All of us are ultimately seekers of beauty. We want to dress up a beautiful day by calling it “epic”, using words like “ripping” or “firing”, but really we are describing (or attempting to convey) the perfect aesthetic experience. The windsurf trip is an adventure novel and a romance with the sea.
What I love so much about this group of riders is that none of us have claimed the role of main character. That spot is reserved for Kurukuru Mailani, “Thunder from the Heavens”, aka, Cloudbreak. This beautiful wave that expressed so many of her moods to us, who took us on such a journey.
It’s as if each windsurfer here has read the novel: “Cloudbreak” in a zealous haste and is now discussing the story. Parts when the waves were big and terrifying, epic tales of when gear was cracked and rent asunder. Lovely moments of bliss in heavenly tubes of glassy texture, the tones of beautiful sunsets providing romantic backdrops for surfers and windsurfers alike.
Fiji was the setting for my favorite kind of story. Looking around and comparing to Hawaii, parts of Fiji look about the same as home. The air has the same feeling, made dense by salt-rich moisture, warmed by an abundance of equatorial daylight, a prime medium for filling a billowing sail and applying a push reminiscent of a gentle maternal hand. And the water has the same feeling, violence and beauty married in perfect balance. The violence proportionate to the beauty of the experience.
The Finals are over, results are in and the competition draws to a close. Those of us who haven’t already packed up and jetted off to the next windy destination sit together reveling in a week of collective experience. 10 men and 4 women competitors supported by a half-dozen IWT team members and the Fiji Surf Co crew. Individuals privileged with a week’s duration of six hour days in the Cloudbreak lineup. Some 882 cumulative hours of experience and only the limited English language to describe it, (although Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, German, Austrian, Fijian and Hindi are also spoken here.)
Regardless of the dialect, words cannot do justice to that volume, that weight, that profundity of experience.
The person closest to center stage has to be Camille Juban. A stylish surfer and windsurfer, who managed to be in tune with the sets of the day throughout the trip. His relationship with Kurukuru Mailani runs deeper than the rest of us, they have history and it shows. Camille was our unofficial guide to this wave from the very first windsurf sessions, we all instinctively fell in behind him to watch how he was flowing with the wave. It was his prior trip to Fiji and his windsurfing exploits at Cloud break that captured our imaginations and led us to this place, this event. He recreated that magic for us everyday, and though it made for a daunting challenge competitively (and was just a bit annoying in terms of how easy he made this wave look). All competitors could agree that it was a privilege to watch Camille.
His performance during the final was nothing short of miraculous. We ran a 40 minute final but Camille had us wrapped up in a battle for second after only a few waves ridden. The conditions were challenging, messy waves and shifting wind directions. I personally had a shocker heat just trying to find a rhythm in the disjunct surf. If you were to watch me alone, you’d have seen that it was a pretty dismal day. But to watch Camille was to see those conditions in their best possible light, as he roped into the cleanest waves with the longest walls and the best opportunities for scores. He drove deep bottom turns on waves that seemed to come out from under our noses, projecting his signature skyrocketing aerials over the most dangerous shallow reef sections that we have come to lovingly know as “shish kebabs”. Many of my battens have broken there, in that sullen coral graveyard, and I have lost much skin there in vain attempts to resurrect my gear. If you can make the dangerous, the unapproachable and the confusing into something fun and compelling, then you have done the work of an artist. To watch Camille Juban sail Cloudbreak was to watch art in motion.
I am deeply satisfied with how well windsurfing communicated the power and grace of Kurukuru Mailani. Only windsurfing allows you to feel wind and water as they come together at a surf break in such an intimate way that the differences can be felt, read and then spoken to. Cloudbreak is a wave that riders from all over the world came to learn from, to feel and grow familiar with. The unique predominant wind direction playing against the bending lines of a reef-pass wave that sends its snake-like body curving down the finely hewn coral formations and barrel-created/barrel-channeling trenches of Viti Levu’s barrier reef. As the thickness of a rope determines how tightly it can coil, so too does the size and magnitude of swell change how tightly a wave will hug a particular reef, and curve around it. The larger that Cloudbreak got, the straighter and wider it broke, ending in deep water as the force of the water could no longer be brought to bear on the shallower parts of the reef. It was fascinating to see how much swell energy escaped out into the deeper reef pass, unbroken and unridden. This changed the wave from a hollow, thin-lipped racetrack that bent into the wind, to an unwieldy, growling and thick-walled grinder that heaved tons of water over its own body to be enveloped in successive sections of spitting churn.
Kai Katchadorian had a clear plan for his riding during the Master’s final. Really he had a clear plan for his entire experience in Fiji. In the same way that Camille immersed himself in the waves of Cloudbreak as both a surfer and a windsurfer, Kai utilized both sports to their fullest potential. Kai’s intensity isn’t a secret to anyone following competitive windsurfing, he has a passionate mind bent on every element of the sport. Fiji was an experience that he had long sought after, and had long eluded him, he intended to make the most of each moment here. Drinking ceremonial “kava” with earnest reverence, rising with the sun each morning to read the nature of the clouds, cataloging them to reference with the winds of the day. Kai had a knowledge of the forecast, favorable conditions and tides well before ever setting his board to the water. He sails and lives with intention. He calls me “Samurai”, but the warrior mindset is Kai’s.
If someone had told me six months ago, coming off what I felt was the trip of a lifetime in Cape Verde, that I’d be sitting here basking in the afterglow of a life changing week in Fiji, I’d believe them. Wavesailing has always been, and always will be, a ticket to beautiful worlds.
Text by Bernd Roediger
Photos by Fish Bowl Diaries