"They underestimated us as a bunch of dumb surfers…"
Malolo is a volcanic island in the Mamanuca chain ’bout 40 minutes by speedboat from the main Island and that again out to Cloudbreak- pretty rough ride into the trades.
After staying there in 2015, I count it paradise on Earth, the Tavarua for the working gal.
You’ve seen it.
The land mass in the background of all those dreamy Restuarants lineup shots is Malolo. Nav Fox and pals got a lease on a patch of dirt along with a local man in 2015 and have now found themselves, as you know, in a nasty beef with a Chinese developer ironically named Freesoul, who’s henchmen make up for in aggression and exuberance what they lack in size.
Nav’s an Angourie local sired by noted underground shaper Albert Fox, part of a small but thriving cottage industry set up in sheds on Angourie Road which includes foam smiths like Luke Short, Rodney Dahlberg, Thornton Fallander and a bevy of skilled sander/glassers.
Nav is handy with a planer, makes a few on the side for family and friends but earns his main crust as a designer for homes and renos. Good gig to have in the Australian economy. If you’ve spent any-time at Angas you’ve seen him in the water. Friendly guy who rips with a classic Pointbreak style.
What Derek Hynd would call a fabric keeper. Papa to two kids.
What’s the background to the Fiji stoush, Nav?
Me and two other mates got a lease on the land in 2015, it looks straight out on Tavurua and Namotu; it’s got a beautiful aspect.
What was your vision for it?
We just fell in love with Fiji, an opportunity came up where I was talking to a boat driver and came back to Australia and my mate went on a separate trip at almost the same time. We crossed over paths but didn’t talk to each other. He came back and said I was talking to a boat driver he reckons we can get land and I said “so was I” It was the same guy! (laughs) So we hooked up with him and did it all together. Which is what we did. We had a vision of putting a few bures on there and just enjoying the place for what it was. Letting friends and family come over and use it and have a bit of a creative space and a relaxing getaway.
Have you got anything built on there at the moment?
No we don’t. We are surfers, so we don’t move the fastest.
You can’t set up a tent and stay there?
Oh, you could stay there but have you seen the video of the hostility from next door? You wouldn’t want to stay there, it’s pretty full on. It’s not a nice environment to take your kids and your family.
When did you find out about Freesoul taking over?
We heard rumours that the Chinese were looking at the land next door to us and didn’t think much of it. It’s all mangrove and swampy kind of area with no access, we’ve got the only land with a natural access. You basically have to go through our land to get access. We heard about that a year and a half ago. They move quick, they’re businessmen. They’re in for the dollar, they don’t love Fiji. They got excavators in, chainsaws and just started cutting down our land straight away.
Did you know what they had in mind regarding the scale of the development?
Nah, nothing like that. To be really honest, I went to the guy and said, “You’re on our land, what the fuck is going on? If you want our land that bad let’s get an appraisal and you can buy it for market value.” I just thought, I don’t want to be next to someone who’s a developer. Over the phone he was just “Nup, I’m just taking it”. That’s when I jumped on a plane and got over there and saw that within a couple of weeks they’d just dug up huge amounts of reef straight in front of our beach and extinguishing the beach. It was pretty confronting.
What’s happening now?
It’s in front of the courts in Fiji right now over the environmental desecration of the land and their lack of respect for the Fijian laws. They keep breaking all these stop work orders and injunctions. Either they know someone I don’t or they’re really silly. We just got an injunction on them two days ago. There’s two or three injunctions on them now until a trial is over to see if they are responsible enough to keep the land.
Lawyers ain’t cheap, is that coming out of your pocket?
Yeah, yeah. It’s come out of our pocket. At the start it was more “Fuck you guys.” I think they underestimated us as a bunch of dumb surfers, but I think they forgot we were about three years ahead of them in purchasing the land. It’s cost us a lot of money to date, but I feel like it’s worth fighting for now, more than ever, as an issue of what they are doing to the reef. We all talk the talk about keeping the reefs alive and this is something happening in front of my front yard. It’s somethingI feel I need to stand up for. Not just myself. Woody Jack and Jonah. Have a go at trying to do what’s right.
What about the Malolo Island locals?
It’s in dispute at the moment because one group have sold the land to the Chinese but I don’t know if they are the traditional land owners. The actual traditional land owners are really disappointed with what they’ve done. Just their lack of respect for the laws. There are environmental impact assessments and the Chinese have just completely disregarded those and just gone for it. The Fijians are really concerned for their generations to come.
Tell me about the little Chinese man who manhandled you, where’d he come from?
I’d never seen him before. It’s what we’ve come to expect when we rock up.
Who’s he? Just a random stooge?
Yeah. I’m not going to start anything, you know what I mean. I wasn’t there to fight.
Must have been tempting to at least grab his spectacles, rip them off and stomp on them?
I was tempted to grab more than that. I’m 45, I’ve been around for a while, I know fighting doesn’t get you anywhere. I’d rather stand the higher ground and be a man.
Would have been detrimental to your cause, but jeezus, he came in hard didn’t he, even on your own land he was trying to grab you.
That just shows the amount of respect they’ve got for us. We’ve done nothing wrong, we’ve broken no laws. It’s pretty confronting. And disappointing. I don’t know anywhere else in the world where this stuff goes on. Fiji have got laws for this stuff, I hope they can use them.
In terms of the bigger picture a lot of people are looking at this and wondering if this is the way the Chinese are going to do business in the Pacific. Just ride roughshod over everything.
Exactly. That’s how I feel. Me and Woody have been in this for a year now and we’ve joked that this might be an example of how the Chinese are going to do business in the Pacific. I feel like we are in the middle of it.
You might be on the frontlines of something a whole lot bigger than surfing.
Maybe, if this is the way they are going to do business it needs to be sorted out. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do stuff. Lets all get on the right side and respect the Earth and the people.
Any epic CB sessions? Were you there last year for that massive swell?
Yeah. It was a bit big for me, I know my boundaries.
Was Laurie T with you?
Yeah Laurie stayed with us and Dan Ross. They took it apart, which was awesome. It was nuts. Just watching those guys prepare themselves to do what they do was exciting. We’ve had some good sessions there for sure, I’d like to be having a few more but my money’s getting sunk into court’s fees and lawyers fees at the moment.
Put out a GoFundMe, I’m sure every surfer in Australia would be happy to chuck a gold coin your way.
Well if there’s anyone out there who knows how to do it, we’d love ’em to start one for us because we’re not the kind of guys to do that.0