This Remote Tahitian Village Is Nearly Untouched—Now the World Stage Is Calling

Locals are torn about the changes that come along with being a household name

Surfing boy
Nisa and Ulli Maier Photography / Getty Images

We're dedicating our July features to the world’s most beautiful and unique beaches and islands. There’s never been a better way to beat the heat than to head to the sensational coastlines and calm waters that nab a starring role in our dreams. Dive into our features to learn more about the biggest beach party you might not have heard of, how swimwear impacts climate change, the remote Tahitian village preparing for the world stage, and the best beaches in the United States.

The village of Teahupo’o is near the end of any roads along the southwestern tip of Tahiti. It's remote, full of vegetation, and best known for its world-class surfing. Now, it is preparing to become well-known around the world.

In 2024, when Paris hosts the Summer Olympics, the games' surfing events will take place in Teahupo’o. Signs for the event have already started going up around the village, but locals are torn about how much development they want between now and then in this remote community.

Cindy Otcenasek selected Teahupo’o as the home base for her boat excursions and adventure company, Teahupo’o Tahiti Surfari. Her company offers traditional tours on the land her father and grandmother owned and is tucked away from outsiders, the perfect getaway for those wishing to unwind. Forgoing the famous Bora Bora and more tourist-centric Papeete, the idea for the business came to Otcenasek when she and her friends wanted to inspire a new type of tourism in Teahupo'o—one built on health, mindfulness, and community connection.

“The locals are nice,” said Otcenasek, of her decision to base her business in Teahupo'o. “They’re smiling people and calm.”

Otcenasek and her oasis, however, are about to get unmasked. Teahupo’o, long considered off the beaten path of Tahiti, is on the brink of its debut on the world stage.

Tourism officials feel pride in being selected as one of the locations for the games. The excellent surfing conditions in Teahupo’o, says Rogella Doom, North America/Asia-Pacific Regional Manager at Tahiti Tourisme, have long been established in the surfing community. 

“[Teahupo'o] has attracted surfers and sports photographers from all over the world,” says Doom. “The Olympics will give it more worldwide visibility, especially outside the usual scope of the surfing community.”

This is still the most preserved and wildest part of Tahiti, and that is what makes it so special and beautiful: it's raw

Surfing is in this village's DNA. It is named after Teahupo’o, considered the deadliest wave in the world due to its shallow reef. Teahupo'o was even given the nickname "The End of the Road" due to a large part of the village only being accessible by boat. The village's road stops where Teahupo'o, the world-renowned wave, is located.

“This legendary wave is a jewel of the island of Tahiti, which enjoys some of the biggest swells on the planet every year," says Iotua Lenoir, marketing manager at Tahiti Tourisme. "There is no better place in the world where you can see, feel, and touch the mana of our islands, this supernatural force that surrounds us.”

But while the world's most feared wave deserves to be seen, some are uneasy about what kind of effect an influx of media attention will have on this small community.

Shore of Teahupoo looking into the Tahiti Iti mountain interior.
Merten Snijders / Getty Images

Puatea Ellis, who participates in a variety of water sports in Tahiti, said she hopes the community will keep its welcoming authenticity and highlight the culture and beliefs to mark the spirits and eventually bring visitors back to the power of nature. She, too, referred to mana.

“This is an opportunity to promote respect through our culture and beliefs,” she said. “Teahupo’o has a soul that should not be flouted. We must not forget it."

It isn’t easy to gauge how many visitors to expect during the Olympics surfing event, but similar events may offer some clues. 

The Tahiti Pro, a major surfing event organized by the World Surf League every year in August, attracts 800 to 1,000 onlookers to its beaches daily during the competition. Nearly 3 million live listeners tune in, and 120 million viewers watch via social networks.

On average, the Tahiti Pro brings in 90,000,000 Pacific Francs (around $840,000) to the country. Seventy percent is spent directly on accommodation, meals, and logistics.

To prepare, the government and state services coordinate to host the surfers through the direction of Maritime Affairs and the Tahitian Surfing Federation. This includes training lifeguards at sea, improving safety for passengers at sea using nautical service providers, renovating the Puunui Hotel, the only hotel located on the peninsula of Tahiti, and developing of projects aimed at protecting the environment. This may also include the preservation of coral reefs.

Doom describes Teahupo'o as "a preserved and almost untouched area."

“[The village] gives everyone this impression of how Tahiti used to be when the first navigators arrived,” she said.

Vaimiti Teiefitu, a professional surfer sponsored by Roxy and a former Miss Tahiti, said Tahiti is the perfect place to celebrate and display the beauty of surfing. She, too, is both excited and hesitant for the Olympics to unveil the beauty of Teahupo'o to the world.

“It is a great way to promote our islands and our culture, but at the same time, I have mixed feelings regarding the consequences of this international event,” says Teiefitu. “I don’t want this place to change, ever. This is still the most preserved and wildest part of Tahiti, and that is what makes it so special and beautiful: it’s raw.”