Teahupo’o is at once the most breathtakingly gorgeous yet gut-wrenchingly dangerous surf breaks on the planet.
With waves of turquoise water crashing down onto dry reef, those who are brave enough to ride it rarely emerge unscathed.
The iconic Tahitian wave (pronounced cho-poo) officially has been christened the surf arena for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. The announcement already has even the most talented Olympic-level competitive surfers trembling, training and strategizing their way to the gold at Teahupo’o.
The tale of one such hopeful just made its Santa Barbara International Film Festival debut. “Daughters of the Waves” follows the story of Tahitian-born pro surfer and Teahupo’o regular Vahine Fierro as she sets her sights on representing France in 2024.
Directed by Sebastien Daguerressar and Lisa Monin, the film chronicles the 21-year-old’s island upbringing, passion for surfing and strong sense of family. The subtitled documentary follows not just Fierro, but it shares the experiences of the groundbreaking Tahitian female surfers of the past as well as the up-and-comers, including her two younger sisters, ages 16 and 14.
“My sisters are my everything,” Fierro said in a recent interview. “They are the ones who keep me motivated to do good in life. I want to be an example for them, so they are always pushing me without even knowing that they are. When I’m surfing with them, it gives me this feeling that nothing else can.”
The story is filmed against a backdrop of tropical jungle, hidden waterfalls, crystal-clear seas and rainbow-streaked skies.
With Fierro as the lead, the Channel Islands Surfboards team rider is joined on screen by former female surf legends of the area, surf photographers, an Olympic surf coach and members of the community, all of whom continue to play a significant role in Fierro’s sense of identity as a female and professional surfer and who continue to support Fierro as she pursues her dream of a 2024 Olympic win.
Filmmakers Monin and Daguerressar explained what inspired the surf flick: “For the very first time, surfing will be part of the Olympic games — whether it’s Tokyo 2021 or Paris 2024. Teahupo’o has been chosen to host the competition for the Paris 2024 games. This wave is considered so dangerous that the only annual international competition organized there decided in 2006 to stop the female contest. Suddenly, the focus of our documentary became clearer: how women nowadays are proving that they are as good as men, even when it comes to big waves.
“Vahine Fierro’s story was perfect. The story of a girl from a remote island, with an American dad who took part in surf contests when he was younger, and who happened to become a junior world champion plus the first Polynesian girl to confront Teahupo’o at that level. The story became even clearer when we realized that she inspired a whole generation of young girls, starting with her own sisters, who see her as a role model.”
Channel Islands Surfboards CEO and board-builder Britt Merrick said of Fierro: “Vahine is one of the bravest, most fierce young ladies I’ve ever known. She also possesses a deep, mysterious quality of inner strength, dignity and kindness that makes her seem like some sort of royal figure out of the past. But her surfing is on the modern cutting edge of women’s performance possibilities. She’s destined for greatness.”
Fierro said she is thrilled about the film’s SBIFF release.
“I’m excited for the movie to be published in the U.S.,” she said. “I’m most proud of representing my family, friends and country throughout my surfing career. This is why I do it: to share my experiences with my favorite people. I hope that the audience will learn to just be themselves, to stay close to healthy people that motivate you or inspire you to be the best version of yourself. And the rest will follow.”
Click here to buy tickets to view the film online.
— Mara Pyzel is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.