This took way too long but better late than never. I am back home and right back into regular life. Fiji was an amazing experience and not that I needed it, but it was a pretty awesome escape from reality for a couple weeks. I'll try to do the trip justice without going into too much detail over my next two or three blog posts. Enjoy!
Arriving in Fiji, naturally the first thing I needed to do was get to the water. We took a stroll on the beach checking out the palm trees and dipping our feet into the warm bath that is the South Pacific Ocean. Jason, Ryan, Lina and I got our boards to the water and set out for a paddle from our hotel into Port Denarau, which was the main hub of activity for the event. Our first interaction with local wildlife came in the form of flying fish. These little fish would jump out of the water and literally fly along the surface for sometimes up to 20 seconds. You didn't want to be behind the other paddlers as they would scare the fish which would then come flying in your direction. These fish are best visualized with the help of David Attenborough:
We had 4 days in between arriving in Fiji and the first day of racing. We planned to spend this time trying to get used to the heat and the water conditions. What better way to do that than to hire a boat and go surfing. The surf in Fiji is primarily all reef break which means you need to take a boat to access the outer reef where the waves are breaking. This is a logistical challenge but it does keep the crowds down compared to your local drive up surf spot. Through the grapevine we heard of a Canadian guy living in Fiji who also happened to be a ship captain and surfer. His name is Adrian and he provided boat support for Team Canada throughout the week. The trip would have been much different without him and I know we were all stoked to have someone with some local knowledge to show us around. If you ever get the chance to go to Fiji make sure you look him up and get him to take you out on the water: http://oceanambassadors.org/
We pulled up to Cloudbreak by boat and spent some time watching the first few heats of the surf contest. As Jason described, it felt like we were going to meet Kevin Costner as we approached Water World out in the middle of the ocean. Cloudbreak is a world famous surf spot featuring a permanent judging/video building built right on the reef. Combine this with the event boat, the board barge and the many longboats and saildboats on the water it was a pretty cool scene.
We didn't hang around too long as we were all anxious to get on the water ourselves. We headed out towards islands of Tavarua and Namotu. These islands are also home to some pretty excellent surf spots. On the way Jason and Lina got onto the race boards and tested the waters. These islands also served as course markers for the distance race which was coming up in a few days. Captain Adrian gave us some great insight into the currents and what we might expect on race day. Currents in our local waters are a little bit easier to see and understand as they are influenced by rocks, islands and the mainland. In Fiji, the currents do go around islands but are also strongly influenced by the reefs and deep water channels which are all below the surface. This meant we had to be a little bit smarter about how we managed our lines through the distance course and had to look for cues like the darker, deeper water or the light shallow water depending on what the current was doing.
It was hard to not bring out the surf board but I was focused on making sure I was comfortable on my race board in these conditions, so I spent the first two days just surfing my race board. This worked out fairly well as the swell was small and it meant I got a great chance to warm up and get used to the conditions. Waves breaking over reef provide a much more consistent and predictable wave which makes surfing so much easier than your standard sandy beach break. That being said though, breaking over reef means you need to be constantly aware of the depth and cautious about how you fall off your board while riding. Thankfully, we all managed to surf and keep ourselves off the reef. Some of us **Cough Jason** spent more time getting as close to the reef as possible on some occasions, but we all escaped unscathed. We did notice plenty of other visiting surfers on land who were sporting bandages or some pretty rough reef cuts and scars.
Surfing in warm waters is a dream. No wetsuit means you feel 10lbs lighter and way more maneuverable. After the session you can just hop in the boat and relax, no need to worry about booties or peeling cold wet neoprene off your body. That being said though, the sun was a real challenge to deal with. I know, you are probably laughing right now saying 'ya Mike the warm sun must have been hard to deal with' but it was a challenge to be out on the water and not get seriously burnt, dehydrated and heat exhausted. Most of us Canadians spent the week wearing more layers than we would during the Canadian winter just to cover up from the sun. Long sleeve and long pants from Vaikobi were a huge help to keep the sun off and any skin exposed needed to be covered in ample sunscreen or zinc. We were a good looking group.
We spent two days on the water playing and surfing followed by a full rest day hanging out in and around the hotel. The surfing semi-finals were complete and the finals would take place 3 days later when the swell picked up. This meant it was time for the Technical Races out at Cloudbreak. We all rested up, drank plenty of water, ate too much pizza and got ready for a full day of racing.