Friday is our last day in Fiji. It is a day of mixed emotions. Firstly, it is sad to leave the friends we’ve made but nice to know we’ll soon return to our families and friends. Our boatman Felipé has a tear in his eye as he hugs each of us to say goodbye. I have a tear in my eye when he asks us, “will we ever meet again?” Over the course of a week with 8-12 hour days in a Fijian longboat you get to learn a lot about each other – even if you don’t speak the same language. Felipé has become a brother to us.
For our final day, we aren’t taking the longboat. Surfing New Zealand president Chris Fougere had arranged a mate, Rhys, to collect us in his boat, Wasting Light. Turns out Rhys’s boat is actually a luxury 70ft motor yacht with three bedrooms, two indoor living spaces, two outdoor living areas, three jet skis on the bow, a bunch of dive gear, a tender out the back and a galley that just may be bigger than my kitchen at home. Pinch me. Am I dreaming? Are we actually heading to Cloudbreak in this immaculate yacht?
Captain Bevan thumbs the chart on a table in the bridge. “We’ll head out Wilkes Pass,” he declares as he examines the labyrinth of reef stretching from Vunabaka Resort to Navula Reef – the northern end of which is home to one of the world’s most famous left hand reefbreaks: Cloudbreak.
From the bridge we can soon see explosions of water and trails as someone drops into another bomb on the reef. And then we are soon in prime position with an overview of the whole reef in front of us – like our very own corporate box at the grand final.
Caleb Cutmore, Jonas Tawharu, Elliott Brown and Chris Fougere leap into the lineup from the top deck – directly into 4-8 foot top-to-bottom waves breaking as close to classic Cloudbreak as we’ll get. Another marathon session takes place – the young Kiwi surfers finding some of the best waves and long warping barrels. After eight days of build-up to this moment it makes me proud to see them rising to the challenge and surfing out of their skins in the seriously heavy conditions. Together with a handful of deadset chargers who have also been following this swell, the Kiwis stand out and put on a great show for the gallery of boats.
Paddling back to Wasting Light is as surreal as paddling into the lineup. The back deck drops down, I swim on and am immediately handed a cold drink as I rinse off in a hot shower. Then we’re eating a freshly cooked lunch and making our way to the Nadi Airport on the mainland. Three hours later we’re in Auckland and the past 24 hours seem like a fairytale.
Fiji 2017 couldn’t have happened without: Surfing New Zealand, Skinnies Sungel, Chris Fougere, Vunabaka Resort, Rhys and Kyria, Felipé and every New Zealander who wants to see a Kiwi on the WSL World Championship Tour. Let’s do this!