A Discussion With The Chief Of Cloudbreak, Jon Roseman
Recounting 30 years of major swell events on the notorious reef off Tavarua.
When talking big Cloudbreak one name is a constant: Jon Roseman.
“I try and spend as much time on the island as humanly possible,” he tells Stab.
First surfed by John Ritter in 1978, Dave Clark founded the Tavarua resort in ’84, and Roseman and Rick Isbell came in as partners in ’92. For Roseman, it wasn’t much more than just a business opportunity.
“Coming up on four decades old, there’s a lot of history to Tavarua and it is still so unique and special,” tells Roseman. “I wish there were more similar islands, we’ve looked over the years, but unfortunately I think they broke the mold after Tavarua was made.”
One of the more distinct features of Cloudbreak that Roseman’s become intimately aware of is that the bigger the swell the more the natural genius of the reef set-up becomes apparent. The more energy in the water the more the waves just keep stair-stepping further out on the ledge. He lives for the purple blobs that lurk in the South Pacific and has been on hand for every major swell event in recent memory. He was out with Conan Hayes during the April ’98 swell (and apparently was whipped into an even bigger wave than Conan’s beast). He was there with Dorian for the April ’06 swell. Same with the Volcom Pro swell in ’12, and again for the latest bombardment last month.
“This last one was definitely ‘one of the ones’ that I can count on my fingers using both hands,” he says. “It’s right up there. All the big swells kind have their own moods and personalities, and it’s hard to know which ones are the biggest. There were definitely some bombs though.”
When asked what he thinks the biggest he’s ever surfed Cloudbreak he has to dig deep into the memory banks.
“As far as size goes, there was a swell on Easter Sunday back in 1995 that was insane,” describes Roseman. “The ocean was so glassy you could drop a pin on it and I remember waking up to giant eight- to ten-foot Restaurants. The crazy thing was that the waves were only like 10-15 seconds long because of the long period. It was like the whole ocean was moving faster than normal. One of my lifeguards back in the day, Hans Peterson, and I jammed a ski out to Cloudbreak and on the way out we were going through five-foot high chunks of foam like shaving cream. They were literally drifting all the way to the island from across the channel. The waves looked like they could have been four feet or forty, it was so glassy you couldn’t tell from the distance. We ended up towing for a couple hours and I will never forget how crazy perfect it was and heavy at the same time. That was before floatation, straps, etc. It was so mental and scary and fun at the same time. I think it was the biggest and most perfect I have ever seen in 30 years.”
With experiences like that it’d be easy to be jaded, a contrarian even, but Roseman’s as stoked as ever when Cloudbreak’s firing on all cylinders.
“I think both Ramon and Makua nailed a couple of beasts this last swell. Makua pulled in so hard and deep on his. It was so heavy. Ramon’s was just pure beauty. He rode it really well. I wish it was more consistent on the 3rd reef for this one, but all the waves were insane, and everyone got super good ones.”
Even when it’s “fun-size” Tavi, Roseman’s fired up.
“I seriously enjoy getting a good barrel as if it was my first one ever. I try to surf every day and train hard accordingly,” he says. “The island and the Fijians are timeless—it never, ever gets old. And now I get to experience it all over again through my daughter’s eyes. She loves to surf. The first half of her life was spent on the island, but she is now in high school in California and they aren’t giving me quite the green light to yank her out like they used to, so I have to commute more often than before.”
For as timeless at Fiji can feel, some things have changed for the resort’s business. The government’s decree in 2010 that all reefs shall be open to the public altered the intimate, exclusive vibe of the break. Roseman doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
“There are definitely more people in general, but it has also opened up opportunities and the ability to surf other waves,” he says. “The smaller days can get busy and hectic, but when it’s bigger Cloudbreak does an amazing job of sorting the crowd out.”
“I think with anything in life, you have to remember the roots. With Tavarua, it started as a sandy atoll with lots of coconut trees and surrounded by perfect waves and really friendly Fijians. Cloudbreak was literally foam on the horizon, and everything was raw and untouched. Life was really simple and basic, and Fiji was so sleepy back then. It was amazing to see the Fijians all learn to surf, they were the first in their country. A generation later, their kids are ripping and are true ambassadors, not just of the waves, but the environment and the Bula culture that Fiji is famous for. I think Tavarua has still retained all the magic that it had from day one, and if you love the ocean and all the things that emanate from it, the island is a place you have to experience at least once in your life. It is what dreams are made of, especially surf dreams.”
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