The idyllic Tavarua Island plays host to the 2015 Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour's Stop No. 5, the Fiji Pro and Fiji Women's Pro. Professional surfing has some history at the heart-shaped island: This year marks the twelfth time a men's CT event will run at Cloudbreak's dreamlike lefthander, the first of which occurred in 1999. For the women, this year will be eighth time a CT event has run there.
Some of the pros who have won there include Kelly Slater (USA), Mark Occhilupo (AUS), Andy Irons (HAW) and, most recently, reigning World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA). Last year, Fiji was added back to the elite women's schedule for the first time since 2006, and saw Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) triumph in the deep barrels. In the past, Melanie Redman-Carr, Sofia Mulanovich and Keala Kennelly were among the women's winners.
Tavarua first arrived on the surf tourism map when Californians Dave Clark and Scott Funk secured rights to the breaks and set up a camp on the island. But rights to the wave became increasingly controversial. According to Sports Illustrated, by the early 1990s the pressure of local politics had become so intense that Funk and Clark were thinking about selling. That's when Jon Roseman, then a manager of the resort, proposed to partner with his employers, and helped usher in Tavaura Island Resort's new era. And though it's still unclear as to who was the first to surf what would become a Mecca of waves, many of the local Fijians quickly developed a passion for the break in their backyard.
"I was on the cover of Surfer Magazine when I was 16 years old -- and have been surfing there ever since," said local surfer and last year's event wildcard Isei Tokovou. "There are many up-and-coming young surfers here in Fiji and many of us had our beginnings on Tavarua Island."
Since the founding of the original, so-called "surf camp" there, the exclusivity of the two breaks closest to Tavarua Island Resort, Cloudbreak and Restaurants, have been the subjects of heavy debate. Before 2010, access to the world-class waves was restricted to residents or hotel guests of the island. But in July of that year, following a decree by Fijian Tourism Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, surfers could access both spots with boats from neighboring islands. The decree, however, didn't change the relative skill level of any would-be tube-rider.
"Even if you are lucky enough to be staying on the island, you need a boat to get to most breaks," said Tokovou. "Beginners should only be trying the high tide wave just off the island known as Kiddieland, otherwise our reef breaks are not really meant for beginners."
Swell Direction: S to SW
Swell Period: Long period, 16 seconds or greater
Swell size: 2-20'
Wind: E, ESE, SE 5-15kts
Water Temp: 81F/27C
Swell Direction: SSW to SW
Swell Period: Mid period, 11-15 seconds
Swell size: 3-6'
Wind: Light S to SSE 5-10kts or light/variable
Tides: Mid or Mid-low
Water Temp: 81F/27C
If your experience allows you to take on Cloudbreak -- the more challenging, dreamy waves at Tavarua -- there are a few things you should know before dropping in.
"When the wind shifts it flattens the wave, [and makes it] hard to pick the right waves," Tokovou said. "The takeoff is steep and the inside reef is sharp and painful. It is a fast and powerful wave -- intimidating when larger and it can hold up to 25-30 feet. The inside section of Cloudbreak is known as 'shish kabobs' for a reason. Best be sure-footed or stay away at low tides."
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If that's not enough, you might be fortunate enough to get advice from some of the world's best.
"Kelly (Slater) loves to come here for weeks at a time -- he loves Tavarua -- and considers it his second home (among many)," Tokovou added. "We are visited each year by many of the world's top surfers, both male and female."
Positioning can be tricky at Cloudbreak, as it's far from land. The judging tower, which Tokovou notes is cemented into the reef, can be a good resource for finding your spot in the lineup. But if you're new to the wave it's best to keep a close eye on the experts.
"Each wave has multiple take-off spots," Tokovou said. "It's best to just watch those that are familiar with where to take off and shadow them."
And what will the judges be looking for?
"Cloudbreak is notable for being a consistent barrel," said Tokovou. "All maneuvers are possible because the wave has a lot of power. We haven't seen many airs here yet -- but who knows in the future."
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