Jamming at Cloudbreak
Pardon my language, but this shit is off the hook. For the past few days I have been going out to Cloudbreak to watch the best surfers in the world surf the best wave in the world, and I am (nearly) at a loss for words to describe the experience. But I will try.
As you might know for the past few weeks Mom, Dad and I have been working very hard to get Rutea in ship-shape. On Wednesday we had more or less finished all of our projects and I heard that Kelly Slater had just flown into Fiji and was surfing Cloudbreak, so I was very keen to get out there. It is a 14 mile boat ride from Denarau to Tavarua - too far for our little dinghy - but I had arranged a ride with my friend Che to go out there Wednesday morning.
Unfortunately Che got called into work and just as my heart sank at the prospect of spending another day on the dock I heard Dad yell to the fishing boat next to us, "Hey! Are you guys headed out to go surfing? You got room on your boat for one more? A pretty girl?" I nearly died of embarrassment. I wanted to yell at him to shut-up, but my jaw dropped open and I was speechless as Pat Gudauskas - a pro-surfer from San Clemente, CA, walked up to the boat and said, "Sure, we always have room for a pretty girl."
I am not so sure I fit the bill, but I grabbed my board, food, water and sunscreen, and bolted. Pat introduced me to his twin brother Dane (also a pro-surfer but not on the Tour) as well as Jordan and Luke, two Aussie boys who run "The Salty" - a 28 foot fishing/surf boat.
I couldn't stop smiling as we planed at 25 knots over sheet glass water that reflected a mirror image of the scattered clouds in the sky. The whole way out I chatted with Pat and Dane about life on the Tour. For those of you who are not familiar the world tour of surfing is a tour that consists of 12 contests around the world for the top 34 surfers in the world. The stops include Fiji, Tahiti, South Africa, California, Australia Hawaii and so on.
I expected a pro-surfer from California (or wherever) to be a bit conceited or shallow or totally bro-ed out, but Pat and Dane were incredibly polite, nice and interested in my travels, as well as cool about answering my numerous questions about life as a pro.
The half hour boat ride out to Cloudbreak seemed to take a few short minutes. Everybody had said that the surf would be about head high so I thought I might be able to handle it, but as we pulled up to Cloudy ten to twelve foot bombs were exploding on the reef. I don't have a death wish so I was definitely not surfing.
"Oh, there is Kelly! Oh, look at Mick Fanning on that one! Ohhh, gnarly barrel John John just pulled in to!!" Dane and Pat yelled. "Dude, we gotta get out there!" The each pulled out a board from a stack of fifteen and jumped in the water. Jordan, Luke and I cheered them on from the boat as they pulled into barrel after barrel, along with all the other top surfers in the world.
This is the part that I have trouble describing. Imagine the thing you are most passionate about. Then imagine hanging out with the people who are the best in the world of said passion. Then imagine those people having the most perfect canvass in the world on which to express said passion. Maybe it would be like an extremely devout Catholic hanging out with Jesus in the Vatican or something like that.
Don't get me wrong, I am not comparing Kelly Slater to Jesus - although I am sure some people could come up with a few similarities - but you get the point. The vibe out at Cloudbreak on a good day is amazing. There is so much energy in the air; the waves sucking up into a perfect barrel and exploding on the reef; the whitewash shooting up 100 feet into the air and creating a salty mist over the entire reef; and of course the surfers who throw themselves - their insignificant little bodies - into the vortex of a most powerful and chaotic force, only to stay calm and focused and shoot out at the end unscathed and so, so stoked. It makes all of us shout with joy every time somebody makes a critical wave.
Of course even the pro surfers don't make every wave. Even the best in the world get worked sometimes, and this is very comforting to me. In fact, my favorite part of this whole experience could be that I have realized that even the best surfers in the world deal with the same issues I do - taking waves on the head, arms too tired to catch another wave, even getting scared... Of course their level is so much higher than I will ever be at, but it is all essentially the same.
It is pretty funny to see how much pleasure everybody gets from seeing Kelly Slater eat it on a wave. I mean, he is the best surfer in the world, but give the guy a break! While we were watching there were maybe thirty guys out, and we were anchored in the channel well clear of the swing wide sets, so we were a bit far from the waves. It was hard to tell who was who, but you can tell Kelly every time because his lines, the way he rides barrels, everything about his surfing is at a higher level. It's nuts.
I would have loved nothing more than to paddle out and catch a few waves with my idols, but decided it was not worth probable death (or at least a serious beating) so I hung out with Jordan and Luke on the boat - which is still super fun. Finally I mustered up the courage to paddle into the channel on my surfboard (you never know about those swing wides) to get a better view. As I was watching I noticed Kelly get picked up by a boat. I drifted over toward the boat and, as they were just hanging out watching the waves I paddled over.
At first I was too shy to talk to him, but finally after a minute of telling myself that I would regret not meeting the most legendary surfer of our time for the rest of my life, I paddled up. "Hey Kelly," I said softly. He turned and looked at me with those intense green eyes. "Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to shake your hand." I said, nearly losing my cool. "Oh yea, no problem. Where are you from?" He said. I don't remember much after that, just that I paddled around in a daze for a few minutes before I came back to Earth.
The rest of the day was just as epic - well - almost. I saw a hammerhead shark jump out of the water, a mahi-mahi chasing its dinner, and the best waves being surfed I have ever witnessed. As the five of us cruised back to Denarau on The Salty we all had the silly stoked smile plastered to our faces. I asked Dane and Pat if they minded if I tagged along with them the following day and they said "Of course not, but we have two more friends coming in - Freddy P. and Yadin Nicol, both pro-surfers - if you don't mind hanging out with them as well." Oh gosh, what a bummer, but I think I will manage.
I ended up cruising out with the guys two more days, one of which was windy and gnarly but fun, and then today which was another day of perfection. The actual contest starts tomorrow and I plan to go out again with a local surf company because Luke and Jordan are taking a much deserved day off.
This evening when I got back to the boat Mom, Dad and I went for one last meal at Cardo's before they hopped on a flight back to San Diego. They should be boarding right about now. I fly home in two weeks, and I must admit that with this swell and contest starting tomorrow, Fiji is the place to be. Thus I will be holding down the fort for the next two weeks and staying totally and completely out of trouble. I may or may not blog about it.
P.S. For more photos of Cloudbreak last Wednesday hit this link:
The pictures are better than mine!