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Surf Guide to the Islands of Tahiti

December 6, 2022 No Comments

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Are you searching for the best surf spots in Tahiti? While Teahupoo is French Polynesia’s most iconic wave, it’s far from being the only one. There are tens of breaks found throughout French Polynesia’s 118 islands. If you’re keen to paddle out at some of them for yourself, here’s what you need to know.

What to Know Before You Go

I spent months traveling around the Islands of Tahiti researching the best waves, places to stay, things to do, and restaurants to enjoy for the ultimate travel guidebook, Moon Tahiti & French Polynesia.

Surfboard Rentals and Traveling With Your Surfboard

Despite being such a surf-safe haven, surfboards are challenging to come by in French Polynesia. You’ll be able to rent boards of varying quality for around $50 USD per day (CPF 5,000) on Tahiti and Moorea, but outside of that, it’s nearly impossible. We recommend bringing your own if you’ve come for a dedicated surf trip.

If you’re still learning, it’s worth taking a lesson or two while you’re here and leaving the board behind. Most surf schools include surfboard rental in the cost of their lessons. Check out Moana Surf School Tahiti, about 20 minutes outside of Papeete. Or, Mo’o Surf School, which teaches small group lessons.

There are occasional surf camps which sort out the board rentals, lessons, and getting to the breaks for you. These run pretty irregularly, but it’s worth taking a look at the ones coming up.

Find surf camps in French Polynesia

If you’re only surfing on Tahiti and Moorea, traveling with your surfboard won’t be a problem. You can always take the ferry between the islands, which will easily have space for your board. Note that cars in French Polynesia err on the smaller side, and some taxis or car rental agencies won’t be too keen to haul your surfboard around. For this, it might be worth investing in some soft roof racks as a back up.

If you’ll be island hopping, Air Tahiti allows you to take surfboards as part of your luggage allowance–so pack light! However, surfboards over 6’6″ will be checked as cargo, and are subject to the space in the aircraft. Anything larger than 6’6″ might cause issues. From our experience, how strict this is enforced depends on the person working that day. When in doubt, be ultra polite and play dumb. Pack spare leashes and wax as you won’t be able to find them easily.

Water Temperature of French Polynesia

Water temperatures in French Polynesia vary between 25°C and 30°C (77°F and 86°F) all year long. The warmest months are from November to April, coldest months run from May to October.

Wetsuit Recommendation

French Polynesia’s waters are warm all year long, so leave the thick layers of neoprene at home. If you’re cold blooded, a 2mm shorty should be enough. Otherwise, make sure you have a rashguard, surf leggings, and surf hat to keep your skin protected from those equatorial rays. Sunscreen is challenging to find outside of the Society Islands, so pack extra. Make sure it’s reef safe.

Surf Travel Insurance

Some of Tahiti’s best waves break over shallow, sharp reef. Even the most cautious surfers aren’t immune from getting hit by someone else’s board or taking a tumble onto the coral. If you’re surfing on a decently sized day, there’s a chance you’ll leave some skin on the reef.

Not all travel insurance companies cover injuries and incidents related to adventure sports like surfing. World Nomads (who I’ve made claims with before) does on their Standard Plan. Safety Wing does as well (but does not cover kitesurfing).

Some policies also cover damage to your surfboard should the baggage carriers over at the airline take their rage out against your precious piece of fiberglass and foam. Check your board as soon as you arrive at the airport. Many airlines won’t claim responsibility for damage if you leave the airport and return later with a complaint.


Localism exists in French Polynesia. You might not find that it’s too bad at breaks off Tahiti or Moorea, but expect it elsewhere around the Society Islands. Breaks at the Tuamotus and Marquesas are rarely crowded, so it’s not too aggressive there. Some islands, Raiatea, have such strong cases of localism, Airbnb and guesthouse owners refuse to host surfers at their property.

So, how to handle it? Paddle out, smile, and say hello. Sit on the shoulder down the line for a few sets and take the scraps rolling through. Once you’ve been there for some time, slowly work your way towards the peak. The more days you go out, the friendlier the locals are likely to be towards you.

Getting to the Breaks

Very few of the breaks in French Polynesia are close to shore. Most islands have a large barrier reef, and waves are found at the passes, where the reef has a break between the open ocean and the lagoon. Strong paddlers can expect a 5-20 minute paddle to some of the waves, aside from Tahiti which has a handful of beach breaks/breaks close to shore.

You will likely need to hire a boat to reach some of the more remote waves in French Polynesia. Or, join a guided surf trip.

The Best Surf Spots in French Polynesia

1. Teahupoo, Tahiti

Best for: Experienced surfers
Type: Left-hand reef break
Swell: South-Southwest

Is there any wave more striking, intimidating, and awe-inspiring than Teahupoo? It holds onto the accolade of being the World’s Heaviest Wave, and that’s because it’s lip is often thicker than the wave is tall. You’ll find it on Tahiti Iti’s southern end, offshore from the town of Teahupoo. If you’re an intermediate/experienced surfer, you could paddle out on a smaller day without it being too intimidating. Otherwise, if it’s really breaking, save the wave for those who truly know how to handle it.

If you just want to see this beauty break (and what surfer wouldn’t?), there are surf trips out for wave watching. They’re pricey but worth it. To be close to the action, stay at Vanira Lodge for laid-back treehouse vibes.

2. Fare, Huahine

Best for: Intermediate/Expert
Type: Right-hand reef break
Swell: Northwesterly

Huahine’s surf scene is notoriously protective over its waves, but you can still have fun off of Fare. About a five-minute paddle from the jetty of Fare, there’s a small beginner-friendly wave where foamies get their fair share of fun. Further out, there’s a right-hand reef break that can barrel on the best of days. There’s a left-hander across the pass which is a bit better than the right, but more susceptible to localism as the stakes are a bit higher there.

Check into Hotel Maitai Lapita Village, a rustic resort set near the beach and close to Huahine’s main stretch of town.

2. Haapiti, Moorea

Best for: Intermediate/Expert
Type: Left-hand reef break
Swell: Westerly

Haapiti off Moorea is a shapeshifter. Depending on the swell direction, it breaks fat and friendly or steep and hollow. It’s great for intermediates from shoulder- to head-high. When it’s big, it’s one of the best waves around Moorea, though the current can be pretty punishing for the shoulders. Some surfers paddle out with a kayak, others make the long slog from shore, and there are a few who come out by boat.

Moorea Surf Inn offers board rentals, rides to the wave, and is one of the more affordable spots on Moorea. Board selection is so-so, and expensive, so if you’ll be mainly on Moorea, it’s worth bringing over your own.

3. Papara, Tahiti

Best for: All levels
Type: Beach with lefts and rights
Swell: Southerly-Southwesterly

For a mellow crowd and plenty of waves to go around, make your way to Papara. This friendly beach break is a respite from the heavy waves found elsewhere around the islands. On bigger days, it gets a bit dumpy. There’s better waves found around the reef edge, for mixed groups who want to surf at the same spot (ish). Surf schools often teach here.

There are a handful of pensions (guesthouses) near Papara, which is around a 40-minute drive from Papeete. Villa Chris Merry could be a top pick if you want to stay close to the wave.

4. Maraa Pass, Tahiti

Best for: Expert
Type: Left-hand reef break
Swell: Southwesterly

You need a bit of luck (and a lot of skill) to surf at Maraa Pass. This reef break is fast and hollow, and seems to be shallow no matter how much water is on the reef. Look for a southerly swell for the best conditions. Because it’s so finicky, it’s not a wave that breaks very well very often. But when it does, it offers that ubiquitous South Pacific surf thrill you’ve come for.

5. Sapinus, Tahiti

Best for: Intermediate/Expert
Type: Left-hand reef break
Swell: Southwesterly

Not quite ready for Teahupoo, or are you looking for a mellower vibe out in the water than many of Tahiti’s other barelling left-handers? Sapinus is one of the best surf spots in Tahiti for intermediate surfers. It’s a mostly chill left-hander that can barrel in the right conditions. Beginners and intermediates can paddle for its smaller section near the river mouth. Better surfers tend to sit towards the peak.

For a little bit of luxury, check out the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa for its overwater bungalows. If you’re on a budget, Tamanu Lodge is right next to Sapinus surf break and offers excellent value.

Read more Tahiti travel tips:


Chantae Reden

Chantae is the Coconut in Chief at Tropical Go. She is the author of Moon Bali & Lombok and lives in Suva, Fiji. She is a freediver, scuba diver, and surfer who loves surfing without a wetsuit. Her drink of choice is a margarita.

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