PROBING FOR WAVES & WIND from the Beqa Princess, the mother ship that housed the elite group of world class windsurfers for 10 days. The exploration of Fiji and the island of Kandavu was a rare opportunity to dance with nature in one of the worlds last remaining pristine paradise.
THE OTHER DAY I was asked as to what my perfect trip would be. After much reflection I came up with the following criteria: getting away from one’s normal surroundings to see somewhere new and completely different; traveling with just a handful of friends to score perfect surfing and windsurfing conditions; having great no wind/no wave alternatives such as diving, fishing and other similar water based pursuits. If all these things could be achieved while staying and exploring new islands and new ways of life on a boat deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, nothing could be more idyllic for me……….
The idea was Scott’s. A regular visitor to Fiji, he has become quite attached to the area grasping any opportunity he can to return. Also a seasoned World Tour competitor, Scott Carvill really is a phenomenal sailor. He does however excel more in perfect waves such as those found in Fiji, rather than the more varied wind blown conditions found at the majority of the World Tour stops. This is largely due to his roots: born and raised in Oahu, he has been exposed to great waves his whole life. Bjorn Dunkerbeck is also coming on the trip. Very little introduction is needed here, except to say that the twelve time World Champion is now truly living his dream. Focusing purely on the wavesailing discipline of the World Tour, he finally has the time to travel with his friends in search of perfect waves and great times. Then there is Vittorio Marcelli: the vivacious Italian always adds spice to any trip. Focused on the lifestyle side of windsurfing, a trip to Fiji was a natural option, as indeed it was for Sugar, Bjorn’s long time friend from the Canaries, here to catch some great waves and fish, he is also here chronicling Bjorn for his movie. Finally, your lowly scribe: Fiji has always been a dream for me, traveling my passion. So to come here with a couple of friends to experience everything the ocean has to offer is something I jumped at without a second thought. Let the adventure begin………
“Wake up, wake up Tristan, we’re in Fiji!” Vittorio shouts rather loudly in my ear after a fairly uncomfortable night’s sleep on the plane from Oahu. The bright lights and loud music from the bars of Honolulu are still playing havoc with my senses. Is this for real? Am I not dreaming? Am I finally in Fiji, the place I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little kid? My questions are answered without further delay:
“Bula! We have now arrived in Nadi where the local time is 6:45am and the temperature is 27 degrees. Welcome to Fiji and enjoy your stay”. That, I can tell you, we certainly intend to do!
The limousine/taxi that left us back in Oahu is now an open back lorry in Fiji. I am certainly not complaining as we make our way down the long and bumpy road to our rendezvous in the South of the Island. This is where our boat awaits us. Even the beauty of the scenery surrounding us during this truck ride is enough to take my breath away. However, I have the feeling that these tropical images, beautiful enough for any postcard from paradise, will pale in comparison to what awaits us aboard the ‘Beqa Princess’, the 65 foot boat that is to be our home for the next few weeks. It is at times like these that I realize and appreciate just how lucky we are to be living the lifestyle that we lead.
The late arrival of our equipment means we are forced to spend an extra day on dry land. We aren’t too disheartened about this though, as the surf is small, it’s Sunday (Fijians are very religious and consider it unacceptable to go surfing and windsurfing on Sundays) and it gives us the chance to get our first taste of local Fijian culture. A resident American girl invites us to a story telling/sing along that she does weekly with school children from a local village. We sit right at the back of the classroom and watch on. It is so great to see kids aged anything from about 6 to 15 years old content with sitting around in a circle singing songs where in the States or Europe they would be locked up in their room playing ‘Game-boy’ or something of that ilk. I always find this a sad, but oh so relevant example of how over development can so easily destroy the natural pleasures in life as simple as human interaction of this kind. I am sure you would rarely, if ever, see this kind of scene back home. However within 5 minutes, Scott finds the temptation to slip back a few years into school boy mode too hard to resist, proving that he is in fact the biggest kid of us all, much to the amusement of all the school children. Passing wind proves to be the highlight of their Sunday, as they all collapse in fits of laughter for the remainder of the time that we are there.
Scenes straight out of ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ I watched as a child were replayed to me as we reach our first port of call today: small beach huts, lining a palm fringed beach far from anywhere, with no electricity, no running water and people filling their days fishing, climbing trees for coconuts, collecting papayas and all the various other wonderful fruits that grow here, instead of what would be a trip to the mall or the local supermarket! This way of life is so pure and natural that I find myself asking perhaps unanswerable questions: have we as humans gotten so carried away with technological advances, fast cars and expensive lifestyles that the simple things in life pass us by unnoticed? Would life not be easier, more enjoyable and indeed more fulfilling if we calmed down and just made do with what nature has to offer? I certainly can’t think of anything else that I would need right now, except for maybe my girlfriend, and she is not something I could buy in the shops!
Once we get out through the pass, the pureness and wonder that is all around us overwhelms me further. Here we are right in the middle of the ocean, far from land, and before our eyes a perfect left hand breaking wave is peeling off with absolutely no one on it. Although it’s small, we still manage to get some fun waves, just the five of us in blissful, glassy surf. The water is so clear and transparent, that it feels as though the reef with all its colorful vegetation and fish eating off it is jumping right out at us. And yes, the fish, they’re everywhere, of every color, shape and size and they are all quite simply magnificent. Indeed the fishermen amongst us are becoming agitated as they spot flocks of birds out to sea centered over a patch of frothing water. Looking closely, I soon see why; I notice a large yellow fin tuna jumping clean out of the water in a mad frenzy. We rush back to the boat and head out to sea to be a part of it. Something bites on the lines we have put out and a sudden rush of excitement races through the boat. It’s a long battle as the yellow fin we succeed in attracting must weigh a good 60 lbs or so! Luckily Scott, perhaps the most experienced of us all in this field, manages to get the huge and attractive looking fish aboard. A few hours later we sat around in the living quarters over a plate of the best sushi I have ever had.
As we all muster over the ocean charts, plotting the exact details of the adventure we are about to embark on, I become aware of the vast area that makes up the Fijian islands. We are to concentrate solely on one particular spot though, Kandavu (pronounced Kändavú by the Fijians), one of the more exposed areas of the island chain both in terms of swell and wind. Our Captain, Charlie, although neither a windsurfer or surfer, assures us that not only has he passed through this area many a time on various dive adventures, but is positive about its potential in terms of both windsurfing and surfing. Scott has been on plenty of trips with this character in the past, and reassures us that if anyone knows, Charlie does. I must admit that anyone who has spent that amount of time at sea not only commands a great deal of respect in my eyes, but is also a reliable source on this subject. What’s more, if you had to look up in a book to see what a Fijian diver/captain/man of the sea looks like, Charlie fits the bill.
We set off through the Kandavu Passage, a crossing that takes longer than we expect, but once again the conditions have not yet hit the area, so time is on our side. Mooring up in a secluded bay under the stars, I go for a moonlit swim. Everything is so unbelievably peaceful that I almost wish I could make time stand still for a while to savor this moment. However, thoughts of surfing new and previously undiscovered waves with my mates the next day begin to overwhelm me and all of a sudden, tomorrow just can’t come soon enough!
It’s Sugar’s turn this time to catch the fish of the day as he hauls in another 50 – 60 pounder. It’s not quite such an attractive or tasty fish, but it has the looks to scare the best of us! We can now relax on the dinner front, as that is quite clearly covered. Now all that remains is to catch some good waves. As we make our way around the South side of the island, weary of seeing slightly onshore winds too light and badly orientated for windsurfing, but strong enough to mess up the surf, we start to get frustrated. We make our way around a point, noticing that the landscape above is reminiscent of a film that we have seen. It turns out that this was where ‘King Kong’ was filmed! Of even more interest to us though, is finding a small pass in the reef on the other side with waves breaking on both sides. Perfect 3 footers are peeling off both right and left, and we are the only ones here. We get some great waves and for the first time on the trip paddle back to the boat with heavy arms, absolutely exhausted – what a feeling!
There is a certain way of doing things here in Fiji, and this must be respected. The local Fijians are extremely happy that we are here enjoying their waves, but common courtesy must be shown. This is their home and we must consequently follow local customs and show our respect to the elders of the village, thanking them for sharing what they have with us. We therefore row ashore that evening to join in a Kava drinking session with these elders. Kava is a type of root plant possessing a gingery style taste, that when prepared with water is drunk by the Fijians, very regularly! It is supposed to have some kind of hallucinogenic qualities and certainly makes you feel a little drowsy. However this doesn’t seem to stop the elders from drinking it by the gallon. The roots get ground down in a traditional wooden bowl full of water. It is then served around in little wooden bowls, one person at a time, accompanied by clapping and words of thanks from everyone present. What is absolutely incredible is that these elders are there, day in and day out for 5 or 6 hours every evening drinking Kava, while their wives are at home preparing the dinner, feeding the kids and putting them to bed. Mind you, now that I think about it, it’s not that much different to the British ritual of spending the whole evening drinking beers in the pub with your mates while ‘her indoors’ prepares the dinner and deals with the kids! There is however something that is so much more sacred and full of tradition about the way the Fijians do this, and we are certainly not about to disrespect it. Bjorn, eloquently I might add, explains to the Chief of the village and indeed the rest of the throng of people assembled, the purpose of our visit, and what a pleasure it is for us to be here. This goes down very well, producing smiles all around and bowls full of Kava are soon thrown our way. We grit our teeth and manage to force three or four down our throats. It is certainly not the tastiest of drinks, but refusing a round would be hugely disrespectful so we quietly oblige. Another hour or so passes and we are filled in on village hierarchy, religion and various other Fijian customs, all absolutely fascinating. However, not being heavy Kava drinkers, we start to feel considerably drowsy and manage to politely excuse ourselves, leaving our Captain to continue and finish off proceedings without us.
The following morning, we are sadly touched by true capitalism, this far from civilization. A boat pulls up alongside with messengers from the neighboring village, claiming that they own the rights to the reef we are surfing on. They inform us that we must pay per person for each surf session we have there. Although the amount they are asking for is not that much, we feel saddened that such an attitude could prevail so far from the commercialized world. Even if they do as a village own the reef that the waves are breaking on, waves are not, never have been and indeed never will be a resource that will run out through people surfing them, something indeed that makes our sports so special. Therefore after discussing the matter at length with the Chief of this village, we decide to move on rather than submit to something that we consider so unjust.
We stop off at the next pass and get in the water for a dive, the first proper one of the trip. Bjorn and Scott are on the fishing mission while I just go down as a spectator and ‘catch carrier’. Once again I am overwhelmed by the sheer quantity, size and variety of fish around along with the reef flora, which is quite simply out of this world. We see a few reef sharks up close, but nothing of any real size and manta rays, gliding gloriously along the shallower sea shelves. The fishing expedition is once more a success, as both Scott and Bjorn come up with the goods for yet another feast.
As we sit over our fish ‘rotis’ (a type of pancake in which you wrap the fish and a curry sauce), we notice white caps out to sea. Although the swell is relatively small, we all rush out on deck to get our windsurf boards ready for their first day of action. On a reef, seemingly miles from anywhere, we have some really fun rides, one by one picking off the set waves as they come, just the four of us. It is great to watch my friends’ different styles at work on the smooth fun sized faces that this spot has given us: Scott with his fluid cat-like style is always placed in the most critical section of the wave, flowing through his turns with incredible ease; Bjorn, his powerful style now becoming so much more vertical and smooth is really hitting form on this trip; Vittorio, not so happy with the lightness of the wind, is nonetheless managing to get some power into his turns. He also definitely stays true to his sponsor ‘Reef’, getting that much better acquainted with the real thing, time and time again! Mind you, as hard as we try, none of us manage to avoid getting washed over the reef at least once. The trouble is that the wind is so light that if you do make mistakes, it’s very difficult to get back out through the sets without getting pummeled over it and spat out into the channel. Still, it’s all good fun and the dinner tastes that much better tonight, not only due to the fresh fish that the boys caught earlier, but also the feeling of pure, unadulterated contentment having finally had some great windsurfing.
Once again we are in bed by eight o’clock in the evening, tired from all the fresh air, an intensely physical day and the fact that we are up at the crack of dawn, 5:30am, everyday. I must admit that I could really get used to this incredibly healthy lifestyle, secretly wishing that this trip could go on forever. Nights out in Playa del Ingles in Gran Canaria till 8:00am feel so far away right now and I can’t say that I miss them.
The boat rocks all night at the mooring that we have chosen, as the wind whistles through its every part. I go out on deck at around 2am, to see the moon shining down on the water and feel the wind buffeting against my body. I’m pretty sure that tomorrow will be a great day.
BOUNTY OF THE SEA: Scott Carvill, the most experienced diver of the group, took spears to the depth of 75 feet to catch the daily feast. A Dog Tooth Tuna provided 35 lbs of Sashimi and the evening sessions yielded ample Painted Cray lobsters of all sizes. Catching Waves instead of fish, Carvill jibes at the bottom of a virgin wave. (next pHOTO)
Sure enough, I am not to be disappointed, as we score a great little wind swell and are on the water by 7am. Wave after wave after wave, we just can’t get enough. That feeling of wanting this to go on forever is still with me. On returning to the boat the decision is made to go ashore and have a barbecue this evening. First things first though, we need to ensure that we have the ingredients to make it a success. We dive off the boat, spear guns in hand, and begin a new search. I find myself unable to concentrate seeing Scott disappear for up to 3 minutes underwater at a time, maybe more, diving down as deep as 70 feet, each time coming to the surface with a new fish. He is a true waterman of the kind you rarely meet and he certainly has my utter respect. I guess that being brought up in Oahu and having a father who is as taken by fishing and diving as Scott is himself, it is only natural that he has become that way. Fish a plenty, on getting to the beach we now search frantically for firewood with the little remaining light that there is. We stumble across our desert in the meantime, tree after tree, full of beautiful papayas. Those jobs complete, we settle down around the fire watching its embers gently crackle and away, savoring the taste of the fresh fish and admiring the beautiful evening that we have been given. These kind of evenings, in terms of the quality of food, the atmosphere and the surroundings would beat any of the best restaurants in the world hands down. Maybe it’s just me and that I appreciate the purer and simpler moments in life so much more than the sophisticated, manicured occasions. However, as I look around me, I get the impression that everyone is thinking pretty much the same thing, so it doesn’t feel quite so strange. We even crack open a bottle of Jack Daniels to celebrate our good fortune. Eventually we leave Scott and Vittorio to sleep in tents on the beach and head back to the boat. Somehow the prankster in Scott mixed with the consumption of a considerable amount of Jack Daniels leaves me with the feeling that something is going to happen on the beach tonight. My feeling is in fact justified, as it turns out that Scott ends up putting a frog in Vittorio’s tent and then spends the rest of the night hiding from the rage of the large Italian—quality entertainment!
As we near the end of the adventure, we try as hard as we can to fit every possible aquatic pursuit into the short time we have left. One day we started off the day riding waves on our windsurf boards, then headed off to go cave diving only to end the day with an evening surf. These kinds of days are unforgettable, but what stood out for me was the cave diving, it was truly amazing. The sheer beauty and complexity of the world underwater continues to blow my mind and it is assuredly one of my most treasured memories from the trip.
It’s sadly time to head back to port now. In some ways it will be good to get back to the real world as we all have a lot waiting for us, and I for one haven’t been home for quite a while. However, as I sit chatting to Captain Charlie’s son and permanent companion aboard, Paul, I really question what is so urgent that I must leave from this place. All the time at sea has given this twenty one year old an incredible sense of maturity and vision. He has been able to take a distant perspective of his homeland and the people therein, and explains to me how in awe he is of their general outlook and way of life. Seeing the stressed tourists get on and off his boat, he realizes how natural and untouched the Fijian way of life really is and how lucky they are to have it that way. They follow nature rather than the fast pace of the human rat race and it is something of which I am very envious. However we have little choice as to whether we can leave or not and reluctantly pack up and offload our stuff from the boat. Sitting back, relaxing with a beer in hand in the local restaurant/bar, we have difficulties adjusting to our newly found land legs – it is strange not watching the horizon going up and down outside and feeling the perpetual motion under our feet! However, all good things must come to an end at some point, otherwise you stop appreciating them after a while, and quite frankly, that’s just the way life is.
An early morning surf mission is the objective on our last day in Fiji as we race up the coast at the crack of dawn in search of conditions. We stumble across an amazing set up, but unfortunately the swell is a little small for it to function properly. The hotel that looks over the wave however provides us with the most amazing breakfast, certainly the best I have had in a long time, as we sit back and watch the sun come up. Fuelled and raring to go we are still not about to give up, we must be able to get on the water somewhere. Scott tells about a river mouth that could be sailable just up the road and suggests we go and check it out. Little do we know what such an expedition would entail! Picture the poor photographer wading across an excessively muddy river with his expensive camera gear, his lifeline balanced upon his head! When I say muddy, I mean really muddy. Our footsteps sink a good two feet down into the soft, sludgy substance! What’s more, stories of murky river mouths and sharks don’t make us feel any better as we begin to get out of our depth! Still we keep telling ourselves that it will all be all right in the end. Fortunately it is, as we get a last sailing session in slightly onshore conditions and sloppy waves. It’s not quite like what we have been sailing all week, but nonetheless pretty fun and we even manage to get a couple of jumps. However, I do feel a little uneasy when Scott tells me about the shark he saw swimming around where the waves were breaking. Still, all’s well that ends well and we are extremely relieved to make it back to the beach in one piece!
AIRBORNE AUTHOR: Tristen Boxford flies from cascading lips and afterwards, luxuriates in the placid waters off Yanuca island.
Tired and satisfied we reluctantly pack up the lorry that is to take us to the airport and jump aboard. As I take my last few snap shots of Fiji and the beauty that is all around us, I can’t help feeling sad to leave such a magnificent place. I don’t know when I’ll be able to return and relive such an adventure, but I damn well hope that it is soon.
Trips like this allow you so many wonderful experiences and memories and can teach you a number of important lessons. Two weeks on a boat living with what nature alone provides, makes you contemplate what is important in life, reassess your priorities and needs and allows you to discover a great deal more about yourself and indeed the friends you are traveling with. These are special moments and ones that I am not about to forget in a hurry. Indeed the whole experience makes me surer of my theory that life is just one big journey of discovery. I hope to see you along the way………
Tristan Boxford is the British and European wavesailing Champion and currently ranked 15th on the World Tour. His passion besides windsurfing is traveling. He is sponsored by Fanatic, North Sails, Billabong and Red Bull.
John Bilderback is a Senior Staff Photographer for SURFER Magazine. He is best known for big-wave water shots at places like Sunset Beach, Pipeline and Waimea Bay. John has been with SURFER for over ten years, and is the Official Photographer for the Triple Crown of Surfing. With almost two-dozen covers, and hundreds of published photos, he has earned a spot with SURFER’s elite, and travels about half the year. When he’s home, (a small house walking distance to the launch at Backyards), he rides his sailboard every possible chance and is learning to kitesurf. His show, “The Edges of the Ocean” will hang in the Canon Gallery in Honolulu, Hawaii from Oct 1st through Oct 31st 2002.