Reece Wartenberg’s first love is the Ocean. But above all comes bodyboarding. His deep seated passion for it has and will continue to take him across the world to ride the waves of his dreams. This year Reece made his biggest dream a reality by heading to Tahiti – number one on his bucket list.
Use three words to describe yourself.
Just very determined.
What does the word ‘Tahiti’ mean to you?
The word ‘Tahiti’ means a lot, but Tahiti is synonymous with a place called Teahupoo. I have been a bodyboarder all my life, and Teahupoo is well known as (debatably) the best bodyboarding wave in the world. To me there’s never been a debate. Teahpoo is the best. Since I was 11 years old I have known I needed to get to Teahupoo. So what does the word ‘Teahupoo’ mean to me? Everything, literally everything.
You spent three months there – not many people do that. Why did you?
As a traveller you realise more than ever that money, and time, dictate life. I knew that this was my one shot for a trip like this. I knew that if I was going to get Teahupoo the way I’d seen it in the media I’d have to go for a long time. Perfect waves don’t just happen every day – there are hundreds of factors that come in to play. You can predict when it will probably be good, and that’s what the sponsored guys do – They’ll see from a couple of days before that Teahupoo will be good and they’ll fly in for that one session. When you’re self funded that’s impossible. I went for three months to give myself a solid window. Also, I knew in three months I’d really get to experience the people and the culture, which I knew would be (and was) a great side effect.
You’ve travelled quite a lot. How did this trip differ from other ones you’ve taken?
Usually I travel and work, and do short trips in between when I get time off. That way I get to see and do so much, I get fully immersed in the country I’m living in, and finances are not too much of an issue. This trip was different in that I knew I didn’t want to work – I spent every cent I’d ever made on it. In a way I feel like I was being a bit selfish and wasteful (economically, environmentally etc) but at the same time this was my one opportunity. I made the decision before I went to Tahiti that this was an investment in myself. If I didn’t go I would never have known, and now that I’ve gone…well, I can’t put a feeling to it…but I feel ready.
You obviously had your expectations prior to arriving in Tahiti. Once you were there was there something about it that really took you by surprise?
Not really. I knew so much about Tahiti before I went. When I got there part of me felt like I might have been before. The biggest surprise was that I was actually there.
Tell us about one particularly memorable experience.
There were two incidents from which I’ll have always have the scars, which I suppose makes them particularly memorable. Twice I had bad wipeouts at Teahupoo. Both instances were almost identical, and within two weeks of each other, so I’ll tell you about the last one.
Teahupoo was big, heavy, and dark. It was angry Teahupoo. I paddled out between sets. When I made it to the take off zone the atmosphere was tense. Everyone was buzzing, even the seasoned locals seemed anxious – they know more than anyone that when Teahupoo is big it’s no joke.
The first big one which I was in the right spot for, I went on. It was breaking across nicely but it was essentially a massive closeout - identifying these closeouts effectively comes with experience. The locals call these waves ‘west’ as the swell has some west in it. So, my big west wave, was easily one of the biggest waves and barrels of my life. Everything happened in slow motion, as you’d imagine it to. I rode the barrel for seemingly ages, I felt so much power in the water and I could see all the boats in the channel from inside the barrel. The noise of the lip exploding on the reef was deafening. It was bliss. I quickly realised, though, that it was going wrong. The west section reared up and there was little I could do. I was just swallowed up. I hit the reef twice.
The first time ripped my fin and boardshorts off and I slashed my foot and hip, the second time I cut my arm pretty badly. It was a fairly lengthy hold-down and I came up dizzy and coughing. I coughed into my hand and there was some blood. In between catching my breath and being washed towards the reef lagoon I remember laughing. The adrenaline was just so intense.
That evening, and in the days after, the self-administered first aid was a mission. For three or four days I couldn’t sleep and my whole body was in pain. But man, life was good. I’ll never forget that day. I’ll be back to Teahupoo soon to make my way out of one of those big barrels.
Describe, in one word, how you felt when your three months in Tahiti were up.
Content (predictable, I know).
Tahiti was always at the top of your bucket list. Now that you’ve been, what destination has replaced it?
Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Also for wave-related reasons, but I have no doubt it’s an amazing place in general.
Any words of wisdom you might have for those thinking about travelling to Tahiti?
If you don’t surf: Go to Tahiti as part of an around-the-world ticket. An around-the-world ticket is about the same price as it cost me to get to Tahiti from South Africa. If you don’t have a need to stay long-term it’s by far the best option as you can go to so many other countries as part of the same trip. When I was in Tahiti I’d occasionally go in to town, which is a fair way from Teahupoo, for a few nights. When I did I’d bump in to other travellers, all of which were on around-the-world trips. Hearing their experiences definitely made it sound like the best option for non surfers.
If you surf: The waves are heavy and the reefs are sharp. There is no relief. If that’s your thing though, go. You have to. Teahupoo is not the only spot. There are about 30 spots (or more) on the island all of which have their unique characteristics. It’s a playground. Ideally go with mates though – I was alone and would often make the 45+ minute paddle to the reef passes by myself. It would have been nice to have someone with me, especially when you get out to the spot and you realise you also have no one to surf with. When it’s heavy it can be a bit stressful. When barrel fever has bitten for a session it’s tough to tell yourself to hold back. I’m not claiming to be hardcore, I’d often chicken out!