What does it take to make a trip memorable? For some, it might be a holiday that has been a dream for so long and finally come to fruition. It could be a combination of things or circumstances: everything going absolutely right and you scored perfect waves with just you and your bros, or maybe everything went absolutely wrong, but from that came new knowledge and a great story. Maybe a scandalous midnight encounter… But, sometimes it only takes one single moment or event to make going back to the grind all worth while to be able to do this again.
In 2012, I had the opportunity (and fortunately the obligation) to be the best man for a great friend and travel companion in Australia. Having been to Aus numerous times and usually flying straight from North America or Hawaii, I decided to look for a slightly more creative way home. And if that took an extra month or two, so be it! Linking together seat sales and convenient stopovers, I found my way onto an Air Pacific plane bound for Fiji. For the previous ten days, I had traveled and surfed great waves in Samoa, and was sad to say goodbye as it was one of the coolest little countries I have ever been to! The tribal laws breed a real sense of community where there is little opportunity for foreign development ...
Fast forward a few days and I am climbing back into the long white fiberglass skiff piloted by the large and constantly smiling Joe 2. Joe 1 was our boatman for the first few days and the thought of his infectious laugh still brings a smile to my face. The swell I was watching build on the internet had definitely kicked in and Namotu was 6-8 foot, clean, and fast. There were some solid attempts at racing the backside barrels that were cooking along the outer reef, but all I had to show for it was a kiss from the reef and some bloodshot eyes. Also, paddling out against an angry rip had pretty much tired out my Australian companion and I. But, why not stop off at Wilkes and see if it's any good??? It's on the way home anyways! I could tell Joe 2 wasn't too keen on the idea. The tropical darkness sets in quickly and although Joe 2 know these waters like the back of his hand, we still had to negotiate a narrow, boat eating reef pass.
The low storm clouds weren't going to leave us with much twilight, but with that giant white smile Joe allowed a couple more waves as long as we were quick. It helps when there is no one else out in the lineup and moments after jumping into the warm Pacific water, our boat disappears out of sight behind a large lump of water moving in. The orangey yellow light reflecting off the clouds creates an eerie, intimate mood on the hot windless evening and makes the sets hard to define against the dark skyline, but this looks big. I start gunning it for the outside, making calculations to the tune of: 1 square metre of water weights 1 metric ton, and that looks how big...? When the wave is about 15 meters away, it hasn't quite started to feather yet, and the 10 percent of me that's saying "go for it! go go go!!!" wins. A quick spin, and I put my head down and start to stroke into the beast. One thing I love about the South Pacific are the steep drops created from the abrupt coral shelves. These reefs also tend to have shallow coral heads, and even though I am being raised up the face of the wave, they appear to be getting closer as water is drawn off the reef, adding to the mass of the wave.
I manage to pop up to my feet quickly and shoot my gaze down the line where a long, silky smooth wall awaits. But it's not waiting long. I'm gonna really have to work for this one. The combined water sucking up the face and a very slight off-shore breeze lift the nose of my board as I am gaining speed exponentially on every pump. Every surfer has watched in awe of sea birds that glide effortlessly only centimeters from the face of a wave and this is probably the closest I'll ever get to this feeling as I effortlessly slide my way along. The only definition I can see on the smooth featureless face is where the lip is feathering it's white eyelashes, about to blink a few meters ahead of me. It's starting to throw and the only ways out are through the tube or the floor and into the spiny basement below. I am absolutely flying as the lip comes down just a head of my board and the wave relentlessly churns along the reef ahead. All I can do is keep pumping. I can see my exit far in the distance, but I'm entranced by the crashing hollow echo inside my black glass cavern. Simultaneously, time is standing still and is also a fast forward blur of motion and noise. Miraculously I get spat out of the barrel and onto a dark velvety shoulder that is just calling out for a cutback or two, so I grab the rail of my board and oblige. A few more turns and I dissolve with the wave into the channel and sink slowly into a warm euphoric abyss.
Did that really just happen? That was soooooooo good!!! I wish I could stay here with this feeling forever, but I am still bleeding, it's almost dark, and I did see a tiger shark here yesterday. Looking around, I can just make out the dull white nose of the boat bobbing up and down with the swell a few hundred meters away. I think Joe 2 might be napping.
- February 2012