By Jason Polakow
For more than 30 years, one of the world’s best surf breaks (Cloud Break) has been controlled by a small island within the Fijian chain, until now! Only those that could afford to pay the exuberant prices, dictated by the island owners, had the privilege to surf at this amazing wave.
Protests from both national and international groups have since forced the expulsion of this sanction allowing everyone the chance to experience this iconic wave.
I had been tow surfing another huge swell in Tahiti when I heard of the swell heading towards Fiji.
(fyi: the first half of the VIDEO -below- is about this great surf session in Teahupoo.)
E-mails started pouring in asking if I had seen the size of the storm heading past SE Australia. Earlier that month I had missed a huge swell that hit Fiji due to a JP / NP dealer meeting in France, so there was no way I was going to miss another epic swell. These swells are very rare, so to get two large systems within one season was nothing short of a miracle.
With a grin from ear to ear I said my good byes and boarded my flight to Fiji.
I had rang long time friend Scotty and Mandy O’Conner who own and run a high end resort called Namotu Island and pleaded with them to let me stay with them.
The island is surrounded by 5 world-class waves and is only a 5-minute boat trip to the famous Cloud Break surf spot. You can choose from a variety of waves that surround the island depending on your ability as a surfer. Boats are at your disposal and shuttle you in and out all day long from the breaks.
Most days the surf ranges between 3 to 6 feet with bigger waves hitting the reefs on the right weather conditions.
It’s a perfect location for surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers with great fishing and diving right outside the reefs.
If you’re looking for a place where you can do it all, stay in luxury bungalows and eat some of the best food on the planet, this is definitely the place you want to go, hands down! You can contact Namotu Island on: + 679 670 6439 or email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to their web site at: namotuislandfiji.com
Upon my arrival to Namotu Island I was treated to a smorgasbord of sashimi and a view of the islands main surf break; Namotu lefts. Most places I travel to, I’m normally guarding my wallet and trying to haul all my gear over my head, asking people for directions. This place is the polar opposite if I’d had ever seen it. Everything is done for you before you even have to ask. I could get used to this in a heartbeat.
I decided to have a quick lay in the pool bar and check the whether report on my computer through the islands wireless network. Sorry, but that’s what I actually did. It’s that good!
Two huge systems were forecasted to hit Fiji with surf advisory warnings going out to all islands in the area. 15 to 18 foot waves were scheduled to hit the following morning and continue for 4 days.
We arrived at first light on the skies and started towing immediately. Early signs of the swell were already showing as solid 10 to 12 foot sets hit the reef.
I managed to get the bomb of the morning, a super hollow 10 footer that drained the water off the reef and then spat its contents into the channel. I was stoked for sure on that one !
Before long an entourage of pro surfers started to fill the line up. Everyone was there from Kelly Slater to Bruce Irons.
With the swell still building I sat and watched as the pros dropped and got barreled on every wave.
30 to 40 boats littered the inside channel. Film crews and boats jostled for position and behind them were hoards of spectator boats trying to get a glimpse as well.
Girls stood on the front of the boats in their bikinis shouting out shit like “this is so much fun, ha ha … “, and other stupid shit like, “would anyone like a beer , ha ha … “, as they drank their beers and rubbed their nipples. It was for all intense purposes a freak circus on water.
Around 11am sets started getting bigger and boards started breaking like twigs as the boys got pounded. I ended up running rescue on the ski, getting the boys out of danger before the next wave landed on their heads. All the boys took a beating that day. I would rescue them on the ski and they would say, take me back to the boat. I fucked.
Mark Heally was definitely the stand-out surfer that morning catching the bomb sets and pulling into the deepest barrels. Bruce Irons was good as well.
By 12 noon the wind started to hit the line up. It was one of those borderline wind strengths ranging between 8 to 12 knots. The wind was dead side shore which was not that great for windsurfing waves of this size. Side off wind creates more wind up the face of the wave and allows you to have more power in the sail as you bottom turn and drive down the line. This direction would definitely be a tricky one indeed.
As the wave breaks down the line it bends in a little making the bottom section of the wave much more appealing than the top section. From my observations, the main problem was, to catch the wave at the top part of the reef where the surfers were taking off and make it down the line in time before the wave passed you by.
There was also no wind at all once you jibed out from the wave, so if there was a west bomb set coming through you could easily get one right on the head.
The Jet Ski was the only tool I had to get out once I finished my ride.
Sets started to really bomb in with peak of the swell forecasted to hit later that day. With most of the pros still out in the line up I started to rig my sail on the boat. I transferred my gear onto the ski and started to make my way into line up.
As we got closer to the line up the biggest set of the day came through. 12-foot guns that looked like pencils got sucked over the falls as the last remaining surfers swam to the bottom. That one set cleared all of them out of the line up and I had it to myself.
I jumped off the ski and started to drift downwind to the take-off area. I knew it was crucial that I be in the perfect spot to take-off especially because the wind was so light and cross-shore.
The first drop was a little nerve racking as I jumped into my straps at the last possible second. I shot down the line to where the wave starts to bend in on the reef and laid into my first bottom turn. I turned out into the channel and knew it was going to be a good afternoon.
I spent the afternoon waiting for the bomb sets, laying in some good rides until I came unstuck. I bottom turned up into the lip and got back winded with the cross-shore conditions. The lip hit the back of my boom and I felt myself going back wards over the falls.
I knew I was in trouble so I tried to relax and just go with the flow. At some point underwater, I got hit in the head by my rig or board and got completely disorientated. I did not know which way was up or down. I came up facing the beach, span around and saw a 15 footer exploding onto the reef meters in front of me.
There was no time to take a breath and I went down again. I thought to myself while I was getting bashed around that I was in real trouble again. I had no breath left and started drinking water again like my incident at Jaws a year ago. I eventually surfaced completely fucked and battered.
One of the rescue guys came in to get me. I was bleeding everywhere and could not see out of my right eye. I initially thought I cut open my eyeball because I could not see out of it. I panicked even more and was trying to get the rescue guy to see if my eye was cut open. I was too exhausted to even lift my head to show him as he motored to the safety of the channel.
Lucky for me it was just a cut above the eye so I headed back to the boat and took a 5 minute rest before I started rigging a new sail.
I slowly rigged my last sail, bleeding all over the gear and the boat. That knock and wipeout really took everything out of me. I could hardly get the mast into the mast sleeve and I started feeling really sick. I eventually threw up later on the ski. I think I had a concussion but I just had to finish the session off. I knew if I had not gone back out off the water I would have hated myself forever and would have been a grumpy old bastard for months.
The ski took me back up to the line up and I hit the water again. I sailed until the sun hit the water making my way back to the boat completely drained. Wipeouts of that magnitude really take everything out of you.
I sat on the boat with gear broken all around me as I made my way back to Namotu Island. I was still bleeding and a little dizzy from the blow to my head but nothing a few butterfly stitches and a good night sleep would fix.
Arrogance and humility go hand in hand and its really only once you have experienced these things in life that you begin to learn a greater understanding of the ocean and how powerful it really is.
Thanks to Stuart Gibson, photographer, ©2011 and also Bruno Lemos (2 photos).