Teahupoo confirmed as 2024 Olympic Games venue, but with a lighter tower

4:13 pm on 20 November 2023
World Surfing League competition at Teahupo'o.

World Surfing League competition at Teahupo'o. Photo: WSL

After weeks of controversy over potential environmental damages, French Polynesia's iconic site of Teahupoo has been confirmed as the 2024 Olympic Games surfing competitions venue, but it will be set up in a lighter format.

In a lengthy joint release at the week end, the Paris 2024 organizing committee (OGOC), the French High Commission in French Polynesia and the local government have acknowledged concerns raised by local population over the potential environmental impact of a new aluminium judge's tower.

The opposition had materialised via local protests at the site, as well as a petition which had gathered over 160,000 signatures.

The main concerns were related to the potential damage to local marine life, but also on the reef's structure, due to massive drilling to install the new tower's foundations on the Teahupoo reef.

Opponents and petitioners said the construction works and drilling on the reef could even alter the unique shape of the tube-like waves at Teahupoo.

An existing wooden tower, which had been used over the past two decades of World Surfing League Tahiti Pro competitions at Teahupoo, had been deemed unfit to meet safety and technical requirements.

After weeks of limbo, OGOC said the initial 14-meter high aluminium tower will now be erected under new guidelines, in a slightly downgraded version, so as to minimize its environmental impact while still meeting the required standards.

It complied with technical specifications which required one air-conditioned and moist-free room for the judges but also for the computer servers that will be required to despatch the signal for a world-wide television and Internet audience.

But the tower's dimensions have been reduced by 25 percent, especially on the tower's base surface that now comes back to the original wooden tower's dimensions, which is about 150 m² (square meters).

Lighter weight allows for shallower foundations

The new tower will now weight nine tonnes, compared to fourteen for the original project, to support the weight of 25-30 officials instead of 40.

As for the installation and drilling process for the foundations on the reef, a barge will still have to be used, but with a shallower draught and drilling will be made at a lower depth, because of the reduced weight of the tower "without any risk of damage to the coral", the release assured.

It also added that the foundations would now be installed "in an area with few corals" and that "some coral reefs will be moved to avoid any risk of damage during the works".

Some of the fittings necessary during the competition, such as fibre, electricity, drinking water and wastewater connections, would also be removed after the Games.

'Not everyone will be happy'

"Obviously not everyone will be happy" (with the preferred option), but "at one stage a decision has to be made", because "if no decision is made, then the Games will be moved elsewhere", French Polynesia's President Moetai Brotherson commented on the joint decision.

He also pledged that his government and Paris 2024 OGOC "will continue to exchange views with local associations".

"We will invite them at each step (of the construction) and we hope that we'll be able to reassure them", he added.