These monster waves test even the most daring surfers

In French Polynesia, waves are revered and feared at the legendary surf break off the village of Teahupoo.

A swimmer navigates the water near Teahupoo’s famed surf break, which sits just a few feet above a coral reef.
Photograph by ANDY BARDON

Some of the world’s heaviest waves crash along the reef of Teahupoo, on the southeastern coast of Tahiti. The power of these barrels explains the small village’s selection as the venue for the surfing competition at the 2024 Olympics, but it’s also a place of dramatic beauty and rich culture.

The barrier reef rises from dizzying depths at Teahupoo’s Passe Havae; it has the perfect shape and location to amplify Pacific Ocean swells. These can become the thundering surges known as plunging waves. May through October is the best time to catch the action, but exceptional surf rolls in year-round. 

For the image above, photographer Andy Bardon went below the surface. “A deep breath and calm nerves are required to safely dive under and photograph these waves,” he says. But then “a biodiverse underworld reveals itself.”

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