Surf Shacks 014 – Raimana Van Bastolaer

In the middle of the South Pacific sits a little island that’s home to one of the most revered (and deadly) waves in the world, Teahupo’o. While Tahiti was one of the last places on Earth to be inhabited by humans, each year when that south swell starts to ramp up, this slice of paradise is teeming with pro surfers, photographers, industry folks, and celebrities. And the one person that everyone calls upon to show them a good time as well as tow them into monster slabs of crystal clear water is Raimana Van Bastolaer. Not only does Raimana serve as the unofficial ambassador to Tahiti and charge Chopes harder than anyone else, he also has big plans for future guests making the pilgrimage to heaven on earth.  We recently caught up with the host with the most at his home in Papara, Tahiti.

Where are you from?

I’m from here in Papara. I was raised by my grandparents since I was 2 years old because my mom and dad separated when I was very young and my mom had to go and work in Pape’ete. I am very grateful for everything from my grandparents. They only made like $200 a month from retirement money, which was not much to get by, but they always gave me so much love and support growing up. They would fish a lot, sell the fish for extra money and would also borrow money from my aunts to chip in to help me travel. They never even told me that, I found out after they died. They just wanted me to have a good life.

I grew up here, went to school here — all my education, playing around in the water, on land. I would also steal fruits on the mountain. We used to go up and steal fruits from the big properties up there.

In about 2004 I started to turn the corner and really build my business here at Teahupo’o where I accommodate and host surfers. I saw what the brands were doing on the North Shore in Hawaii, how they have big houses right on the beach in front of Pipe and all the surfers have a place to come right there from out of town, and I wanted to build that for Tahiti. I used to have one boat, now I rent other boats, Red Bull gives me jet skis, and I am now working on this house to make it a great place to relax and host guests. I am also looking at another property to lease to have more houses to host more guests. We have the right people involved to make it all really great, I am really excited.

Tell me a little about this area, Papara.

Papara is in between Teahupo’o and Pape’ete, on the southside of Tahiti. We have about 12,000 people here and it is an agricultural area. There is also a lot of fighting going on with the young boys around here lately though. There is a lot of bravado. This generation is a little different, they are angrier.

Why do you think that’s happening?

They have access to the internet and they see gangs in like California for instance, also the MMA stuff and they think it’s cool or something. Other than that it’s pretty safe. No snakes, spiders, or other dangerous animals. The most dangerous things around here are mosquitos. You can catch Dengue fever or Chikungunya from the mosquito — this little thing can take you down! We have all had Chikungunya at some point, I had it for 5 days — some people have it for months. All your muscles and joints ache like you’ve worked out for several days straight, you get bad fever, shaking, it’s no fun. Infants and old people can even die from it. Dengue is even worse. You have to be careful and use lots of bug spray.

How did you first start surfing?

I started surfing when I was older, around 19 or 20. It was when the Gotcha surf team came here in like 1996 with Martin Potter, Brock Little and Rob Machado. I was their guide, but I was a boogie boarder at the time. I saw how many surfboards they had in their bags — like 5 boards per guy in these big bags. I asked them why they had so many boards, they said their sponsors gave them to them. I was blown away how they had so many. I asked about the sponsors and they told me how they gave them all the boards and free clothes and they even paid them. I was like “free boards, free clothes, and they pay you too?!” And it wasn’t just one brand, it was every sticker on their board, they got free stuff and paid by each different brand. So I looked at what I had; I only had one boogie board, one leash, one fin that I paid for. I said to myself, maybe I’m in the wrong sport. The last day of their trip, they told me to put my boogie board in the boat and try one of the surfboards. The first wave I caught on a surfboard I got barreled. I learned how to ride the barrel before I could even turn. One month after that, I was already getting pictures in the mags and Gotcha sponsored me, it was on. I am very grateful for the success early on.

What are your favorite things to do out of the water?

I mostly just work on the house here. I’m really hands on, I do a lot myself. Plus I have to keep an eye on the other guys working on stuff here too, most of them have what we like to call, “Monday Fever”.

What’s your favorite thing about the house?

My girlfriend likes the kitchen! I like the living room. I can sit here watching TV, eating and also keep an eye on the waves out front at the same time. We love being right on the water in this lagoon here, it is a great spot. I also love my Gerry Lopez board Red Bull gave me.

Who all stays here when they come to Tahiti?

Kelly, Laird, Jon Jon all stay here these days. Pancho Sullivan back in the day. Johnny Boy Gomes, Larry Haynes back in the day, those guys were bad ass. I miss those guys. Then you have Brian Keaulana, Brock Little, those guys were insane, we had some classic stories and good times. Now we have Jon Jon. We spend a lot of time together, he’s like my son.

Also Strider is also one of my best friends, he is my brother. We used to surf Pipeline together. He was this blonde kid from California trying to prove himself out there. Luckily he was part of the Quicksilver crew and such a big charger, that helped him to make a name for himself. Then he became team manager for Quik and started paying my salary and making my contract! I love him, he’s gonna be my best man in my wedding.

Tell me about Teahupo’o.

It’s a perfect wave, like Pipeline, but the barrel and the power is quite different. The full ocean comes at the reef all at once, super slow at first, then breaks like below sea level. The bigger it gets, the longer and more hollow it gets.

What is the craziest stuff you’ve seen out there?

The Laird wave — the millennium wave in 2000. Shane Dorian’s wave. Nathan Fletcher’s Code Red wave. Those 3 guys, those 3 times, were the most insane things I’ve seen out there. It will get too big to surf out there sometimes and those times were definitely pushing it.

What has been your worst wipeout there?

My worst wipeout was during the Code Red swell. First of all, I told people not to go that day, but some people were already out there surfing already, so I took the ski out to check it out and it was really gnarly. The cops were stopping people at the marina at that point, not letting any more people out. So I was trying to convince people not to go too, I tried to tell people it was too dangerous. All the surfers listened to me, everybody stopped. Then I went back to the beach to wait it out and I saw some Brazilian guys back out there on the skis. At that point I was like “F-that. I’m not gonna let these foreign guys surf those waves before I surf those waves!” So I decided to go out too with my tow partner. When I got out there, they asked me if I wanted to go first and I said no, you guys go ahead, and so they caught a couple. Then I saw one behind them, really big and I said “turn, let’s go!” As soon as I went and let go of the rope, I knew I was too far deep, but I tried to make it. I couldn’t make it, I got blown up inside it and went straight from the lip to the reef, no water. It took me down, I got hurt really bad. I had a full suit on that got all torn up by the reef, it sliced me through the suit.

Who tows you into Chopes?

My main guy (Baptiste Gossein) is handicapped, he is paralyzed from the waist down. He was paralyzed on a wave, after that I taught him how to tow me into waves and he is the best. But saving me, no. Everyone else wants me to tow them though. I have to choose carefully though who I tow, between my friends, experienced guys, chargers who can take beatings. It’s a special bond, you have to be able to read each other without words. It’s not even about money, I give this experience to tow who I want to tow. They have to be able to handle the wave here.

What is your magic board these days?

This tow board by Stretch, it’s made from balsa wood. It’s really, really fast. It has a weight on it so it doesn’t bounce. If you bounce, you lose speed and Teahupo’o is a freight train so you need to be heavy and fast.

What are your other favorite waves in the world?

Besides Teahupo’o, I really love the Tuamotu north of Tahiti, Le Taha’a Relaix Chateau Hotel, Restaurants at Tavarua, Fiji. Moorea here in Tahiti, I also love Point Dume Malibu in California, France, and even Ireland.

Who are your biggest influences?

Chris Malloy, Laird Hamilton, Strider Wasilewski.

Who is your favorite person to surf with when they are in town?

Laird, Strider, Jon Jon, Kelly, and Andy — he was so happy in the water here. Those are the guys.

Besides surfers, you host a lot of celebrities out here too.

Yeah, Julia Roberts stayed here recently with her family and some others. They heard about me through a friend in Kauai and wanted to come here and experience my life. So I set them up with accommodations and got two catamarans to go out to the outer islands, we had an insane time. Before that, I had Cindy Crawford and her family out here. There is also this Russian billionaire guy named Andrey Meinichenko who has this crazy big yacht designed by Phillip Stark.

When you travel, what part of Tahiti do you miss the most?

The smell. When you get off the plane for the first time, it smells like home… Also poisson cru, our local seafood dish (raw fish in coconut milk), and our local Hinano beer.

What do you want visitors to know about Tahiti and any parting words?

I want everyone who visits here — no matter if they surf or not, I want everyone to get what they pay for. It could be surfing, diving, hiking, whatever. We make sure you get what you came here for — and paid for. Because if you came here, you paid a lot of money to get here, so the experiences you go home with are most important.

Oh and don’t get Chikungunya!

Thank you: God, Air Tahiti Nui, Ford Tahiti, Air Tahiti, Brasserie De Tahiti (Hinano, Tabu), Casamigos, Quiksilver, RedBull, C4, Nixon, Oakley, Dafin, Raimanaworld, family and friends.

Take a peek into the wild and crazy world of Raimana here:

Raimana World

/ Interview & Photography by Ron Thompson

Check out more Surf Shacks here.