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Between Air and Water

Ryan Borne


Behind the Shot

Physical oceanographers can precisely explain the fluid dynamics and meteorology required to cause a storm in Australia or New Zealand or Antarctica to create a wave thousands of miles away on Tahiti’s Teahupo’o beach. The trip can take a wave 5 to 10 days to travel, depending on the strength of the originating storm. Once it arrives, the wave breaks upon the sharp shallow reef with such fury and power that the Tahitians named this beach Teahupo’o, which loosely translates to “to sever the head” or “place of skulls.”

Ryan explains this much more poetically. “This phenomenon is a collaboration between air, water and earth. Waves start their journey thousands of miles offshore in the middle of the ocean. When the wind blows for a certain period of time over a certain distance called the ‘fetch,’ energy gets transferred to the surface and sculpts waves. These waves then travel across entire oceans until they meet a coastline. The rise of the ocean floor causes the waves to slow down and grow taller up to a point until they break. If we're lucky, the waves meet a steep reef causing them to turn into one of the most beautiful wonders that nature can offer.”