Brice and I have been talking about windsurfing at Cloudbreak for years.
Probably 20 years. Brice achieved his ambition in 2019, and is very hungry for another visit.
When Escapade arrived in Fiji, Brice started scanning the swell forecasts. He can be here in 12 hours from his home in California.
We tried to make it happen in May but it just didn’t line up.
A promising swell and wind combination appeared mid October while we were up in Yasawas, then Brice developed an ear problem that needed treatment.
We are planning to leave for New Zealand in a few weeks, the window for Brice’s trip seemed to be closing.
Then last week he sent a message, the medication has worked on the problem ear, there is a solid forecast for long period swell and a good tradewind direction for Cloudbreak. We check the diary, it really doesn’t work well for us, our crew are arriving and we have made arrangements to be fixing a few things in port, right in the middle of his dates. We arrange a phone call to explain why it won’t work. To everybody’s surprise, we put the phone down half an hour later and Brice is booking a flight to Fiji. What just happened? It was a moment of Carpe Diem. If he doesn’t come to Cloudbreak now it will probably never happen. Life is short and all that.
So we point Escapade south and head for our rendezvous. It’s Monday.
He’s arriving 5am Thursday.
We meet Brice and his boardbag, have breakfast, arrange for a ‘Jonah Surf’ water taxi to the break.
It’s six miles upwind through steep chop, past the islands of Namotu and Tavarua and onwards, out in to the ocean.
Then we see the spray, and the waves, and a few other longboats moored on the shoulder.
Just four surfers in the lineup. Beautiful head high waves rolling through.
We start rigging. Then the first real set arrives. Magnificent peeling walls, mast high for a windsurfer, miraculously smooth faces in the 20 knot breeze.
We throw the gear off the boat and start sailing upwind to the waves.
It is always intimidating to arrive at a place like this, after a few waves we start to settle.
Each ride takes us right through the pack of surfers, but we’re in full control and everyone is enjoying the show.
Dawn is standing on the boat shooting with a long lens.
Later more surfers arrive and we decide to take a break. We are surfers too and we know they will be getting tired. We refuel on our boat and go back for more.
The swell seems to be more consistent, just perfect big beautiful walls. It is such a wild place, miles offshore. Feels like mid-ocean.
By the time we de rig (quite tricky on a longboat) and motor home we just can’t stop grinning. What a day.
Aching muscles but the forecast is for more wind and waves so off we go again.
Dawn has seen quite enough of this, so she opts for some peace and quiet on Escapade.
We arrive at the wave, it’s busy with surfers: Crowdbreak. We ask out boat driver to take us upwind to the next pass ‘Navula Passage’.
Nobody there, we rig and sail out to discover a new wave. It’s fun, maybe needs more swell. The inside section is a very fast wall, stay high and sprint for the end, no time for turns.
Then for some reason we opt to windsurf back downwind. Across the deep blue channel, Brice almost runs down a manta ray resting on the surface. Up on to the turquoise sand bank and a full drag race 4 miles back across the lagoon. Our driver Bill gives chase in his longboat. We arrive back at Cloudbreak at about 20 knots. It has got bigger, couple of kites and a few surfers, the set waves looking majestic in the afternoon sun. We pick one each and gybe on to the wall, dropping in before anyone had figured out where we had appeared from. What a playground.
This was the biggest we have seen Cloudbreak, pumping mast-high walls. We sailed 3hrs that day. It’s tiring, very intense moments, a huge rush sailing waves of that speed and size.
The smiles and the adrenaline afterglow last all evening.
Feeling a bit fatigued now, but the forecast shows no mercy. If I was alone I would definitely take a day off, but Brice has come a long way for these conditions.
The waves at Cloudbreak are world class, even when the trades are howling from this direction the faces stay clean and perfect.
So the chance of avoiding a crowd is slim. But for us the dream would be to draw our own line down the wave without having to slalom through the surfers.
Surfers come from all over the world to experience this place. John John Florence is currently anchored off Tavarua in his Gunboat catamaran ‘Vela’.
So far we have tried the ‘lunchbreak’ strategy, wait till the morning crew get hungry? Still always a handful of surfers. Today we decide to try the late session.
But it’s changeover day at Tavarua island so the new guests are keen. They include the team from Armstrong foils, here to test all their new prototypes.
Cloudbreak looks completely different today, less swell and more wind, but still very ridable walls. We join the crowd of 4 surfers, 4 wingfoilers, 1 kiter, 1 tow-foiler with the Namotu jetski. There are waves for all and everybody is loving it. The surfers are grinning as we fly past them.
I take my first trip to the reef, too deep on the wave, no way out. A long swim in confused water without enough wind to waterstart. But it was high tide so not too shallow.
By the time I make it back to the break the miracle has occurred. The Armstrong wings are down-winding back to Tavarua, the surfers have all climbed back in to their longboat for the ride home. Shafts of low sunlight pierce the clouds, pink and gold wave faces marching towards us, pick any one you like, it’s just the two of us!
We enjoy the moment, and the last waves of the day, then the wind dies.
After a lifetime of windsurfing, these were very special moments. Thanks for making it happen Brice.
All photos from that first session, thanks Dawn x