Bula! You may have heard that the Fijian people are some of the nicest/happiest in the world. I think that's probably true. Since being here we've met many Fijian who have spend years in other countries and they say they always are eventually ready to come back here and live. Walking down the road nearly every person you pass says bula, hello, with a big grin on their face. A far cry different from their cannibal relatives in the not so distant past.
If you're reading this you're at least a little interested in Fiji (or you're my family wondering what in the world we're getting into this time.
One of the first things to catch my eye at the Rendezvous Surf Camp is the line of broken surfboards between the ceiling rafters. Most are labeled with the name of the break, wave size, and date. Nearly all of them say Cloudbreak.
If we were to make a list of the most perfect waves in the world Cloudbreak would be on it. It's in the Kelly Slater surfing video game. That automatically boosts it to the top.
Cloudbreak is a reef break sitting right smack in the middle of the Pacific ocean. To reach it requires flying to Fiji, making your way to the west coast, and hiring a boat to take you to the wave for the day. There is no land, no where to get out of the water, just you, the boat at anchor nearby, your surfboard, and the wave. We went in mid-December during the low swell time for this area. That was fine by me as the wave was neck high with larger sets, steep, and fast. And of course the reef that sits 20m in front that you will meet if you're too slow.
The evening before setting out we enjoyed a family style dinner at home base and talked the next morning over. I don't like reef breaks and my fear of hitting coral makes me tense and forces errors, often resulting in the act I'm so scared of. I decided if the water was less than knee deep I'd be the photographer from the boat for the day and I was just fine with that option. It was going to be magical to even see the wave.
We were up by 5:15 for a 5:30 breakfast. Fiji time is real and by 7 we had some coffee, toast, and fruit and jumped in the boat. My saucy foam board didn't get too much judgement on the way out. A 30 minute boat ride had us staring down the line at Cloudbreak as a few guys tore down the line. The wave was nearly head high and larger sets produced a small barrel but nothing crazy. Thank god. We decided to check some other breaks to ease in before jumping on the freight train and cruised around to Swimming Pools (a neat right, nearly flat today) and found Namoto Lefts to be perfect. Same size as Cloudbreak but easy, slow, mellow, and only one person on it. We jumped in.
Somehow I caught the first wave of our bunch and immediately eliminated any nerves. The water was perfect, with little schools of fish swimming underneath and Dory cheering me on from below as I slid down wave after wave. (She'd forget instantly and cheer with equal vigor each time.) After an hour it was time.
Watching guys catch Cloudbreak from up close is intimidating. I've ridden all sorts of waves but none that broke with such speed so close to reef that promised to leave a person with more than just a story. The only way forwards was to go for it. I pulled out of the first attempt as a guy paddled straight in front of me and snagged it and putting a fin in a head isn't the best start to a day. It was a long way down from the top. Before I could think wave I turned and went on the next wave and held on. It quickly closed out and I popped out just in time, not even getting my hair wet. Ok. Cool. Next wave closed out again (foam board remember, speed is not her forte) and I jumped high to avoid a wipeout but got pulled into the washing machine. Somehow never touched the reef! I was told later that I was under for a while and drifted 25 feet in that time. Good thing scuba diving class taught us to stay calm underwater!
After that it was smooth sailing and by the end we were trading places at the top of the lineup waiting for the big sets to come through. Score 1 for the longboards. At the end of our 4 hours we climbed back into the boat, exhausted, and returned to camp to tuck into food and retire to the hammocks. This is a life I can get used to.