“First, thank you for having me here at SURFING” is how Raimana van Bastolaer opened our conversation. This is not normal among professional surfers, who as a group dodge interviews like the draft. Raimana is not an average pro — he’s more an ambassador for the [cliché alert] oceanic “lifestyle,” and specifically for a frightening lefthand mousetrap called Teahupo’o. Raimana runs the place with the warmth of a kind innkeeper, not an eggy local, and hooks up everyone from gutsy groms to living legends. We called to see what’s new in RaimanaWorld after the most recent, scale-breaking swell.
SURFING Magazine: How does this recent swell compare to swells in the past? How does it rank?
That swell was big, really big. The last swell we got like that was three or four years ago — that was Shane-o’s [Shane Dorian’s] wave, the “layback attack.” This swell in March was a little bigger. To give you an idea, the New Zealand kid’s [Sam Hawk] wave was super huge — never seen anything like that. Biggest wave ever at Teahupo’o.
Who were the standout surfers, in your mind?
Shane-o, Michel Bourez, Manoa, Nathan, Fuller, Danielo, Rico, Carlos, Coco, Sion, Moody, Koa, Teiva…guys who had the balls and luck to be out there.
What was it like to have your wife in the channel for the first time, while you were towing into one of the largest swells ever?
Having my wife, Yvanne, on the boat was huge for me. I wanted her to witness those experiences such as watching the surf, the boat driver’s operations, the vibe in the water, the cameramen battling, and all the wipeouts. At the end of the day, I looked at one of the camera guys and asked him, “What happened to you?” He replied, “Your wife was so nervous that she grabbed me and I almost lost my t-shirt. Good thing you were making it out of those waves.” [Laughs]
What’s the last thing she said to you before you headed out to the reef?
I told her first: “I love you,” and she told me, “Be careful and have fun. I love you, too.” Happy wife, happy life.
How do you stay calm and relaxed in those conditions?
The night before, I make love to my wife to get relaxed…. [Laughs] No, just kidding. When I get down there, I mostly go straight out — I don’t look at the surfing too much, because you see someone wipe out, you get uncomfortable. You are mentally distracted, your body shakes…I’m just ready any time for Teahupo’o Havae.
How do you prepare for a swell like this after not surfing waves this size for at least five months?
To tell you the truth, the last four weeks, I was in LA, then Boston, then St. Louis, then Tampa for the Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D tours. Then on to the Quiksilver East Coast tour, a couple appearances for Tahiti Tourism and Air Tahiti Nui. Then three days before I arrived, I got a couple phone calls from Red Bull, Quiksilver — friends who needed skis. I had to organize and help out some Fox, Billabong, Oakley and Red Bull riders, boats for different media, water safety, etc…
After all this, then I realized I had to be in the water to surf with the boys. So for me it was mostly mental work.
Do you usually physically train for big waves, too?
Yes and no. Every day, I do train with a really good friend of mine, George Cronsteadt. We paddle canoes, singles or three-man or three-man canoes . Some days, we do SUPs. We run this gnarly mountain run. I shortboard a little bit. Sometimes, I run my black sand beach really early. I try to eat good and healthy, but my wife’s food is soooo good. All I know is I’m not fat…I just made my stomach a bigger surface to caress.
What’s your job description, exactly? If you had a business card, what would it say?
My job is to surf Teahupo’o when it’s really big — but there’s a lot that surrounds my surfing and other things.
It starts with phone calls and emails from foreign countries asking for skis and accommodations and help. I’m organizing things from picking them up at the airport to getting gas for skis, rental cars, private jets, yachts, setting them up with accommodations from low-end to high-end — basically red carpet for them.
Making sure that people who come with me, they leave Tahiti with a really big smile, knowing they’ll be back again. My business card will be saying: RaimanaWorld.
Do you normally wear a tow vest?
Yes, I do wear a tow vest and I’ve been wearing one since the beginning, but the last swell, I did not wear one. I was wearing a really good springsuit from Quiksilver that floated me well. That day, I had a really good wipeout. I was the deepest on one wave with two other surfers and their skis, and they kicked out. In leaving the wave, their skis broke the lip in front of me. I was deep, but I decided to give it a try. I couldn’t make it, and then I was bodysurfing a 15-foot barrel.
I was so relaxed that I thought I was Mike Stewart or Mark Cunningham or one of those guys. Somehow, I made it through easy and my tow partner, Mathiew, was right there. Maybe if I had the PFD [Personal Floatation Device], I would not skip on the surface and then I’d be hitting the reef.
Can you tell the story of how you first met SURFING Senior Photographer Daniel Russo?
Ok, so Reef Macintosh called me a couple years ago. He wanted to come with a photographer to shoot him for an article. It was around end of February — good for north swells.
For three months, I’d been buried in the building of my new house. I was staying with my daughter and wife at her parents’ place. We didn’t want to bring anybody over there, so we decided, for the inauguration of our new house, to have my friends sleep there. Even for me, it was my first night at the house, and there was that fresh, new smell inside. We were so excited about moving into the house with the best view ever.
So I went to the airport to pick [Reef and Russo] up, and they’d brought with them some Jack Daniel’s whisky or something to celebrate their arrival in Tahiti. We arrived at the house and I told them to go easy and not be loud because my wife and baby were sleeping in the living room. Around 2:00 am, when everyone was laying down, I was half asleep and saw Russo stand up, unzip his pants, and just pee inside my living room.
It was like slow motion: I just stood up and snapped, yelling at him. He got so freaked out that he ran into my big door, head-butted it with his hand still holding his dick. I told Reef, “What’s up with this guy?!” and he got so mad at Russo, too. Russo was so drunk that he couldn’t handle himself at all. We had to clean that pee on my first night at the house. The smell of brand new stuff got deteriorated by Mr. Russo.
A couple days after that, we went out at Teahupo’o and Russo scored the best water shot of me. I told him, “You’re lucky…”
Nowadays, both guys still call me and come to my house, but without hard drinks anymore. I only give them Hinanos.
How do you feel about the finished product of the Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D movie? Are you happy with the results?
Brother, that’s the best thing that ever happened to me, my family, my friends and Tahitian tourism. I really love the movie — it’s not only a surf movie but an educational and cultural movie. Being next to Kelly [Slater] with the approval of the director, Stephen Low, I feel proud and honored to represent who we are. For the next premieres, I’m doing a project with Air Tahiti Nui, Quiksilver and K2 Communications in which couples will win free tickets to Tahiti. Brothers, make sure to take your wives and kids to see the movie and win those tickets!
Who do you think is the best Teahupo’o surfer today, when it gets big?
Manoa [Drollet], Shane-o, Laird [Hamilton]
[Editor’s addition: Raimana]
What can you tell us about your new relationship with Sony?
They gave me $300,000/year as a stand-up paddle surfer. I guess they wanted to tag along with [other sponsors] C4, Quiksilver, Red Bull, RaimanaWorld, Discovery Land Co and He’e Nalu.
[Raimana ended things by reiterating: “Thank you for everything, God bless you all…and remember, brothers: Happy wife, happy life.”]