Kew’s Corner 1/16

As told by Dave Nelson, senior photographer

It was a Quiksilver/TransWorld SURF boat trip to Fiji’s Forbidden Islands with Strider Wasilewski, Mark Healey, Clay Marzo, and a few of Strider’s friends. When we got to Fiji, the guy who ran our 140-foot boat said its anchor winch was broken, but it would be fixed that night. So he drove us halfway to Suva, got us hotel room, then took us out to Frigates in an expensive yacht.The surf was actually pretty good, but it was impossible to shoot from the water because the current was too strong; you’d get swept straight out to sea. We didn’t have a dinghy, and the yacht we were on was too far from the waves, so I couldn’t shoot at all.Since the other boat was supposed to be fixed that night, we weren’t too worried. But during dinner, our guy came in and said it wouldn’t be fixed until the next morning, so we had to spend the night where we were, near Frigates.

Of course, the boat wasn’t fixed the next morning, so we surfed Frigates again. Still no photos. It was day two of a weeklong trip, so time was precious. Healey broke a board, and one of Strider’s friends got raked across the reef–he had these huge tiger-claw gouges all over his back. Really gnarly.

After surfing all day, the boat still wasn’t fixed, so we decided to drive to Suva and physically get on the boat to force the issue, because if we didn’t leave soon, we weren’t going at all.

Suva has one of the world’s greasiest, gnarliest harbors. Diesel fumes were everywhere–you couldn’t even breathe–and we all got crazy headaches. The whole harbor was filled with black smoke…it was just hideous.

We sat on the boat all day; we were supposed to leave at midnight. But when we woke up the next day, we were still in the harbor. We’d sat on the boat for 24 hours straight, so at that point we figured we’d check out Suva for a little while.The boat was finally fixed at around 2 p.m., so we all got back onto the boat, left the harbor, and drove straight into the gnarliest storm ever: 35-foot seas, gale-force winds–it was seriously straight out of The Perfect Storm.

About 10 hours out, halfway between Suva and the Forbidden Islands, we found a huge reef and parked on its leeward side, where it bent in, next to two shipwrecks. That was heavy, because we thought, hey, that could’ve been us.It was semi-sheltered in the reef’s leeward side, so we went to sleep. The next day, a few guys went surfing along the reef, and Healy decided to go freediving by himself.

About a half-hour after the guys went out, a giant squall appeared out of nowhere and nailed us from behind—the boat was anchored facing the reef. It was the kind of squall in which you can’t see five inches in front of your face. Total whiteout. Gnarly, gnarly squall, creating whirlpools and rip currents around the boat–it was heavy.

The squall hit so fast that no one had time to react. The surfers were a quarter-mile away, and Healy was diving somewhere way off the reef.

Then the squall pushed our boat straight up onto the reef, and suddenly we were stuck on dry coral, listing sideways. The captain was running around screaming, and everyone was just freaking. We were about 15 hours from land, and we couldn’t see Healy or the surfers. Some of the guys were practically in tears–that’s how scared they were. We were basically shipwrecked.We had two huge brand-new 25-foot Zodiacs on the boat. The crew threw them off and drove around in the whiteout squall trying to find Healy and the surfers. There was no navy around there, and no one who could help us, so we had to get ourselves out of it.

They found the surfers and Healy, who were all ghost-white with fear. Then they drove the dinghies around to the other side of the boat and started ramming it at full speed, trying to get it off the reef. It took a while, but it worked.

The captain dove down to assess the damage, which thankfully wasn’t too bad. Then we took a vote of who wanted to keep heading out to the Foorbidden Islands, and who wanted to go back to Suva. Those of us who wanted to keep going won the vote 5-3.

So we left and almost immediately hit an even bigger storm, by far the gnarliest I’ve ever experienced. It was huge. It was one of those storms that only happen once a year down there. It was impossible to sleep, so we were all just white-knuckling it, holding on for dear life. Everyone was puking and totally freaking out.

Then the boat’s septic tank broke, so the whole boat reeked of raw sewage. Next, all the banging and shaking opened these barrels of kerosene and gasoline that were up top, so we had gas and kerosene dripping through our cabins’ skylights and down onto our beds. The whole boat smelled like a combination of shit, gas, and kerosene.

The storm’s force tossed one of the dinghies into the air, which came down and impaled itself on a pole–straight through the metal of this brand-new Zodiac.I was so bummed because the swell was so huge, and the waves had to have been all-time out in those Forbidden Islands. We just couldn’t get there that week. If we had had three weeks, we could’ve just waited it out.

Midway through the night, the captain decided to turn around and head back to Suva, so we drove 16 hours through the storm to the harbor. By then, we had one day left in Fiji, so we surfed Frigates again and flew home the next day–with no photos.