Physical pain is excruciating, but it's the emotional wounds that truly break a man!
Sometimes you track a swell quarter-way ‘round the world and everything goes right. The waves produce, the winds are light, the sun is out and you put on the performance of a lifetime. Then a filmer captures your best ride of the trip and you manage to seduce a local temptress, only to put on the second-best performance of your life. This is what we all dream of, no?
Well that’s never happened to me. Oftentimes one or two or maybe three of the criteria persist, but to expect a perfect sweep would be delusional. In reality, most of us are lucky to get one or two memorable waves on these ventures, as the terrifying and perplexing realities of foreign surf travel are enough to throw even some pros for a loop.
For two-and-a-half days the waves were absolutely flawless in Fiji. Long period, immaculately angled swell was met with soft offshores, the results of which were the most imacculate waves I’ve seen. The best of the bunch were trading their time between getting one exceptionally long barrel, or two-to-three medium length barrels per wave. The mediocre guys settled for a few stand-tall sections and fire-hose spits.
I was happy with my performance on day one. I got five waves that were better than anything I’d caught in California this season, and one of them was a proper bomb. I even have some (blurry) photographic evidence, which will be cool to show my grandkids someday. It’s amazing how, in a historical context, a photo can change someone’s legend from from pussy to pirate, just like that.
Like, what if Eddie Aikau only caught one big wave in his life? What if the Tiananmen protester just had to go back and pick up his wallet real quick? What if Trump didn’t have the most widely-attended inauguration of all time? Photographic folk-lore is powerful.
Day two was big — that in-between big where Cloudbreak isn’t quite on the outer reef, but it isn’t really on the first reef either. You can either sit way out the back and stroke into a rolly one, or sit on the ledge and hope to nab an insider before getting the sets on your head. Cat and mouse, as they say.
For the pros, especially the Hawaiians, this was no big deal. These guys handle poundings at Jaws, so a few second-reefers at Thundercloud probably doesn’t scare them much. As I watched from the boat, these boys (along with a few equally brave boatmen) consistently nabbed long, running, double-up tubes from takeoff to kickout. It was beautiful and terrifying.
Eventually I worked up the courage to paddle out. Upon entering the lineup, a medium one swung wide and came right to me. I was deep, and late, but I had chance. I swung around and started grinding toward the tower until I saw the line stretch out and felt my tail begin to lift. At this point I made the biggest mistake of my day — I pulled back.
Now, granted, according to people who were watching this from the shoulder, there’s almost no chance I would have made it. But had I gone, I have a feeling the rest of my session would have played out differently. Had I just taken that initial pounding, I would have been freed from the fear and able to enjoy myself from there on out.
The rest of my session was spent getting paddled around (another unfortunate result of pulling back), wearing wash-throughs on the head, and misreading the two very good waves I caught. I’ve learned that Cloudbreak is a difficult wave to understand for any newcomer, but on your backhand it’s another level. I returned to the boat three hours later exhausted and ashamed.
On the last day the swell had died considerably, though there were still a few gems to be had. I made a conscious decision to paddle to the top of the point, wait my turn, and get at least one screamer to wash away yesterday’s disappointment (classic Slater move).
On my best two waves, I was burnt to a crisp by a couple of the visiting pros. I guess some of them were on ‘shrooms and just fucking around in the relatively playful surf. Though playful for them can be world-class to the rest of us.
The swell is now gone, so I’ve decided to sit the day out and address my wounds — both physical and emotional. I’ve got New-Skin for the reef cuts and this article for my aching heart.
But please don’t mistake this tale as a general complaint. First of all, I understand I’m unjustifiably fortunate to even have this opportunity. Second, I’m actually glad I’ve yet to have the ‘perfect’ trip. Because where do you go from there? I never want to score so hard that I end up thinking, the forecast looks fun, but how could it live up to Pohnpei in 2015?
No, I’d rather continue on my path of half-successful ventures with maximum levels of froth, rather than having already hit my apex moment. Much like with food and sex, the anticipation of sterling surf is often, if not always, greater than reality. If you kill the possibility of improvement, you’re stripping yourself of the most exciting part.