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Ted Grambeau’s latest project revisits the Code Red swell




Photographer Blogs

Edge of Oblivion series takes surf fans into the lineup during the Code Red swell at Teahupo'o

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 6 February, 2017 - Surf photography veteran Ted Grambeau has launched the latest chapter in his Edge of Oblivion project which provides a deeper look into some of surfing’s most iconic images.

Everyone wants to see more Teahupo’o and Mr. Grambeau brings us front and centre with his amazing images and insightful text as he provides a behind-the-scenes look at the chaos and drama of surfing's most famous day, Code Red.

"Let me take you on a behind the scenes tour of my experience photographing one of the most extreme swells in surfing history," says Grambeau. "My latest photography blog is about the unbelievable moments of surf and surfing and filled with the chaos that is my work environment. It’s dedicated to, and in praise of, the unsung hero’s, the surfers, the rescue crews, the boat and ski drivers and Zeus."



Perched precariously on the back (stern) of George Riou’s boat, I am 100% focused on capturing whatever drama is about to unfold in front of me. A shiver runs up my spine as a distinct change occurs in the sound of the giant twin motors that I am almost straddling. From their rhythmic pulse to a more high-pitched (alarming) whir.

Not that this indicated any malfunction, rather that the props had left the water at the same time, an uneasy sense engulfs me. I appreciate exactly the reason responsible for this change of sound. We are teetering on the top of a giant 20 foot bowl as one of the most powerful swells ever documented explodes directly below me onto Tahiti’s infamous reef Teahupo'o.


George has positioned his craft as close as humanly possible to the breaking monster in order for myself and the other photographers on board to get the best uninterrupted shot at these history making waves.

I now have a view akin to a drone, looking almost directly down on the surfer, the boat has stopped any forward momentum as George, in show of extreme confidence or some sort of audacious captain’s maneuver, ever so subtly reversed. We now linger in this character building position. Good for getting an extra frame or two but definitely not for the faint hearted. This was boat driving par excellence.


Wind back the clock: To fully comprehend this story I must recount from the start. My obsession and quest to document the best surf and waves on the planet takes me all over the globe. I constantly scan weather maps for potential (epic) swells and then pitch an idea to a client or conscientious editor who also share an unwavering interest in such events. In this particular period of time I saw a weather system on the long-term forecast that was to say the least exceptional. A system, that if it became a reality, would produce surf bigger and more powerful than I had ever seen for Tahiti.

Ironically it was smack bang in the middle of a WSL (World Surf League, formerly ASP Association of Surfing Professionals) Billabong Pro Tahiti contest wait period.

This would almost guarantee good-to-great surf either side of this peak swell for the contest. What was unusual was that this is the type of swell that would draw a whole different crew - being of the extreme big wave surfer persuasion, who live and nearly die for the rare perfect storms.

I had booked my place on the boat to shoot the contest and would then just wait and see what evolved, as long-term forecasts frequently get down graded and may end up producing just another large swell.

On arriving into Tahiti, the various weather models continued to predict a strengthening version of this swell forecast. Only a few people really appreciated the nature of this beast. Colleagues like Tim McKenna and myself were almost in disbelief at the scale and ferocity of this system. Between both of us we had witnessed nearly every major swell to hit French Polynesia in the last twenty years - this was off the charts!

There was a strange ambivalence or possibly ignorance from those around the contest, as the forecast moved into the almost certain to happen category.

Twenty-four hours before and all panic breaks loose amongst authorities.

Confusion reigns supreme, watercraft will be banned except maybe a designated ASP craft - that would be the only one allowed out.

Read the full blog here



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