Olympics-Tahiti locals say plans for smaller surf judging tower still unacceptable

By Lincoln Feast

(Reuters) – Residents of the Tahitian village that will host the 2024 Olympic surfing event remain opposed to plans to build a new smaller judging tower on the reef, saying it will still damage corals and risk the health of the lagoon.

Locals from Teahupo’o last month protested plans by Games organisers to build a new 14 metre aluminium tower and a permanent 800m service pipeline to enable up to 40 people to watch, film and judge the surfing competition.

Games organisers including Paris 2024 and the French Polynesia government said this month they had decided building a new tower that is “less imposing and substantially reduced in size and weight” was the best option, after discussing issues raised by various stakeholders.

The new tower will be the same size and location as an older wooden tower that has been used by surfing’s professional world tour for its annual Teahupo’o event for years, allowing smaller equipment to install it on site.

Some facilities will be removed or made temporary, but new permanent foundations will still be needed for the tower to be certified, which is essential for insurance purposes, organisers said.

A group including local environmental organisations, residents and surfers said the planned compromise does not adequately address their concerns.

“For me, it seems impossible to build 12 new foundations without destroying the reef,” famed local surfer Matahi Drollet said in a video on social media, asking organisers for evidence existing foundations were not up to standard.

Mati Hoffann, a maritime works manager who worked on installing the original tower, said drilling new foundations represented a “considerable risk” for the reef.

“I’ve spent my life working in the Polynesian lagoon. I guarantee you that technical specifications have been respected: 20 years later, foundations are still intact.”

Paris 2024 did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours.

Drollet and other residents did not comment on whether further protests or other measures were planned but said they wanted their message to reach French President Emmanuel Macron and the minister of the environment.

“We are just trying to spread the message that no contest in this world is worth the destruction of nature,” Drollet said. “That goes against the true value of surfing and sport in general.”

(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)