Molly Picklum: Aussie surfing star reveals the moment she thought she might die on the ultra-heavy waves that will be used at the Olympics – and what saved her life

  • Surfers will have to take tough breaks in French Polynesia for the Paris Olympics
  • The place has been called a ‘gladiator’s pit’ and has claimed five professional lives
  • Australian Olympic hopeful speaks of the time she was almost one of them

Surfing in Tahiti may sound like paradise rather than a potentially deadly Olympic event, but Australian star Molly Picklum has revealed how she almost died during the break that will be used for the Paris Games.

Surfing has finally been included in the Olympic program for the Tokyo 2020 Games, and will return for Paris 2024.

Since Paris is not known for its tough surf breaks, the participants will head to Teahupo’o, Tahiti, to compete, as it is a French territory.

Teahupo’o can produce two- to four-meter waves during the four-day Olympic Games, changing the game for the 48 men and women competing for medals.

Competitors call it ‘a veritable gladiator’s pit’ because of the dangerous waves caused by the swell hitting the rapidly rising Tahitian seabed.

Five surfers died at this spot, including big-wave surfer Thierry Vernaudon and local Briece Taerea a week before the 2000 CT event.

Molly Picklum is the world number 3 and a leading medal contender for the Paris Olympics in surfing

Picklum has already undergone the tough breaks in Teahupo'o, where this year's Olympic event will be held

Picklum has already undergone the tough breaks in Teahupo’o, where this year’s Olympic event will be held

Australian surfer and world number 3 Molly Picklum almost joined them.

During training, she tackled a huge wave at Teahupo’o and received rave reviews on Instagram from seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and big-wave record holder Laura Enever.

But a moment of luck prevented her from becoming another victim of the ‘gladiator pit’.

“I probably haven’t understood that wave before,” she said.

“But I have experienced the most terrifying devastation of my life and I am better for it. I jumped off a jet ski at six in the morning straight into the biggest barrel I’d ever had, I was still awake and absolutely flogged with four or five more waves on my head.

‘I was picked up by the ski every time and then I was very grateful, because without them I would probably be dead.’

Picklum was almost one of the professional surfers who lost his life competing against Teahupo'o

Picklum was almost one of the professional surfers who lost his life competing against Teahupo’o

Now the Australian hopeful is ready to 'dance with the devil' again in Teahupo'o for the Olympics

Now the Australian hopeful is ready to ‘dance with the devil’ again in Teahupo’o for the Olympics

The 21-year-old from the NSW Central Coast feels she has an advantage over many rivals and says she can see their fear as they queue at Teahupo’o, where heavy waves break on a shallow reef.

“I think there are two things going on with women in competition: obviously the competitiveness of wanting to win, but also the fear that you see in a lot of girls,” Picklum said.

‘Not only are they trying to win, there are also some inner challenges for themselves.

‘Seeing the fear gives me a little more confidence, because I feel a little more comfortable in the situation, so I can focus more on what work I have to do, rather than being distracted by fear or feeling uncomfortable .’

Picklum follows a mental checklist when paddling into dangerous breaks like Teahupo’o.

She used to hate big waves, but now embraces the “intense emotion” that comes with them. “Every time I’m there, I have a very clear idea of ​​what I’m getting into,” Picklum said.

“I make that conscious decision every time that, yes, there is a possible consequence, but also the other side of that is potentially the most magical experience.

“I’m willing to dance with the devil a little bit to maybe get that magic moment, and I think that mentality keeps me pretty calm and comfortable and eager to give this wave a good shot.”

Stephanie GilmoreOlympics