The Place of Broken Social Contracts.
Olympic planners getting ready for the 2024 Games, exactly one year away, awoke dismayed this morning. Excitement had been building in the French capital since 2017 when the International Olympic Committee awarded Paris the honor of hosting the XXXIII Olympiad. Government employees scurried around dusting lamp posts, hiding rioters in dark corners and planning which venues would host what. The iconic Stade de France will take track and field events. Teahupo’o, all the way across the world in Tahiti, the newly added surfing portion.
Which leads us to this morning’s consternation.
For this morning the world’s preeminent surf thinker, Sam George, dropped a moral atomic bomb on the French organizers.
Teahupo’o, the name, or at the very least the pronunciation of the name, is racist.
Thought to mean “Place of Broken Skulls,” and oft called “The End of the Road,” Teahupo’o has long featured in the imaginations of surfers. It’s wildly thick lip, various shades of green and blue, folding over on the scary reef. Emerald mountains shooting skyward in the foreground. Boats, pink and red and orange, bobbing in the channel. It has long held surfing competitions, surfers, surf industry, surf media flying across the Pacific to cover events, each blathering overtly racist dribbles out of ignorant mouths.
George, who begins the lengthy piece titled “When the Olympics Begin at Teahupo’o, Shouldn’t Surfers Know How to Pronounce the Wave’s Name?” for emotionally sensitive website The Inertia by marching through history, declaring that the naming of of parts of Canada by a viking was racist and also the naming of Tasmania by a dutchman was racist before arriving at all the racist surf spot names including, but not limited to, Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Acid Drops etc.
The silver hair’d sixty-five-year-old, once married to Nia Peeples, takes a brief detour to excoriate readers for their mispronunciation of an Indonesian regency (it’s MENT-a-why, not men-TAU-wee, for cryin’ out loud) before arriving at Teahupo’o.
Shall we read, and learn, together?
And even though I know better, having grown up in Hawaii and spent considerable time in Polynesia, I’ve been mispronouncing Teahupo’o along with everybody else. Perhaps that’s why it seems to me that this ramp-up to the Summer Olympics is a good time to change that egregious habit. Soon the eyes of the world will be turned to a tiny, incredibly picturesque village on the island of Tahiti, perceived entirely in the context of international surfing. A village whose residents have, for decades now, been incredibly generous, sharing their remarkable natural resource with the hordes of foreigners who descend on this little slice of paradise every season to shoot their videos and hold their contests and establish their reputations and earn their salaries…and yet still say the place’s name wrong. Yeah, let’s fix that.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the proper pronunciation is “Tear-hoo-poh-oh.”
Do you have it?
Will you make a point of using correctly today?
This story number 4985 has been brought to you by the Linguistic Society of America which would like to remind you that Sam George is not now, nor never has been, a member.