The View From Teahupo’o’s Impact Zone

You could do a headstand. Or put on polarized sunglasses. Or stare through a kaleidoscope. Or take acid! Acid would definitely work. Probably. Fact is, there are countless ways to tamper with the way we see the world and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed. A new perspective.

For the record, with Teahupo’o, I didn’t need a new perspective. I could easily lose myself in any of the traditional End of the Road shots: boat looking into barrel, water looking into the barrel, barrel looking toward mountains. Those mountains! Heart be still. For me, a stock image from Teahupo’o was like ice cream — it just didn’t get old.

All photos by Domenic Mosquiera

But ignorance is bliss, vanilla is heaven until you’ve tried rocky road and standard Teahupo’o is unbeatable until you see it anew, and now I have.

We can thank Tahiti-based photographer Domenic Mosqueiras for that. Over the past couple of seasons, Dom’s been using a Jet Ski to bring us a new take on an old favorite. And this October, after three days of shooting Chopes from the impact zone, Dom explained this angle’s genesis.

“It started a couple of years ago with conversations I was having with [SURFING’s] Jimmy Wilson and Peter Taras,” he says, deferring credit. “They were trying to motivate me to find ways to shoot Teahupo’o that hadn’t been seen photographically. There had been clips of this [Jet Ski] angle before, but never a good collection of stills. It wasn’t the easiest idea to get properly dialed; it took a few attempts to get right.”

The jaded reader might say, “What’s the big deal? Drive the Ski in front of the wave — snap, snap, snap — go eat some poisson cru and call it a day.” Damn you, jaded reader! Life isn’t so simple, especially in tumultuous Tahitian waters. There are the practical matters, like waiting for the right swell and conditions; choosing the appropriate lens; and positioning yourself just the right distance away from the lip to get the shot; not to mention finding a Ski driver that’s equal parts crazy and keen. And, even if all of those elements align, the surfer might not catch the wave or get barreled. Then you’re screwed till the next set.

But let’s assume that everything goes smoothly.What does that look like, Dom?

“Ideally there’s a southwest swell in the 10- to 12- foot range — as big as you can paddle — and it’s sunny with light offshore winds. We want it to look as dramatic and dreamy as possible,” Dom says. “We’ll sit just outside the lineup, about 30 feet deeper than the pack so we can easily spot sets. As soon as we see a good one we start the engine, wait for it to get just close enough — but not too close — and we ride down the face to the flats. We follow the rider as close as we can from drop until he is in the barrel, avoiding the lip all the while. Then we speed up to try and get to the channel and over the wave without running into the right on the other side. If the wave closes out, then we gun it into the lagoon and do a lap back around the reef to the lineup. It’s quite the roller coaster while you’re looking through the viewfinder.”

Right. But Dom, what if you fall off the roller coaster? What if the roller coaster stalls? This is Teahupo’o, after all, where waves and watercraft have a spotty history.

“We had a close call the first time we tried this angle in big surf,” says Dom, recounting a particularly sketchy moment in 2013. “It was that swell when Koa Rothman got his bomb. Poto was driving and took off on the second wave of a huge set, and when we got to the bottom we realized it was much bigger than we thought, and closing out. So while I had my eye in the viewfinder, Poto made the right call to straighten out and gun it toward the lagoon. I wasn’t ready for that and we hit the chop and I came so close to flying off the side of the Ski. My shoulder hit the back of the seat, but I was lucky because Poto had his feet planted on mine, and that little bit of weight gave me the leverage to pull myself up and stay on. It all happened so quickly, but was scary as hell!”

Scary, yes. But do you know what’s bigger than fear (besides guns, cigarettes and Taylor Swift)? Love. Love is stronger. And Dom loves getting a great photograph, loves the rush of shooting from the Ski. “Doing this is so much fun and I love the look of this angle. Being just beside the impact zone makes you feel like you have a backstage pass to the whole ride — the wave breaking, lip landing, rider in the barrel, the wall of the wave and finally the view of the channel where all the boats are.”

Which is to say, Teahupo’o is a concert and we’re all fanatics, worshipping its opus. We will happily watch from the nosebleeds, the mezzanine or the front row. But it’s that coveted trip backstage that fires us up. So close you can feel the spray. So loud you need earplugs. A perspective so fresh it makes you feel like you’re part of the show.

So, who’s ready for an encore?

Dom would like to acknowledge Hector Krause, champion Jet Ski racer from Tahiti, who put him in the perfect position to get these shots.

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