Peter "Joli" Wilson, a stalwart of the surf media, has been shooting surfing for more than four decades. Here, the self-described "Memory Millionaire" shares some of his favorite moments from his time in Fiji. Words and images by Joli.
The first Quiksilver Pro Fiji in 1999 replaced the G-Land event cancelled due to the Asian financial crisis and political turmoil in Indonesia. Basically, Quiksilver moved from one World class left-hander to another World class left-hander, from G-Land to Cloudbreak, and kept the concept of "The Dream Tour" with 'the best surfers on the best waves' intact.
Occy was the first Quiksilver Pro Fiji winner in 99', the year he won his World Title. Fellow goofy footers Luke Egan (2000) and Michale Lowe (2002) followed in succession winning the Fiji comp. In 2003, Andy Irons on the way to a second World Title stopped the goofy foot run by defeating his good friend and traveling companion Cory Lopez in the Final.
Contest Director Rod Brooks was instrumental in moving the Quiksilver Pro from G-land to Fiji and has explained to me that they went back over years of weather and swell reports to pick the optimum weeks to run the contest at Cloudbreak. The weeks around end of May and the beginning of June stood out as the best time to run.
To reinforce this decision you only have to go back a few years to two of the biggest swells to possibly ever hit Cloudbreak. The first in June 2011 that became known as Thundercloud and again in the last week of May 2018 where the swell hit 35-40'.
Rod had got the right dates but 2003 was not the year that the swell co-operated. The final day was held in 6'- 8' Cloudbreak but all of the early rounds were run in less than ideal conditions with a number of lay days and downtime for the Top 45.
Fishing, ping pong, checking the forecasts again and again and tennis matches helped pass the days.
Andy, Chief Druku and Cory.
What you can't see from this photo is that there was virtually no one at the award ceremony. The contest had dragged out right till the end of the waiting period and as surfers lost, they left the island. By final day there was only a handful left split between the two islands that were accommodating the surfers, Tavarua and Namotu. Cory's girlfriend was there plus a small webcast crew and a few media. It was unfortunately an anti-climatic end to a drawn out event.
Defending Champion - Michael Lowe
When he was on the World Tour, Michael Lowe's love of a left-hand barrel was legendary. Whether it was Cloudbreak and Restaurants in Fiji, Teahupo'o in Tahiti, Mundaka in the Basque region of Spain and, of course, Pipeline in Hawaii, Lowey was always frothing.
I think he was underscored a lot surfing left hand barrels because he made it look easy and he was always smiling. I often told him to make it look harder and he'd get a better score. After travelling with Lowey for a number of years, I came to learn that apart from tubes and his family, there was only one other thing that would get his passion going in the same way and that was throwing a fishing line. During the Quiksilver Pro Fiji lay days he was a fishing demon, spending hours on the water and regularly pulling in fish like this Spanish mackerel.
Andy and Cory
It happens a lot on tour, friends who travel and stay together end up in the same heat surfing against each other. Sometimes ‘friendship' stays on the beach and other times they go out and see who can get the best waves and have a fun surf. Andy got on a roll on the Final day of the contest, throwing down 9's and 10's through the Quarter, Semi and Final.
He had a perfect 10 and backup 9 point rides before good mate Cory had even put a score on the board. There were three perfect 10 point scores handed out during this Quiksilver Pro Fiji and Andy scored them all. It was Andy at his best in a year when he won 5 out of the 12 CT events and a second World Title.
The Cloudbreak Tower.
The tower became a permanent fixture in the Cloudbreak lagoon in 1999. It was built for the first Quiksilver Pro and it had served its purpose as a judging tower for over 20 years with CT events like the Roxy Pro's, the Globe CT's, the Volcom events, the Fiji Pro CT's and numerous local events.
To me the tower symbolised Cloudbreak from the time I caught sight of it as you flew over the reefs on the flight path in and out of Fiji, to the many times I pulled up in boats. Photographing Cloudbreak as I've done possibly 1000's of times over the past 3 decades, I've used it as a line up marker and a place to shoot from.
With no events over the past few years the wooden tower had suffered badly and unfortunately the elements finally had the last say with the April 10th 2020 Category 4 Cyclone Howard that demolished the tower.
Brothers on Tour
Looking back through my Joli archives of this event, one of the things that struck me was the images of the Hobgood's and Lopez's. Two sets of brothers on the CT tour at the same time and all goofy-footers.
CJ and Damien Hobgood had virtually grown up surfing Cloudbreak thanks to their sponsorship by Rusty. Rusty Preisendorfer had brought the twins to Tavarua for years and I don't think I've seen two guys who can hunt and surf the Shish Kabobs section of Cloudbreak better while the Lopez's Cory and Shea are both amazing barrel riders and revel at Cloudbreak.
Nathan "Hog" Hedge
Nathan Hedge, aka Hedgey aka Hog celebrated his birthday during the 2003 contest which resulted in a huge night with the contest already called off for the following day. There aren't any photos from this raging night because I like to stick to the ‘no cameras after dark' rule that's sometimes suggested during nights like this on Tour, but I do have to mention another night about Hedgey that's been written into the Quiksilver Pro Fiji folklore. The other rule, ‘what happens on tour stays on tour' can sometimes be broken telling this story.
It involved his efforts to score an early solo surf at Cloudbreak and it's the stuff of legend. Needless to say the idea was hatched after a late night session around the bar during the previous year's competition. Instead of staggering off to bed like the rest of the crew on the island, Hedgey got it into his head that he wanted to be the first person in the line up at Cloudbreak the next morning. Attaching his board to the back of a hard plastic kayak, he proceeded to paddle off into the night toward Cloudbreak.
The next morning Occy and Luke Egan thought they'd be the first crew in the line up after leaving the island just before dawn. To their surprise they found Hedgey out there already and got the whole story. It took him hours to make the 10 kilometre paddle and he'd trashed the kayak climbing up into the judging tower where he'd slept till dawn. Nathan's exploits were kept under wraps during the rest of the comp, but it's now told and re-told whenever the boys are having a few beers around the Namotu bar to this day.
Awesome Adventures Ferry Boat
Running events on outer reefs is never easy. Teahupo'o and Cloudbreak are the perfect examples with the need for Marshalling boats in the line ups to supply a location for surfers to get ready, the doctors to be on hand and the ‘beach' commentators to read out the scores and keep everyone updated from close quarters.
This Ferry that Quiksilver organised for the 2003 event blasted out the message with huge signage along its length; Awesome Adventures and at times it fitted the the story perfectly. The contest site was at times reminiscent of the Waterworld film with jet ski's, long boats, kayaks, crew on surfboards and all manner of craft.
Sometimes the Marshalling boat got the chance to anchor but other days with strong winds it had to keep motoring all day. Some of the surfers during this event were staying on the mainland and were coming out on the Marshalling boats and having to spend all day on it just to surf one or two 25 minute heats. On rough days it proved too much for some with sea sickness setting in due to the constant rocking from the wind chop and swell while surfers who were staying on Tavarua and Namotu island could go back and forth and avoid the hours on the water.