Fiji flying with Jay Button

Bula,

Fiji is kind of like a dream, the type of dream you don’t want to wake up from. My earliest memory of Fiji came filled with Hollywood drama, Tom Hanks and a suspect volleyball going by the name of Wilson. I couldn’t have been older than nine at the time and already the saltwater had soaked through my skin, into my blood and settled in my bones. This island paradise (notwithstanding the hardships Mr. Hanks and Wilson) had captured my imagination and so the dream began.

With heroes like Wilson and Kevin Costner from Waterworld I was seduced by the life of a sea urchin and saw my future as a man with gills sailing the planet on a rusty old yacht scoring empty waves in tropical mise-en-scene. The gills failed to materialise however my phone rang and something nearly as good was being floated down the line and into my ear. As the tale goes words like “50ft yacht, 40 cases of Vonu cold ones, several legends and Fiji” happened to be involved which washed away the gill fantasy and made the boyhood dream more of a reality.

 When you first think of fifty feet of yacht you kind of project your own spacious New York style loft apartment on water but when you add Saxon, Blake, Morgan, Andy, Woody, Arri, Budda, Harrison, Chippa, three crew, twenty surfboards and all the extras like food, beers and life rafts every inch becomes gold.

To set things off our trip began with 4-6ft Cloudbreak, the crowd was a thin as your uncle’s hairline and everyone got a few waves that will stick in the mind for a long time. A couple of days in and the swell spiked, after such culinary delights at Cloudbreak the call was made to scope the other world class jewel of Fiji, ‘Restaurants’. Our first vision of the line-up presented us with 4-5ft lefthanders running down the reef. Restaurants usually maxes out at anything much bigger than this so everyone on board abandoned ship and we surfed from sun up to sun down.

Waking up the next day the swell had dropped and the wind blew its horn, Restaurants didn’t look as pretty as the day before so we decided to put the boat through its paces and head towards Mamanuca Island. For some on board this was the first time they had ever truly sailed; hoots, whistles and yelling flooded the deck as we hoisted sails and got moving. Once in a while the whole team would break out in hysterics as someone would escape near decapitation as the boom swung. Ironically we ended up right next to the island where they filmed Castaway.

 

Mother nature gifted us another pulse of swell for our last two days so we hightailed it back to Cloudbreak to get a few more keepers before the curtain call. The most fun session of the trip came late that afternoon. It was thirty-knot winds, 6ft waves, an empty line and just the boys calling each other in. As the sun took up residence on the other side of the globe and us back on the boat sinking well-deserved Vonus, high-fives and the usual banter ensued. Saxon was shooting from the tower on the reef that day and I suddenly realised it was getting dark and he wasn’t there with us. The tender was gone so I presumed someone had gone to help him haul all the camera equipment the mile or so across the reef. Showered and all packed up and still no Saxon forty-five minutes later. Finally someone put the words into the atmosphere and the question of “Where is Saxon?” hung in the air unanswered. Not only was Saxon missing but also the crew that had taken the tender over had still not returned and it was now total darkness.

The Skipper had the yacht anchored on the edge of the reef where the water runs off as the tide comes in, he made the obvious call to keep us there because the missing persons were most likely to float off the reef and into us. As the minutes dragged on and no sign of our castaways the gravity of the situation dawned on those remaining. Our men overboard had no form of communication and no lights; it was shaping up to be a long night of stress and bewilderment. Everyone pointed flashlights into the abyss hoping to lock on to something other than the ocean. I scaled the mast to get a better look as the tension grew and the voices on the ship became more frenzied. After another forty-five minutes of hollering and hooting a feint decibel reached the yacht and relief washed over the entire boat. Cheers rang out like a grand final, hugs and oh-my-gods exchanged and victory beers were soon the next concern. Saxon the mad dog had done the solo mission and was shepherding the camera gear through waist deep water in hope of finding the tender, it just took longer than anyone expected. No Wilson cameo in this story, no gills and no Kevin Costner but I’ll be goddamned if we didn’t have a ball.

 

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