Qualifying Day 1 was a delirium of perfection. Cloudbreak was breathtaking. The riders were frothing. Fiji 🇫🇯 turned ON!
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 had a foot injury, and thus couldn’t compete today, that moved Heat 2 up to Heat 1, starting at 2:15. In that heat, I shared the lineup with Ricardo and Russ, 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.
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 and Leon 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. Flo won his heat with an impressive heat score of 12.07 and Antony Ruenes second with 10.4, shocking many time world champion Victor Fernandez.
Baptiste 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 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 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 and Marc, 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?”.
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.
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. Everyone is collectively experiencing that “surfers high”.
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.
Text by Bernd Roediger
Photos by Fish Bowl Diaries