Surfing Fiji: Better than the movies
I've been shaped by cult classic surf films like The Endless Summer and inspired by tales of those travelling afar in search of freedom on the open seas. Stories of glassy seas where albatross weave between waves on the wind, and you navigate by night under a sea of stars.
So when asked to join an expedition throughout the South Pacific on a 10m yacht, surfing remote atolls with a motley crew of misfits, philosophers and war negotiators, my decision was made.
I threw in my job and began plotting our first leg from Auckland to Suva: 1100 nautical miles of blue water en-route to the Coral Coast of Fiji, framed for surf breaks like Frigates.
This trip represented the ultimate freedom. No work, no deadlines, no chores. No cellphones beeping in our pockets and no places to be. We had all the time in the world and were ready to be present and live our best lives.
Casting lines from Westhaven we were laden with three months of food including: 244 beers, 30 litres of wine, 24 packets of Doritos, and a few extra hammocks. The yacht sat low in the water, slightly lopsided and we started the long crawl to Fiji.
But this dream soon took on a sinister edge. While we'd imagined sipping sundowners at dusk while the autopilot guided us safely towards the 17th Latitude, instead we got thrashed by the worst winter storm in years.
Eight-metre swells ended plans of stopping in both the Kermadec Islands and Minerva Reef.
They knocked us down, crashing over the boat and destroying our wind instruments. Our world was deafened by the roar of the ocean and waves regularly forced their way into the cabin.
Sleep was impossible. Our beds were soaking wet, and our eyeballs hung from stinging salted eyelids. That 10-day package holiday to a resort was beginning to look more palatable.
However, on the 9th day, the clouds parted, the seas subsided, and the butter started to melt. We pulled down the sails, did bombs off the spreaders and took our first blue-water swim.
It came like a baptism, washing us free of our filth and providing time to reflect on our decision-making. Once that sun started to shine, our brains quickly forgot any previous trauma and we looked forward to some Fijian hospitality.
Whoever said "it's about the journey, not the destination" was a liar. It was such a relief to be in Fiji, a place that could provide all the things we'd been so desperately longing.
We checked into a surf resort called The Beachouse – one recommended by some friends in New Zealand. Tales of Mokusiga craft beer, daily yoga and iconic weekend parties drew us in. It was to be rehab for salty souls.
Overnight our routine was transformed by the ebb and flow of island life. Our rituals began with sunrise paddles through coral clumps peppered with neon blue starfish. It didn't matter that the waves were only waist-high, they broke with a long continuous perfection that you'd struggle to see in New Zealand.
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The Beachouse crew are at the forefront of Fijian surf culture. They run an onsite programme to bolster the growth of competitive surfing among young Fijians and the Annual Clubs Content was running the weekend we arrived.
The place was buzzing with the glitterati of local surfing. We hung with Bruce, a Kiwi who helps coach junior champions.
Fiji is renowned for its hospitality, and it was no more real than here. The crew didn't hold back in loaning spare boards, joining party waves, gifting us beers and sharing their knowledge.
They sat around with us like old friends, talking late into the night with no place to be … We felt like whanau.
More so, they run boat trips daily from The Beachouse to all the best breaks on the Coral Coast. Without a hint of localism, they showed us all the best spots on a map as well as where we could find secure anchorages and moorings. This was Fiji, crowds weren't an issue.
And with that, we prepared to cast off. Better informed and in less of a hurry. We took a quick pitstop in Sigatoka to resupply with the freshest local produce before heading South-East in search of Beqa Atoll and the infamous Frigates Passage.
Lures produced lunches of tuna sashimi and those up the mast on reef-watch were given first glorious sighting of any new breaks encountered.
The area around Beqa is well known for its surf breaks and Frigates, in particular, is a world-class left that rivals Cloud Break for size and consistency.
Because of the gradual tapering of the reef it can handle all swell sizes and breaks for a long, long time, helping to disperse any potential crowd in the line-up. It's well fed by surf camps in the area but is only accessible by boat as the nearest island is 45 minutes away.
This left us at an advantage – not being constrained by boat schedules and other tourist timetables. We could anchor inside the reef and wait until the conditions were prime.
Beyond surf, it's deserted beaches, rock-solid anchorages and prime game fishing territory.
We chose a spot and headed ashore to present Sevu-sevu – offering gifts to the village elders in return for our visit.
Sitting cross-legged around an old fishing buoy fashioned into a bowl, we were served cups full of kava in coconut shells. This tongue-numbing narcotic looks a lot like muddy water, but you accept it gratefully, clapping and saying Bula! before chugging it down in honour of Fijian culture.
Skipping this etiquette would mean missing out on something extraordinary about travelling Fiji. You're welcomed into the community where they treat you like family until the day you depart. It was nothing to be woken by smiling locals dropping off pawpaw and coconut to our boat at the crack of dawn in exchange for some new fishing lures and line.
Or sharing tobacco cigarettes that have been lovingly rolled in recycled Yellow Pages.
In return for the ongoing hospitality, we'd fix their broken canoes and boats with our fibreglass stashes, repair tired generators and share some waiata in the evenings. It was this spirit of bartering and sharing that was at the true heart of Fijian hospitality and the highlight of the trip.
While we'd set out seeking the endless summer, free from the restraints of community and daily life, that's what we found on the other side. A summer experience far better than the movies.
WHEN TO GO?
You can surf year-round in Fiji, but it's best between April and October. For sailors, this coincides with the end of cyclone season and is the safest time to cruise the South Pacific.
WHERE TO STAY?
The Beachouse offers a more authentic Fijian experience than that provided by the larger resorts - And where else can you have party waves with the best youth surfers in the country? See fijibeachouse.com
The author travelled at her own expense.
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