STORY BY: Keith Malloy, Pro Surfer
PHOTOS BY: Nick Kelley, Ryan Miller
LOCATION: Teahupo’o, Tahiti

For even the best big wave surfers, Teahupo’o is terrifying. Considered — respectfully — to be a freak of nature, the wave is pretty unbelievable, in a setting that’s so beautiful it seems fake. But for Tahitian surfer,al l-around waterman, and YETI Ambassador, Matahi Drollet, this place is his home, and this wave is his comfort zone. For fellow Pro Surfer Keith Malloy, Matahi is as real as it gets.

I remember back in the early 90’s my brother Chris went down to Tahiti one summer and came back and said, “I think I surfed the best wave in the world.” And at that time, no one outside of the few local guys surfing there had heard of it. Today that wave, Teahupo’o, is at the top, if not number one on every single list of the biggest, heaviest waves in the world.

Born and raised in Tahiti, Matahi Drollet is a professional surfer. But you won’t find him on the competition circuit; he prefers to spend his time chasing the biggest, heaviest surf in the world. Which makes sense, as his home wave, his practice wave, and the wave he feels a spiritual connection with, is Teahupo’o.

I got to know Matahi while filming “Fishpeople .” Something he emphasized was always showing respect for the ocean, and one way he does that is by showing up only when he’s 100% of mind and body. Maybe that’s why at 16 years old, he rode an absolutely massive wave at Teahupo’o, attracting the attention of the surf world. Then in 2021, he earned the title of having ridden one of the biggest waves ever at Teahupo’o  after waiting nine hours for it. Nine hours, passing up wave after wave that came in, not taking a single one because he knew what he was looking for. 

He knew that the wall of water needed to be no longer blue, but black. And in that time of waiting, he was asking the ocean to send him the wave. “Please, send me something. I know you know what I want,” Matahi said of his request. The ocean rewarded his patience, and when he saw the horizon turn dark, he knew the wave he was waiting for was coming in.

ABOVE: Teahupo’o is the name of both the village and the wave, both of which are home for Matahi, a pro surfer who was born and raised in Tahiti.

ABOVE: It’s not exaggerating to say the wave is in Matahi’s backyard. Waking up in the morning he can hear the sound of the ocean and know whether or not it’s a good day for surf.


In the early 60’s, “The Endless Summer” went to Tahiti and surfed the inner reef. They rode the “ins and outs” with the locals, waves that offered plenty of fun rides with a backdrop of paradise. Teahupo’o was there, of course, but it wasn’t on the radar. 

In the late 80’s people just didn’t think that wave was surfable. Legendary bodyboarders Mike Stewart and Ben Severson were able to ride it, but there was still doubt around being able to stand up on Teahupo’o. The wave is so powerful, and thick, and fast, and no one had conquered waves like that on a surfboard before anywhere. With a wave that imposing, breaking on (and because of) shallow, razor-sharp reef – which may be as little as 20 inches of water – attempting it is not just intimidating, it’s life threatening.


But in the early 90s, local Tahitian surfers Vetea Poto David, Raimana Van Bastolaer, and Matahi’s older brother, Manoa Drollet, were the first ones out there showing it could be done. When the three-fin surfboard (the thruster) came along, it allowed surfers to better surf steep, powerful waves around the world, and Teahupo’o opened up.

 I ended up going down there a handful of years after my brother, and while it wasn’t firing as good as it could be, I got a taste of it. And not long after they started having surf contests there. The 10-20 foot faces completely blew everyone’s minds.

And while the rest of the surfing world was just getting opened up to this “freak of nature” wave, as it’s commonly and respectfully referred to for its power, Matahi was growing up in this ocean, and watching his brother (20 years his senior) charge Teahupo’o.

ABOVE: Being a waterman is part of the culture here. When Matahi isn’t surfing, he’s swimming, paddling, or catching waves on his foil board.


For me, Tahiti and specifically Teahupo’o, are the most magical places on earth. The huge green mountains, crystal clear water, waterfalls, and the most incredible wave in the world all make it feel really majestic, almost fictional.

Teahupo’o, the wave and the village, are on the southwest corner of Tahiti’s smaller island. It’s the farthest corner you can get to on the island, with the road essentially stopping at the break — which is why the location is known as The End of the Road. Because it is.

For Tahitians, the ocean and rivers are naturally a part of daily life and a source of an intimate connection for the people who live there. Growing up in Tahiti, Matahi’s been fishing and swimming in these waters since he was 12 years old. Fishing and spearfishing early in the morning and late at night with a flashlight offers him an unique familiarity with the reef. He knows where the channels are, how the currents are moving, and is just generally well-oriented here which adds to comfort and confidence when the waves are big. So that when he does get beat by a big wave, he knows the reef so well from being out there on the down days, that he is able to navigate underwater and ride it out.

ABOVE: “Spearfishing has been a game-changer in my life. It helps me with confidence in the water, and it teaches me to stay calm and be patient while holding my breath when I get beat by a wave.”

ABOVE: In Tahiti, when you want fish to eat, you go out and catch some. If you can swim, or have a boat and a speargun, there’s always something to eat that’s ready to be stored in your chilly bin.


 Matahi has said Teahupo’o “is not a difficult wave. It’s a perfect wave to learn how to get barreled on.” I’ve got to laugh because it’s like saying a triple black diamond is the perfect place to learn to ski.

Some of the best surfers on the WSL are completely terrified to surf that wave. The best of the best don’t sleep the night before they’re going to attempt it.

But, to Matahi’s point, the wave is so mechanical that if you have the opportunity to surf it every time it breaks, whether it’s at 4-6 feet or 20 feet, it’s reliable. And because Teahupo’o is his home, he does pretty much have the opportunity to surf that wave every time it breaks, frequently enjoying empty lineups on an 8-10 foot day just because he’s there. So, for him, it’s a playground for becoming a great surfer.

ABOVE: It’s a wave that many of the best big wave surfers lose sleep over, but Teahupo’o is Matahi’s playground for becoming a great surfer.


Naturally, Matahi’s constant exposure to the wave, the reef, and his respect for and connection with the ocean contribute to his success with Teahupo’o. But it still takes real courage, commitment, and skill to charge on this wave daily.

Matahi has much to be proud of: he lays claim to having surfed one of the biggest waves ever ridden at Teahupo’o and he regularly rides his foil board on this incredible wave (he’s working on getting barreled on it); he also earned a coveted spot at the 2023 Eddie Aikau Invitational. Outside of his on-the-water accomplishments, Matahi is also fluent in Tahitian, French, and English, and all the while he remains very down to earth, kind, big-hearted, soft-spoken, and is an absolute pleasure to be around.

Confidence at Teahupo’o is no small feat. Neither is being an all-around waterman. He’s pushing boundaries in surf, inspiring those rising in the sport and even to the generations that came before him.

Living in a part of the world that’s so beautiful it seems fictional and having mastery on a wave that is unbelievable, Matahi Drollet is as real as it gets. 

Keith Malloy  is a YETI Ambassador, Pro Surfer, and filmmaker. From distance ocean paddling to big-wave riding to bodysurfing, Keith is at home in the ocean, in almost any discipline. When he’s not traveling the world, he lives in Gaviota, California chasing local swells with his wife and three kids.