What a strangely satisfying thing it is to hit the Cloudbreak reef!
That’s our boatman laughing, lifting the engine hatch on on the big black outboard, hot black oil spewing in every direction. Now we’re adrift in the Pacific Ocean, islands silhouetted against a darkening sky like medieval castles.
But we have beer. And rum. And a bit of scraggly bush weed that we just scored off a funky little ghetto house on the dry land side of Viti Levu.
Dunno about you but my favourite Hendrix line has always been “drifting on a sea of forgotten teardrops”. Nothing captures the feeling of being blown out to sea in a broken down boat by a twenty-knot tradewind, so very, very far from a madding crowd than those words.
We drank the beer, then passed the rum around, then rolled up the bush weed, and pissed over the side and tried not to fall overboard. It was probably ten nautical miles to the nearest island. If the gods were smiling you might drift there on a sea of forgotten tears. Probably not though.
“On a lifeboat… sailing for your love.”
We drank the bottle of rum and opened a vodka bottle. For the hell of it. If there was needle and a dirty spoon I would have done that too. For the hell of it. The hell of it is an amazing place to be in the South Pacific. Whatever the hell you have Captain, we will take it. Sailing home.
Sometime before midnight we got towed into a small rock-walled harbour on an island. We knew the forecast was six-to-eight-foot at Cloudbreak tomorrow. The smart thing to do was keel over and pass out but we kept drinking, at the bar. Cocktails and Fiji bitters until we couldn’t walk. Until our eyeballs sweated.
Then the boat ride out to Cloudbreak. Those blue hues on the reef kill me. Jumping off the boat. Should I take a bigger board? Nah, nah, come back for it. It’s steamrolling down the reef. Heavy. Thudding head, weak as a new born foal. Slipped off the side of the board out the back, under the sea, drifting in a sea of forgotten teardrops. Your love. Home.
Nothing spells living the dream for the working stiff more than standing upright in an ice blue Cloudbreak cavern looking out to islands in the distance framed by falling lip.
I did that first wave. And second.
Somehow I made it three hours in before the inevitable. Threading a hollow one towards the inside. Pinched, then punched hard off the bottom. What a strangely satisfying thing to hit the reef like that. The deep bass note shuddering through your body. The shock. So visceral and raw in a world of mediated reality.
Legrope tangled around my neck. Trussed up like a christmas ham. Pushing off the bottom now with some desperation, and seeing what every trussed up rotting piece of ham wants to see: an eight-footer detonating right in front of you.
Paddling back out the reef drained by a thundering wall, milky blue against white tradewind cloud and sun. It caught me inside. Boom, bang, boof.
On the reef. Tumbling. Legrope tangled around my neck. Trussed up like a christmas ham. Pushing off the bottom now with some desperation, and seeing what every trussed up rotting piece of ham wants to see: an eight-footer detonating right in front of you.
It hit me like a car crash, like a king hit, like a nightmare you had as a kid. A mushroom cloud of whitewater picked me up and smote me on the reef. With biblical vengeance. Again and again and again. I think I blacked out a bit. I was hugging my board in a death grip. Drifting.
Banging coral. Stuck in crevices. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe. All I could see was pure white with little stars floating here and there. A dull rushing roaring sound in the back of the ears.
The rational thing to do was float in and walk up the reef. Submit. But like the drunk guy in a streetfight, too stupid to lay down, I kept trying to stand up until the next whitewater knocked me down. Bang, bang. Bump.
For a long time I stood there on the reef. You want to know what it’s like? Sharp.
Lots of live coral. Big tables of live coral with crevices and trenches. Black and red fish darting out of caves. Clams with iridescent vaginal lips of blue and purple. Beautiful beyond description. I wanted to lie down and have a sleep. A little sleep perchance to dream about surfing Cloudbreak, like I did so many times.
Eventually I started shuffling here and there like an old man with dementia even though I’m only one year older than Robert Slater and with more hair*. I got to the boat after an hour. Cut up, bruised. Nothing major though.Nothing structural. Ecstasy.
I thought I should drink less after that. But somehow one beer tasted great and then another. And the rum buzz was great. The old letting go. More Fijian bush weed. Before I knew it I was staggering back to a thatched hut with sweating drunken eyeballs. Drifting.
Here is the boat now and here is the boatman and it’s still pumping at Cloudbreak. And like my very good friend Ram Dass says: “The cosmic dance goes on. It’s not an easy task for the working man in this godawful year of our Lord 2015, but it can be done. Fuck you Ayn Rand and the white pony you rode in on.”
*Only a little more.