|The Republic of Fiji is an island country made up a few big islands surrounded by reefs and many smaller islands. The major island is Viti Levu, which the locals refer to as the mainland, which puts the isolation and vastness of the South Pacific Ocean in perspective. They were called the Cannibal Islands once upon a time, and for good reason. Hot tourist souvenir items are reproduction wooden battle axes and flesh forks that they used to use to kill and eat their enemies, respectively. Luckily, I had no run-ins with cannibals. What I found there were friendly people, beautiful isolated beaches and good waves. The weather didn't cooperate the whole time, which made using the camera outdoors a little dicey, so I don't have a ton of photos. But I did get a few of the "resort" (in reality a very basic jungle surf camp) where I stayed on Yanuca Island and the kava ceremony we had there one day.
Yanuca (pronounced Yanutha) is a small island about 30 minutes from the mainland by boat. There are two surf camps and one village of about 250. Wise ran the resort and Josefa took me out to the surf break at Frigate's Pass everyday and Namia cooked up delicious, fresh food every night. I told Josefa I'd like to try kava, a natural brew from a pepper plant which has relaxing, analgesic properties. He very graciously obliged and invited his brothers over for a kava ceremony one afternoon. It didn't make me feel funny, but my tongue went numb and I enjoyed sitting around the bowl with them listening to their songs and hanging out.
Fiji is a little atypical in terms of how to go about surfing because accessibility is such an issue. For one thing, the reefs (and therefore the waves) are so far offshore, it's impossible to paddle out from the beach. We're talking 30 minute boat rides. Plus, all the reefs are "owned" by the nearby villages and the tribal chiefs must grant permission before they can be surfed. Some of the best waves in the islands are leased to specific resorts that have exclusive rights to certain breaks. If you're not staying at one of these resorts, forget about surfing that wave. Frigate's Pass is one break that a few different resorts are allowed to use and that's how I ended up at the Yanuca Island Resort. It's also way more basic and cheap than the decidedly more upscale Tavarua Island Resort (I didn't see any tennis courts on Yanuca), which enjoys exclusive access to one of the world's best left-handers, Cloudbreak. Frigate's Pass was unbelievable to this Texan surfer who had never surfed waves of this caliber. Actually, the first day I got there, there was major swell in the water, yielding devastating double-overhead-plus walls of water that came crashing down on the reef. It was pretty intense, but I paddled out from the boat to get a better look. It was sucking off the reef so hard and the waves walled up so quickly that I decided not to mess around with it. It was literally breathtaking, and not necessarily in a good way. I decided I'd head back toward the boat when I saw a major set looming and closing in fast. There was no way I could paddle to the outside, and I ended up taking three waves on the head in the impact zone before riding across the reef on my belly. Not so fun. Thankfully, I was in one piece when I finally got back to the boat with a healthy respect for the power of the ocean. The next few days at Frigate's were smaller and absolutely stunning. I got some really long, fun rides and it was a spectacular way to finish the trip.