Josh Aggars of flipflopscity.com shares his experience trying to surf the big waves of the Fiji Islands.
Flying into Fiji was a step into the unknown. After two months of surfing my way around New Zealand with my crew I was now heading out alone to confront waters that I had heard little about beyond the books. Usually I know of at least one friend who has surfed a given spot but on this occasion I was fresh out and feeling a little unnerved but excited at the prospect.
Arriving to Fiji to Surf
Peering out the window of the plane I would catch glimpses of small island chains beneath the occasional breaking cloud as we rocked and jolted our way through a heavy seasonal storm. Would the local lineups be welcoming? Would I manage to communicate my way to the best breaks? And would this bucket of rust make it through the next lightening flash? I gripped my seat belt ever tighter and waited to find out.
Am I in India?
After arriving into Nadi on the main island of Viti Levu I did the usually unthinkable for a semi-reserved Englishman and kissed the ground. Swiping the gravel and dust off my lips and chin I forsook to never fly again and made my way through passport control and out into Fiji real.
No sooner was I out on the curbside hailing a taxi than a rather unusual thought struck me, “Am I in India?” This wasn’t some kind of racial slur but an observation that I had yet to see what rugby World Cup coverage had always taught me Fijians would look like.
I’d been in India only months before and I was pretty much certain that I was in fact back via some strange Bermuda triangle like feedback loop. My poshest Queen and country inner monologue voice told me this was, “Odd, most odd indeed.”
Having hailed a cab and began my journey into town I dug out my dog eared copy of lonely planet to find an answer to my question. As it turns out a large number of Indians travelled over to Fiji during colonial times to work the sugar cane fields. At the end of direct rule from England all the workers were given the option to repatriate but the majority chose to stay. As I was to soon find out that choice was made fairly easy by this most beautiful of island states.
Where to Surf in Fiji
Having spent a night getting acclimatized in Nadi I was keen to get back in the water and so headed for Tavarua, home to two of the best known breaks in the country, Restaurants and Cloudbreak. Getting there was no easy matter. I had to pay an over the odds $65 for passage on a charter boat to gain access to the waves for the island itself is a private resort for which I didn’t have the means. In fact, the waves here had only just opened up to non-residents of the island after a government decree, so myself and the couple of Ozzies on my boat were feeling pretty good until we got there.
Surfing at Restaurants, Fiji
Upon arrival at Restaurants we were greeted by what I like to term, “a ruddy nightmare.” There was no swell, nada, zip. It was like the Gods had spotted where I was on the map, had a quick chat with the swell captain and laid the sea flat. “He had enough surf in New Zealand and he never thanked us for it so forget him,” they all muttered.
This was not good. A hamster couldn’t surf these waves in any contentment. We only had a few hours before the boat would head back so we turned our attentions to the epic Cloudbreak.
Surfing at Cloudbreak, Fiji
This reef break, whilst better, was not serving up the sets of lore I had been expecting. I can’t tell you how disappointing this was. To see pictures and read stories of the epic 30 foot waves in the book in my hands and then gaze tearfully at the half empty specter that greeted us was enough to make us question whether to throw el Capitan over the side given his sales pitch about today’s good swell back at the quay.
We got in the water and did the best we could pulling off some sweet snaps and floaters and enjoying what we had. The reef was pretty shallow so I was glad not to be trying this in waves of any real power, but still I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated having travelled so far and being so meager of budget.
I returned to my backpacker’s hostel in downtown Nadi somewhat downbeat after my less than life changing experience and decided to go find some fun for the night. I met some fellow surfers over from the States on the porch of the hostel and we started compare stories. They had been out for the past few days and had a similar experience which lifted my spirits a little and we decided the only right thing to do would be to get some beers and sit on the beach.
Over a campfire, drinks and songs with some locals the surf was quickly forgotten and all attention turned to what an incredibly beautiful people and place this was. The harmonies the Fijian lads produced were hypnotic as were some of the guitar melodies. One of them, George, explained to me how he had left the family island a while back to work in the resorts and had to send money back to his brother who was compelled to stay by tradition on the family island being the eldest son.
To the Mamanuca Islands… Fast!
I decided to use the majority of my remaining budget to visit the Mamanuca Islands rather than risk more on the charter boat and so took the ferry out the next morning. Upon arrival I ventured into the local village with a couple of other backpackers and were welcomed with a Cava drinking ceremony and dance. That’s my kind of welcome!
Everyone was incredibly friendly and fun leaving me in no doubt I’d spent my money wisely with this expedition. We were shown around the village by the minister of the church who explained the subsistence lifestyle of the people. Most of the men were off fishing which seemed to be a pretty great way to spend a day in this environment.
Before leaving we were given a parting dance and more Cava. It was all so relaxing I almost felt like debunking and staying. Alas I had plans 1,000 miles away and a date I had to keep so made my excuses, more to myself than any of the locals (what did they care afterall?) and headed back to Nadi.
Two days later I was flying out and leaving behind two of the best waves I have yet to surf properly, a stunning island chain and incredibly warm and hospitable people. I can’t help but feel I’m meant to go back before long. Now, if only I could find more change down the back of this couch.