Tahiti’s Teahupo’o is the most dangerous surf break in the world and for the first time in 15 years, women will be back competing there.
Back in 2006, the World Surf League, then known as the Association of Surfing Professionals, scrapped The Billabong Pro for women at Teahupo’o, citing safety concerns about the extreme wave. The men’s competition continued.
At the time, Layne Beachley – the most celebrated female surfer in the world – admitted she had some fears about the break, but called the decision to cull the women’s event sexist.
“I don’t like Teahupo’o but I know how beneficial it is for women’s surfing,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2006.
“It’s of huge importance. It shows how far women’s surfing has come. Why would you walk away from such a huge marketing opportunity?
“It’s the most extreme event on tour and gets worldwide interest. It shows the women have the depth, the ability and the courage to confront the challenge. Not one girl on tour doesn’t have the guts to take off now.
“There was no communication, no nothing. No one asked us about it, they just told us, ‘From next year, you’re not going to Teahupo’o’.”
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This year, the professional surfing season was brought to its knees by the coronavirus, with the World Surf League cancelling the 2020 tour.
A recalibrated 2020-21 season was announced on Friday. It will involve a 10-event format for both the men and women, starting in Hawaii in December and culminating in a single-day surf off to decide the World Champion. And Teahupo’o is back on the agenda for women.
It follows a move from Olympic organisers, who will hold the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing events, for men and women, in Tahiti.
There’s no denying the intense consequences of a wave like Teahupo’o. It’s something Layne Beachley learnt in 2002, after being injured by the reef when competing in a final against American surfer Keala Kennelly.
There have been five deaths recorded at Teahupo’o and countless injuries. In Tahitian, Teahupo’o can be roughly translated to “the place of broken skulls”.
With women surfers now earning equal prize money to their male counterparts, bringing women back to Teahupo’o seems fitting.
Giving them the chance to show their courage, determination and skill on the heaviest wave in the world, will do wonders for the progression of women’s surfing. It will be a spectacle. And as Beachley put it in 2006, “not one girl on tour doesn’t have the guts to take off.”
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