Originally published in Issue 2 of Australian Windsurfer Magazine.
I think every keen wavesailor has that ingrained desire to see what’s around the corner – a sense of wonder about what is still out there. Perfection. Does it really exist?
A flawless peeling wave and a healthy plume of spray. That is usually the vision I have in mind before planning and executing a trip to some far-flung destination. Sometimes you score, and sometimes things just don’t live up to what you imagined, but typically you have some idea of what to expect. Someone was there before you after all. This trip was different – with barely anything to go on your imagination runs wild with the possibilities. It is an exciting revelation that there are over 25 000 islands in the Pacific alone – there are definitely rewards to be reaped for those with a sense of adventure…
After several flights, taxis rides and finally a boat crossing over three full days of travel, we have arrived. Lugging 80kg of gear to what seems like the ends of the earth is exhausting but a quick look through the thick coconut palms lining the beach reveals a cranking left-hander. The waves are firing and justice wouldn’t be done if they went unridden. Surfboards are waxed in a rush – time to shake off the cobwebs!
After a few hours on the crystal blue walls reeling down the reef I’m done for the day. This was the wave I had come to windsurf, but today was for surfing – the light offshore gentle holding the faces up to allow for full speed, down the line rides. According to the weather maps I’ve scoured over the past few months, the trade winds here should swing around and blow. Hard. The prospect of windsurfing this wave is a salivating thought – especially with no one else around. It’s simply a matter of enjoying the surfing until the trades kick back in – then it is game on.
The days pass, and as they do the swell builds peaking between double and triple overhead. There are some amazing rides going down, but every time you cop a giant wide breaking set on the head you can’t help but wonder how epic the windsurfing would be if the breeze just picked up a bit…
This place is still home to diseases that have been largely eradicated by Western medicine. After surfing until your arms are jelly every day you start to feel exhausted – maybe take a day off and just relax but the feeling just grows stronger. There is something else going on here… The fever starts to burn. Bed ridden with sweats, fever and crazy dreams – it is easy to start thinking the worst. What horrible disease is taking over my body? Thankfully after a full day of sleeping the fever backs off and soon it’s time to ease back into the water.
The weather has changed now, it is cooler, cloudy and the wind is blowing side shore. It even rains a bit which apparently never happens this time of year – a typhoon in the region is the supposed culprit. The wind builds into the late afternoon and I can finally sneak a windsurf session in the last hours of light. The wind is ok but the swell is pretty broken up and soft. It hardly lives up to the potential I have seen but when you are linking a couple of hits and an air to finish up it is a good start! The tide is dead low, keeping the waves clean but making wave selection critical as to not get washed over the dry reef metres from the impact zone. Getting impatient I take a small wave and sure enough end up getting stuck inside, loosing my gear on the way back out. I can see everything sitting on the coral about 20 metres away and thankfully it all looks in one piece. Gingerly climbing over the reef I grab the gear and weigh up the 1km barefoot walk over the reef back to the beach or trying to punch out through the surf in the now dying wind. There is a kink in the reef 100m downwind where the swell is smaller, I carefully walk down, wait for a gap and then swim my gear off the reef into the sea. There is enough wind to get to the channel where I can slowly tack back to shore as the sunlight fades. The next few days pour down with rain, keeping everyone inside and unenthused. It is good to have a few days to let the cuts heal from the earlier reef escapades.
Finally the rains burn off and the trades are back with a vengeance but unfortunately things haven’t gone as expected. There seems to be a local wind effect the where we are, bending the wind slightly – turning it dead offshore. My plan is frustratingly thrown out the window, I definitely cannot windsurf the wave in these conditions. My attentions turn elsewhere – in the distance I can see something breaking up the reef on a better angle. After swimming my gear a few hundred metres to the wind line, it doesn’t take long to cruise up and suss it out. The swell is smaller and less consistent but the actual wave looks like a mini One Eye – clean, fast and hollow. Still, the wind is extremely offshore here so it is hard to catch the wave. I snag one, opening up for a few nice turns. On the way back out a set appears slightly further up the reef detonating into an amazingly hollow barrel. As I make my way to the new peak the wind shifts a few degrees and drops – the small change means I can’t drop down the face despite sitting right on the peak. Another solid set pops up and I narrowly avoid certain destruction by duck diving my rig through 3 heaving barrels. Time to call it quits and start the long swim back in.
The next day offers basically identical conditions – I’ll need to explore to find somewhere a bit more side shore. Organising transport around the island is nearly impossible I’m told – the barge doesn’t run with the strong wind so there is no petrol available! At this point it seems as though everything has been conspiring against my windsurfing endeavours. However, money talks and eventually we source some wheels and hit the road.
After cruising around for a while unsuccessfully, we hit a different patch of coast. Here the beaches are better aligned but there are rocky cliffs possibly interrupting the wind and we can’t even see the water – who knows if there is even a decent wave around. Taking a punt I walk down a sandy track to an amazing sight. It looks something like a mirror image of perfect Ho’okipa with not a single other soul around. The wind isn’t really that strong, but it is definitely worth a shot!
I have to swim out to the wind line and then get sucked out to sea by the super strong current. The wind picks up and I’m off. Tacking up to the very top of the wave is difficult in the light and gusty breeze so I have to settle for the end sections. After my second wave it is apparent that this is probably the best shaped windsurfing wave I’ve ever sailed – the hollow sections just stand up and run off towards the channel one at a time. The wave is super smooth, allowing for a nice combo of surf style turns and airs to clear the sections. It isn’t the longest wave in the world, but then again I’m only riding the end bowls. After snagging a couple of sick waves you forget about the effort that got you here and enter the stage of pure enjoyment. That is until the wind drops… There is nothing more frustrating than watching these epic waves go unridden. Swimming in against the current is interesting and eventually I make it back. Hopefully tomorrow is windier…
Take two – no messing around – we head straight back to my new spot, the waves are a fair bit smaller but the wind is stronger! This time I have got an audience; a group of fascinated local kids and a few old fishermen have turned up to watch. With the stronger breeze I can make it up to top peak and use the full wave. After a couple of hours of great sailing, I head in as the wind fades off. As I get back to shore the locals bombard me with questions in broken English and their local lingo. From what I gathered no one has ridden their wave before – on any craft. It is quite amazing to discover this spot, and see how excited everyone is about it!
The swell fades away, creating a good opportunity to explore further. Within an hour there are a couple of other set-ups I find but our time on the island is coming to an end. It is unlikely I’ll be able to give these spots a proper go this time.
In the final days the swell picks back up, accompanied by a moderate breeze. Seeing we didn’t have a heap of photos for this article I figured it was worth trying for a few more shots. Unfortunately though the tide was now dead low in the afternoon turning my perfect wave into a mutant, Teahupoo-like beast breaking in literally inches of water. With the wind only around 10 knots it is definitely out of the question. Instead I decided to tackle the right hander across the channel for one hit wonder aerials, I figured I only needed one good wave to get a good shot, but truth be told, I wasn’t sure if there was enough wind.
I float out through the channel and start to be pulled along by the roaring current. On the way out I can see that while the reef here is definitely deeper, it isn’t by much. I’ll be landing my aerials in about two feet of water so mistakes could prove costly. After a couple of sketchy moments I finally get my opportunity. A peak stands up as I get into the footstraps, and slingshots me towards a hollow section. The lip connects and throws me out into the flats of the wave, where I can see the hungry reef looking up at me as I land. The adrenalin is buzzing and I go out for another try. Eventually another good wave pops up and offers the same line for the lip – it is quite an awesome feeling floating a couple of metres above the flats in barely any wind. After that aerial it is time to head in as the sun begins to dip down, hoping Georgia nailed the shot (she did a great job).
The next day is pack up day – time to dry everything out to make sure I’m not over our 80kg limit for the long journey home. Well, not before getting some pumping surf in the morning. The desire for exploration to find something new was the driving force behind the trip – after seeing the potential of this place and scoring some great days, it is safe to say mission accomplished!