Globe Fiji Pro

Vacationing On Club Shred

Pig Dog Pirates In The Land Of Lovely Lefts

How do you start an article about your first trip to a place that could very well be the best surf destination in the known universe? I could start by saying I’m a lucky bastard. I was chosen by Globe to host an Internet show live from Tavarua called “Wha Happ’n?” and also pitch in on commentator duties for the live Webcast of The Globe Fiji Pro-yes, a full paid two-week trip to Tavarua just to talk to a camera about the best surfers in the world surfing one of the best waves in the world. Start hating me now.

In the beginning, God created the Earth. Then after a week or so, God realized he was exhausted and needed a place to rest after all his hard work. Being a goofy-foot, God decided to make a place called Tavarua in Fiji, and on that day, God got so barreled at Restaurants that he decided to quit surfing because it really couldn’t get any better than that.

Since 1984, Tavarua has been the dream destination for surfers all over the world. What started out as a feral-style surf camp has become a five-star utopia complete with fifteen deluxe bures (spacious air-conditioned huts with full bathrooms and three beds), tennis court, hot showers, queen beds, gift shop, a full-service bar, and a wonderful pool that boasts the best view you may ever see-a view of Restaurants from start to finish as it wraps around the reef. Conjure up an image of your dream surf resort, then throw that shitty place out the window-Tavarua is better than you could ever imagine.

Where I am right now is about as far away from the utopia that is Tavarua. I am in a six-foot-by-six-foot cubicle in Oceanside, California. It’s been a month since I’ve felt the silky warm waters of Restaurants, felt the icy tinge of a frozen daiquiri slip down my throat while floating in a beachfront pool, or wrestled a fellow island resident to the wooden deck of the bar at three in the morning. My Tavarua high is fading, but by closing my eyes and imagining the glow of the Fijian sun, I slowly return. Come with me now.

Meet And Greet

I drove with C.J. Hobgood to LAX airport from my house in San Diego. My first question of C.J: “So, C.J.” I ask him over the noise of my truck tires running up the freeway. “You’re the reigning Tavarua champ. Do you feel like you have a bull’s-eye on your face?”

“A little. I’m just so excited to get there. Trust me, Cotà‡,” he said and started to grin. “When you see this place, you’re gonna lose it. It’s the best place on Earth. Just get ready, if we get good Restaurants, you’re gonna freaking lose your mind.”

Be aware, though, I’m not going to Tavarua as a surfer. I’m going to work, watch, and experience this place, and this event-the Globe Fiji Pro.

Jump-Off Point

We arrived at LAX to be greeted by fellow Tavarua trekkers Kalani Robb, Shea Lopez, Cory Lopez, Ian Walsh, Tim Reyes, Peter Mendia, and a few Globe personnel. Other members of our snowballing traveling armada were on hand to document the whole extravaganza for a DVD that’s hopefully attached to the page before this. If it isn’t, sorry, you’ve been ripped off.

On the plane ride, Kalani Robb described Tavarua to me. His face glowed as he spoke of the promised land. “Restaurants is so perfect,” he laughed. “It’s the best wave ever. The bar is so fun. The pool is amazing. I can’t believe you’ve never been there.” This coming from Kalani who’s been there every year for the past twelve or so years.

Being a Tavi virgin, I wondered about every little aspect of what goes down on this fantasy island. It was odd, after seeing so many videos, photos, and reading so many articles about this promised land, I still felt like I had no idea of what life on Tavarua was really like. Then, upon landing in Fiji, I got my first taste of the decadence and wonder that traveling to this place held.

A Taste Of Decadence And A View From The Sky

As most of the top 44 stepped off the plane d onto Fijian soil, Kalani invited me along with Sunny Garcia and his wife Raina to bypass the three-hour bus/boat ride to the island and make the fifteen-minute flight aboard a jet copter. I’ve never been on a helicopter and I hate boats, so before I knew it our small crew made like Navy Seals and snuck off to the eighteenth hole of the golf course that surrounds the Sheraton In Fiji. As the chopper landed, the pilot walked out to greet us standing straight. I choose to duck and jog to the door of the bird because that’s what I’ve seen people do in movies. Once strapped in, the bird floated up effortlessly like a helium balloon released from a child’s hand. Once free of Earth, the ocean came into view, and off in the distance, a tiny speck about the size of pencil eraser came into view. As the jet-powered helicopter glided above the shimmering bright-blue ocean, the island grew to the size of a dime, then a quarter. It was lush and green in the middle, and surrounded by a ring of white glowing sand. and as we hovered a few hundred yards above it, it remained the size of a quarter. The island only takes about fifteen minutes to walk around on the beach. For a special treat, the pilot jammed us over to Cloudbreak and proceeded to dive bomb directly at the reef. To the best of my knowledge, the only helicopter that could fly upside down was called Airwolf, but I guess in Fiji they all can. It was nice to hear Sunny Garcia scream a little bit, even though he’ll probably punch me for saying that.

We landed safely on Tavarua and jumped out of the chopper, directly onto the soft sand. Kalani informed me that we were the first four people on the island, and we basically had the whole place to ourselves. When you first walk up to the resort, you’ll see cement trails winding through lush greenery that sits on the sandy ground. All buildings are made of brown wood and blend in nicely to the surroundings. The deck and bar area looks like a nice tropical restaurant, mostly outside, surrounded by benches and round tables with umbrellas. The pool is like a spring-break fantasy, with a swim-up bar, connected Jacuzzi, and shallow lounge area for bronzing.

We instantly ditched our bags and went for a surf. Restaurants was only about a foot but reeling across the reef like a miniature version of its real self. We opted for two nine-foot softboards and raced out to the lineup to wash off the travel egg. My first view of the reef under Restaurants made me realize that this was the shallowest, sharpest, most uncaring reef in the world. As you paddle through the inside section, you’ll notice pieces of blue, green, or red cloth swaying in the underwater currents, attached to barbs of reef like little flags. These are pieces of rashguards from unlucky surfers who tempted fate and wound up donating skin, blood, and pieces of clothing to the “gnarliest reef on Earth” (according to C.J.) Now imagine how sketchy the reef is when it’s only a foot deep and the waves are six feet-scalpings and stitches are very common.

After the brief session in death-defying one-foot drainers, we’d dry-docked our softboards on dry reef enough times to know it was time to go in. The paddle in and out to Restaurants is farther than you think-at low tide you have to go all the way around the reef, and that can take up to a half hour. At high tide, you can paddle straight out from the pool, and that takes about ten to twenty minutes.

The Tour Arrives: A Party Ensues

“There’s a contest here?” Andy Irons laughed as he took a bite of his first Caesar salad of the week. “I thought this was just a holiday.”

The vacation began.

From the outside, the world tour seems like a competitive heap where clicky friends stick to their respective groups, only interacting when a paddle-battle causes friction and leads to yelling out in the lineup. The truth of the matter is, the world tour, while rife with cool kids and outcasts, is one big traveling family. You can bet that if a touring Brazilian saw an American or South African tour mate in trouble, he’d spring into action to help. “I love this place because it’s so laid-back and relaxed,” says C.J. Hobgood. “It’s great to have everybody get together and hang out in such a beautiful place.”

All of the guys may lead separate existences in places like Hawai’i or California, but when they get piled onto an island paradise, the miles of separation turn into meters, and a happy coexistence is created.

The first night showed me this. As competitors arrived to a flat ocean, they dumped their board bags in their bures and made their way to the bar to catch up with friends. As word came in of a three-day lull, the party started to kick up a bit and the calm before the storm was replaced with screaming tables full of poker players, hollering Aussies watching rugby games, and a Jacuzzi full of beer-swilling pros retelling stories of the past few weeks when the “family” of the world tour was separated between events. The whole scene looks more like a brochure for an all-male homoerotic fantasy island than a surf contest. Homoerotic because out of the island’s 80 or so guests maybe ten are female, and of those ten, three are married and four are girlfriends of tour surfers. Meaning, if my math is correct, the island is one big dude soup-even more so when the Jacuzzi was full, for a total of about fifteen men at a time. Oh yeah, Nomotu, which is a small island (about 1,000 square feet) just a few hundred yards away, held a band of Aussies hell-bent on getting bent. On Nomotu, they have a drink called a Skulldragger: It’s like a Long Island iced tea but ten times stronger. I had one, and I’ll never have another. It made me breathe fire. The Aussies, however, had many. You could almost hear them screaming profanity all the way across the channel. Nomotu was dubbed The Island Of Lost Children-they won the party contest by a mile.

Meanwhile on Tavarua, stupid injuries were occurring at the bar. Some dumb American journalist slipped and cut his hand to shit. Luckily, the trained staff at Tavarua calmly pulled the dumbass’ gushing cut together with nine stitches-stupid tourist (me).

30 Chiefs

The opening ceremony of the Globe Fiji Pro became an event of epic proportions for the people of Tavarua and the visiting surfers. For the first time in a quarter century, 30 chiefs from all over Fiji were flown in to take part in the opening kava ceremony. Kava is a root that has been used for hundreds of years in ceremonies for chiefs and also as a casual way to wind down after a long day. When it’s crushed into powder, strained through a special cloth, and added to a large bowl, it makes a cloudy mixture that is drunk in a small coconut shell.

Surrounding these chiefs were over 60 of the world’s best surfers. In the ceremony, Michael Marckx and Gary Valentine of Globe presented the chief of Tavarua with three enormous bags of kava, which were blessed and then consumed over a four-hour period by the whole party. Seeing these Fijian dignitaries all come together for the sake of surfing was a very special thing. It makes me think that somehow this coming together of kings helped to bless this event-as you can see, it worked.

Down Days=Numb Nights

The first three days of the Globe Fiji Pro were pretty much filled with sports like beer tennis, beer pong, beer swimming, beer walking, and beer sleeping. Foster’s supplied a ridiculous amount of free beer that was greatly appreciated by everybody. As nighttime crept in, kava circles would form and grow in size as surfers and guests left the bar to sit down on the deck with the Fijian people for a casual yet special opportunity to relax with these great people and drink the national drink of Fiji. The kava tastes like river water and makes your mouth numb. After a few hours of ceremoniously drinking kava, you’ll go into a state of relaxation, a kind of comfortable numbness of the mind and body. T that if a touring Brazilian saw an American or South African tour mate in trouble, he’d spring into action to help. “I love this place because it’s so laid-back and relaxed,” says C.J. Hobgood. “It’s great to have everybody get together and hang out in such a beautiful place.”

All of the guys may lead separate existences in places like Hawai’i or California, but when they get piled onto an island paradise, the miles of separation turn into meters, and a happy coexistence is created.

The first night showed me this. As competitors arrived to a flat ocean, they dumped their board bags in their bures and made their way to the bar to catch up with friends. As word came in of a three-day lull, the party started to kick up a bit and the calm before the storm was replaced with screaming tables full of poker players, hollering Aussies watching rugby games, and a Jacuzzi full of beer-swilling pros retelling stories of the past few weeks when the “family” of the world tour was separated between events. The whole scene looks more like a brochure for an all-male homoerotic fantasy island than a surf contest. Homoerotic because out of the island’s 80 or so guests maybe ten are female, and of those ten, three are married and four are girlfriends of tour surfers. Meaning, if my math is correct, the island is one big dude soup-even more so when the Jacuzzi was full, for a total of about fifteen men at a time. Oh yeah, Nomotu, which is a small island (about 1,000 square feet) just a few hundred yards away, held a band of Aussies hell-bent on getting bent. On Nomotu, they have a drink called a Skulldragger: It’s like a Long Island iced tea but ten times stronger. I had one, and I’ll never have another. It made me breathe fire. The Aussies, however, had many. You could almost hear them screaming profanity all the way across the channel. Nomotu was dubbed The Island Of Lost Children-they won the party contest by a mile.

Meanwhile on Tavarua, stupid injuries were occurring at the bar. Some dumb American journalist slipped and cut his hand to shit. Luckily, the trained staff at Tavarua calmly pulled the dumbass’ gushing cut together with nine stitches-stupid tourist (me).

30 Chiefs

The opening ceremony of the Globe Fiji Pro became an event of epic proportions for the people of Tavarua and the visiting surfers. For the first time in a quarter century, 30 chiefs from all over Fiji were flown in to take part in the opening kava ceremony. Kava is a root that has been used for hundreds of years in ceremonies for chiefs and also as a casual way to wind down after a long day. When it’s crushed into powder, strained through a special cloth, and added to a large bowl, it makes a cloudy mixture that is drunk in a small coconut shell.

Surrounding these chiefs were over 60 of the world’s best surfers. In the ceremony, Michael Marckx and Gary Valentine of Globe presented the chief of Tavarua with three enormous bags of kava, which were blessed and then consumed over a four-hour period by the whole party. Seeing these Fijian dignitaries all come together for the sake of surfing was a very special thing. It makes me think that somehow this coming together of kings helped to bless this event-as you can see, it worked.

Down Days=Numb Nights

The first three days of the Globe Fiji Pro were pretty much filled with sports like beer tennis, beer pong, beer swimming, beer walking, and beer sleeping. Foster’s supplied a ridiculous amount of free beer that was greatly appreciated by everybody. As nighttime crept in, kava circles would form and grow in size as surfers and guests left the bar to sit down on the deck with the Fijian people for a casual yet special opportunity to relax with these great people and drink the national drink of Fiji. The kava tastes like river water and makes your mouth numb. After a few hours of ceremoniously drinking kava, you’ll go into a state of relaxation, a kind of comfortable numbness of the mind and body. The best part of the kava experience is sharing it with the great people of the island. The Fijians are a proud, strong, and cheerful people. They are known as one of the only unconquered indigenous races left on Earth, a testament to their strength and fortitude. Most of the time, long kava sessions with these wonderful people end in sing-alongs, laughter, and storytelling. One time, it led to a late-night concert on acoustic guitar by none other than Kelly Slater for about twenty Fijians and me. Kelly does a mean version of “Doctor My Eyes” by Jackson Browne by the way.

Rumblings Off The Coast Of New Zealand

Here’s how I think this next part of the story may have happened: Sean Collins of Surfline was sitting in his office in Orange County on the second day of the event looking at some weather maps. His eyes fixated on a small bluish purple blob off the coast of New Zealand. The blob started growing, and Sean’s eyes grew with it. He placed a fax into his fax machine and sent it to Renato Hickel, the ASP tour manager, and Steve Robertson, the event director. These men were in charge of when and where the surfers would compete. As the fax from Sean Collins came in, you can bet they hugged and jumped up and down with glee. The fax, which I did not see, must’ve read something like, “Massive swell approaching. Sound the alarms, ring the bells, and clear out a bed for me, I’ll be on the next flight out-Sean Collins,” who indeed was on the next flight out. The swell was to pulse on the sixth day of the event, and when the announcement was made to the surfers, the seriousness of competition kicked in. I was alone at the bar as pro surfers checked their quivers, did yoga, listened to rap music, and began to psych themselves up for the impending water bombs aimed directly at the South Pacific reef called Cloudbreak. The island of Tavarua was buzzing, the trialists were either sweating bullets or shitting themselves with anticipation or, dare I say, fear. The word started getting around-the storm off the coast of New Zealand was soon being called “The Perfect Storm.”

Collins was quoted as saying, “This swell is pretty much as good as it gets! Everything is coming together perfectly.”

Trials And Tribulations

As the massive swell first started showing signs of waves, the trials began. The field of trialists read like a who’s who of ripping ams and freesurf masters. The format for the trials was new as well-basically four guys go out at a time for 35 minutes, surf twice, and their two highest wave scores from either heat are their keeper scores. Three spots were up for grabs-two from the main trials and one from a Fijian trials event that was won by Isei Tokovou from Tavarua. Isei won a spot in the main event, making him the first Fijian to ever surf in a world-tour contest. The other two spots weren’t going to go easily. Trialists included Nathan Webster, Luke Hitchings, Pancho Sullivan, Peter Mendia, Ian Walsh, Patrick Gudauskas, Yadin Nicol, Paul Fisher, Dion Agius, Adam Robertson, Tiago Pires, and Chief Druku’s son, Aca Ravulo Lalabalavu. The trials were held in absolutely perfect conditions at Cloudbreak-six foot, glassy, sunny, and barreling off its nuts.

Some of the trialists had a bit of trouble adjusting to the power and perfection of Cloudbreak, digging rails, and being blown out the tops of waves. Others had no issues whatsoever. Pete Mendia was the obvious standout in the trials, followed closely by Luke Hitchings. Mendia sent shivers down the spines of some top tour surfers by getting a growling eight-second tube for a perfect ten in his first heat of the trials. After a hard-fought trials event, it was Mendia and Hitchings taking the golden tickets into the main event.

Coudbreak Awakens

On the night before the big swell was to arrive, Renato and Steve Robertson stood up at dinner and asked for the attention of the surfers. “Guys, I just wanted to tell you that tomorrow is looking good for Cloudbrea