See You In Tahiti

Posted by Roark on

We asked our friend LJ O'Leary to join in on a last minute adventure across the Pacific. 

How could one say no? 


Here's the journal of his Tahitian journey:

Words by LJ O'Leary

Waiting on standby for a swell to pop up in Tahiti during the middle of the winter seems somewhat counter intuitive. “Are there even waves there this time of year?” said anyone and everyone who heard we may be heading to surf Tahiti late January. It’s not commonly considered a winter destination for surfers. I guess.

Probably for one, because of the nature of its remote location. Which may seem off putting any time of year for the lesser traveled. Maybe two because it is mostly recognized for its monstrous below sea level barrels that occur when a large south is headed for Teahupo. Those events occur most often during the late spring and summer months. So why now? Why last minute? Why in the middle of the winter?

We were never searching for anything “common” and there are some magically positioned little motus surrounding the main island of Tahiti who have never even for a moment considered themselves to have “an off season.” They are happy to not have the masses ascending upon them year long. That doesn't mean that there is a right time or a wrong time to go there. It just means there is a more quiet, intimate and personal time.

That's exactly what we are headed for.

Tahitian Palm Trees
Photo: Dylan Gordon

The Roark Woman’s crew were off on a Tahitian adventure while simultaneously the Climbing crew and Run Amok crew were finding new places to test their limits and run wild through. Just a few days before I departed, those guys were all headed to a pearl farm to work and learn how to grow and harvest pearl’s while we were waiting for a swell to show up on the charts.

Anticipation grows steadily. Clocks swing slow as I await the call from Corey and Vez about the potential swell popping up. Days feel like weeks. I haven’t been to Tahiti. We have dreamt of each other since I was a kid though. I could feel her calling. Any little day now…

I have to say, getting a phone call from Roark about setting off on a journey with a handful of your friends anywhere on this lovely planet feels real dang special.

Crew aboard a catamaran
Photo: Drew Smith

I have to say, getting a phone call from Roark about setting off on a journey with a handful of your friends anywhere on this lovely planet feels real dang special. Especially Tahiti! In the last eight years working with them the energy shift and smile that bursts out onto my face when that kind of a call comes through has not faded one little bit. “Will our swell show up? Will I actually have enough time to get over there to meet her? Are the French fries better in French Polynesia? Do they Have the same name?” Leading up to the trip I couldn't stop thinking these kinds of thoughts.

“Pack your boards there is a mystical reef pass and a catamaran waiting for you out in the middle of the Polynesian Triangle and we need you to leave in less than a week.”

She called. Looks like the swell is on the way and I better get moving!

Finally! Here comes that glowing feeling.

Gratefully, I accept.

Anticipating the trip was likely popping up sometime late in January / early Feb I had already been working with my friend Blake Peters (Panda Surfboards.) We came up with a few boards that would compliment the tropical reef passes. Blake made me three twinzers and a modern take on a shortboard silhouette from the late 80’s all ranging from 5’8” through 6’2”. TI have been staring at them for weeks in my garage eagerly waiting to be ridden. They turned out beautifully.

“How the heck are you supposed to warm up for Tahiti when the waves have been so small and cold at home, in Southern California?” I thought to myself. No sooner than the thought completed a heavily loaded winter swell showed her first lines here in Newport. Looks like I’ll have my chance to test one of these boards before just jumping in at whatever awaits us in Tahiti.

Identifying right away that one glided really well in the barrel, was super responsive and playful in all the right places, I packed them early and with extra care. Now I’m beyond hyped.

Time to make this 6:45a flight in L.A. 9 hours from LAX to Papeete. Easy.

Photo: Dylan Gordon

Touching down by myself in the lush green and glistening blue island of Tahiti was a brilliant moment for me. My smile wouldn’t stop. I’m here! Just another 24 hours before I hop a second small flight and a speed boat to link with Dyl, Nate, Jeff, Beau, Harry, Tereva, Killian and the boat crew on our Catamaran. With a day and a night to myself, I went and rented a car and planned to find out if the French fries were more delicious in French Polynesia.

Now I don't know if it is because of the people speaking French, or the beauty that surrounded me or just the sheer excitement of it all. But I will say, French Fries are better in Tahiti.

They just are.

I rented a car and cruised the main island with no plans other than to eat, surf and not get sidetracked before taking off the next day to meet everyone else. Found a little blue reef break with some boogie boarders that were willing to show me where to paddle and share their waves with me. They paddled straight up and gave me a five. Whoa! Never experienced that before. Felt like they were coming to tell me to get lost. Instead they were coming with smiles to introduce themselves and say “welcome.” Man, that made me smile. I like it here.

The waves grew three times the size while I surfed that little reef break. “7 waves only and I’m outta here” I say to myself. 14 later and I can't seem to wipe the happiness off of my face.

Without warning the boogies headed in and I figured maybe they knew something I didn’t. I decided I’d better just get on my way. Wondering what the waves in the surrounding Island passes must be like if it was this fun here… I’ll find out first thing tomorrow morning!

Photo: Dylan Gordon

My flight was booked from Papeete to Rangiroa where they were going to sail to and meet me. From there we would cruise around, motu to motu finding whatever waves suited the day. Tereva David, Tahitian surf royalty and our guide for this trip made a last minute call that another little island would be better for this swell. A satellite cell phone call and a few friendly conversations with Air Tahiti Nui staff later and my flight was rerouted to meet them at another little island’s airport. They would have had to sail for hours and then hours on return to get back to where the best part of the swell would likely show up. I jumped a plane and landed into the smallest, most remote airport I have ever seen. Lined with palm trees, bright blue water and every brilliant shade of coral reef you can imagine, we touched down. Miako, the town (motu) boss man and local charger met me at the airport. We picked up four hundred Franks worth of Hinano and a few cases of water for the boat, fed Maiko’s dog and then jumped with our boards onto two separate speed boats, captained by local fisherman with great smiles and wet wetsuits. I was in a pair of pants and a button up I was asked to wear for the crossing. The captain of my speedboat laughed and tried his best to tell me in English that my outfit was going to get really wet. Only he said it without any English but wore a really big smile. Couldn't be that bad right? Thirty minutes later, he is soaked, still wearing that same smile. I just learned the hard way what it means. Without really being able to understand each other, soaking wet and heading for paradise on a speedboat we just laughed at each other and the situation. It was great. I will never forget that boat ride.

Photo: Dylan Gordon

We pulled up to the boat, Harry, Jeff, Beau and Dylan were having fresh caught snapper with the Cap-ee-tan for lunch and Nate was out getting one hundred barrels on the right at the reef pass with Killan ( our Tahitian filmer who joined to film as much as he could.)

Harry pointed over his shoulder to a perfectly round empty left barreling into the channel just in the distance and said “that thing is all you my friend!” Trying to contain the excitement for what he just showed me and the fresh caught fish our chef prepared for lunch I was on stimulation high vibe overload. I had lunch with those guys and headed on the dinghy to find out what Nate was up to. The guys said he had been out for hours now. As soon as I pull around the corner I see a fun, very stylish right tube being toyed with by someone who obviously was no stranger to this particularly playful stretch of reef. I was blown away. It was the first wave I saw when we pulled up as I was paddling out. I was a little intimidated as the man in the tube was a big guy who really ripped and was paddling straight towards me after his wave. I was thinking, “oh no, did I somehow get in his way or mess him up?” He got a little closer and yelled out “LJeeeeeezy! Welcome to paradise my brotha, ah ah ahha ha ha ha !!” then shaked my hand and introduced himself as Tereva. I asked him how he knew to call me “LJeezy” as only my closest use that silly nickname and we had obviously never met. He told me Nate told him to say it and we both laughed so hard.

Truly, welcome to paradise.

Photo: Dylan Gordon

We played on those rights and lefts, ate fresh fish, stared at the stars, told tall tales and drank about a thousand French bucks worth of Hinano between the 8 of us over the next few days.

If the wind was on at the right, the left would go off shore and vice versa. It felt unreal that this was our setup and that we pretty much had it all to ourselves. We surfed, ust us and maybe one or two other locals over the next several days. Everyone paddling straight up to each other whether we have ever met or not and warmly greeting each other was the feel for the trip. That's the way they do it in Tahiti and we loved it. What an amazing tradition.

We ran around the island which had little to no electricity and just took in the fact the this little piece of paradise exists. Deep in the middle of the Pollynesian Triangle she lives everyday. Most days with nobody there to play with. That is perfection. Not one of us took a moment of it for granted.

Harry was scheduled just to come along for the ride as he was dealing with a pretty major injury. Even with his shoulder as sore as it was, he was still truly contemplating which would be worse, risking further injury or not surfing this perfect setup with just out. He opted to borrow a board and surf through the pain because, as he said “I’d hate myself even more if I didn't surf this place with you guys.” He told me, if he were going to risk the injury it would be for that really hollow left just across the pass. We paddled the channel and he proceeded to ride just about every good wave that came our way. We didn't want him to get hurt of course, so we would see “THE GEM” rolling in from out back and just automatically say… “Harry!” Even though he was hurt, he was just coming off of his first world title win and looked in as fine form as ever. Ha ha if he wasn't hurt, that would be a pretty good trick to get all the good ones! “I might try that sometime” each of us thought to ourselves.

Photo: Dylan Gordon

The right was a little more playful than the left. Nate and Tereva were really making it look amazing on their forehands. It looked like a dream to be regular footed on that little right hander. Jeff and Harry body surfed a few across the really shallow reef while the captain and Beau also traded some empty waves on the “wide peak” which was a dreamy second part of the wave that roped off into the channel.

Meteor showers without a streetlight for hundreds of nautical miles. The warmest greetings I’ve ever felt by any locals ever. Glistening clear water with living coral and flourishing sea life. Perfect nutella coffee all day every day. Fresh fish and coconut with just a few friends floating around in the middle of the Pacific. That is why we went there, in the middle of the winter, in the “off season.”

Photo: Dylan Gordon