JUNE 7TH WAS A HISTORIC DAY for the world of wave riding at Thunder Cloud reef — aka Cloudbreak — off the coast of Fiji. It blew away the minds of just about all the best surfers in the world who were all present because of the WCT contest that was going down for one, and the beast of the swell the other.
Most people had never seen anything like what was storming down the reef that day. Those that had, still, hadn’t seen it quite like that. These waves were the most cartoonish perfect, 20 to 40 foot tubes, coming in one after the other. Cosmic, dreamland stuff! Expressions of awe were coming out incoherently everywhere because words just couldn’t express what was happening.
It was a natural phenomenon, a wonder of the world that a force of wave energy could get that perfect. And to make it that much more surreal, the crew charging it were so on point that just about everybody got a wave of a lifetime. Some got by far the best wave of their life, resulting in some of the best rides of all time. But regardless of that, just bearing witness and feeling the collective energy of the place that day was something all present will hold dear for ever.
I got to Fiji the day before the swell with a crew that ran deep, basically a group of all the most capable in the biz of riding these kind of heavy waves. Twig (Grant Baker), Ramon (Navarro), Kala (Alexander), (Mark) Healey, Greg (Long), Walshy, brothers Kohl and Nick, Sterles, Kalani, Pete, Danilo, Billy, Derek, Reef, (Danny) Fuller, Nathan (Fletcher), Makua (Rothman) — the list goes on. It was a reunion for the best occasion, a recipe for some amazing stuff to go down. Especially considering all the other best in the world were already out there for the World Tour contest. Most of us posted up at the same hotel together on the main island where we had organized to get boated out to the reef.
It is a new thing that Couldbreak is open to the public and you can leave from the main island to go there. For the past two decades Tavarua Island Resort has had exclusive rights to the reef and built the most successful surf resort in the world off the perfection of the waves at hand and high quality living. It was the Rolls Royce of surf trips. If you had the five grand for a week long trip you were stoked and surfed with only the other guests and employees, and while plenty of the best surfers in the world surfed the reefs consistently throughout the years, many traveling surfers with an appetite for big tubes just never made it because of the price tag and the need for early commitment to a week long time frame.
It’s one thing to drop big cash if you know you are likely going to score, but otherwise it’s a gamble. And that was always the crux for a lot of surfers. There were endless stories of people that spent the five Gs and got skunked, but plenty of people also scored empty perfection and the trip of their life, often times with more waves than a small group knows what to do with, especially when it was big. But that’s no more a predicament.
Three years ago the Fijian government decided that there would be no more private rights to certain waves. Everything would be open to the public. It was a full game changer in Fiji. Suddenly surf tourism shifted from just the couple private resorts controlling all the biz, to the current stage where anybody can come and surf, and easily find a boat and decent place to stay on the main island for a relatively affordable price.
As a result there are all sorts of new boat charter businesses, plenty more Fijians working in the surf tourism business, and more of the best surfers in the world coming to ride Cloudbreak on the biggest swells of the year, when it’s widely agreed to be the best big wave in the world, yet was only ridden by very few over the past 20 years on these phenomenal days. With the new situation of free rights to surf, there has been a groundbreaking session in each of the past three years, where the some of the best rides of all time have gone down. This day was the next chapter in Cloudbreak’s paradigm shift.
There was lots of speculation about whether the contest would be held or not. Most people seemed to think no, because these top competitors didn’t have the 8-foot plus boards needed to surf big Cloudbreak, and the prospect of having just two people in the lineup who were mostly not equipped didn’t seem logical, especially when the swell would drop and get perfect most likely for them. But, still, who knew? There were plenty of competitors hitting up all us guys with big boards to borrow / rent a big board in case they had to surf. There were some classic percentage deals getting tossed around for usage; it was funny.
The swell was 10 to 20 foot faces at the start of the morning, extremely perfect and manageable. Gradually it started creeping up but was still in the realm enough that the contest was called on. The water was cleared and everybody that came to surf the big stuff was feeling the worst-case scenario was happening. The swell really began picking up as the first heat was happening and so many waves were going un-ridden, and one of the guys got hurt.
Next heat was the same, so many waves going un-ridden, and the swell was getting very serious. In a decision that’s been much debated since, the contest folks decided to call it a day, and let everybody go surfing. It was a full moment of elation for the crew there for it, for lots of the competitors as well, for different reasons. Some just wanted to go surf all day, others were no doubt nervous and wanted no part. What ensued was the most incredible tube riding show of all time, which everybody that wanted a part of could have a part of, which was a wonderful thing.