Paris 2024’s ‘sober’ compromise to keep Olympic surfing at Teahupo’o
19th November 2023

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Paris 2024 organisers will scale back the controversial Teahupo’o judging tower that sparked peaceful protests in Tahiti to ensure the Olympic surfing event is held at the iconic break.

Months of social media backlash, supported by the likes of Kelly Slater and back-to-back men’s world champion Filipe Toledo, has prompted a proposal for a “new tower, more sober and reduced in size and weight”, according to Olympic organisers.

Environmental opposition to what was originally a reported US$5 million ($7.95 million) aluminum tower being built prompted French Polynesian president Moetai Brotherson to suggest shifting the Paris 2024 event from Teahupo’o to Taharuu, a markedly different beach break further north in Tahiti.

An online petition opposing the tower’s construction – which requires drilling into the Teahupo’o reef – garnered more than 160,000 signatures as locals marched in protest.

In response, revised plans for the new judging tower will be 25 per cent smaller, “to return to the size of the old wooden tower (150 metres square),” a statement from Paris 2024 organisers and the Polynesian government said.

The old tower referenced is the wooden structure used by the World Surf League for the past two decades, which Olympic authorities insist “does not meet safety standards, will no longer be used and must be replaced for the sustainability of the organisation of surfing events in Teahupo’o”.

The tower’s weight is also planned to be reduced from 14 to nine tonnes, while catering to 25-30 officials instead of the original 40 and no longer providing connections to drinking and waste water for flushing toilets.

It is expected that the Olympic event – scheduled for late July next year – will be adjudicated on by a panel of the same WSL judges who rule on the Tahiti Pro from the existing structure, which does not provide the air conditioning, toilets or high-speed internet planned for Paris 2024.

Local opposition has centred on drilling into Teahupo’o’s coral reef and fears that ciguatera, a disease that poisons fish and renders them inedible, would flourish as has been the case with previous construction in the fragile marine environments.

Matahi Drollet, pictured surfing a Teahupo’o monster at the age of 16, led protests against the planned construction of a new judging tower.Credit: Ted Grambeau

In a 2500-word explanation of its decision and studies, Olympic organisers claimed that “the reinforcement of existing foundations without drilling (i.e. by anchoring 288 new steel bars at a depth of 1.5m) has been studied, but it would have a greater impact on the coral which has established itself over the years on the concrete pads than building new foundations in an area with few corals.

“The new tower, more sober and reduced in size and weight, installed on new perennial foundations, is the solution to ensure the durability of the tower over time and to guarantee the holding of future sporting events in Teahupo’o.

“This tower, as well as the new foundations, could receive ten-year approval, essential for insurance purposes.”

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