For me Fiji is one of those places where given a small opportunity, a window of time-off or a job I will jump at the chance to go. There is something so magical about Fiji and every time I go back it just gets better. Series after series of tiny sand islands separated by the Pacific Ocean and pristine reef systems that deliver waves most people only see on the cover of surfing magazines. There is a reason why surfing royalty such as Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning refer to this place as having the best waves in the world. One wave in particular that stands out above the rest I can honestly say still scares the hell out of me…the infamous Cloudbreak.
On this trip McTavish team rider Christian Barker (Wispy) and I stayed with good friends and local boys Teh and Foy Chung on the Western side of the mainland in place called Momi. The boys family own seventy acres of lush Fijian soil covered in palm trees, organic vegies, goats and their modest farm house that has character for days. The house faces west and from the gun tower at the most western end of the property you can see the WSL judging tower that marks Cloudbreak. Fricken heaven to be honest.
Fortunately this trip we arrived at the beginning of the season just a few weeks before the WSL contest and by the look of the forecast it seemed we could be in luck. Upon arrival the Chung brothers gave Wispy and I “that look”… you know, the look you give when you’ve checked the surf, its pumping and you bump into your mate on the sand path on the way back to the carpark to grab the longest board you have in your quiver. Yeh ‘that look”. So you can imagine the word “pumping’ was being thrown around a bit.
Following morning we didn’t waste any time. Tide was out so it was the usual wade across the mangroves and reef to get to the boat which Teh likes to refer to as “a long talk” not “a long walk. On the way out we could see the white wash on the horizon and the excitement and anticipation in the boat was on the rise…and for good reason. It was “pumping”. I’ve shot a lot with Wispy in many types of conditions and this was the first time Id seen the boy slightly nervous, not to mention the longest board he had with him was a five-ten. Regardless he was out of the boat and paddling before I could before I could say “Im gonna watch for a bit”.
I’d shot a Cloudbreak before but never like this, not this big. To be honest my guts were in my throat and I felt like I needed to vomit. I asked Teh to drive the boat a while and I’d pick some shots of on a long lens, meanwhile gauging just how big it was and to give me some time to grow a pair. Eventually I managed to pull myself together with a lot of counselling from Teh and found myself swimming with camera in hand closer to the impact zone. The closer I got the bigger it got and the more I was feeling sick…not a great way to feel in that scenario but I’d seriously never seen anything like it nor had I swam anything like it.
We were at Cloudbreak and the surrounding breaks for about ten days and manage to score the best waves of our lives that trip. The week after we left they had the biggest swell they’d had in years. To be honest this was enough for me on this occasion and I was quite happy to miss out on that one. Maybe next time Ill grow a bigger pair but I think this was a good reality check as to where Im at with this whole waterman thing….