Since the Fijian Government peeled back the bubble wrap on its formally protected golden child in 2010, the mystique surrounding Cloudbreak and exclusivity to guests of Tavarua was lifted. For the first time since the resort opened back in the 80s, the wave was open for biz. The real floodgates were opened, howevs, when the 15-foot Black Friday swell rolled into town during the 2012 Volcom Fiji Pro, and we embraced freedom. To think that those waves would’ve gone unridden if it weren’t for open decree was reason enough for celebration. While we’re here, let’s look at eight things you might not know about Cloudbreak.
8. The best waves look like closeouts.
Watch Reef McIntosh. Watch Kelly Slater. When you’re in the lineup with these guys and the period is north of 15 seconds, these guys look at waves no one else wants to know about. They look at closeouts. Blatant closeouts. The thing is, when they’re spat out down the end of the wave and kick out after the spit, you then realise they know something you don’t. Despite having the luxury of it being on his forehand, Owen Wright can certainly testify about the deceiving qualities of the wave. “Every time I take off, the wave always walls out and you think you’re too deep and it’s going to close out, but that’s not the case,” he says. “With the inside sections it looks like the whole thing is going to shut down but it holds up longer than what you think. The wave is so powerful that you’re able to generate a lot more speed than you think, so you can make it around a lot easier. It reminds me of Chopes. Obviously Cloudbreak is much longer, but at Chopes I always think I’m too deep when I’m actually not, because there’s so much water to the wave, the second you put your rail in, it just shoots you down the line.”
7. There are multiple ledges.
It’s a known fact that Cloudbreak can handle any size, from two to 20 feet. But what you may not know is that such a phenomenon is only made possible by a series of ledges that gradually descend into the South Pacific Ocean. Managing Director of Tavarua Island Resort and phenomenally good frontside tuberider (he’s goofy), Jon Roseman, has been surfing the place since 1989 and knows the ledge theory better than anyone. “The Cloudbreak ‘ledge’ was a term we coined in the late 80s to describe what happens when the wave gets over eight foot,” says Jon. “The wave pulls back on itself at that size and the bottom drops out as it grows and bends down the line. The first ledge is good at 8-10 foot, then the second reef starts breaking with wash-throughs in the 10-12 foot range. At 15 foot, the second reef ledge starts mimicking the first ledge but on another level. Third reef ledge is what happens when it’s big enough that it will break on the furthest outside ledge before the water drops to 500-1000 feet deep.” Are you still with us? Jon continues; “It’s a backless mutant of a wave but still perfect. Towing-in is the only option at that size as it would be impossible to paddle into, and it’s rare to see it consistent in that spot. I’ve only had a couple of those over the years as you really have to be in the right spot with a really good ski driver.”
6. The orange mattress.
For decades, rumours have circulated throughout the surfing world, of an elusive orange piece of cungi, located halfway down the reef at Cloudbreak, that has the characteristics of a high-end posturepedic mattress. Made up of the ocean’s most supportive cungi springs, ‘the mattress’ has been a saving grace for many travelling pros, including Mr Taj Burrow. “One day I got fully pumped out there and got planted onto this orange bit of reef, and it was like an absolute mattress,” recalls Taj. “I landed on my back and just thought, ‘What the hell is this’? I opened my eyes to have a look around and it was like this big orange piece of soft cungi. It was like a cloud. I was so lucky to hit that one piece of reef, I couldn’t have picked a better spot to land. I tried to find it a couple of years later but I couldn’t see it. I’m going to have a look for it this year, and if I happen to stack it I’ll try and find the mattress for sure.”
5. It ain’t easy to photograph.
“Surely not”, is probably the first thought that popped into your mind, followed by a sudden urge to scroll down to the comments section to vent your anger at such a statement. The surrounding imagery might make for easy viewing from your cubicle, but try dodging 10-foot wash-throughs on a sharp coral reef the size of a football field. Photographer Stu Gibson has been living part-time in Fiji for more than eight years and reckons the place can be a nightmare to shoot. “Cloudbreak is amazing for water photos but it’s incredibly hard to shoot water out there,” says Stu. “The wave breaks at random spots over a large area. At six-to-10 foot, the wave starts to cap out the back and you’ll get wash-throughs that clear the whole line up. If you’re sitting in the spot for a good shot, you’ll be copping four or five of those suckers right on the noggin. The first one is sweet, if you can dive deep. Then comes the second and the third wave. It’s all whitewash now so you’re not sure how deep to dive, and it’s time to get rag-dolled.”
4. Cloudbreak doesn’t spit, it breathes.
What is this madness we speak of, you might ask? Well, as with most tropical reef passes, Cloudbreak is fast, shallow and throaty. As the wave rolls across it’s many platforms, from the Ledge through to Middles and onto Shish Kabobs, it gains so much speed and momentum that it never has a chance to fully exhale, and instead, breathes. “Cloudbreak doesn’t spit so much as it breathes,” says longtime Tavarua resident Jon Roseman. “The wave is so fast that it’s constantly swallowing its spit and it makes it look like it’s breathing as it’s racing down the line.”
3. It played host to one of the best big-wave sessions of all time (but you already knew that).
If for some reason you’re not aware of the session that went down during the 2012 Fiji Pro, live streamed to the planet, with rolling commentary by Kelly Slater, in high definition, in the comfort of your own home, then take a look at the above clip. Following a decision by contest director Matt Wilson to call off the event, more than a dozen World Tour surfers ventured into the lineup to give it a nudge, including Ryan Hipwood, Damien Hobgood, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, John John Florence and Josh Kerr. While Slater agreed it was a good call not to hold the event, he famously stated; “This afternoon could easily go down as one of the best big wave days of all time. This is a day to be remembered in surfing history.” Giving even more weight to the session, Kelly added; “You are watching waves that have broken over millions of years that have never been ridden at this size, capacity or intensity, especially under paddling power.” Powerful words, huh? But what you didn’t know, was that the best wave of this session, and possibly ever, went unridden. We’ve all seen Brian Bielmann’s famous image (point number four) of Mark Healey’s 9’0 log cascading over the falls like a toothpick after he (smartly) bailed to the depths of the ocean floor. Could that possibly be the best wave to ever roll across the reef at Cloudbreak? Mark certainly thought so when he spoke about what he saw prior to his descent; “It was the most ridiculous view of my life,” he said. “I’ve never seen water do that, ever.”
2. It’s Kelly Slater’s favourite wave in the world.
When Cloudbreak’s on, no one can touch Kelly. So this call makes a whole lotta sense. Last year, he scored a perfect 20-point heat total against Seabass in the quarterfinals and said; “I’ve spent infinite amount of hours in the water at Cloudbreak and it’s my favourite wave in the world.” Sure, it’s easy to get carried away after achieving such a feat (it was only the fifth time a perfect 20 had been awarded in ASP history), but Kelly has plenty more accolades to back it up. He has claimed victory four times in Fiji, one of which was during that monster swell in 2012, where we witnessed some of the best waves for a world tour event in recent history. Kelly dominated the field, amassing an average combined total of 18.57 from round three onwards. According to Taj Burrow who has been watching Kelly from the front row for almost two decades, it was the best he’d ever seen the Floridian surf.
1. It’s the best wave on the planet.
You’ve already heard that it’s Kelly Slater’s favourite wave, so why not go the extra mile and say Cloudbreak is the best wave on the planet? Could it be so? We’ll let Taj Burrow present the evidence. “It’s one of the best waves in the world because every wave has so much to offer, from tubes to turns, from four foot up to 20 foot,” says Taj. “If offers the absolute best tube on earth as well enabling you to do some of the best turns you could ever do, just because you’re so loaded up with speed. You get all the time in the world to pick where you want to hack or where you want to hit the lip, and you come out of that and you’ve still got all the speed in the world to do a big long drawn-out grab-rail bottom-turn and hook into it again. It’s the most fun you can have on a wave. I don’t think many people are aware of how good it is. It’s kind of under the radar when people talk about the top five waves in the world. It’s one of the best waves on the planet.”