If you still haven’t heard the name Vahine Fierro, I can assure you that you will. Soon. From Huahine, a tiny island neighbouring Tahiti, she was spotted by the Roxy team at a very young age. Stephanie Gilmore and Kelia Moniz were there on a surf trip and had a “crush” on her. They also both saw her obvious potential.
History proved them right. A few years later, in 2018, Vahine became a Junior World Champion in Kiama, thanks to a wildcard. Now 21 years old, Vahine is about to start her 2021 QS campaign to qualify for next year’s World Tour.
The Tahitian feels ready for the big stage, and her team manager Mathias Maallem has no doubt this is where she belongs. “She’s a very well-rounded surfer, at ease in any type of waves”, he says. “Her backside surfing is very consistent, and that’s a good thing as there are so many rights on the dream tour. Also, we cannot overlook her confidence in big surf, as well as her tube riding skills which place her among the very best in the world.”
So let’s get to know Vahine Fierro.
First of all, how are things, and what have you been up to since missing out on qualifying for the Olympic Games by one spot?
I have been feeling great, training at home and getting ready for the new season. If I’m honest, though, missing out on the Olympics by one spot was hard to swallow. Still, I have experienced and learned so much throughout the whole journey that I’m now more motivated than ever to qualify for the CT 2022 and make it to the 2024 Olympics.
After the event, you shared a post about how heartbroken you were and how your periods affected your performance on a day that was decisive for you as an athlete. Why was it important for you to share about this?
I’m a very sensitive person, and when my periods come around, it’s definitely a “hassle” for me. I think that’s why I decided to share, because my perspective on this whole thing has always been negative. But I want to tell other women that it is okay and accept having our periods. I know I want to change how I look at them, so I can manage better and make sure they don’t affect me the same way.
“I just accepted the situation, learned from it and kept my head up because I trust what my future holds for me.”
How did you manage the disappointment, and have you now put this behind you?
I was very disappointed because it was not the first time that something like that had happened to me. But I just accepted the situation, learned from it and kept my head up because I trust what my future holds for me.
You will have a chance to make it happen in 2024. France will be hosting the Olympic Games, and the surfing event will take place in Teahupo’o. This place is basically your backyard. How do you feel thinking about it?
I’m very excited about this event. It will be a beautiful show, and I have no doubt the energy of the Games will be super powerful. It will be very cool to be part of that.
Talking about Teahupo’o, you got a wildcard for the Tahiti Pro, but a few days later, the event got cancelled. That must have been another rollercoaster of emotions for you?
I was super excited and very honoured to be part of the return of this event (the women had not competed there since 2006). It would have been an exciting show, and being part of this would have been so cool… I was obviously very disappointed when I heard about the cancellation, but I wasn’t surprised by that decision. It is pretty complicated for surfers to come to Tahiti these days. Some of them were going to skip the event anyway because travelling was too hard. Then it happened, the government announced that there would be no more sports events in Tahiti because of the Covid outbreak. So yeah, I was sad the event wouldn’t run, but I was ready for this to happen.
It must be even more disappointing after the crazy swell that hit the island on the now famous Friday the 13th (August 2021). Was it the biggest Teahupoo you’ve ever surfed, and how did it all go down?
That swell was definitely the biggest one I got to witness with my own eyes. It was also the first tow surf session I have ever been a part of. I surfed on Thursday night, and it was picking up fast. It wasn’t the biggest I had been in, but I probably got my biggest paddle wave. That night, I also had a training session with Matahi Drollet and Kauli Vaast, who caught the two biggest waves of the swell. I asked them if I should try towing in for the first time, but I didn’t have a tow board nor a wetsuit with pads to go out safely. So Matahi advised me to watch, take notes and learn, but not go out because I wasn’t ready. Without the right equipment, I wouldn’t have felt 100% confident in what I was going into anyway.
So that’s what I did the following morning, on the 13th. I went out on my ski with my sisters and boyfriend, and we admired the show. There are no words to describe what we were able to witness. The next day, I went back again to watch and feel the vibe. Many people then told me to give it a try, but it didn’t feel right.
Justine Dupont also very much inspired me during that swell. She was surfing Teahupo’o for the first time, and she went out on one of the biggest swells that ever hit the spot. Like the others, she was also very positive and supportive about my decision not to go out. She told me it was cool that I wanted to try but that there wasn’t any rush. I also had in mind that my competition season was about to start. So I didn’t want to risk hurting myself in a discipline that is not mine, not yet anyway (laughs). But I learned so much from just watching and am looking forward to the next big swell.
“The mountains, the birds, the sound of the waves… It’s probably the only place in the world that makes me forget about everything.”
Do you feel like you have a special connection with this place?
I’m from another island, but I have spent quite some time surfing Teahupo’o in the past two years. I can see that I’m more and more comfortable. I do feel like this place accepts me. There is a sense of harmony once I’m out there. The mountains, the birds, the sound of the waves… It’s probably the only place in the world that makes me forget about everything.
You’re the first of a few women emerging from Tahiti, starting with your sisters Heimiti and Kohai, and Aelan Vaast, who can also surf Teahupo’o. Then there is the younger generation led by Kiara Goold, Tya Zebrowski and Kelia Gallina. How do you explain so much talent on a small archipelago?
It’s so nice to see the new generation coming up and progressing. It motivates me to do well and inspire them. We might come from a small place, but we have so much knowledge and potential. Our relationship with the ocean is also very special, like nowhere else in the world. So it makes me feel happy to see that there is another generation of talented girls behind me. I know they will also contribute to putting Tahiti on the map.
The Challenger Series are kicking off at the end of September with the US Open in Huntington Beach, then Ericeira and Hossegor. Is your goal to qualify for the World Tour as soon as this year?
Yes, that’s my goal. I’m 21, and I feel totally ready and mature enough to be on Tour now.
“It was evident that the sport would head in that direction, locations with heavier waves, where you can do bigger airs, get bigger barrels, etc.”
The 2022 schedule has been released and includes a few waves of consequence, with Teahupo’o, of course, but also Pipeline, Sunset and G-Land. Does it excite or scare you?
When I saw the schedule, I wasn’t surprised. The women on Tour and the WSL commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer have worked so hard to get equal prize money. So when they finally achieved that, it was evident that the sport would head in that direction, locations with heavier waves, where you can do bigger airs, get bigger barrels, etc.
With the addition of such locations, more than ever, you’ll need to have it all (rail game, barrels, airs) to perform and surf at the highest level. Is it also what you think?
Yes, and the wave pools and social media are also encouraging this. I feel like everyone is sharing what they are doing, and it sort of motivates people to go harder. And with the spots they have chosen for next year, there is no doubt that we will have to be well-rounded surfers to keep our spot on Tour.