My First Pacific Island Reef Cover-up

With tropical ennui setting in, I cut my conversation short with a beautiful trio of Dublin blondes at the poolside resort bar to catch a ride to a resort surf break with an Australian bloke named Alex. He’s a cool guy from Queensland who was supposed to be working in Suva, Fiji’s capital for one year. But his Australian parent company cut his job short by six months because of the latest military coup.

Driving a beat up Nissan, Alex blasts the Australian band Wolfmother, who sound like a reincarnation of Black Sabbath. Over the music, he tells us that the coup was media hype. The media, Alex said, referred to the coup as a “bloodless” one rather than “peaceful.” Sounds better for ratings.

Nothing really changed during the coup, which happened just a couple weeks before I arrived here on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. Lots of people, I was told, canceled their trip because of the perception of anarchy brewed up by the media.

With us is Adam, a Yankee bloke from San Diego. He’s a heavy metal fan and told me that he hated New Zealand, which he recently just left to come to Fiji. He’s the first person I’ve ever met not to like NZ. It rained most of the time he was there and the sandflies drove him crazy, causing him to itch the same bites for three weeks.

To combat insanity and boredom, Adam who was camping in a tent when it was dry and in his small car during the wet, played guitar in his car for 8 hours, practicing various scale modes, as his guitar hero, Metallica’s Kirk Hammet, surely does.

Adam, a feisty Greek, is traveling around for several months. His next destination is Samoa. His trips are solely intended for surfing. Adam is a character; a cross between Al Pacino and Jerry Seinfeld.

Adam financed his trip by making over $5,000 for one months worth of work cultivatating marijuana in Northern California. To stash his cash making hash, he went to go open a bank account up in NoCal and the teller said to him:

“You’re lucky I’m working today because another teller might not be so kind giving you the following bit of advice: Let that money air out in the sun for a couple days. It reeks of pot!”

Adam, when not helping grow pot, cleans ship hulls.

So, onwardswere the three of us, crammed into Alex’s beater Nissan with boards strapped by bungee cord. It takes about 40 minutes from where the backpacker resort where the three of us were staying, to reach Sigatoka, a large (for Fiji) commercial town of Indian restaurants and chintzy gift shops. Sigatoka is home to a murky river mouth break that is rumored to be sharky. It also has impressive sand dunes, which rise up from Fiji’s only beach break.

But I didn’t fly around the world to surf a beach break. I came here to surf a sharp coral reef break, something I have only done once before in Bali. I’m a homeboy and love my home break. I rarely venture away from my home field advantage.

We pass Sigatoka and go to a flashy resort that is owned by an Australian. After dousing in sunscreen we walk past the resort, Alex greets his fellow countryman, the resort owner and then we paddle out.

It’s a long paddle to the main break. No boat rides needed on the main island here. This is no spoiled-surfer resort; this is the main island. Sure, there are better waves on Tavarua but I don’t believe in the principle of surf resorts, especially not high-end ones for surfing yuppies. Granted, there are many respectful surfers who aren’t pretentious and have worked hard for their money.

Adam and Alex zip out to the break like jack rabbits. I paddle out more like a tortoise. I have no idea why they got so far ahead of me. I was paddling with all my might till my back muscles got soaked with lactic acid. I’ll blame it on the long plane ride.

By the time I get out, my surfmates have already caught waves. We are the only ones out. It’s not a big day, head high at most on the biggest sets.

A father and his potential son-in-law from Adelaide join us. I’m enjoying the warm water, except for the nagging sea lice, which you don’t feel after you get out of the water. Still, I had just left the U.S. and 58-degree water. I’d guess the water temp was 76.

After catching a couple waves but being out of position, I score one of the most memorable waves of my life.

It’s a right and I’m lined up perfectly, though I didn’t know it at the time. I just glide down the line and can see the reef below. The water was perfectly glassy like an ancient piece of turquoise glass from the Middle East.

Without turning at all, I see the lip about to double over. I crouch down slightly and lean towards the wave face ducking my head and I get covered up. Not an epic barrel by any means, but I’ll take it for my first proper reef cover up.

I didn’t catch any other waves that day even though I was out there for probably another 45 minutes. The lineup got crowded with one Japanese guy catching every wave from ankle high and up. There was also a local Melanesian-Fijian. You don’t see many Fijians surfing.

Adam and Alex paddled in. Good timing on their part, but bad decision for me to try and catch more waves. It started pouring torrentially, unlike any deluge I have ever seen. What a magical feeling though being out in the ocean when its raining so hard it’s difficult to keep your eyes open. Some of the set waves got bigger but it was such a shifty peak that I wasn’t able to get in position.

Then I got paranoid. It started to thunder in the highlands. I thought I was going to get electrocuted. I’m in the beginning of a four-month trip and here I am not even a week into it and I’m going to die. I tell myself to relax, that lighting likes high places.

But what if the storm is moving south out to the sea?

I start paddling in and it takes forever to get back in. I have no idea how many yards it was to reach the shore, maybe 500, maybe 750, 1000?…

I also fear that I have been stranded without any money on me. How would I get back to the resort?

But when I see Alex waiting on shore under a canopy, I tell myself, “Classic Ozzie bloke!”

Had I not scored that memorable ride today, it would have been a forgetful session other than the apocalyptic storm. But I was content with my first Pacific island reef cover up and I kept playing it back in my mind.

It stopped raining. Alex drove us to Sigatoka and the three of us ate lamb curry in an Indian restaurant. Alex got pissed off at the female Indian proprietor. She’s cold and so is the soup she serves. Alex is disgusted that she only gives him a 60 cent credit because his lentil soup practically has icicles dangling from it.

Where is justice when you need it in the third world?

Back at our resort, I spent the night drinking kava and Fiji Bitter ceremonial style with Adam, Alex and other worldly backpackers. We clapped and chanted “Bula” every time someone finished an offering.

Later in my upper bunk dorm bed, my gums still numb from the narcotic kava concoction, I relived my ride dozens of times in my head, especially the part when the Australian father from Adelaide yelled at me a “Yahoo!” when I emerged from the cover up.

It’s good to venture away from your home break after all, I reckon.

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