Like many of my peers, the end of school in 2004 was a chance to escape the beckoning clutches of society and put off the ever-looming fear of getting that first real job for just one more year. Becoming a lifelong member of the real world was the last thing on my mind. It was time to travel. However, my best friend Chris and I didn’t want to follow the usual binge-drinking route through Asia with the hordes of excitable 20-somethings. No, we wanted a different trip–a search for the waves that frequently appeared in our favorite surfing magazines and had decorated our bedroom walls for years. Our round-the-world ticket included destinations such as Fiji, Tahiti and California. We were on that plane as soon as those ridiculous graduation hats had left our heads.
Around two months into our adventure, we found ourselves on the gorgeous, remote Fijian island of Nananu. After a mainly enjoyable stay (not including the ear infection after scuba diving which left me bedridden for three days with no pain killers and a bile coloured liquid pouring relentlessly from my right ear), we met a young Canadian traveler named Jason. He was one of those lucky few blessed with a natural white boy afro.
A few beers into our first evening together, we inevitably got into a discussion about our mutual favorite pastime: surfing. After the usual banter and exaggeration about the biggest waves we’d had, best places we’d surfed and so on, he asked us if we’d heard about the Globe World Championship Tour of Surfing (WCT) that was being held at the infamous Tavarua Island which is host to Cloudbreak–one of the finest left-hand waves on planet earth. The wave is so heavy and unique that while the pros take it on, lucky spectators can enjoy a direct view through the tube from their boat, just meters from the end of the wave. Of course, it is in the middle of nowhere and only accessible by helicopter or boat. Getting there is no easy feat.
Ashamed, we shook our heads. How had this colossal event passed us by? We blamed the excessive amount of cava (a local delicacy that is supposed to have minor hallucinogenic effects) that we had been slurping excessively since our arrival in Fiji. However, when the three of us returned to the mainland and phoned the docks, the people there claimed to have no knowledge of the event either.
This was before the days of iPhones and stable internet connections so we had no easy way of verifying his claims. Regardless, our Canadian buddy swore that he had seen it in a magazine and was convinced it was happening. He urged us to come with him in the morning. Since, like most people in Fiji, we had very little to do the next day, how could we resist?
Before the sun was up, we snuck out of our dirt-cheap but homely beach hostel aptly named “Mama’s house” and jumped in a rickety old taxi to the port. Lurking around the shadows like hungry wolves on the hunt, we spotted two guys with surfboards walking towards a large yellow ferry with a giant Globe sticker on it. Jackpot! We patiently waited until they were onboard, crept up the walkway and onto the deserted lower deck. Taking our hiding positions under the seating at the side of the boat and squirming with excitement, we did our best to stay quiet.
After what seemed like an age of holding our breath, the ferry finally took off, and we were heading, we hoped, for Tavarua Island.
After enough time for us all to develop an extreme case of pins and needles, the ferry finally started to slow down. We figured that it was as good a time as any to raise our heads and take a look at where we were. As we each cautiously popped up, a giant smile appeared in unison across our faces. We had reached our desired destination.
All we could see for miles and miles was the small island of Tavarua, some sponsors and press in expensive yachts, a few surfers in the water, and most importantly, one of the most famous waves on the planet: Cloudbreak. The ferry anchored itself only a hundred meters from the wave and it’s fair to say we were all very close to wetting ourselves with joy.
As the ferry slowly filled with more surfers and sponsors, we started to realize that we were the only people without an invite for this prestigious event. We hoped that our sun-kissed hair and tanned skin would help us blend in with the small crowd and nervously made our way to the bow which was out of sight from the rest of the boat. We sat there, our legs dangling over the edge, watching our favorite surfers catch some of the most insane rides on the planet on one of our most adored waves in the whole world. This was the kind of stuff that we had only ever dreamt of and had only ever imagined we would see in a magazine or video. We were in paradise.
We were soon rudely awoken from our real-life day dream as the event organizer came charging down to the front of the boat and yelled at us in a brash Australian accent, “Who the fack are you guys? This is a private event! Do you see any public here? How the fack did you get on this boat?”
After trying our best to calm him down, Chris and I tried playing the sympathy card about being English and never having the opportunity to see, let alone surf a decent wave before. As we were in the middle of the ocean, he couldn’t exactly make us swim back, and the only bit of land we could see was Tavarua Island and we certainly weren’t allowed there, so he begrudgingly said he had no choice but to let us stay for the rest of the day and the ferry would take us back that evening on its return journey. The conditions were that we didn’t move, talk to anybody or cause any sort of trouble. Deal.