— Published 9 November 2023

In Tahiti, Paris 2024 is pushed to surf a different wave

The scenario seemed impossible. But now it’s at the top of the list. With less than nine months to go until the opening of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games (D – 260), the map of competition venues could yet move.

This time, the change concerns an additional sport. All the indicators suggest that the Teahupo’o surfing spot in French Polynesia, chosen by the OCOG for its legendary wave, could well disappear into the dustbin of history. The discipline would not leave the island of Tahiti, but would be relocated to a less controversial site.

At issue is the construction of an aluminum tower for the Olympic judges. It is to replace the usual wooden structure used for international competitions, including the Tahiti Pro (photo above). Sealed into the sea by reinforced concrete blocks, the new structure has been the subject of protests for several weeks, among the local population, environmental organizations and certain players in the surfing world.

A petition has been launched by the local association Vai Ara O Teahupo’o to prevent its construction. It calls on “the country’s government to abandon the new 2024 Olympic referee tower, drilling and underwater pipelines“. It proposes using the usual wooden tower. The petition has gathered over 150,000 signatures.

Note: the tower in question, costing a reported 4.4 million euros, has already been built. It is 14 metres high, has three floors and an air-conditioned technical room for the Internet servers, powered by an undersea cable. Built, then, but not yet installed.

The Polynesian Minister of Sports, Nahema Temarii, announced on her social networks the suspension of “the start of work on the foundations of the judges’ tower until November 20, 2023“. She explained: “This is the only window we have left to find solutions with all the teams and stakeholders“.

The President of French Polynesia, Moetai Brotherson, took things a step further this week, suggesting that the Teahupo’o option be dropped and the event moved to another beach. “I’ve been to the site, he said, and I can’t see today where you’d get an 8-metre by 8-metre barge with an 80-cm draught through to the work site without blowing up coral.”

Moetai Brotherson, who was elected last May, has already put forward a plan B: the Taharu’u spot on the island’s west coast. Less renowned, but easier to access, it regularly hosts an event on the WSL circuit, the professional surfing league.

The Paris 2024 OCOG is still waiting for a decision. Embarrassed by the unwelcome controversy, at a time when one team after another is switching to operational mode, it is stalling in the hope of finding a compromise.

We are collectively studying all possible scenarios – in conjunction with the Polynesian government – to enable surfing competitions to take place on the exceptional Teahupo’o site, which we wish to preserve, respect and enhance on the occasion of the Games, states the OCOG in a press release sent to AFP. Reflections and studies will continue over the coming weeks to find a solution for organizing the events on the Teahupo’o site“.

The message is clear: the OCOG is willing to review its plans, but has no intention of abandoning Teahupo’o in favor of another spot. A position confirmed by several sources close to the discussions.

Interviewed by La Dépêche de Tahiti, Barbara Martins-Nio, the Tahitian site manager for the COJO, admitted to working on a new copy. “We’re redesigning everything, starting from scratch,” she explained. For the past month, our teams have been mobilized to get everything back on track. All options are open.”

According to Barbara Martins-Nio, the design offices and contracting authorities will not deliver their results before November 15. But this next stage will not be the last. The COJO will still have to propose an alternative to the judges’ tower in its current configuration, convince local elected officials, reassure the population and rewrite its timetable. Anything but simple.