It’s been nearly a year since I tried to beat up the Cloudbreak’s reef with my face. For the anniversary, I thought it would only be right to tell the tale.
The waves on that fateful day weren’t particularly big, or particularly heavy. It was a pretty average day for Cloudbreak, really. Maybe eight-foot faces on the sets, kind of gloomy, and a bit wonky, as the swell broke up the peaks a bit.
I caught a ride out with the legend Dave Clark during the Tavarua “changeover,” a brief two-hour window when there are no guests on the island and the crew gets a little quiet time. We pulled up, tied up, and jumped in. The waves were fun but not life changing. Not yet, at least. I caught a couple of fun ones. The swell direction was really south, which made most of them go out to sea, but it also meant there were a few random waves that bent in on the end of the reef and got very angry. Sometimes they’ll let you out before you feel the wrath, though. I had just got a little tube, did a few turns, and was paddling back out way on the end of the reef, smack dab in the zone suitably named shishkabobs for its history of skewering unlucky, unqualified, or overzealous humans. Of course, That weird end bender, angry-but-could-be-amazing tempter, the “I know better” piece of ocean popped up. It was mid to low tide (sketchy down there), it kind of looked like a closeout (but those are the best ones), and I thought to myself “maybe not this one?” Then reconsidered and thought the same thought that has caused so much trouble and triumph throughout history: “fuck it.”
I took off, easy drop, pressed off the bottom into one big pump and grabbed rail. Tucked my back knee in to get going and had a good line. Sometimes, these waves have a way of seducing you when you know better, the tricksters, and they can leave you broken. The escape route suddenly disappeared into the distance and the lip exploded into the bottom of my board, launching me into space. I don’t even remember hitting water. I slammed directly onto my face. Face-planting is never good, but I was grating the reef with my cheek for what seemed like an eternity. It was long enough to think, “wow, this is fucked up. Wow, I’m still grinding on my face? WOW.”
I popped up in a foot of water, the foam turning red with blood, and saw another wave about to detonate on me. I couldn’t see that well because of the blood, and when I touched my eyebrow, I thought that it actually might be hanging into my eye. I didn’t have time for that, though. I needed to paddle and hope I didn’t get pounded back into the reef by the next set bearing down on me.
I took a few on the head, but made it out the back with relative ease. In safer water I took stock: teeth– ok, sight –mostly ok, think it’s just blood, neck – feels ok, overall face area – not so much here or here, just my entire face is fucking sore. I waved a boat down and it happened to be my friend Henry who is a Kiwi and rides a mini tanker at pumping Cloudbreak.
“Henry!” I asked him, sitting up with one hand on the boat. “Is it bad?” His eyes widened as he answered. “Yeah bru, it’s pretty bad.” He agreed to take me in. I bailed on Dave Clark, but grabbed my backpack with the phone and called in my own injury report: I’m ok, no apparent neck or head trauma, solid lacerations on face… kinda fucked up, actually.
I got to the beach and the boys helped me to the shower. I rinsed off gingerly and stepped to the mirror. “Don’t look at it!” they told me. But I wanted to see. What stared back was pretty ugly.
Once I got to the infirmary, I sat and waited for the doctor, who hadn’t even set foot on the island yet. She had been on the back end of the two hour quiet time window, probably excited to jump in the ocean, rinse off the travel, and unpack her stuff. They expedited her to the island ahead of bags and guests, straight into stitches duty, and she fixed up my face like the pro she is.. At the end of it, I think it was 25 stitches total, ended up with no neck problems, no eye problems, no fractures (I think, but I never got X-rays). Overall, I was pretty lucky, although I was spitting out little pieces of reef in my gums. I remedied that with chocolate shakes.
I changed my flight and went home beat up and really tired, but stoked that it was only superficial. I figured I’ve been surfing Cloudbreak for a decade, and that was by far the worst beatings I’ve had. Hopefully my dues are paid for at least another decade!
Extra special thanks to Doctor Amy Olin! Legend! And of course to the Tavarua Crew for taking care of me.