I flew out of England after a six-hour drive to Heathrow from Cornwall. I had zero luggage to check in, only boards. They were under the 25kg weight requirement but Iberian still stung me 276 pounds! Just to get to Chile, not even to Rapa Nuie! Don’t fly Iberia, is all I can say. Strike 1 …
It was then that I had my first rude awakening to the fact that this is the most expensive place in the world to get to with boards. I was learning fast! Got on the plane with my boards checked straight through to Chile. I worried a bit about that. I changed flights in Madrid, and waited 11 hours in the transit lounge. There are only so many holes in my wetsuit and trousers I can stitch.
After an unpleasant 13 hours in a sardine can, I arrived in Santiago, Chile, and go to collect my very expensive surfboards. Sure enough, they didn’t make the connection! Strike 2 … naught!
They will arrive on the first flight tomorrow morning. What time is that I ask? My flight to Rapa Nuie departs 9am. She says: ’10am’! Strike 3 … aaaaagh!
Stressed and pissed, I leave the following morning for Rapa Nuie, boardless, after catching a couple of sights in Santiago. Arrive in the small, magical rustic, Volcanic Island, 5 hours later at the smallest airport known to man. To be greeted true Polynesian style, with a flower Laye. The dark tanned skin and friendly faces are the first thing that you notice right from arrival and whether you speak Spanish, the Rapa Nuiean language or not, the air of relaxed and laid back hospitality doesn’t go un-noticed.
We check in to a hostel – small, simple but quaint. I need to get to the airport tomorrow to get my boards, I say in my broken Spanish. His answer? No flights from Chile tomorrow! Strike 4 … gnnnng!
The next flight is landing two days later. I swallow my frustration, and breathe deep. Shit happens, I guess. No need to stress. So I cruise down to where the main street is meant to be. Find a little pokey road with a couple of shops, and ask a local ‘Where is the main Street?’ He replies with a big smile in Spanish: ‘You’re in it!’
Welcome to Rapa Nuie. One of the least populated, most remote islands on the planet!
So I start scouting for waves. Well, that’s not hard. The most consistent waves are in front of the main street and town centre. The most perfect rippable right and left hander breaks into a little channel right by the fishing boat harbour.
I am sitting there, spewing – no boards, no surf shops, no prospects of a surf – when one of the locals comes up and starts chatting to me. Within minutes I understand, that even the locals that surf normally share boards as they are so hard to come by over here.
Within minutes of me telling him what happened with my boards, he is calling one of the kids and sending him off to get a board for me to use. Give it back when your boards arrive, he says, and if you need anything else just let me know. He jumps into another local’s car and disappears with a friendly Polynesian shaka and smile!
This encompasses everything that has happened over the last couple of days. So I surfed the little split peak until my arms couldn’t take another stroke, on a board that had been snapped twice and had a very loose back fin. But hey, a board is a board, and it’s amazing how much you appreciate a bad board when the water is 23 degrees, the water visibility is 30 metres and the crowd factor is you and 4 friendly local kids on body boards, all under the age of 10, just stoked to catch a wave and go straight, hooting and smiling!
This is Rapa Nuie – the simple, happy life, counting your blessings for merely having the ocean and living the life of the turtle. And my boards arrived. So stoked. Such elation. This morning, woke up, ran down to the beach with my board, no-one out! No way!
I paddled out in the crystal clear, warm Pacific blue, staring over the nose of my board, watching the fish swimming underneath me, as I waited for waves. The most rippable right hander I have surfed in years all on my ace for two hours straight. Heaven is only an ocean away.
Got out with a big grin on my face – the same grin that one of the stone carved Moie statues greeted me with when I walking back to the Hostel. I thought that it couldn’t get much better, but it did.
My girlfriend and I cruised down for a swim and ended up swimming with an amazing leather back turtle. Eventually it returned to the clear blue depths of the Pacific. This amazing experience left us with big smiles for the rest of the day! A much anticipated swell didn’t arrive as hoped, so we went on a hike up to the Moie quarry, a sacred place where all these ancient statues were carved from the mountain. More than 400 remain, some half buried. Truly amazing, one of the mysteries of this truly sacred and mysterious island.
I ended up surfing a new spot – Motu Hava – in the afternoon. It was playful, but nothing amazing. The best was still to come! The next day I woke to a building swell. I ended up surfing one of the two heaviest spots on the island. Tahaii is situated at the base of five worn statues, or Moai, which watch over you while you surf. Getting in and out here isn’t a problem. The wave breaks heavy, but not harsh!
It’s the rocks and coral heads that suck up from under you on take off that are the problem. It’s scary as for the first time, especially with the crystal clear water! The boils at this wave are the most intense upwellings I have ever experienced, like being caught in a boiling cauldron – a disturbing experience, to say the least.
The wave is short, powerful and intense, especially after getting my leash caught on a coral head in the impact zone, which quickly dragged me under the water. Luckily, having experienced this before, I reached down as I was sucked down and ripped my leash off and swam to the surface to collect my board in the channel.
Always interesting. Chilled that evening and had a couple of beers, maybe bigger tomorrow I hoped! Well, not so lucky, swell died a touch, surfed The Pea, out front of the town, early in the morning. Super fun, as always. Just myself and an Italian mate, Axel. It was 2-3′ clean, warm and crystal clear. Can’t ask for much more.
Went to a bay on the west coast for snorkeling and underwater footage after lunch. The viz was 30 metres, no problem!
On the way back I thought I would check out the other big wave spot, Papa Tanga Roa, which rarely works.
Luck had it my way. It started looking like it was showing signs of working, so I grabbed my 6,2′, wishing I had my 6,9′ from the campsite. I put on my shorty for an extra bit of padding from the hectic coral and urchins. I had been warned.
Spent a while sussing it out. Jumped off the rocks and paddled out. I wondered why the water looked so clear from up top, standing by the car, until I ducked the first wave and scraped my knuckles on an urchin or 3. Yip that’s why it’s so clear. It’s pretty damn shallow and the urchins guard this place like minefields!
Really sketchy on my own, as I have heard the stories about this place but after almost getting caught inside on the first set, I realized, it wasn’t really 3-4ft, but possibly a wee bit bigger. I was missing my 6,9ft now. Managed to get a couple peaches without getting pounded and any urchins in my ass.
Surfed for an hour and thought I would count my losses and go in while I was still in one piece. Stoked. Alone, solid fun, urchin riddled heaving barrels in the middle of the South Pacific. Unreal!
Over the last 4 days the waves have only got bigger and bigger and bigger!
On 27th Dec, my girlfriend and I woke to tour the island and the last of the ancient sites. I was so amped to try and surf Tanga Roa again, after my last solo experience, that I went back 3 times this day, even though its on the other side of the island and a bit of a drive.
Going back in the afternoon the spot looked like it could turn on. If mother nature was going to make the effort, I guess I would have to too.
I sat and watched for an hour before the heat got the better of me and I had to go. It looked a little bigger than before, so 6.9ft it was! Well, as seen in the pics, the waves were insane, clean, warm, crystal clear and unreal!
Oh, and as was becoming the norm, No one again, to join me. This place is amazing! Barrels, a couple of close calls, but I made it in, in one piece … safe, which is always a good thing, here as you are very remote and far away from everything and the only one, little town on the island.
The 28th and the dreaded ear infection set in, so I took of a day off to rest, to catch up and take some water footage of the kids and print out some photos for them, which always makes everyone stoked.
That night, we got treated to some great Italian pasta, by our new Italian friend, Axel, I didn’t sleep well, cause during the night I could hear the swell booming. The apprehension as any surfer knows well, when they lie in there tent or house at night and you can hear the sets getting bigger and bigger, is too much for the mind and it always gets the better of your imagination and the result is very little sleep!
The 29th was one quick look at the swell in the morning which had picked up heaps.
A little morning sickness to the waves, so I went out and surfed with some of the young kids, swapped boards and just had a good laugh. Always inspirational watching groms getting stoked riding a decent board, or doing a turn they’ve never tried before.
After lunch, it glassed off and the light offshore kicked in. Tahaii, the heavy righthander, started looking clean and nasty!
The lips were heaving – the bottom was shallow, the rocks were showing on many of the waves and there were some of the squarest double and triple up waves I have seen in a long time. I surfed for almost 2 hours by myself again before 2 bodyboarders joined me for the last half an hour.
Amazing no one gets heavily injured out there, the wave is heavy and hard core, but then again no one really surfs it at this size and any bigger. Not sure if its because no-one has boards to ride the place at size, or whether it’s the fear factor.
Managed to hit the bottom on one or two. Got a couple of scratches, but all fun and games in warm water uncrowded paradise! And looking at the swell it just seemed to be getting slowly bigger.
The 30th was the day my 6.9ft got put thro its paces. Amazed it handled some of the waves Tahaii threw at me this day. Big drops and heavy sections. Surfed for over 2 hours again, on my own. No one hear seems to want to surf this spot when it gets above 6ft! it’s unreal!
I did pay the price by being blasted off the rocks by a rogue wall of whitewater on entry, which left me a little embarrassed, flustered and bleeding from various spots on my feet! Punishment for trying to be too cool, jumping off the rocks! The ocean always rules supreme!
That night we went and watched some local Polynesian dancing, which was truly a cultural experience and celebrated a great day’s surfing with a couple pints of the local brew.
Yesterday, the 31st, was the morning I opened my tent and saw the waves had got even bigger. My dreams were answered and the best decision on the planet to bring my 8 footer.
Listening to the booming of the waves crashing up against the rocks 200 yards away, I realized, my trusty 6.9ft had done me proud, but it was time to move on up to the big league!
I checked all the other spots and they were okay, 3-4′ with a bit of bump, but I knew the one, Tahaii, was going to solid.
As I expected no one out and solid waves coming pouring through. I checked and double checked all my equipment, and then i was ready. It had to be done. Solo mission, as usual! The waits between sets were a little testing and trying to avoid a couple bigger ones on the head was exciting, but the waves rocked! Solid 10′ plus warm, crystal blue power balls.
The waves were insane, would’ve been in deep shite on my 6.9ft. A bigger board for this wave is a definitely necessary, when it gets to this size and bigger, even more so when you’re alone!
A couple of late drops and one severe beating trying to pull into a gaping bomb barrel, left me bouncing off the bottom and really happy to see the surface.
When it breaks so big, you sit a very long way out, with nothing around you but the deep blue and plenty of thoughts of hungry reef sharks and the holes in your feet! Believe me, paranoia can get the better of you, when it gets dark and cloudy, far out there, all on your own!
One more bomb and I headed in, glad to be surfing big, perfect, warm surf, solo in the middle of the South Pacific, on the last day of 2005. Even more scary, the swell just seemed to be getting bigger!
That afternoon the swell got a lot bigger and it rained for hours. I was frustrated, watching heaving waves come thru. I might be a little crazy surfing big surf on my ace, but I’m not stupid enough to be surfing it when its 15′, dark, rainy and stormy and even further out. No matter how much I was tempted, this is possibly the most remote place to be surfing big surf.
No crowds watching, no water safety, no lifeguards, no other surfers, coastguard or jet skis to help you out. Not even someone with a mobile phone, or a decent hospital.
You are very much alone out there. All the normal parts of big waves you truly appreciate are all gone. Just you and the ocean, your purest thoughts, the rhythm of the sea and your commitment to the waves and a whole lot of water moving out there. This is what the essence of surfing, exploring and finding waves in remote places is all about and that connection with nature, the ocean, is very strong, very primal and very real.
Last night, we celebrated New Year, super mellow Polynesian style.
My girlfriend Tash and myself, went out for a great local fish dinner, a bottle wine and some time with a couple of the Moai and a very cute geko. We crashed a hotel party on the way home and slept until sunrise!
The first day of 2006 was our last day on Rapa Nuie. It began with a 4×4 mission to the highest point on the island and then back to Tahaii for some solid heaving solo charging waves!
Big, alone, far out, powerful and pushing my 8.0ft to its max. .
Success rate 100%! No falling today, no way. the bigger the surf, the more sure you have to be about your wave choice and your drops. As the consequences increase dramatically, as the waves increase in size.
Moral of the story. Don´t fall! You make what you take, especially if you alone cause if something happens out there, there ain’t nobody to help you.
Rapa Nuie is an unbelievable place.
Remote, rustic, tranquil, full on, beautiful, deserted, cultural bliss and filled with culture and heritage that would astound anyone.
A place where herds of horses roam the plains, dragonflies rule the skies and the quiet peacefulness and nature almost cries out with the passion of all the numerous myths and legends!
The people are colourful, welcoming and possibly the friendliest race, I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Your world is constantly surrounded by smiles.
I heard a mobile phone ring for the first time in 3 weeks last night, there are about 4 stop signs on the island, no traffic lights, yellow lines, traffic wardens and major roads.
No surf shops, ding repairs, surf guides. A 4×4 rental is essential, along with good reef booties, a ding repair kit and a hefty leash!
The waves are probably the most consistent on the planet! In almost 3 weeks, the waves never got below 3′ from consistent rippable waves to heavy, heaving gaping, double sucking pits, to massive surf. This place has it all and more.
Bring a surf buddy, a couple of boards and balls of steel!
Rapa Nuie is very expensive to get to, even more so if you want to take a couple boards. You will pay, believe me, I know, but no matter how expensive this trip turns out to be, it’s worth the price tag because it is possibly the most rustic, cultural, spiritual, hard core trip you might ever experience.
It’s a dream out here and the only place I’ve ever experienced where the stars are so bright at night that they almost hurt your eyes like a symphony of sparkling lights that dance against the stillness of the night sky. And the only thing that makes my heart sink, is the realization that in a couple days time I will be stepping back into the real world. But, until then, paradise is only an ocean away.
Thanks to all the amazing people I met along the way. Thanks to Tash for the great company, the filming of many of my surfs, Axel for the great pasta and all back home in SA, for joining me on another adventure and I wish you all an amazing 2006.
Don’t dream your dreams, live them!
Chris Bertish from the earth’s belly button, in the middle of the South Pacific, out!