|Luck or Love? : Keoni Cuccia finds his way out of the tube of the day at Teahupo’o…|
|Written by Liz Clark|
After waiting weeks for this single moment, Keoni paddles into the line-up for his first session at Teahupo’o. His patience already seems to be paying off--the crowd is thinning and the morning’s rugged ocean bump seems to be laying down. He works his way into the line-up, picking off a few insiders to get comfortable, despite the once-an-hour set that’s double the size of the other waves, keeping the pack sitting well to the outside. They’re BIG, thick, frightening--REAL Teahupo’o. But the ocean appears frustrated, working off the leftovers of last night’s storm winds. There’s a LOT of water moving, and the overcast sky makes it look even meaner. In other words, I’m quite content to watch from my dinghy…
I float in the channel and wonder…How many guys at 38 years old, still find a way to catch nearly every good swell, on the right tide, when the wind’s good, AND surf better than almost everyone in the water? There aren’t many, and that’s what continues to define Keoni Cuccia’s surf legacy almost 10 years after his paid professional surfing career ended. That part of his life may be over, but it seems that Keoni’s passion for the sport has continued to blossom. On a rendezvous in Tahiti, I got to understand this elusive surf guru a little better.
Keoni admits to loving a simple life. He loves his family, his old truck, his ocean-view apartment in Ventura, and especially his water time. "I’m a lucky guy," he says, relentlessly finding the bright side of every situation. Surfing has always been worth more to him than fancy things. He’s always made ends meet with mostly ocean-related work--not to get rich--but because he loves to be close to the water. In a world where most people value money over time, Keoni, refreshingly, has turned away from the masses. He remains resolutely dedicated to what he truly loves—riding waves.
I watch the pack of Brazilians paddle to their taxi boat and head back for lunch. The Teahupo’o crowd is now down to three. The tow-circus has called it a day, as well. Aside from the hourly freak set, most of the waves are paddle-able. The swell is a little too south, so fewer waves are hitting the reef with that infamous Teahupo’o roundness. But with only a few days remaining in Tahiti, Keoni sits serenely in the line-up, scanning the horizon…
After a few weeks of surfing together in the South Pacific, I got a taste of what being a surfer of his caliber might be like. He sees the wave of the day, where I see a close-out. With just slight nuances of paddling and positioning he puts himself in the perfect place again and again throughout a session. At a tricky spot, where I might find three good waves in an hour, Keoni finds 20. Everything from the way he talks about it—excitedly spouting creatively descriptive vocabulary, to the way he does it—casually backdooring a frightening slab section that I want nothing to do with, his accumulation of surf knowledge flow effortlessly from him. It’s like he was born to do it, he explains. He seems to enjoy himself just as much whether it’s big or small, sunny or cloudy, with no cameras pointing at him, or anybody around to impress.
Suddenly, the horizon surges, waking me from my moment of contemplation. Keoni turns and paddles hard. I brace for disaster as the massive wall of water nearly holds him up in the lip. He just scrapes over the ledge and airdrops down the face, nearly landing on his back as the backless beast drops out below him and goes square…
"I nearly lost it on the drop." He said, grinning even more than usual after the session. "It was like all my tube-time from over the years came together for me in that single moment…No, that was just lucky!?"
He threw in that last bit almost as if the whole thing had been an accident. His deeply humble nature never allows him to boast. As lucky as one could be, I knew that catching the wave of the day on his first session at Teahupo’o was no accident. Only someone with this kind of intimate relationship to surfing could do it.
This wave is just one example of hundreds like it, that make Keoni Cuccia such a legend and an inspiration to the many that admire and respect him, in and out of the water. His unyielding dedication to riding waves, purely for his love of the act, encourages us all to strive harder to devote more time to our passions. So, you decide, was it Luck? Something tells me that, Love, is the true source of his magic…
Some more photos from Keonis trip: