'ahe'e i te tau mᾱtᾱmua : renouer avec la tradition de la glisse - Polynésie la 1ère

“Pahi” wooden surfboard

Faahee i te tau matamua : le surf traditionnel s'invite à Teahupoo - Polynésie la 1ère

The Traditional Surfing Event at Teahupo’o

Vidéo - Le surf traditionnel en démonstration • TNTV Tahiti Nui Télévision

Children participating in the traditional surfing event organized at Teahupo’o

When European navigators discovered the Polynesian islands from the 18th century onwards, they were fascinated by Polynesian surfing. However, the introduction of Christianity and colonial influences led to a decline in the traditional practice of surfing in Polynesia. For many years, Polynesian surfing remained relatively unknown outside the region.

It was only in the 20th century, with the revival of modern surfing and the rise of surf culture in California and Hawaii, that Polynesian surfing began to attract attention once again. Hawaiian surfers, such as Duke Kahanamoku, played a key role in popularizing surfing worldwide.

Today, surfing is an integral part of Polynesian culture and continues to be practiced in Tahiti and the surrounding islands. Polynesian surf culture is infused with traditions, respect for the ocean, and a deep connection with nature, making it a unique and enriching experience for surfers from around the world.

2. The Best Surfing Seasons in Tahiti

Tahiti enjoys a tropical climate all year round, offering ideal surfing conditions for enthusiasts. Some periods of the year are renowned for providing more consistent waves. The Southern Hemisphere swell season, from April to October, is considered the best time to surf in Tahiti. Surfers from around the world flock to the island to take advantage of these exceptional conditions.

Tahiti benefits from good surfing conditions throughout the year, but certain periods are more favorable than others depending on the types of waves you are seeking. Here is some information about the best surfing seasons in Tahiti:

  • Southern Hemisphere Winter (May to October): This period corresponds to the winter season in the Southern Hemisphere and is considered the prime time for surfing in Tahiti. Swells generated by storms in the Southern Ocean reach the Polynesian shores, resulting in powerful and consistent waves. The months of June to August are typically the most reliable in terms of consistent swells and big waves. Teahupo’o, one of the most famous spots in Tahiti, offers epic waves during this period.


  • Southern Hemisphere Summer (November to April): During this period, swells are generally smaller, but conditions remain favorable for surfing. The months of November and December can offer good late-season swells, while February and March may experience periods of more substantial swells. The days are hotter, longer, and the beaches are less crowded with surfers, providing a more peaceful experience.

Tahiti can receive swells throughout the year due to its exposure to the Pacific Ocean, but they can vary in size and power depending on the season. It is recommended to check local weather forecasts and surf reports to plan your trip and choose the best time based on your wave preferences.

3. The Best Surf Spots in Tahiti

Tahiti is home to beautiful beaches offering incredible waves for surfers of all levels. Among the top surf beaches is Taharu’u Beach located in Papara, a spot beloved by surfers, with waves suitable for beginners and longboard enthusiasts. Other notable spots include Papeno’o Beach, the mouth of Papeno’o, and Tiarei Beach, which offer a variety of waves to satisfy all surf enthusiasts.

Taharuu Beach on the map with photos and reviews🏖️

Taharu’u Beach

View of Papeno’o surf beach

Tahiti Côte nord - Randonnée en véhicule - Tiarei Papenoo - Du trou du souffleur à la Pointe Vénus - Le 27 mai 2012.

Papeno’o surf beach

Located on the north coast of Tahiti, Papeno’o Beach is one of the most beloved surf spots on the island. Papeno’o offers a variety of waves suitable for surfers of all levels, making it an ideal place to embark on the surfing adventure in Tahiti.

Experienced surfers will find their bliss here, with hollow and tubular waves that provide thrilling rides. Beginners can also enjoy Papeno’o, as there are often easier sections to surf on the beach, allowing for a gentle initiation into the practice of surfing.

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The mouth of Papeno’o

File:Plage de sable noir à Tiarei.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Tiarei Surf Beach on the East Coast of Tahiti

4. Surfing and Bodyboarding: a way of life in Polynesia

Surfing and bodyboarding are much more than just sports activities in Tahiti. They are an integral part of the culture and way of life for Polynesians. From a young age, children are initiated into these disciplines and learn the basic techniques to become familiar with the waves.

The passion for surfing and bodyboarding is deeply rooted in the daily lives of Polynesians. These activities allow them to connect with the ocean, which holds a central place in Polynesian culture. Waves are considered living and sacred forces, respected and honored by local surfers.

Tahiti is also home to talented surfers who have made a name for themselves on both local and international waves.

Here are some of the most well-known:

Michel Bourez | Booking Agent | Talent Roster | MN2S

Michel bourrez

Michel Bourrez: Michel is considered one of the top competitive surfers of his generation. He started his professional career in 2006 and quickly climbed the world rankings. Michel has won several victories on the elite surfing circuit, the ASP World Tour (now known as the WSL Championship Tour). His results have often placed him among the best surfers in the world. Michel Bourrez has played a significant role in promoting surfing in the region and has inspired many young local surfers. His determination, style, and connection to his Tahitian roots have made Michel Bourrez a respected and admired figure in the world of surfing.

Nina Hedberg and Teiva Joyeux signs for Starboard SUP at Stand Up Paddle Surfing in Hawaii –

Teiva joyeux

Teiva Joyeux: Teiva Joyeux is a professional surfer originally from Tahiti. Teiva has expanded his horizons and competed in surfing competitions around the world. He has faced some of the best surfers on the planet and showcased his talent and determination to push his limits in the waves.

Tahiti Pro 2022 : Miguel Pupo sacré, Vahine Fierro et Kauli Vaast proches de la victoire • TNTV Tahiti Nui Télévision

Kauli vaast

Kauli Vaast: Kauli is considered one of the most promising surfers of his generation. In 2019, at the age of 17, Kauli won the Air Tahiti Nui Trials, earning a wildcard to compete in the prestigious Teahupo’o surfing competition, the Tahiti Pro. This allowed him to compete against the world’s best surfers at one of the most renowned spots on the planet. Since then, Kauli has continued to progress and make a name for himself on the international surfing scene.

Portrait – Karelle Poppke : « Dans deux ou trois ans, je serai dans le WCT »

Karelle poppke

Karelle Poppke: Karelle Poppke is a surfer from Tahiti who has had a remarkable career in women’s surfing. She has participated in numerous national and international competitions, successfully representing Tahiti.

Breaking boundaries with Vaimiti Teiefitu, the heavy-wave longboarder

Vaimiti teiefitu

Vaimiti Teiefitu: Hailing from Tahiti, Vaimiti Teiefitu is a versatile surfer who excels in the big waves of Teahupo’o. She is known for her fluid style and commitment on the powerful waves of her homeland.

Vahine Fierro Biography, Videos & Photos | Roxy

Vahine fierro

Vahine Fierro: In 2019, Vahine Fierro won the World Surf League (WSL) Junior World Champion title in Taiwan, propelling her career and drawing attention to her talent. Since then, she has distinguished herself in several international women’s surfing competitions. She is known for her fluid style, power, and commitment on the waves. She is also versatile and adapts to different types of waves, whether it’s beach breaks, reef breaks, or robust waves like Teahupo’o.

Interview Tahurai HENRY, Bodyboardeur de teahupoo - Le blog de Island Slalom Tour

Tahurai henry

Tahurai Henry: Tahurai Henry is a highly talented and respected Tahitian bodyboarder. Known for his fluid style and dedication in the waves, Tahurai has participated in numerous bodyboarding competitions in Tahiti and abroad, being considered one of the best bodyboarders on the island.

Raimana Van Bastolaer surfing Teahupoo, Tahiti. | It looks s… | Flickr

Raimana van bastolaer

Raimana Van Bastolaer: Raimana Van Bastolaer is an internationally renowned professional surfer. As a professional surfer, he has competed in competitions and continues to travel around the world. He shares his expertise and experience as a surf instructor. Raimana offers surf lessons, coaching sessions, and advice to surfers of all levels, whether beginners looking to learn the basics or more advanced surfers seeking to perfect their technique. His experience as a professional surfer allows him to pass on his knowledge and skills to other surf enthusiasts.

5. Surfers passionate about longboarding

Tahiti is also home to surfers passionate about longboarding. Longboarding is a popular form of surfing in Tahiti. The island’s waves provide ideal conditions for longboarding, with smoother and longer waves that allow for stylish and graceful maneuvers. Some reef spots, such as Taapuna and Sapinus, offer waves suited for longboarding, with sections perfect for nose-riding and classic maneuvers.

Here are some Tahitian longboard enthusiasts in Tahiti:

Vaimiti Teiefitu : longboardeuse, présentatrice, influenceuse, ambassadrice... | Air Tahiti Nui

Vaimiti Teiefitu: She excels particularly in big waves and is known for her courage and determination to tackle challenging conditions. Vaimiti is frequently seen at Teahupo’o, where she takes on the powerful and hollow waves of this iconic spot.

Surf Pro – Focus Tereva David : « Il faut être pro dans sa tête »

Tereva David: Tereva David is another Tahitian longboard enthusiast. He excels in the art of nose-riding, which involves walking up to the nose of the board during the wave. Tereva David is known for his longboarding talent, in addition to his professional career in shortboarding. While he has primarily gained recognition in shortboarding, he has showcased his skills in longboarding and has competed in longboard competitions.

6. Reef spots: Highly frequented by Polynesian surfers

There are several reef spots highly frequented by Polynesian surfers in Tahiti, most of which are accessible only by boat, kayak, or outrigger canoe. These spots offer quality waves and are appreciated for their ideal surfing conditions. They require a good level of surfing skill as mistakes on sharp reefs with shallow water can be unforgiving. So, don’t miss our advice on how to surf reef breaks without getting hurt. Here are some popular reef spots in Tahiti:

The crazy summer of Teahupoo in Tahiti - We Rock Sport

Teahupo’o, Hava’e

  • Teahupo’o: Located on the southwest coast of Tahiti, Teahupo’o is one of the most famous and challenging surf spots in the world. Teahupo’o is heavily frequented by Polynesian surfers who master the difficult conditions and are drawn to the challenges offered by this iconic wave.

On a évité la catastrophe de peu à Taapuna : Polémique.


Ta’apuna: Located on the east coast of Tahiti, Taapuna is a reef spot cherished by Tahitian surfers. It offers fast and hollow waves, perfect for aerial maneuvers and barrel riding.

Tahiti's Got Talent' - Manea Fabisch — Movement Magazine


  • Sapinus: Located on the south coast of Tahiti, Sapinus is another reef spot cherished by Polynesian surfers. It offers high-quality waves, especially during south swells. Sapinus provides a long and powerful left-hand wave with sections suitable for maneuvers.

These reef spots are often frequented by Tahitian surfers due to their geographic proximity, the quality of the waves, and their familiarity with the specific reef conditions. These local surfers have developed expertise in reading reef waves and are known for their skill in navigating these demanding environments.

7. Localism in Tahiti

Like in many other places around the world, localism is also present in Tahiti. Localism refers to an attitude of protection or defense of surf spots by local surfers, who can sometimes be hostile towards foreign or non-local surfers.

In Tahiti, due to the worldwide fame of certain surf spots such as Teahupo’o, there can be a strong presence of localism. Local surfers have a deep attachment to these spots, considering them part of their cultural territory and heritage. As a result, they may want to preserve access and uphold local rules.

It’s important to note that not all local surfers are hostile, and the majority welcome foreign surfers with respect and friendship. However, it is crucial for visiting surfers to show respect towards the locals, observe surf priority rules, and take the time to understand the local culture and expectations.

We recommend that surfers visiting Tahiti familiarize themselves with local etiquette rules, be respectful towards other surfers, and show humility. Mutual respect and understanding are key to maintaining a harmonious atmosphere at surf spots in Tahiti.

Sign created by Tahitian surfers at Teahupo’o

About Hotuhere Bryant :

Hotuhere Bryant is a Tahitian native from Tahiti who joined Mundo-Surf as an intern in May 2023. She resides in the commune of Mataiea, located 17 kilometers from Teahupo’o. In this article, she shares the history of surfing in Tahiti as well as her authentic vision of Polynesian surfing.

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