Vaimiti Teiefitu is navigating her own path chasing a career as a professional longboarder while honoring her home and culture in Tahiti.
“I like riding big waves,” admits Vaimiti Teiefitu. “Longboarding at Teahupoo is super sketchy because you can really get barrelled. Most people try to ride the waves on a shortboard but surfing here with a longboard takes the sport to another level, and really becomes more of a high-performance sport.”
Vaimiti’s favorite break, Teahupoo, is known to produce the world’s heaviest waves. It’s also the only known natural wave to break below sea level and the location of the annual Tahiti Pro, a Championship Tour event that will take place this August.
“It’s my favorite reef break because it’s such a challenge. You have to push yourself into the drop to get into the barrel, and anything can happen. I love the adrenaline rush and the thrill, not knowing how it’s going to turn out. It makes you feel alive. There’s a little bit of localism at Teahupoo, I think because of the hype from the Championship Tour, but otherwise, surf breaks in Tahiti are really friendly.”
“Surfing for me is a form of active meditation,” said Vaimiti Teiefitu. “It’s the most unique feeling in the world, being on your board in the ocean, surrounded by nature. I think it makes you more humble and grateful for the simple things in life. It reminds me to be grateful to be alive and experience the waves. Flowing into the waves gives you a feeling of wholeness.”
Unlike many young pro surfers, Vaimiti Teiefitu didn’t have an overly enthusiastic surfing parent to help guide her into the line-up. She started relatively late at age 16, paddling out alongside her younger sister. Her uncle is a surfboard shaper and would lend the girls boards to learn to surf the heavy breaks that surround her home island of Tahiti. It’s the largest island in French Polynesia, a collective of five archipelagos spread across the south-central Pacific Ocean, covering an area over five times as large as France.
“Growing up in Tahiti, you’re surrounded by bodies of water. I started out borrowing shortboards from my uncle to learn to surf, but after I had been gifted my first longboard, I fell in love. I’m a big advocate for longboarding. The feeling you get when you’re just walking on the board, and you can enjoy the present moment and dance on the waves. But Tahiti is not longboard-friendly at all because the waves are so powerful. In the beginning, the learning process of surfing is really hard. You have to be consistent, and not give up. You have to struggle a little bit before it starts to get fun.”
“If you compare Tahiti to Hawaii, our surf culture isn’t as embedded here. I think it’s because the breaks are far, so you would need a boat or to paddle for 25 minutes to get to the line-up. But we have clean water and perfect waves. The people are incredibly nice and love to share. Once you get to the line-up at our reef breaks, you tend to see the same faces, but the vibes are so good.”
Both Tahiti and Hawaii have strong Polynesian roots. Like Hawaii, the island of Tahiti was formed by volcanic activity and is surrounded by coral reefs. But where native Hawaiians make up a small portion of the Hawaiian population (just 6 percent according to PewResearch), native Tahitians make up the majority of the population on their island. Tahitians have inherited a vibrant culture from their ma’ohi ancestors. Ma’ohi people believed in gods, warriors and legends, and developed a unique culture of music, dance and art within their everyday island life.
“We have breathtaking landscapes, immaculate beaches and everything you can see on a postcard. But there’s so much more than that here. You can feel the energy and power of nature surrounding you. The people are so kind and welcoming, there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”
It’s clear that Vaimiti loves her home, and that Tahitians love her just as much. She first gained notoriety in Tahiti in 2015, when she was crowned Miss Tahiti. She has since amassed a following of over 60 thousand followers on Instagram and built a career as a TV presenter for ‘Islander’s Tahiti,’ which highlights the different outdoor activities that islanders enjoy on their island.
“The Polynesian public know me as Miss Tahiti, but my real passion is longboarding. It’s always been a dream of mine to be sponsored by a surf brand and not long ago, that dream came true. I landed a contract with ROXY almost two years ago, and it has been a dream come true because their brand values are the same as what I’ve always believed, that women don’t have to be what society expects of them. Breaking the rules, breaking the code and becoming a badass is within reach for all women. I’m proud to be surfing for them.”
Vaimiti has built a non-traditional career for herself through her passion and creativity. But breaking boundaries from societal expectations isn’t always easy. Over the years, Vaimiti has seen a positive change in the number of women that are paddling out to the line-up. As longboarding has developed in popularity, so too has the balance of gender equality in the line-up.
“It’s not that common to work with brands and explain that social media is my job. My family see that it’s working out for me, but they don’t really understand what I’m doing. But thankfully, they have let me do my thing because they trust me. I’m away from home a lot for work, which can be hard. I try to keep them updated on where I’m traveling to next and when I’ll be home, but it’s not always easy for them to keep up with everything.”
“When I first started longboarding, there was not a lot of women surfing in the water. But now it has changed so much. I have guy friends who complain that there are so many girls in the water taking too many waves now. But I think it’s so amazing to see more women getting into surfing and daring to show that they can ride waves just as much as guys can.”
Vaimiti Teiefitu is working to make sure longboarders receive equal opportunities
As a professional longboarder, Vaimiti understands the importance of being a positive role model for others. This year, the current men’s longboarding champion, Joel Tudor had used his Instagram account as a platform to speak about the inequity of prize money and financial opportunity between longboarders and shortboarders. As a passionate longboarder, Vaimiti had followed the unfolding events.
“Joel Tudor made a point to say that longboarding produces large numbers of views on social media. The gap between shortboarding and longboarding in terms of amount of competition and the winning prizes is big. I think we should continue to push the sport forward to have more competitions and festivals help to promote longboarding, like the Mexilogfest. Longboarding is being used to promote surf brands and we deserve the recognition of our work to make surfing more popular with a wider audience. It’s so graceful to watch someone longboarding in the media, because you can see that they are more present and connected with the waves as they dance along their board.”
“Through my followers, I’ve really learned about the positive impact that you can have on someone else’s life just by living your own life fully, in the present moment. I receive messages from people that I don’t know, who tell me that I’ve inspired them to stand up for themselves or do things that they’ve wanted to do but were too scared to try. So I’ve realised that being super positive and encouraging people to go for their dreams can have such a lasting impact. I’m really trying to send the message across that if I’m living a full life, then you can do it too.”
Vaimiti has been cast in a surf film, which is scheduled to be in production later this year. Through both her partnership with Roxy and her on-screen career, Vaimiti’s career has taken her all over the world and built her platform as a surfing influencer to receive more international recognition.
“I’d like my legacy to be that I fully embraced who I was and just went for everything. Even if it’s against what society expected of me. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t do the things that make you happy, then who is going to do it? No one. You have one life, and you need to go for it.”