Nathan Florence on his Best Barrel-winning Teahupoo tube
Last May, Nathan Florence stroked into one of the most incredible Teahupoo waves ever ridden. Video of the wave set the Internet ablaze the moment it was released, and though clickbait superlatives are often tacked onto otherwise underwhelming web clips, Florence’s wave will truly go down as one of the heaviest in Teahupoo history, taking its place alongside hairball rides by the likes of Andy Irons, C.J. Hobgood, and Cory Lopez. John Florence was so impressed with his brother’s cavalier performance, he even put it in his new film, View from A Blue Moon.
We chatted with Nathan just a few weeks after nabbing his Chopes bomb, which would eventually earn him a Surfer Poll Barrel of the Year win.
Your peers say you’re a natural at Chopes, and it seems like you’ve picked that wave to really make your mark. How old were you when you first surfed there?
I first went there with Kiron Jabour when I was 15 and it was bombing. It’s amazing how many swells still go under the radar there. But that first time, I was just reading it. It takes a few trips before you start feeling comfortable. I went back with John [Florence] and Albee Layer a few years later. The swell was super clean and consistent and they were going so gnarly out there. My turn would come up, and they’d be like, “You have to go.” Every wave I caught was the biggest barrel I’d ever seen, and I got so destroyed on every one. I swear I didn’t make a wave that entire trip.
You seem to have a great read on that wave these days. Coming from Pipe, what makes Teahupoo its own beast?
The first couple trips, I would make the drop but just couldn’t let go of my rail, and you have to let go of your rail because you need to pump to get around that west bowl. The barrel is so wide and you have so much room that eventually you start to feel comfortable doing it. At Pipe, there’s a good chance of getting clipped in the head if you let go of your rail.
Let’s talk about the session where you caught that wave. Did you fly in just for that swell?
Koa Rothman and I flew in the day before. We had an evening session that first day and just bobbed around and got wet. That night we could barely sleep, and the next morning it was already 10 to 12 feet. On the flight there, Koa kept saying, “I want a bomb! I want to get the biggest wave I’ve ever paddled into!” But that morning, we were so stressed, just looking at the waves and thinking “Oh. My. God.” When we got out there, we just wanted to get a wave to calm our nerves first. We got a couple fun ones, Jack Robinson got a crazy one, and then Kiron whipped it on one and got thrown over the falls. That sort of raised the level. Koa paddled into a bomb after that. It was deep. It was west. It was everything you want out there. I remember coming over the back, looking down at him paddling into it; I thought it was one of the biggest paddle-in barrels ever.
And then there was your wave. It looked like you spotted that thing a mile away.
I only glanced at it and knew it was a bigger one. If it’s a west swell, it comes in a little smaller, but when it hits the reef it looks crazy. They look like hills of water, and you can get into them and get moving before they throw. On my wave, I was halfway down the face when a little bit of water started spraying off my nose. I thought I was done. Then, all of a sudden, my nose pulled up. I looked out at the channel and thought, “Oh, f–k. I’ve got some ground to cover.” I did two pumps, grabbed my rail again, and when I started getting sucked up, I had to let go and stand up. When the spit hit me, it gave me this turbo boost and shot me out. I’ve never gone that fast in a barrel.
What do you think of the comparisons between your wave and Andy Irons’ famous wave there in 2002?
I feel like nothing can ever compare to Andy’s drop. Everything about it was just so critical. I don’t think anyone will ever make a drop like that again. C.J. Hobgood’s wave in 2005 was one of the best rides ever out there as well. The way that wave came in—it was so big and so thick. It was a tow wave, really, but he turned and went anyway. Koa got a similar one in May, actually. To me, those waves each have something about them that make them the craziest waves ever out there. I don’t think there is a number-one wave paddled at Teahupoo—more like a top five. Every wave breaks pretty similarly out there at that size, but the way someone rides them makes them memorable in very different ways.