It’s an eerie moment. Laird Hamilton sits in a boat floating safely in the channel away from the powerful clutches of Teahupo’o. His head is in his hands. He’s crying.
Hamilton had just ridden the wave of the year, the decade, the century maybe, and he was taking a moment to himself in the Tahitian seas. The year was 2000. The tow-in revolution was on. Teahupo’o was code red and Hamilton was in his prime. And sitting right next to him was a Tahitian local named Raimana Van Bastolaer. He wanted a turn on the rope. But all he had was a 6'6" shortboard. So he took a spin anyway and got obliterated.
“That opened my eyes,” Van Bastolaer says. “I needed new equipment, a new jetski, a new tow board, the whole setup. The media went crazy. You could get barreled at Teahupo’o and get in the surfing magazines but when you’re in a 20-foot tube, it makes news world-wide.”
The compact Van Bastolaer, who speaks English in a heavy French accent when he’s accommodating foreigners, has since made a career out of surfing the world’s thickest wave. If there’s a swell hitting at “the end of the road,” he’s on it. He’s also become a guide and host, proudly showing people his home over the years.
When production companies look to shoot movies or athletes attempting new, outrageous feats in the barrel at Teahupo’o—like Jamie O’Brien recently lighting himself on fire to surf the wave or Robbie Maddison’s attempt to get tubed on a motorcycle—Van Bastolaer is the stunt coordinator.
“When people want something to happen, they call Raimana,” says O’Brien, one of the best pure barrel riders in the world, who regularly yields to Raimana’s judgment at Teahupo’o. “The coolest thing about him, even if it’s a bad situation, he’s always calm. [When it’s heavy] he’s like ‘No, it’s okay brotha’. Tahiti loves you. I love you. You’re going to get a beautiful wave.’ You feel comfortable that he wouldn’t put you in harm’s way. Then he’ll go out and seal the deal by getting one of the best waves of the day himself.”
Van Bastolaer comes from extremely humble beginnings. He was raised by his grandparents after his parents separated and moved away to find work. His grandparents’ income was modest, to say the least, but they helped him travel and taught the young Tahitian to be grateful for everything he had. “I wish they could see what I’m doing now,” he says.
Starting off his wave-riding career as a boogie boarder, Van Bastolaer switched to surfing in 1996 while guiding a group of Gotcha-sponsored surfers that included Rob Machado and Martin Potter. He was impressed with the lucrative opportunities that surfing provided. “I was in the wrong sport,” he says.
He made the right call. And he has slowly improved his compound to host more people—such surfing stars as Kelly Slater and John John Florence regularly stay with him, as do movie stars like Julia Roberts. The man has made a career out of keeping foreigners happy. Last year he hosted the production crew from Point Break 2. “We got insane waves,” he says. “They were really fun to work for, respectful. They even put me in the movie. It was a really good group of people.”
But it’s not always that way. Filmmakers can be super-demanding and don’t always understand the local way of life. “Angry people who’re not happy with their shots, people getting really intense, that can bum me out,” says Van Bastolaer. “Some directors come in and need this shot and that photo at this time, but they don’t really know how we do things. We work hard but we’re really kickback here in Tahiti. Once we show them that, we can usually make anything happen.”
As Maddison says, you just have to believe in Raimana: “He’s a super-good guy and his timing is impeccable. He knows what a wave is going to do before it breaks. You just have to trust him.”
He has developed that keen knowledge from years of charging the world’s most dangerous wave. And he has taken his lumps. But that experience has also put him in the position of peacekeeper. Surf line-ups have a tendency to get scrappy, especially when a bunch of riders are sitting in a dangerous takeoff zone. “We have a really good vibe here at Teahupo’o,” he says. “People are pretty good about sharing and I try to make sure foreigners get their waves. I remember once this Brazilian kid kept taking off in front of Shane Dorian. I was going to talk to him but his friends kicked him out of the lineup before I could. They’re like, ‘You’re making us look bad.’ We want people to come back.”
That’s Van Bastolaer’s ultimate goal, whether it’s a pro surfer trying a new stunt or a film crew searching for the shot, he wants them to come back, simply because it’s good for Tahiti. “At the end of the day, I want to put food on people’s table and keep the electricity on,” he says. “These projects keep people working, not just me. I’m all for sharing this life with Tahitians. If I can keep everybody working, that’s what’s important to me.”