French Polynesia

French Polynesia

South Pacific Ocean
Surfing guide
LAST UPDATED 13/07/2008
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Level of surfing

Advanced

Quality of surf

Excellent

Call code

689

Net code

pf

Area

4167

Coastline

2,525 km

Climate

Tropical Maritime

Hazards

Very Isolated, Cyclones

Best Months

April - October

Population

259596

Currency

Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique francs (XPF) per US dollar - 95.03 (2006)

Time Zone

WHISKY (UTC-10)

Special Requirements

Limited Surfing Supplies Available

introduction

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Map of French Polynesia

French Polynesia is the name given to the collection of French administered islands scattered throughout Polynesia. The main group of interest to the surfer are the Society Islands, which includes Tahiti and the capital of the collectivity, Papeete. The Society Islands include all of the major breaks in the area including the infamous Teahupoo. The outlying island groups such as the remote Marquesas are yet to be adequately explored. The Austral Islands lie well to the south of Tahiti and share the same exposure to south westerly swells that produces beasts such as Teahupoo – what other gems are out there waiting to be discovered?

history

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NASA: Moruroa Atoll; 2002

The area of French Polynesia, was settled by the Polynesian people in 100AD. It is likely that people migrating from Tongo or Samoa settled the groups. Europeans first discovered the islands in 1595. The area soon gained a false reputation of harbouring fierce cannibalistic tribes and as such there were generally avoided by further explorers, traders and whalers.

The whale ship Essex sunk in the vicinity of these islands in 1819 and due to the fear of cannibals, chose to set out an extra thousand miles west in open long boats to seek refuge. In one of the great ironical tragedies of the time, the men themselves had to resort to cannibalism in the longboats in order to survive the voyage. France commenced annexing adjoining island groups in the 1800’s and finally amalgamated the entire area as an overseas territory in 1946. This status was upgraded to that of an overseas province in 2004.

The province is one of the most stable and crime free in all of France, there was widespread angst and unrest however in 1995 when France announced that it intended to recommence nuclear testing on Moruroa Atoll. In total, 41 Atmospheric and 147 underground tests were conducted since 1966. Despite all of this, and the fact that nuclear test results can be adequately modelled on computers, France went ahead with the shot on January 27, 1996. Overall results have actually cracked the atoll, which has led to speculation that radioactive material trapped within the atoll may escape.

Of interest to the surfer, a test conducted in 1979 resulted in a large submarine landslide on the south west rim of the atoll. Rumour has it that this has created a fantastic sloping point called Dindon, which works in a solid south-westerly swell. The area is still highly protected by the French Government and the southwest corner of the atoll has been purposely erased. The NASA image you will find on this site is one of the best images available of the atoll. The island is still ‘hot’ and will be for around another 40 years.

The same rules should be followed for surfing on similar nuclear testing sites throughout the world such as The Montebellos in Australia, limit your exposure to more than an hour in any 24 hour period. Geiger counter is optional – just don’t let the Gendarmerie catch you!

surfing

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Tim McKenna - Teahupoo (www.tim-mckenna.com)

The Society Islands, which include Tahiti, are the only group to have been fully explored to date for their surfing potential. The larger Islands tend to offer more variety and better breaks such as Tahiti itself and neighbouring Moorea to the west. The smaller islands further west tend to have several layers of outlying reef systems that attenuate a lot of the prevailing swell but can be classic when all of the conditions come together.

Winter (Jun- Aug) is the most reliable swell window for the larger SW swells that feed the south facing points and reefs. There is more to surfing in Tahiti than Teahupoo so don’t feel compelled to hurl yourself into 10 foot pitching reefbreak if you are not up to it. Tahiti offers good variety including a few beachbreaks for the more casual rider. The northern reaches of the islands experience favourable swell primarily during the wet season (November to March) but this can be very fickle. It would be best to plan your trip around surfing the southern breaks and venture to the northern coast for waves only if a productive cell is in the area.

travel

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David van der Ven: Air Tahiti Nui; 2006

Flying is the most common method of arrival in French Polynesia. The airport at Papeete is called Faaa, pronounced Fah-ah-ah. This is the only international airport in the province and the main connection point for travelling to the rest of the islands. Air Tahiti is the national carrier. You can fly direct to Easter Island from Tahiti if you have the time. Travel around the islands by boat is fantastic although a little expensive.

If you only plan on remaining on Tahiti then plan to hire a car and travel to check out some of the main breaks. A lot of spots remain un named as well so if you see an interesting looking point on your roadmap consider giving it a try if time permits. The entire island is only 40 miles long so you will be able to cover a lot of ground. Ferries can get you to the nearby island of Moorea

weather

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Vilallonga: Plage de sable noir � Tahiti (Black Sand Beach Tahiti); 2006

The predominant South easterly trade winds are the major weather factor in play for the region. This ensures regular swell to the southern facing areas of the islands albeit it low period windswell. The larger swells from the South west are most common from May through to September. These will light up all of the reefs, passes and points on the islands.

If somewhere looks to big or you aren’t that comfortable in surfing large waves on reefs then travel, chances are if you head a little further around the corners of the island you will find something to your liking and ability. Tropical cyclones can pass through the area though rarely make landfall. The rarer northerly breaks really come to life if the system passes far enough to the north to generate some solid groundswell.

where to stay

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Bora Bora - some of the most expensive island resorts on the planet await

There is a lot of accommodation on Tahiti – nothing that you would call cheap though. Hotels range from luxury resort spa’s through to smaller operations closer to the capital so it pays to do your research. Accommodation on the outer islands can be tricky and a little Spartan but very relaxing if that’s what you are looking for.  Some of the islands such as Bora Bora cater solely to the luxury honeymooners market and charge accordingly, expect to pay upwards of $1000 per night.

what to pack

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Flashdance: A pair of very simple Moroccan flip flops called "Cabjuks"; 25 May 2007

Take a very good sunscreen with high level of protection. It is absolutely essential, as well as sunnies, hats, long sleeved shirts and long skirts for ladies to cover legs. Don’t underestimate the strength of the sun; your skin won’t forgive you. Just in case you still ignore our advice, take a lot of Aloe Vera. Repellent might be useful as well. Medicines – as usual.
You may also need a pair of waterproof boots and a good backpack if you plan to explore the islands. Depending on the season tropical rains can be quite often, so it’s a good idea to take something waterproof if you plan to go outside. Another option would be just to stay at you place and have a nap – the whole atmosphere is very laidback.
Though many resorts have snorkelling gear, better take your own, especially if you plan to do a bit of travelling to different islands.
Take a few light and casual things, nothing fashionable – you won’t need it there. Camera, adaptor, good books to read and music. Oh, yeah, booties as well.

dangers and warnings

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SeanMack; Stonefish; 16.07.2006

In French Polynesia crimes rates are low and you're highly unlikely to run into trouble. Just use your acquired common travel sense i.e. Avoid leaving valuables lying round unattended, don't decorate yourself with expensive cameras etc, use it, put it away out of sight. There have been reports of occasional pick pocketing and bag snatches, but where hasn't?

In the water you may see the occasional stone fish, don't touch it, it's venomous and you may come across the odd shark or stingray, both harmless and inoffensive.

restaurants, shopping and nightlife

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Mila Zinkova; Black pearl and shell of black lipped oyster; 2007

Food in Tahiti is based of fresh local produce with exotic flavours, there is a hint of asian influence also present. Fish of all kinds, whether tuna, bonito, mahimahi or the many varieties of lagoon fish are prepared in many different ways: roasted, boiled and raw. A typical feast for a special occasion, or laid on for tourists, is a tamara'a Tahiti, it consists of a suckling pig, fish, breadfruit, and bananas, among other things, all wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground in an earth oven heated by hot stones, delicious.

Hinano Beer is the local brew and you will find it at most beach and hotel bars along with all manor of spirits and exotic liquors to keep you up late if you desire.

The main thing to look out for and buy here is exquisite jewellery made with the local and rare black pearls from the black lipped oysters of Tahiti. These are obviously top end stuff and very expensive (everything is expensive in French Polynesia) cheaper alternatives are the piece made from silver and mother of pearl from the same oysters. 

what to do when it's flat

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Jake73; Tuamotu; 24.01.2007

In French Polynesia there is still loads to do when the surf runs out of grunt, you're in French Polynesia it's great! The water here is some of the most beautiful you'll see anywhere in the world and the snorkelling is awesome, but why not take it a step further and enrol on a scuba course, if you're not already qualified and if you are need I say more?

How about a spot of reef fishing, arranging that is simple or beach soccer there's always games going on around and the locals are happy for you to join in.

Or just relaxing on the beach with a good book and soak up some sun and resting those arms for when Chopes to rear it's gnarly face again.

useful phrase guide

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Indolences; Standard Question mark; 04.05.2007

The official language of French Polynesia is French, time to brush up on those communication skills:-

Apéritifs - before meal drink
A table for two please - Une table pour deux, s’il vous plait
Boisson compris - including wine
Boissons – drinks
Confiture – jam
Contre-indications - warnings (when medicine should not be used)
Eau - water
Fromages – cheeses
La toux - cough
La diarrhée – diarrhoea
Le rhume – cold
Les maux d'oreilles – earache
L'indigestion – indigestion
Mal de tête, migraine - headache
Thé - tea

Can I pay by credit card? - Puis-je payer avec le carte de credit?
Do you have a children’s menu? - Avez vous un menu pour les enfants?
Do you speak English? - Parlez vous anglais?
Excuse me - Excusez moi
Good bye - Au revoir
Good evening - Bonsoir
Good morning / day - Bonjour
Help me please - aidez moi s’il vous plaît
How do you get to . .? - Comment fait on pour aller à . .?
How long does it take to get there? - Ça prend combien de temps pour y aller?
How much is it? - Ça coûte combien?
I don’t know how to say it in French - Je ne sais pas le dire en français
I don’t speak French - Je ne parle pas français
I don’t understand - Je ne comprends pas
Is this the right bus for . ? - C’est bien l’autobus pour . .?
Nice to meet you – Enchanté
Pain au chocolate - Croissant with chocolate centre
See you tomorrow / soon - À demain / bientôt
Tasting - dégustation
Thank you – Merci
The bill please - L’addition s’il vous plait
Water is not for drinking - eau non potable
Where are the toilets? - Où sont les toilettes?
Where is the nearest phone box? - Où se trouve la cabine téléphonique la plus proche?
Where is the nearest supermarket? - Où est le supermarché le plus près?
Yes / No - Oui / Non
You’re welcome - Je vous en prie

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