No Contest Off Tour Heads To Thumping Fiji - Stab Mag

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Tevita Gukilau, West Australian and Cloudbreak chart oracle welcomed us with open arms and absolutely nailed the forecast. Pictured here, deep in Cloudy's guts. © Chris Peel/Red Bull Content Pool

No Contest Off Tour Heads To Thumping Fiji

Inside: Julian describes the mongo Cloudbreak milieu and AG does a Kava cooking course.

cinema // Oct 6, 2022
Words by stab
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Fiji: Starring Julian Wilson, Jon Roseman, Tevita Gukilau, and Che Slatter.

This week in NCOT, we’re headed to the South Pacific’s Fiji with Julian Wilson, to spend some time with Tevita Gukilau trying to show how communal village life, and a famous local root, make Fijians so damn friendly. 

Arriving for the biggest swell at Cloudbreak in years, Jules’ makes his big wave debut, sharing a lifetime session with one of the most barreled men in the world, Jon Roseman. You can find the interview below.

Next week, we’ll be headed to the Mediterranean, first to Italy to meet up with Leo Fioravanti for a Roman Holiday with Steph Gilmore, from the coast of Rome to the island of Sardinia. You can watch last week’s NYC episode here.

Guess what happens next. © Chris Peel/Red Bull Content Pool

The Julian Wilson interview

Chris Binns: This looked like a hell of a trip, can you tell us all about it?

Julian Wilson: It was fun. Really fun. We got a great swell, maybe one of the best I’ve ever been there for. It was so different going to Fiji just to surf, not compete. I’ve only ever done that once before, to film for Wayward, and it was unreal. Tevita was spot on with the forecast too.

What is it that makes you keep going back to Fiji?

I think Cloudbreak is one of the most incredible waves in the world, there’s no ceiling on how big it holds, and the quality and length of the wave is somewhat unmatched. Plus, it’s so close to home. 

And then the Fijian people are beautiful. It’s one of the most special cultures I’ve had the good fortune to visit in all of my travels. I’ve stayed on the main island in the past and had a little bit of a taste of the culture, but otherwise I’ve mainly just been on Tavarua and Namotu for the events, which can be a little bit removed from the Fijian experience. Tavi is run by Americans and a bit more Hollywood, Namotu is run by Aussies, they’re both great but neither of them are Fijian.

This time around it was really cool to stay in Nadi, travelling to and from the waves, and immersing ourselves more in the local community a lot more.

Julian Wilson rides a huge tube at Cloudbreak in Fiji.
Julian Wilson wrangling the foamball like the Pipe Master he is. © Chris Peel/Red Bull Content Pool

Since jumping off tour have you enjoyed being able to take your time a little more when you travel?

It’s definitely been a fun way of doing things, to go for a week or so, time it with a swell and not have a performance objective with a contest. That way you can really relax, enjoy the waves and soak up the experience for what it is. I haven’t had many opportunities to travel like that over the last 10 years or so on tour so it was really fun.

You obviously knew there was a swell on the way, ’cos you wouldn’t normally happen to have an 8’6” in your bag…

I was there in 2012 when an event was called off, my biggest board was a 6’6” and I didn’t even go out and watch it. I knew if I did I’d want to have a go and then I would have had a good chance of hurting myself, or taking myself out of the event. I watched a bit from Tavarua and you could see how gnarly it was, but I didn’t want to see it up close because I didn’t have the right board. Nobody did, everyone was scrambling for equipment to have a go. Thinking back I would like to have had a go to get a feel for it on that day, and after this trip I think I’ve now got more of an appreciation than ever for how messed up that day really was.

Julian Wilson waxes up his surfboard in Fiji.
When Julian Wilson’s waxing up an eight-footer you know things are serious. © Stab

You were in Tahiti for the Code Red swell the year before then too, right?

Yep! I got knocked out of the contest the day before, and I think that was what got me on the end of the rope for one in the end. I watched it for five hours first though. If I’d still been going in the event I don’t think I would have dabbled. It was definitely the meatiest wave I’ve ever caught, absolutely. Not sure if it was the tallest, but definitely the heaviest and most intense wave I’ve ever caught.

Julian Wilson charging huge Teahupo’o back in 2011
Julian Wilson charging huge Teahupo’o back in 2011. © Brian Bielmann/Red Bull Content Pool

Tell us about this Cloudbreak session?

At that moment when it was the peak of the swell and the bottom of the tide and consistently doing its thing there was just me, Tevita, Che Slatter and a couple of boatmen from Tavarua, plus Jon Roseman and Jojo Roper doing tow-ins.

I was on 8’6” after breaking my 8’0” that morning. I’d never ridden a shortboard over 7’0” before, so it was all new to me. The 8’6” felt scary, I thought I was overgunned, but in the end it was amazing, it felt so good. We were so far out that we didn’t really have that many landmarks lined up, so when a wave came you needed to get moving, and that length helps you with your positioning as much as anything.

I’d had the 8’0” for four years, in case I was ever there for another big swell. Being there for the Thundercloud swell I just didn’t want to miss the opportunity again, if it arose. Then, talking to Tevita before the trip he was saying it could get up to 15ft plus and he was getting his 9-footer ready, and maybe I should try hustle up something a bit bigger. I was like, “Really?”, just laughing. So I went hunting JS’s off the rack up and down the coast ’cos I didn’t have time to order one, and ended up buying a stock 8’6” off the rack at Slimes Surfshop on the Central Coast. I was laughing at the time, but ended up absolutely loving it.

Jon Roseman surfing at Cloudbreak in Fiji.
Jon Roseman puts on a show for the gallery. © Stab

Talk to us about Tevita.

I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Tevita before this trip. I remember he was a few years older than me on the Juniors but we met a few times then, and have had mutual friends since then. We’ve always been friends but have never done a trip before so I was super excited to go over and link up with him, and score some waves in Fiji. He was the ultimate tour guide, nailed the forecast and took care of us amazingly.

Tevita has such a great connection with that place it made the trip so special. Even the day that we had at Cloudbreak, things were starting to point towards going and surfing at Restaurants instead, but he insisted we stick it out with Cloudy and trust the forecast, and sure enough in the end that prevailed. He trusted the forecast and his instincts and we scored, whereas some others missed out.

He got that one wave that he said was the best he’s ever had out there. I was on the second wave of the set, kicked out and just caught the end of him getting swallowed up by that wave. It was incredible, he got the worst beating he’s ever had, copped eight waves on the head after that and got washed in, through the tower, the works. Said it was totally worth it, so it was really cool to be out there to share that moment with him.

Tevita’s building a resort on the mainland, in an amazing spot with a view out to Cloudbreak so you can keep an eye on it. He has a real passion for growing surfing in Fiji, and he’s in a really interesting position with it all. He grew up there and wanted to be a professional surfer but wasn’t allowed to surf Cloudbreak or Restaurants because of the exclusivity. Without those opportunities he realised it would be tough, so he committed to Australia to try and make a go of it, and that’s how his career came about.

Now that the exclusivity has been dropped he feels he can make the most of those incredible waves, like he’s always wanted to, so it’s super special to him. He’s not bitter at all, but the chance to fly the flag for Fiji in surfing was taken away from him a bit. He definitely had the talent and was doing well in the junior series, that’s for sure. You look at Teahupo’o (in Tahiti) and Pipeline (in Hawaii) which are similar set-ups, crazy waves that require lots of knowledge, and the locals have always been incredible out there. Whereas, apart from Tevita, there hasn’t been that local push at Cloudbreak, it’s pretty crazy to think the locals haven’t been able to get the experience and time out there to have an advantage over travelling pros.

Fijian surfer Tevita Gukilau rides an enormous tube at Cloud.
Fijian standout Tevita Gukilau wrestling the wave of his life at Cloudbreak. © Chris Peel/Red Bull Content Pool

Who’s Che Slatter?

Che is Tevita’s best mate over there and they spend a lot time surfing Cloudbreak together. He’s such a lovely guy, an absolute personality. It was so fun having him play tour guide as well, and get us into the right waves at the right times. Sharing the lineup and scoring waves with him was a really great experience, and having his insight into the local community was cool too.

Tevita Gukilau surfs at Cloudbreak in Fiji.
Tevita Gukilau playing around in his childhood home. © Chris Peel
Julian Wilson kicks off a big wave in Fiji.
Julian Wilson and the relief that comes with kicking out of a 12-footer. © Chris Peel

What was it like travelling with Ashton Goggans and shooting for Stab?

It was fun. Ashton got absolutely smashed surfing at Restaurants, we ducked in for a few waves after the big Cloudy session and he got clawed up from the back of his head to the back of his ankles. Copped the full Fijian Tattoo, which wasn’t ideal for him but he definitely loves having a go! He’s a huge personality and really understood what it meant for Tevita to tell his story.

Ashton and Dylan Roberts have filmed a lot of the No Contest episodes over the years and they had a real handle on what they wanted to achieve; explaining what it’s been like for the locals, and how it is now. My good mate Jimmy Lees was shooting too so we could cover a few more angles, which is helpful as there isn’t a tower out there anymore. Jimmy was perched up like a seagull on the last remaining post which was pretty funny, though that definitely wasn’t an option on the big days.

Ashton Goggans on a boat in Fiji.
Ashton Goggans after being sliced up at Restaurants. © Stab

Have you got your eyes on any other waves now that you’ve left the tour?

For sure. I want to travel to a few places I haven’t been yet, down in the desert in South Australia, or up north in WA. They’re both on the hit list for sure.

Julian Wilson and Tevita Gukilau in Fiji.
The team, all smiles after a job well done. © Stab

Well, Tevita’s the man out there too.

Yep, definitely sounds like he’s got a good handle on it up there. He’s such a good surfer, I’m happy to travel with him anytime.

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