After departing the Natty M in Bora Bora I (Kahlil) was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to sail aboard a 45ft Catamaran ‘Shimmi’ from Tahiti to Fiji, helping a South African couple, Gideon and Chantal, and their two sprogs, Josh and Indie. Gideon is a legend pioneer ex Indo surf charter captain and together we planned a bit of surf exploration in Fiji, and we managed to sniff out a few waves.
After a full on twelve days at sea, punctuated by a pit stop in Western Samoa to hide from strong winds (several days of line squalls under just a third reef main was quite enough for us, the result of a dreaded south pacific “squeeze zone”), we were nearing Fiji. Things got a little frightening for me when a small scratch on my hand turned into a full blown tropical infection with trails of red travelling up my arm at alarming rates. Oddly dying of infection hundreds of miles from medical help was second in my mind to the thought of arriving with the surf pumping and me boat bound. It was over a month for all of us since our last waves in Tahiti (for me an Teahupoo line-up with just me and Dizzy trading waves at dawn). Thankfully a strong dose of antibiotics got it under control and when we hit solid ground I was ready for anything. On arrival our bodies were drained but our froth was high. The fridge was full of yellow-fin tuna after a simultaneous five fish hook-up.
Kahlil and Gideon weightlifting
We were in a far flung corner of the islands and we had no idea where surf might be save for a digital image I saved from Google earth of a left-right combo reef-pass eighty miles away, the waves far offshore. With no other knowledge of the waves in the area it was a long shot, but the promise of empty perfection was enough to get us out there.
Captain Gideon getting some stress release
Looking for waves this way is no easy task. You have to get permission from the authorities, navigate to the area, weather permitting, and scope out a suitable anchorage without running aground, with poorly charted coral reefs all over the place, all before even considering getting a wave. We arrived late in the day and frantically zoomed about looking for an anchorage while I scaled the mast with a radio and used polarised sunglasses to spot dangers. The surf was flat when we arrived but the potential was obvious and with a forecast swell we were amping. In the end an anchorage was found but it was quite far from the waves.
Our warhorse Shimmi
The wait gave us the time to visit the local village chieftain and bring them a customary offering of Kava root called sevusevu, a requirement to anchor in their waters, walk their beaches, surf their waves, and fish in their waters. It was a solemn and powerful ceremony and the villagers kindly offered to guide us around the local area and bring us any fruit we desired.
Hanging with the Chief post sevusevu, Giedon, Josh, and Kahlil in the back.
The next day was spent tearing around in the dinghy with a chart and handheld GPS mapping the area so we could anchor the boat closer to the waves. We lucked out and found a small sandbar and moved the boat over. Spearfishing became the afternoon entertainment for the boys, and the added excitement of keeping the sharks at bay, but above water it soon became clear the swell was on the rise as racy 2ft peelers started reeling down the reef in front of us. Chantal and I went out for a super fun session all by ourselves while Gideon took a bullet and looked after the kids. That night I barely slept, knowing the swell was on the rise.
Alas! The morning revealed ugly onshores and we were forced to retreat to another anchorage far from the surf and wait for better winds and the next swell. We did not have all the time in the world and our days in this area were ticking down. The frustration was mounting and we all feared the whole expedition would be a failure. After another few excruciating lay days and we made our way back to the wave zone, but the swell was days away yet. I entertained myself by paddling 4 miles away with my surfboard and spear-fishing equipment in tow, but managed to lose the paddle and had to be rescued by Gideon. I felt a little sheepish after having been warned not to lose the paddle before I left. Thank god for VHF radios.
Kahlil snags a little peeler
The swell finally arrived! I was frothing like a brewery as we anchored the boat right in front of the piping righthander in the photos. It was such a release for all of us to snag a few tight barrels by ourselves in the warm water with the sun out. Chantal snapped the pics from the deck of the boat while Gideon and I traded waves. Even face-planting into my board and putting my front teeth through the deck failed to detract from my frenzied session. Satisfied, I returned home to NZ where my feet froze and the tops of my toes fell off, leaving me planning my next crazy boat expedition. Outer island Indo by clapped out fishing boat? North Papua in some rusty wreck? Maybe I’ll buy a barge and stick some sails on it, see where the currents take me. Till then, froth on.
A big thank you goes out to Gideon and Chantal, who have been scoring epic New Caledonia (without me!!!).
Photos by Kahlil Lawless and Chantal Wilkins, edited by Gus Lawless