Roosters and Feather Dusters
Notes from Tahiti after Day 1 of competition
I’m woken at 4 a.m. The big rooster has been strutting the yard like Mick Jagger all week as if he owned the place, which, in the hierarchical world of the Teahupoo chicken, is just the case. His gold mane, green sheen, and commanding presence have the other chickens cowering as he walks past. He’s the biggest rooster in the yard, a stately bird, and by tribal chicken law the first crow of the morning is always his. But this morning it’s not. An hour before it’s scheduled trumpeting he’s usurped, as an audacious crow wakes me from further up the road. It sparks immediate outrage. Mick Jagger’s response is swift and loud and unrelenting…and right outside my window. The two birds go all Eight Mile for half an hour and further sleep is impossible. So the day begins early in Teahupoo.
Birdcalls aside, things have been quiet in the bustling Tahitian metropolis of Teahupoo. In the absence of both waves and surfers, the chickens have taken over the streets. It’s in stark contrast to the lead up to last year’s Billabong Pro, where the hypestorm surrounding the impending swell was bigger than the weather system generating it. It’s been quiet here all right, and while in other parts of the world the Olympics were running, and in other parts of the solar system toy cars were doing laps on Mars, in a quiet corner of a sleepy pebble in the South Pacific, daily life shuffled along at a deliciously patient pace while an upcoming World Tour surfing event barely raised the pulse of the locals.
The tropical torpor in the air at the End of The Road seemingly affected the waves overnight, the promised 6-foot swell about half that at dawn, coupled with an onshore wind that whipped what was the best looking day of the forecast into a soupy mess. Shane Dorian, back in town for the first time in a couple of years, paddles out among the morning freesurf rabble and is afforded reverential space out on the peak and free pick of the next wave, reward for his valor in days past. “This is Shane-o’s place, after all,” offers Dusty Payne. Salvaging a prosperous day of surfing out of it looked like a lost cause, but by mid-morning the heavens had cleared, the wind notching toward trade and the swell lines emerging from the chop.
Walking down the path during the morning’s action, crowds lined the point. It felt like a Friday. I encounter Owen Wright who is standing behind the gate of his yard, looking out at the surf. The gate is 6 feet high, so I only see the top of his hat, and it’s like talking to Wilson from Home Improvement. I ask him how the morning freesurf went. “I just woke up.” I ask who is in his heat. “Dunno really, haven’t checked.” The pace of life here is positively contagious, but Owen would come to life by the afternoon—as would the surf—and he’d successfully get through his heat with the persons unknown.
Parko, likewise, won’t be filing for stress leave this week. “It seems quiet, it doesn’t seem like it’s happening. It’s only the first day but where we’re staying the house is really mellow. Last year Koby and Bruce and Deano were all here and the place was a madhouse when that swell hit. Somehow I don’t think they’re going to be here this year. So it’s a pretty quiet day first day. We got in late last night and everybody’s jet-lagged. Once it heats up and we get toward the Finals everything will get going. But I’ve been here 18 hours and I’m bored already. I’ve surfed a heat for one of those hours, been bored for six of them and been asleep for the rest.” Joel is sharing a house with Dusty, who emerges from the loungeroom carrying what appears to be Yoda’s walking stick. Last year, Bruce Irons whittled the stick down from a tree branch with a pocketknife during a 24-hour period of similar boredom.
There will be no Code Red at the Billabong Pro Tahiti this year, more a Code Fuchsia, and coming off an extended six-week break it caught a few surfers today on the hop. Last year, with the ocean boiling, succeeding was all about finding calm amid the wild vortices spinning around out there. Today—apart from Joel and Owen—calm did you no good. Today you needed to take charge. You needed to engage. Endeavor was rewarded. Guys sitting there waiting for the ocean to deliver them salvation in the form of a juicy 6-foot set wave were left doing just that, while those who were a bit more industrious and showed a bit of hunger got the beans. You can look no further than Adriano de Souza for a shining example of this, the Brazilian willing three gems his way for the performance of the day. “Day off tomorrow,” he says late in the afternoon with a swagger and a smile, his efforts having booked him passage to the late heats of Round Three.
For pretty much everyone else, there’ll be no day off tomorrow, and Teahupoo will continue to make roosters of some and feather dusters of others.