Surfing in Tahiti…
I’m notoriously obsessive about researching a place before I arrive. I get off the plane knowing where the best surf breaks are, where to get the best ceviche, and which hike offers the best views. When I check-in to a hotel I frequently see a look of relief pass over the front desk person’s face. Probably because they know they won’t have to respond to another inquisitive email from me.
Given my habit of relentless researching and review reading, I embarked on my trip to French Polyenisa confident in my vacation planing. However, within hours of arriving in Tahiti I realized that I was not prepared for surfing in Tahiti. I had naively assumed that surfing in Tahiti would be similar to surfing in Fiji. Spoiler alert: Tahiti is very different from Fiji. Read on to learn what to expect on a surf trip to Tahiti…
What To Know About Surfing in Tahiti
Bring Your Own Surfboards and Gear
We drove around the entire island of Tahiti, including both shores of Tahiti Iti and didn’t see a single surf shop or place to rent surfboards. Fortunately I had done my homework before the trip and we brought along a little quiver of boards. Nonetheless it was shocking that in such a world renown surf destination that there wouldn’t even be a small shop renting dinged up boards and selling overpriced t-shirts.
The lack of surf shops makes it imperative that you bring everything you might need. Wax, ding repair kit, an surfboard, whatever you might end up needing, bring it!
There Are Some Beach Breaks
One of the best things about surfing in Tahiti is there are a few surfable beach breaks. For those traveling on a budget this can help save money since you won’t be paying for a boat trip every time you want to surf.
Wondering how much getting boated out to the break costs? It depends on how far you’re going but we got someone to give us a ride for $30 round-trip to a nearby break. They boated us out and then picked us up a few hours later.
You Can Rent Your Own Boat For The Day
The best deal and best kept surf secret is you can to create your own Tahiti surf adventure if you rent a boat from Teahupoo Tahiti Surfari.The family that runs this operation is super nice and knowledgeable. It’s around $50 for the day and you can boat yourself to the different breaks in the area.
Sadly even with a long, pricey flight to a remote part of the Pacific Ocean you can’t escape the crowds. Even on a blown-out afternoon the popular surf spots were teeming with surfers. Also, there are a lot of really good surfers in Tahiti. Be prepared to compete for waves. On the upside, it’s a uniquely humbling experience to have a kid whose young enough to still believe in Santa Claus get more waves than you.
It shouldn’t be a shock that when traveling to French Polynesia that you’ll be encountering French culture on your Tahiti vacation. Nonetheless, I was still surprised by how few people spoke English. This can be a little tricky when trying to get directions or learn about a particular surf spot. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the line-up and you’re the only person who isn’t speaking either French of Tahitian.
Black Sand Beaches
French Polynesia has incredible beaches. Unfortunately they aren’t in Tahiti. Most of the beaches in Tahiti are black sand and lack the crystalline aqua-blue water that you encounter on the other islands.
A Lesser Known Surf Spot Is Just a $15 Ferry Ride Away
Pay $15 and take the forty minute ferry to Moorea. Moorea is breathtakingly beautiful and is where you’ll find the white sand beaches and clear water that you’ve been dreaming of. There’s also Haapiti, a left-hander that often gets overlooked by surfers with their sights set on Teahupoo.
Tahiti is notoriously expensive. Flights, hotel, booze, rental cars, it’s all expensive. But there are some ways to save money which is why I have an entire section on how to travel and surf in Tahiti on a budget.
Tahiti Surf Trip on A Budget
If You’re Coming From California, Fly United Airlines
I promise I don’t work for United Airlines and I’m not receiving any type of kickback for encouraging you to fly United. However, if you’re a surfer on a flight coming from California this airline is awesome. Their oversized baggage policy is weirdly worded but basically if your flight originates in California your surfboard can count as a checked bag rather than an oversized item. Since our ticket allowed us a free checked bag we checked in our surfboard for free and just took everything else in a suitcase as carry-on.
Look for “Snack” to Save Money
We discovered that the restaurants with “snack” in their name were a lot cheaper. The menu is typically not as unique and exciting but it’s one of the most affordable ways to dine in Tahiti. Right across from Teahupoo we devoured a big plate of fresh fish, rice, and salad for $18. Not as cheap as tacos in Baja but also not a bad deal for eating by the beach in one of the most expensive countries in the world.
Food Trucks Are Your Friend
Want an even cheaper meal? Keep your eyes open for food trucks parked along the road. More prevalent on the weekend, these trucks dish out delicious grub. Chicken skewers, fish burgers, and goat cheese pizza were just a few of the tasty meals we enjoyed for less than $25. *
*$25 was the total price for the meal for both of us.
Stay at a Fare
A “Fare” is a casual homestay type of accommodation. Usually it’s a few bungalows on someones property or an extra room in their house. There’s a big range in quality but these can be a great deal. They’re cheaper than hotels and it’s a chance to have more connection with the locals. We stayed at a fare on our first night in Tahiti and our hosts picked us up from the airport and even drove us to the ferry terminal the next morning.
Alcohol is really expensive in Tahiti. A cheap bottle of wine costs around $20. If you’re lucky you might find something for $15. A bottle of rum is around $50. A cocktail is between $15-20. So if you’re planning on drinking while on vacation in Tahiti you either need to drink enough that you forget how much you’re spending on booze or find a cheaper way to enjoy an adult beverage on your vacay.
Our favorite budget beverage with alcohol was “Tahiti Drink”. It’s made by a local juice company (look for it in the grocery store) and was $10 for a carton. It’s only 8% alcohol, nothing too crazy, but it pairs perfectly with a tropical sunset after a day in the ocean.
Your can’t survive on Tahiti Drink and the tap water is questionable in Tahiti. Some of the places we stayed had filtered water available to guests, some didn’t. Staying at a place with filtered water will save you from having to buy bottled water which is better for the enviornment and better for your bank account.
Best Time of Year For Surfing in Tahiti
With a year-round water temp of eighty-degrees there really isn’t a bad time of year for surfing in Tahiti. However, May-August is the dry season and also the time of year that favors surf spots along the south coast (Teahupoo/ other spots on the southwest side of Tahiti Iti) Another option is to go between October and March when the spots in the north (Papeete) are better.
What Type of Surfer Should Go To Tahiti?
You Don’t Need To Stay With Other Surfers…
For being such a world-renown surf destination there aren’t many surf lodges or surf camps in Tahiti. In fact I didn’t find a single surf camp in Tahiti. We ended up staying at the Vanira Lodge, a gorgeous hotel that’s a five minute drive from Teahupoo. It’s one of the only hotels in the Teahupoo/Tahiti-Iti area. While it has great food and views, it’s not exactly the kind of place that can provide you with info about the surf breaks or lend you a chunk of wax.
Most people on a surf trip in Tahiti stay in a fare or a rental house. This is fine if you just want to hang with your crew, but if you enjoy the social aspect of surf travel you might find yourself longing for the commodore of a surf camp.
You’re An Experienced Surfer
In Tahiti the term “beginner” has an entirely different meaning than it does in California. When we checked Papara which we were told is a”beginner” spot it was a mosh pit of short boarders, boogie boarders, and a few skilled long boarders. Definitely not the gentle, crumbly waves that beginners in California surf.
If you’re planning on surfing in Tahiti you should expect to be competing for waves and contending with shallow take-off zones over coral reef. Not to mention big swells, currents, and hidden urchins.
You Don’t Need A Lot Of Non-Surf Activities
There really aren’t that many touristy things to do on Tahiti. Moorea and Bora Bora is where the ATV tours, jet skis rentals, and snorkel tours are. In Tahiti when we weren’t surfing we checked out some beautiful waterfalls and had some misadventures hiking through the jungle. If your main objective is to surf all day, every day, this isn’t an issue. However, if you’re traveling with a non-surfer or simply like to have a wide range of things to do, Tahiti might not be the spot for you.
The Bottom Line: If you’re an experienced surfer with a love of big waves head to Tahiti. But only if you don’t need white-sand beaches, zip-lines, surf camps, and cheap beer.