Our new buddy Jerry drops us off at the “big white boat” via his small fishing vessel with a spotty engine. Jerry and his wife Rosa are the owners of the family run resort we just came from, Bay of Plenty; the name of which you can just barely make out on the side of Jerry’s watery steed. With our minds already blown with our first stop on our 9-month travel experience, we load up our gear on the big white boat and leave the Yasawas with a lobster-red tan and a few new ukulele strums in my back pocket.
In just over five hours, we have our feet on the ground again as we arrive at the Denarau port on the main island. Our next luxury accommodation will be the surf flat associated with the surf tour company we hooked up with for tomorrow’s excursion: I will attempt to surf head-high barreling waves over shallow reef (after a 6-month surfing hiatus, mind you) and Nanner will hit up some snorkel action. We snag a cab for 14 FJD with help of a local Fijian named Joe (the name of 50% of male Fijians, apparently) and head off to our pick-up spot for the surf flat. Once there, a fairly new-looking minibus adorned with GoPro stickers pulls up and out pops the uber-tanned John of Fiji Surf Co. John is a Florida native who works half the year in Fiji and the other half in NY working at a water sports company for kids. He takes us down the road to grab some groceries before taking us to the flat. We grab some PBnJ supplies, eggs, breakfast crackers, and a mondo Fiji Gold. This was an interesting experience in itself, as the micro-grocery store doubled as someone’s home and the beer/liquor store required browsing and transactions to take place through a massive barred window.
Following our brief grocery/beer run, we arrive at our surf flat. If you could not already detect my sarcastic use of the word “luxury” a few sentences ago, I will now make it clear: the surf flat is by no means a luxury accommodation. The irony is, after spending our last five days at the Bay of Plenty (which was very nice, but simple at best), the existing pictures of the surf flat we saw on the interwebs seemed quite promising; the reality, however, was a tad different. It’s not so much that the flat was horribly dirty (although the scent from the bathroom and the questionable stain on our sheets might qualify it as so), or that there was a variety of bugs inside including a six-inch huntsman spider (I did not mention this to Anna until we left), or that a crowd of locals showed up around midnight and rambled until 2 AM, or even that this mysterious crowd of locals ate half of our hard-boiled eggs in the fridge(!); our distaste for the surf flat stems primarily from the fact that there was zero air circulation, sweltering temperatures in the room, and no means to cool down. By far, the hottest and most uncomfortable sleeping conditions I’ve experienced. Good gravy. We awoke around midnight to the sound of Fijians laughing and deep frying some sort of food item. It was at this point we realized how friggin’ hot it was. About an hour later, Anna leaves the room and comes back with a small jar of jelly that we just purchased from the store and proceeds place it on her belly button for some refreshing heat exchange. Unfortunately for Nanners, the fridge was capable of cooling these fruit preserves a couple degrees below the ambient temperature in the room which provided only a few minutes of cooling. I, however, did not have any chilled condiments at my disposal, so I opted to go put my head in the shower for a few seconds. It was during this procedure I discovered the massive arachnid sprinting across the wall, but was too delirious to take any sort of heroic action. After my shower, I stopped by the fridge just past the massive spider hangout and snagged the chilled peanut butter jar to provide some more relief to the wife. Unnecessarily-long story short: after staying awake until about 3 AM, the wind suddenly blew in the only window in our room and rain started to pour. This was the best thing that happened to us all week (not really…but kind of). Instant “cool down” (i.e. the temperature probably dropped from 95 F to 85 F). The point is: that shit was hot. Second point: God bless Fiji Surf Company, but for the love of Pete, don’t stay at their flat unless its winter or you have a fan.
Back to surfing! So, we awoke 3 hours later at 6:00 AM for our 6:30 AM pickup at the surf flat. We were told the day before that the snorkeling may not be so good for Anna where I would be surfing, so we decided to split up: Anna would shift gears and go to the surf school at Natadola Beach and I would continue on two more hours to the Beach House where we would take a boat to a few breaks. After dropping off Nanners, I was accompanied by the two surf guides (John and Stu), Stu’s friend (Said), an Aussi named Greg, and two Aussi groms (i.e. young surfers) whose names I forget. All great peeps. We arrived at the Beach House and were greeted by Sammy, our boat driver for the day. After a quick breakfast snack we headed out to the first break, right out front of the Beach House. Despite the dark and stormy weather out by the surf flat, the weather by the Beach House was sunny and calm, lending to clean and glassy wave conditions. Although chest-high and over reef, these waves were a good mental/physical warm up given my rusty surf fitness. Unfortunately, we only stayed here about 30 minutes and I left without a decent ride. Such is life.
Next. We take the boat about 20 minutes out to a left hand break, called Pipe, which we are told is “pumping”. At this point I don’t know whether I’m more stoked or if my board shorts are about to change color from a light blue to a darker brown…gross. I know. I’ll keep those jokes to a minimum. As we pull up, I can see that it is indeed pumping. Chest- to head-high and barreling. Moving pretty fast, but they look surprisingly fun, even for ole’ Johnny Noodle-arms. I lube up with some more sunblock (a useless exercise, I will later find out) and jump off the boat. Just like at Beach House, the water is nice and clear here and the reef is about 4 to 5 feet down. After about an hour in the water, all I’ve gotten is tired arms, a mean sunburn, and have been cleaned up by a big set (i.e. big waves came and wrecked my world). Although, obviously stoked to be in Fiji, surfing with good people, on a seemingly infinite vacation, I begin to get frustrated as I tell myself that I will not leave Fiji without catching a proper wave. A few minutes later, I get my chance: I’m in the right spot and finally have enough energy to paddle in. I drop in left on the head-high wave with enough travel time to grab my rail and slap a big smile on my face; but alas, the wave closes out and I foolishly bail by jumping into the wave. Down I go. I’m sucked back up and then smashed back down into the white water. Thrashing around in nature’s washing machine, I am elated, but also waiting to smash my head on the reef. A few seconds later, I reach the surface wearing a big smile and just keep repeating “Yes!” Even as a look over to my right and see the giant gash on my hand (resulting from its apparent impact with the reef in all my thrashing), this seems to only add to my Fiji surf experience. I take this opportunity to call it quits for this particular break and slowly paddle to the boat to show off my battle wounds.
For our next and final stop, we head over to a break called Shifty’s. Our surf guide explains to the two younger surfers (and is in no way directing this information at me…) that this wave is much easier to catch and should be a lot of fun for them. I am happy to hear this. And yes, looking that this wave I am encouraged as it is a much slower moving and crumbling wave. Although big, this lumbering giant is something I would be used to seeing in NC on a big day. Just before I jump off the side of the boat, Stu shouts out a warning to stay away from the inside as the tide is going out and the reef is very shallow. No problem I say. I paddle out for about 10 minutes and arrive at the break. What do I do? I immediately find myself being swept away by a big set that breaks far outside and into the shallow reef I go. I attempt to execute a strange doggie paddle / fetal position maneuver to maximize the distance between me and the reef. Unfortunately for my feet, my new swimming technique just results in me kicking the reef and rock repeatedly. Although there is a bit of blood and a twinge of pain, I sac up and get back on my board and score a few (…two) rides before we head back to the beach. Upon arrival, I am promptly doused with a serving of lime to kill off any infections I carry in my various lacerations. (I apologize in advance for the following pictures…)
All and all, I had a great day. I caught a few waves, got worked by a few others, and brought back a few infectious reef particles in my wounds. Anna was much more successful in her surfing adventures, as she caught roughly twenty times as many waves as I. Although, she had fun, the surf school finished up about 5 hours earlier than us, leaving her stranded at the spider-infested, hot box (spoiler: we did not stay a second night). As I write this, my cuts seems to be healing fine, with the help of a few steri strips. (And as I post this, I am happy to report that all my reef related wounds healed up without any trouble! Hooray!)