Fiji Pro World Cup

Bernd Roediger shares an in-depth account of how an epic first day unfolded at a seriously heavy Cloudbreak

Right from the beginning we knew the waves were going to be big, but coming from a mile out on our village-boat and seeing white lines… well it definitely put into perspective exactly how different “Big Cloudbreak” was going to be from any other face of Cloudbreak we had previous encountered. There’s a name for it in Fijian: “Kuru Kuru Mailani” means Thunder from the Heavens. 
Phillip Köster (Severne / Severne Sails / Black Project Fins) had a foot injury, and thus couldn’t compete today, that moved Heat 2 up to Heat 1, starting at 2:15pm. In that heat, I shared the lineup with Ricardo Campello (Naish / Naish Sails) and Russ Faurot, trading off set waves. I started conservative and built from there, feeling out my brand new Flikka asymm that the boys had made specifically for this trip. The waves were solid over-mast and I could feel the power beneath my feet, the speed of riding out there is incomparable to anything I’ve experienced and so it does take time to accommodate your riding for it. I had a brand new asymmetric board from Flikka to use for this competition, and this heat was my first experience with the board under foot! Ever since my success in Cabo Verde riding brand-new untried boards from Flikka, I’ve kept to the formula of total trust in my shaper, Luka Jures! 
In the end, I came out of my heat with a win. Plus, more confidence under my belt in big Kuru Kuru. Though I felt each wave was a touch conservative, and that I had gone too early to belt that classic “Cloudbreak” air. The lofty kind of air that has become a trademark of the event. 
Flo Jung (Starboard / GUNSAILS / Maui Ultra Fins)) and Leon Jamaer (Flikka / GUNSAILS) represented for Gun Sails extremely well, advancing from their respective heats with fluid riding and a keen timing with the best set waves. I loved watching Leon sink his rail into the hollow section of these monstrous waves. It was there that he would find purchase to project into vert approaches to the lip, approaches we had missed from any other rider last year, artistry specific to that guy and his incredibly aggressive “full throttle” riding. 
Baptiste Cloarec (RRD / RRD Sails) wowed everyone and earned unanimous acclaim as the most go-for-broke sailor of the day. He punted airs and drew critical carves in places where other athletes, myself included, had been completely satisfied to go around. I’m so impressed with this kid’s bravery and technique, he lays his sail down within inches of the water on each committed bottom-turn, and follows up with a surf-inspired top-turn. At one point, on a massive barreling monster, he actually touched the wall of the wave with his mast, and recovered! Not only did he pull off a miraculous save, it seemed the mast-touch actually pulled his turn into a tighter arc, giving him one of the greatest vertical hits of the day! We might just have witnessed an innovative new technique in down-the-line wavesailing! 
Baptiste edged out Morgan Noireaux (JP / NeilPryde / Black Project Fins) for the heat win. However, Morgan’s style is undeniable, and his timing, impeccable. He played the conservative role to Baptiste’s charismatic lead, and secured himself enough points to advance, whilst sailing through the heat completely unscathed. If it was a true surf-trip, that style of sailing would be the ideal way to maximize your wavesailing while minimizing your casualties. If there’s anyone I want to sail more like, it’s Morgan. 
Brawzinho (Goya Windsurfing) had a bit of a shocker and was unable to put it together in his heat. Early on, he suffered a tremendous wipeout, a kind of blood-curdling scorpion/double-backflip over the falls after a mistimed air. After that, it seemed he was rattled, just shaken, though he managed to stay in rhythm with the set waves. Ultimately the waves caught him again and sent him down to shish-kebabs. But we can’t discredit Braw’s opponents, Federico Morisio (Starboard / Severne Sails) and Marc Paré (Fanatic / Duotone), who sailed smart and made their committed turns in the right sections! I love watching the progression in these two riders, as they are both starting to pull away from the pack in terms of unique style and approach. Marc’s been delightful to watch in Maui, pulling some of the fattest 360’s out of anybody. And Fede has been in Chile for half a year, and it shows in his Port waveriding. 
Being the first heat at Cloudbreak allows for a lot of uninterrupted downtime. In the channel we have a fleet of small “village-boats”, open boats perfect for rigging and stowing gear. Then we have the flagship Thundercloud, a trimaran sailboat capable of hosting a multitude of sailors, live-cast crew, and casual spectators like myself. I was lounging out on the Thundercloud throughout the day watching these perfect Cloudbreak waves, the best waves any windsurf contest has ever seen. All at once it hit me that I was possibly among the most fortunate people on the planet to have all of this, to have the resources, time, support and equipment to be sitting in the channel at Cloudbreak, nailing an epic swell with all my friends. It seemed odd and funny that I was even here, and as I scanned the faces of friends aboard I wondered if they felt as giddy with the euphoria of being so whimsically out of place, so totally detached from the mundane, firmly planted in sacred space and privileged company.  Did they also wonder, incredulous in their private thoughts, “how did I even get here?”. 
Last time I went to Fiji, my mom was set to have knee surgery. Routine, but not without risk of complication. It was of course not something I should miss the opportunity to go to Fiji for, just to standby during a perfectly safe procedure, or so my parents had assured me. But I know my mom and I knew she was nervous about it. I had just come in after a day at Cloudbreak, friends sat me down to tell me that my mom had had a stroke. Over the next days I would find out how serious it had been, how close my mom had come. While she was ok, and being treated at the hospital, she had suffered from neurological trauma associated with short term memory. In that moment, during those days, I had struggled with the force of some new oppressive wave of darkness, a rising tide of fears coming true. What had been a privileged paradise in this circle of heavenly gifts that was Fiji, suddenly became a torment I’ve mockery of the things I valued being thrown into the maw of one total despairing emotion.  I didn’t want to be anywhere besides home, and I counted the days until I could board my flight out of Fiji. How quickly the best moments in life can turn into nightmares. 
And here I was again, in Fiji feeling so good, with so much going right. The urge to move came in a flush of nervous adrenaline. Something in my head simply said “do it now”. Seeing those waves peel in total perfection, seeing the fragility of the moment, everything going so right. Who knows how long it would last? In a matter of minutes I was outside the break, having convinced Morgan to come with me, the two of us waiting for the last heat to end so that we could freesail. Even just one last wave. When the signal flag was lowered aboard Thundercloud, the heat was over, just then a set rolled down the prodigious reef that forms, at its tapered edge, Cloudbreak. 
There we sailed to meet the set, tacking into easy confluence with its waves. I opted for a wave and Morgan took the one behind. As it formed, and shaped itself into the most beautiful, most picturesque, most terrible thing, I could feel the energy drawing, waiting to fall and be released into something raw, a beauty I could behold from within. Dropping in, I set my rail and felt the new board singing. Up into the lip, dropping back down and fading deep into the pocket of the wave, I had my eye on a section forming down the line, a ramp. Bottom turning up into this throwing slab of water felt like letting my mind go, resorting to more natural instincts to take over, once in the air, I felt the freedom I had desired, the expression of myself, unchained. The lip continued to fall in a long barrel beneath me. Upon landing, I had very little space between my rig and the barreling slab that continued to cascade down. Soon I was running out that space, then overcome by whitewater. 
I fell in the worst place, where the energy of the wave coalesces in a steamrolling surge. Soon I was floating in inches of water over shish-kebab’s reef. Morgan came flying down the line on a beautiful set wave in front me, I couldn’t help but admire the fluidity, the measured pacing, and wished that I had sailed my wave the same. Again, if there is a sailor I want to be more like, especially out here in Cloudbreak, it would Morgan. His wave drilled me to the bottom, and the subsequent five waves behind it did the same. In some ways, it was a relief, to let myself go in the torrent of water, to be thrown around so. I relished in the freedom from fear, as all day I had dreaded this exact thing happening, and now it was, and it wasn’t that bad. But it would get worse. 
Swimming in over the reef, I was at a loss in finding any sign of my gear. It must be far off.  I swam in past the reef into the deeper lagoon, and still couldn’t see anything. Then I sought the safety ski, thinking perhaps that they had already secured my rig. But what I found instead was that the ski driver was waving for my attention and pointing towards an old scaffolding cemented into the reef. This old scaffolding is all the remains of the once-great judging tower used for WSL competitions. Now it is four wooded posts, as big around as trees, held to the reef by a great cement foundation. I took in the sight and my stomach dropped, there, amid the beams, was my board and sail. It was already be crushed, tortured by wood and rusty metal, concrete holding it in place to be dashed again by oncoming waves. I swam as hard as I could against the onslaught of fishing water, now no longer a playful force, but a bitter tormentor. 
As I struggled in vain against the waves rushing in and the rising tide, the board I had ridden for the first time that day now creasing in the place where it repeatedly wrapped around one of the four wooden beams. My sail rent and twisted, drowned below the water, and the situation kept getting worse. I couldn’t detach any one part so as to alleviate the strain my gear was under, I couldn’t free it because of the strong force of water binding it to the foundation. It felt as though I were trying to rescue a wounded animal, but nothing I could do would help ease its suffering. Then, the waves subsided, in this moment of calm I hastened for the base and began loosening it, in a few turns it would be free. But the next wave was coming fast and drawing my gear with it, if I held on I would surely come between the beams and my board, and the consequential impact from the wave would surely break bone. I let the rig go, perhaps a quarter-turn away from coming totally loose. The wave came and smashed my board, as I ducked out of the way, futilely hanging on to the back strap, and watched my board splinter into two pieces against the scaffold. I went cold, dumbstruck. A sickening pang of deja vu came over me. Something about the way that board cracked with my hands on it. I was powerless. I could not protect it. Something about the helpless way I then fought in the writhing waves for broken scraps of my cherished things. I thought then “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have come.” and that thought carried into mind the memories of which I have been trying to keep from resurfacing ever since they were made. Of good things I valued being thrown into the maw of one total despairing emotion. The water that pinned my sail seemed to have an unending torrential force. It seemed that a wave would rush in, overwhelming me, leaving me powerless for so long, time enough to make me doubt what rational assurances Reason would lend: that the flood would ebb, that an end to this would eventually come.  
In the end nothing was intact, I dragged each broken piece back to the surface, back to the boats, back to land as the sun began to fade over the horizon. Out on the ocean, the bright blue Fijian water began to grey as night fell.  
The moon was bright and nearly full, it seemed to glower at me in my boat as we hurdled through the night, my tattered white sail the focal point of its wild feminine prejudice. “You have not protected what is in your care.” it seemed to be saying. And so it came again, the thought of not belonging in this moment, not being in the right place. The feeling of having should have been elsewhere, safer, where things could remain the way they were. Somewhere before an accident, before a calamity, before fears became realized. Something within me contracted to stave off what was coming, the wind was growing cold, the ride through the dark increasingly rough, erratic. My sail, sickeningly twisted, shuddered in the dying breeze and the moon seemed to shift its gaze to me, flooding my heart with light, forcing it to convulse against firmly restrained feelings. I tried to command the flood that was coming, then, pleading to escape its full force. Tears for my mother came in an unending torrential force. It seemed that emotions of desperate sorrow would rush over me, overwhelming me, leaving me powerless for so long, time enough to make me doubt what rational assurances Reason would lend: that the tears would dry, that an end to this pain would eventually come. 
It seemed I had a wreckage of tattered feelings to recover from the harrowing experiences I’ve had here in Fiji. At times the most clear, bright and wonderful place I have ever been. At others, a dark mirror I want to turn and run from. In my life many of my deepest fears have come true, I grow weary of fearing knowing that as my fears are realized, they somehow worsen, as new ones take their place. At one time, my greatest fear was of breaking a bone, after a few breaks culminating in a fractured vertebra, it seemed that fear waned. My fears matured with me, anxieties about my family have amassed and manifested. I grow fearful just of fearing for the power it seems to give that new demon. And yet, if fear has taught me anything it is that one can only fear “forward”. You cannot go back to simpler times and lesser worries, you can only face the growing challenges as you live, and take solace in the knowledge that each past experience with “realizing” a fear has been survived. However painful, you are still here, even after the worst has happened. I used to fear big sections at Ho’okipa and my dad and Mark Angulo would tell me “just go out, find the biggest lip, and hit that thing Buttermuffin”. Then I, buttermuffin, would go out and charge into fear, white-knuckling my boom. One day I broke my hand, right above the knuckle, and it hurt like hell and took me out of the water for weeks. It wasn’t the end of the world. My mom is fine now, she’s alive, she’s happy, we walk our dogs together in the park. The painful memory of her stroke is just that: a memory, one that my mom is comically fortunate enough not to recollect! 
All that fear and pain and survival teaches something to the heart as well. That is, no matter who you are with, you are in the company of fear and pain, the companions of the living. At any time we could be talking to someone who isn’t sure if they can survive what’s coming. We hold within us all, a memory of a time when the tears seemed as if they would never cease to flow. So with the sorrow in our hearts we’ll say “I’ll be there for you”. My tears did dry by the time our boat made land. I was grateful for the time out in the darkness and moonlight to work through this pain. As unfamiliar stars emerged in the sky, the fading remainder of twilight rolled westward to close another day spent far from home, but I felt that the air was alive with memories of my mother raising me and teaching me to swim. “The waves go right under you.” she would say as I kicked for life over the rolling Hawaiian swells, “they go right under you as long as you keep swimming.” Funny how we go to these places to express the best in ourselves, and there we encounter the best of the people close to us, the people who brought us through fear and hell on the wings of their love. 
As I wrap this story up, the night having past with me in restless solitude, the morning brings in my friends and fellow sailors; they saunter into the breakfast cue haggardly after an exhausting day. The moon had stayed high in solidarity with my racing mind and wounds, but the morning light cast upon their faces reminds me of the joy we experienced the previous day. Everyone is collectively experiencing that “surfers high”. 
Sometimes the best moments of such a day can escape you, can be taken for granted, or compared to last year. It’s a little like eating a delicacy, but not for the first time. You go to Japan and lift the delicately sliced edges of fresh hamachi sashimi and - if you’ve never seen anything like that - well its going to absolutely blow you away; if you know sushi you’ll probably think something along the lines of “yeah, that’s really good fish”. Experiences, no matter how fine, are like that. We can’t help but compare, nothing is like the first time. Yet for an experience like surfing, there is always something more, a way that a good session colors your life in the pastel tones of clarity, gentle exhaustion, a quiet but vivid afterglow. Your body feels more precious, tingling with spiritual charge of such subtlety it must be meditated on and nurtured.  It’s called “being surfed out”, it’s called being wholly satiated, a ‘good tired’. 
The faces of the men and women of the Fiji Pro have that glow streaked across their sun kissed and pink faces. Surfing out there at Cloudbreak is more than an indulgence in a favorite food or pleasurable experience, it is a cleansing visit to a holy site. It is such a beautiful place so powerfully charged with the beating heart of the ocean that surfing in it realigns your life to that primordial energy. To enter it, to be blessed with an experience of it, is to be attuned to the lifeblood of the planet, held within the womb of the world. 

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