French-Tahitian surfer Mateia Hiquily competes during the WSL Shiseido Tahiti Pro trials last 18 May. GETTY IMAGES

Two months before the surfing events of the Paris Olympics take place, the world's best waveriders are getting an early taste this week of the majestic waves of Teahupo'o in Tahiti, Agence France-Presse reports.

Nearly 16,000 kilometres (9,950 miles) from the French capital, the French Pacific island of Tahiti was chosen to host the surfing events. This week's event, the SHISEIDO Tahiti Pro —which finally got underway on Thursday— is officially a World Surf League event but it is really a chance to whet the appetite at one of the world's top surfing venues.

"It's one of the best surfs in the world," the American John John Florence told AFP.

"The way the reef is, it's as deep as you can imagine and you've got the open ocean swell. The wave is just in the same spot every single time. It's one of the most amazing feelings. Nowhere else do you get to really do that."

Florence, 31, the world champion in 2016 and 2017 and one of the favourites for the Olympics, returns each year to Teahupo'o to learn to surf one of the most extreme waves in the world.

"The first time I came I was 14, maybe 15. (The wave) was small, but I was so scared because you see what it does when it's really big and you always think, a big one is going to come," he said.

"I came every year after that to get more comfortable with the wave."

Tower controversy 

Teahupo'o is a small village in the southwest of the Tahiti peninsula, with a backdrop of misty mountains, where every year a few hundred residents welcome the elite surfers and their teams in their wooden bungalows. The resurfaced road stops abruptly as it approaches the town and gives way to lush vegetation, houses and a handful of restaurants. To reach the break, approximately 500m from the coast, is best approached by boat or jet-ski.

Surfers from all over the world were won over by Teahupo'o in the early 2000s after the publication of a photo of American surfer Laird Hamilton spinning on his board inside what appeared to be a watery translucent tube.

The Paris Olympics organisers were won over by the picture-postcard landscape in 2021 when Teahupo'o was designated an Olympic site, generating both enthusiasm and concern among the local population.

One source of friction was the installation of a new aluminium tower for judges in the lagoon, which is being used for the first time this week. Environmentalists were furious after a barge used by construction workers damaged coral that forms parts of the sea bed at the site, but the local organisers say the situation has calmed down.

"We did things well: the tower was baptised in the traditional way, in the presence of a Tahitian sage and a priest. The situation here has calmed down now," Max Wasna, the president of the Tahitian surfing federation and a native of Teahupo'o, said.

This rehearsal for the Olympics is also essential for the "water patrol", a group of guardian angels from Teahupo'o who use jet-skis to rescue professional surfers who are in distress after potentially dangerous falls on the coral. 

No one can claim to have completely tamed Teahupo'o's powerful waves, but some surfers are better than others at co-existing with its breaking rollers. Almost all of them are at the Tahiti Pro event — Florence and the Brazilian Gabriel Medina, a three-time world champion heading the field. Last but not least there is Kelly Slater, the American legend of the sport, who dropped out of the professional circuit this year at the age of 52 but has accepted an invitation as a wildcard entry, to try to win for a sixth time in Tahiti.

Carissa Moore and Gabriela Bryan  dance with French Polynesia sports minister Nahema Temarii during the opening ceremony at the WSL Shiseido Tahiti Pro. GETTY IMAGES
Carissa Moore and Gabriela Bryan dance with French Polynesia sports minister Nahema Temarii during the opening ceremony at the WSL Shiseido Tahiti Pro. GETTY IMAGES

Women were banned from participating at Teahupo'o for 16 years until 2022 for safety reasons because of the razor-sharp coral in some parts of the seabed. American Carissa Moore, Molly Picklum from Australia and the Tahitian Vahine Fierro are among the favourites in the women's event.

The SHISEIDO Tahiti Pro will run until 31 May with some favourable swell forecasts through the weekend, with a slow decline expected Sunday onwards.