Tahiti; grass skirts, coconuts and incomprehensibly heavy waves that could crush the life out of a blue whale. But there is more than one side to the big island of the French Polynesian archipelago, stuck way out in the middle of the great, wide blue.
As with its northern cousin of Hawai’i, different swells and different coastlines make for more waves than just the stuff of nightmares at the end of the road, Teahupo’o. Garage ambassador Jean Lucchini has lived on the island paradise since the age of 22, born and raised on the Mediterranean island of Corsica and migrating as soon as he got the chance. As with many islanders around the world, his water skills cover all manner of means and crafts, but when he began bodysurfing, it was as if he’d just landed from another planet.
“When I started bodysurfing on my home breaks I was ALONE in middle of my friends - all surfers, stand up paddlers - who were used to seeing me riding like them,” Jean recalls of his early days of liberation from boards. “They were looking at me like an alien, but they saw how much fun I was having and I slowly got more and more friends getting into bodysurfing. Bodysurfing started being present in surfing contest divisions as the Tahitian federation of surfing asked me to collaborate with them. Now we have couple contests a year with a bodysurfing division even at a contest dedicated to women.”
So what is bodysurfing like in Tahiti, and does it really mean paddling over the death-defying ledge into a 15-foot-tall bone-crusher? Not at all, says Jean, with beach breaks, shallow reefs, river mouth waves and point breaks scattered around the island’s shoreline.
At 45 kilometres across its widest point – and even that is a stretch – Jean is never far from the beach, nor – given its location and 365 degrees of potential – from waves.
“I live on the north side of Tahiti - the main island of French Polynesia - five minutes from a lot of beach breaks and couple reef breaks that catch swell from west to south-east, which means nearly all year-round waves. There are surf spots all around the island, so there's always a wave somewhere around the island, whatever direction the swell is coming from.”
Sickening, isn’t it?! Imagine living in a place where you could pretty much ride your push bike to a wave somewhere on any day of the year, no matter what the wind or swell directions are doing. A place where the air temperature ranges just ten degrees for the whole year, from 20-30ºC, and the water goes from a frigid 22 to a balmy 28.
Jean is not one to be complacent of the cards tossed his way by the croupier of fate. He spends as much time as he can in the ocean, shaping his life around his passions, rather than working hard for the fleeting moments.
“Ah ha ha ha - yes! I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't live for only two days a week, so I work only at night time in a security unit of a psychiatry hospital and I have all my days off to enjoy my island. Warm water, empty waves, scenery, the choice of different kinds of waves, friendly sharks ... we are really blessed.”
But unless you’re a dolphin or a fish, there’s more to life than salt water – not much, we agree! But occasionally life needs a little variation, and for Jean it comes with one-down, four-up, four cylinders, two wheels and a lot of chrome.
“For me riding bikes is a real way of life, it’s all about being free and some kind of anti-conformist, just like when everyone's going to work in the morning and you're going the opposite way to go surfing. I've been riding all kinds of motorcycles since I was 14 and Harleys for 10 years now. I've joined a motorcycle club, which quickly became my family. I sometimes even get couple of my brothers into the ocean to share with them my love for the ocean and catching couple waves.”
For many, Hawai’i is viewed as the ultimate surfers’ playground. Jean has visited many times, always taking fins and a handplane, and enjoys it, but, he says, “it’s far too crowded compared to Tahiti, despite having really top-class waves.”
It might cost less to fly to London than it does to Tahiti, even though it’s twice as far, but if Jean’s words and images are anything to go by, you’ll only need a one-way ticket…
Follow Jean’s Tahitian dream life at: @tahitijean
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