Archive for category: Surfing

The Only Thing Better Than a Trip to Fiji is a Free Trip to Fiji

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
Waidroka Bay Resort in Viti Levu

Waidroka Bay Resort in Viti Levu, Fiji Showing Off

Note: The following is an account of a recent trip I took to Fiji, a trip  won from Waterways Travel and The Inertia. The story was originally published on The Inertia. For the original post and complete reactions, visit: http://www.theinertia.com/surf/the-only-thing-better-than-a-trip-to-fiji-is-a-free-trip-to-fiji/  The Inertia published an accompanying photo gallery, and many of those images can also be found on this site at full size, in addition to others from the trip.

 

Fiji is almost certainly every surfer’s vision of Shangri-la… the height of perfection in the heart of Polynesia. Safe to say, it has become idealized as the epitome of tropical bliss by just about everyone – surfers and non-surfers alike – drawn to its promise of white-sand beaches, swaying palms and sparkling electric blue water. We surfers then add to these mental images, perfect 6-foot barrels reeling down desolate stretches of empty beachfront.

Well, I’m here to tell you about the real Fiji…

It’s not perfect… at least not all the time…

But it’s about as close to perfect as you might ever hope to get.

I recently had the chance to visit this surreal archipelago. I won the trip in a contest sponsored by Waterways Travel on The Inertia website. Although I’ve surfed for over 30 years, traveled extensively and have had Fiji on my “bucket list” for years, I can’t honestly say I ever imagined I’d get the opportunity to realize this dream.

I had come close to winning a trip to Fiji once before when I finished near the top of an early season of Fantasysurfer. Following the announcement of the winner that year, I remember cursing, then congratulating the guy (Johnny Correll) on my blog. He later returned the favor by leaving me a note on my site upon his return: “Thanks Tim, Fiji was epic!”

Now I can finally say, “Yes, Johnny, it was.”

(Lesson: Never hesitate to enter online contests. You may just win.)

 

 Have Fun, Will Travel

I’m a family man, married for twenty years with two daughters (ages 12 and 16) and I’ve always believed in sharing my travel adventures with them. When I won the trip (all expenses paid for two to the all-inclusive Waidroka Bay Surf and Dive Resort on Viti Levu), we had been planning a family vacation to Nicaragua. So, we simply shifted gears and decided to bring our daughters along with us to Fiji. They helped to pay their own way, and it was an experience that none of us will ever forget.

Our journey was long: a 5-hour flight from our home in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL to LAX, followed by an 8-hour layover, then another 11 hours in the air as we traveled across the international date line and below the equator, before arriving in Nadi on Viti Levu. Despite the long journey, our flight on Fiji Airways was extremely comfortable and there were positive vibes before ever even stepping on the plane. When checking my boards, the rep noticed we were traveling with Waterways and informed us that we’d only have to pay board fees one way for the entire round trip, a half-price perk that made me grateful to be traveling with one of the globe’s leading surf-travel firms.

We had scheduled our 8-day trip (10 total with travel) on the first day of summer, which happened to coincide with the WSL’s Fiji Pro. While we’d be staying about 3 hours from Tavarua Island (Fiji is made up of 332 islands and over 500 islets), it was exciting just knowing that whatever energy the pros might be riding, I’d be catching, too. Even while Tavarua may be a bit drier and favorably situated for the area’s prevailing winds, the Koralevu area along Viti Levu’s southern Coral Coast where we were staying offered similar wave options without having to worry about paddle-battles against the likes of Kelly Slater, Owen Wright… or… well, anyone, really.

 

Waidroka Bay Resort – A Near-Perfect Setting for Adventure

Waidroka Bay Resort, set on the Pacific Ocean at the edge of a rainforest in one of Viti Levu’s lushest, most tropical areas, was the ideal base for my family. In addition to escaping the crowds of Nadi and providing a wide variety of waves, it also offered a full range of adventurous activities for thrill-seekers. Although my youngest daughter surfs, Fiji in general is not a place for the less experienced. Most waves require access by boat, are quite powerful and break on shallow coral reefs. So, even while I was the only one who’d be surfing, our whole family would enjoy ziplining, whitewater rafting, SUPing, kayaking, snorkeling, visiting Kula Eco Park, a local village school and more. All this, in addition to enjoying the resort’s many amenities.

Waidroka is a dream set-up with special appeal for surfers and divers. A private, casual resort in stark contrast to some of the larger, more sterile properties along the Queen’s Highway, it has a fleet of boats to run you out to the breaks for surfing, fishing or diving; a spacious clubhouse with plenty of places for lounging or socializing; endlessly running surf vids and largest collection of surf pubs from around the globe that I’ve ever seen; a bar; outdoor pool table; swimming pool; and a small surf and dive shop.

We stayed in an oceanfront bure that slept 6 and had AC, although on most days, the breezes kept things plenty comfortable. Every morning we received fresh linens, and each day we feasted on 3 squares of fresh local from banana pancakes in the morning, to locally caught Tuna and Wahoo for lunch and dinner. One of the things I really loved was sitting down and getting to know some of the other resort guests and staff at one of the group-style tables. Although it was never crowded, we still enjoyed interacting with some great people from Australia, South Africa, Hawaii, Austria, Sweden, the UK, Israel and Fiji. It was a fun, enriching experience, especially for my daughters.

 

There’s No Such Thing as a “Lay Day” in Fiji

The first few days we were there, the sun was surprisingly fleeting, the clouds thick with brisk winds and intermittent rain. There was a small pulse of surf on a couple of days in the head high range, but the predominant side-onshore winds weren’t cooperating, and by the fourth day of our trip, Fiji was not only out of sorts, it had effectively gone flat. Over on Tavarua, the pros were dealing with the same maddening conditions.

Of course, as any experienced surf-traveler knows, you take what you get on a surf trip and make the most of your time. There was swell on the near horizon (new swells arrive like clockwork in Fiji, every 7-8 days, year ‘round), and we had already planned to dedicate some of our time exploring the area’s numerous other offerings.

One day, we headed into Pacific Harbor to go ziplining through the rainforest, high above the Wainadoi River Valley. We were in the air for over 2KM, and our guides were a blast! We had all zipped before, but the rules here were a little more… relaxed… Soon, we were letting go of the lines completely and even zipping upside down! We even got in a little abseiling on the course, which none of us had ever done.

Another excursion took us into the deep interior of Viti Levu on a 16KM whitewater trip into the Upper Navua River Conservation area. It was an all-new kind of adventure for my girls, who had never been rafting before, and the class II/III rapids were ideal for them. There’s no way to adequately describe how amazing the scenery was, here. Pristine rainforest… pure, virgin wilderness… steep canyon gorges covered with lush ferns and vegetation and so many waterfalls of every shape and size, all along the way. It was like stepping back into the Jurassic age. Sadly it’s a part of Fiji that so many travelers, who tend to focus almost exclusively on Fiji’s admittedly beautiful coastal areas, miss. Take it from me- if you ever venture to go there, DO NOT make this same mistake. It’s must-see, Chris Burkhard, Nat-Geo kind of stuff.

 

The Surf

 By mid-trip, I was jonesin’ to surf and just as forecast, two new swells were arriving- an initial 3-5’ swell that would be reinforced by a second, larger 4-6’ swell that would peak at just over that on Tuesday, the same day as the WCT finals and Owen Wright’s 20 pt. masterpiece at Cloudbreak.

I first ventured out into the Fijian surf at a break called, “Pipes”. Pipes is a fast, powerful wave that the locals refer to as, “Mini-Chopes” as it rises from extremely deep water and breaks onto a shallow reef in a way that gives it the appearance of breaking “down” into a sub-sea level “pit”. The winds were still stiff and side-onshore, and the weather, overcast. But it was clear there was now a solid swell in the water. Upon getting out, I quickly caught a small one, negotiating the impressive speed of the wave and gaining a little bit of early confidence.

I then paddled for a larger set wave, about head high or a little over. But this time, the wave was traveling and rising so quickly beneath me that I stalled at the top, mesmerized at the sensation and the sight of the shallow reef racing below. All, while being lifted and ultimately, ejected onto that beautiful reef. As added insult, while I was fully expecting extended hold-downs, I was still caught by surprise at the ocean’s ability to hold me below the surface even longer than I was anticipating. After surfacing from that first wipeout (and bouncing off the reef), I had a much clearer idea of what I was dealing with on this powerful, tricky wave.

I was surfing Pipes with two others: Dan, the surf guide from Waidroka, and Jared, a surfer from Hawaii. I told Dan what had happened on the last wave and he noted that you couldn’t linger at the top of these waves, before dropping down. No, you had to get down to the bottom immediately, then start enjoying your ride. A couple of more large sets came through and raced below me, and I thought for a moment that I might need more board than my 6’ Whisnant. But then, Jared offered some additional advice. “You can’t just ‘pop’ into these wave like you’re probably used to at home. Try taking a couple of extra strokes down the face than you feel you need.” I did, and it proved to be a key. Although the onshores seemed to be inhibiting escapable tubes, I was just blown away by the speed and force of the waves. It was exhilarating.

 

 Wash, Rinse, Repeat

For the next two days, we’d check other spots, but would ultimately venture back to Pipes, which seemed to handle the trades the best. The clouds and showers continued to linger, but the surf was fun and the second, larger reinforcing swell was bearing down.

On the day prior to our departure, I was praying for the sun to come out and winds to lie down, but woke to even heavier winds and rain (some locals told us they thought this unusual weather was the result of this year’s continuing El Nino weather pattern). Alas, I had one final day, as our plane was pushing out the next afternoon.

The swell was forecasted to peak that day, with “moderate” SE trades lingering in the morning. This would be the day of the Fiji Pro final. Cloudbreak was forecasted to be double-overhead with 8-12’ faces, and some larger 12-15’ sets in the morning. As a general rule, Cloudbreak and the outer reefs in Fiji break about 1/3 bigger than the interior reefs where I was surfing. For me, this translated into 5-8’ waves with sets in the 8-10’ face range. And that’s exactly what we got… with a bonus.

 

Fiji Turns On

Upon waking the next morning, there was the sun! The clouds and wind had disappeared, and there was the Fiji of the magazines with its iridescent azure water and big ol’ lines of whitewater fringing on the reefs about a half-mile from shore. We sped out to check a spot called, “Serua Rights”. Although I knew Pipes would be phenomenal in these conditions, I was anxious to try some new spots. Upon pulling up at Serua, we looked across the channel and saw even bigger, better waves coming in on the opposite side of the channel at a break called, “420’s”.

As I would learn, 420’s is a spot that doesn’t work that often. It only does so on large swells that tend to overwhelm Serua (which takes medium swells), but when it’s on, it’s really on! These beautiful, steep lefts were breaking at around 7’ with an ample number of 10’ foot faces on larger sets. I was still riding my 6’ board and remembering to take those extra strokes down the faces. On one particularly big set, it felt as if my board got nearly vertical on the drop. I couldn’t do anything but just try to stick with it. It felt as if my toes were just barely clinging to the last inches of my tailpad in freefall. Somehow, at the bottom I reconnected, wobbling precariously, before setting a rail enjoying a good ride, escaping near-certain obliteration.

As the tide backed out, we moved back over to Serua. It was a fun, long unusual wave, more forgiving than Pipes or 420s. It was like riding in a skate park. You’d begin with a medium-sized line on the outside reef, which would then move into deeper water, tapering down into a small foamy section that might normally be your cue to cut out. But, if you just stuck with it for just a couple of seconds, the wave would suddenly hit the inside reef and start jacking up… and up… into a big ol’ peak that supposedly, on smaller days, would provide a backdoor barrel to shoot. As it was, there was too much swell for this barrel to materialize, but the huge bowls that were left were just outright fun!

 

Almost Perfect

 On my final wave at Serua, I made a critical mistake. I had managed to largely avoid the reef for nearly the entire trip, but things were about to change. Our boat was positioned at the back of the reef and it was a lonnnggg paddle back to it. I had just caught a nice ride and had covered a great deal of yardage back to the boat, albeit still with another 100 yards or so, to go.

There was whitewater everywhere and I couldn’t see any exposed reef. So, rather than turning for the channel, I just continued riding in. Almost instantly, the water depth drained from about two-and-a-half feet, to six inches, to “Oh s*%#! And right behind me was another surge of whitewater, propelling me up onto the reef. Ultimately, I negotiated my way back over into the channel and climbed, bloody, back into the boat, sporting a few new tattoos from the Fijian coral.

Still, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I returned to the resort with about an hour get packed up and ready to head back home. My wife and daughters were just returning from their visit to a local village school just down the road from Waidroka. We felt so blessed to have won this trip and really wanted to return some of the karma while there. We had brought along some Waves for Water filters, school supplies and other fun stuff (punching balloons) for the local kids and I would be leaving behind my 6’ Whisnant and 6’ 6” Joe Johnson Quiet Flight for the “Surfboards for Fiji” project – a joint effort co-sponsored by Waidroka Bay, Wai Tui’s and the Fiji Surf Association. (As you can imagine, getting boards for rising young Fijian surfers can be difficult, so it is a great program).

While waiting for our ride, I checked my phone and saw the epic conditions that the pros had scored at Cloudbreak. On the south side of Fiji, there’s another world-class outer reef – Frigates Passage – that by almost every account, rivals Cloudbreak. The only differences are that rather than being 2 miles from shore, it’s about 14 miles from Waidroka (and 7 miles from anywhere) and as a result, less crowded. Although I was keenly interested in trying Frigates, conditions were such that a good opportunity didn’t present itself until my last day, and then, not enough time. Frankly, as powerful as the waves were where I was surfing, I’m not sure that wasn’t a complete blessing. There’s no skis to pluck you out of trouble out there.

Of course, the flipside to my angst: it gives me the perfect excuse to try and get back to Fiji.

Close to perfect, anyway.

Century Swell by FTR Films

12 Jul
July 12, 2015

A great video -mesmerizing action- featuring the highly technical skills of Dean Morrison, Billy Kemper and Nathan Behl in the recent huge “Swell of the Century” in Indo. Amazing waves, amazing performances. These guys make it look easy. Don’t believe it for a second…

Duck!

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
Surfer duck dives in Fiji

Duck diving in Fiji required a little more effort than the waves back home…

420s (Four Twenties) Surf Break, Viti Levu, Fiji

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
420's surf break, Fiji

These were some big, fast steep waves! This place rarely breaks. Only on large swells. And it was ON!

Big Rights in the Land of Lefts

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
erua Rights, surfing in Fiji

This section of Serua Rights gets big… it just keeps growing… and growing…

Serua Rights Skatepark, Fiji

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
Serua Rights surf break, Fiji

Yes, there are rights in Fiji. Here’s a fun one called, Serua Rights. It’s like a skate park!

GoPro Perspectives

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
I haven't used a GoPro much, but bought one for this trip. They offer some interesting perspectives

I haven’t used a GoPro much, but bought one for this trip. They offer some interesting perspectives

Speed line

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
Top turn at Pipes, Fiji. One of the fastest waves I've had the pleasure to ride

Top turn at Pipes, Fiji. One of the fastest waves I’ve had the pleasure to ride

Liquid Highway, Fast Lane

12 Jul
July 12, 2015
Pipes Surf Break, Viti Levu, Fiji

Not a wave to play around with! Drop in fast, get to the bottom and hang on!

Pipes, Viti Levu, Fiji

12 Jul
July 12, 2015

Pipes surf break in Fiji

Blue Skies & Rainbows in Viti Levu

11 Jul
July 11, 2015
Waidroka Bay Resort in Viti Levu

Waidroka Bay Resort in Viti Levu, Fiji Showing Off

Waidroka Bay Surf & Dive Resort

11 Jul
July 11, 2015
Waidroka Bay Resort

Waidroka Bay Resort

Tyler HollmerCross at Shipstern’s

03 May
May 3, 2015

Here’s another great video shared by the folks at surfsleeptravel.com who always find pretty amazing clips. This is Tyler Hollmercross riding the rolling cliffs at Shipstern’s Bluff. Mesmerizing work from Simon Treweek.

Big Future

03 May
May 3, 2015

Wow, Riley Lang is only 16 years old and he is looking a lot like John John. Looks like he’s riding for Billabong. I think may have a find. Great clip, here.

Matters of Style

20 Apr
April 20, 2015
stylish surfer

Is great style something that can be learned, or is it something you’re born with?

Since its birth hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, surfboard design has never ceased evolving. From ancient paipos, olos and alaias to modern longboards and shortboards, every new generation of surfers has always looked both forward and backwards in never-ending attempts to find new ways to enhance performance or just have a good time and more unique experience in the water.

These days, experimental boards of remarkable diversity continue to emerge at a breathtaking pace. A glimpse around your local lineup on any given weekend will provide testament to this trend. And for every surfer you might see at home trying out the latest unusual shape, there’s a steady stream of new web clips waiting every time you surf the net to show you how a dozen others are doing it someplace else.

Like most surfers, I appreciate the continuing revolution(s) in board design, including the most recent retro-and post-modern experimentation in shapes and construction. But whenever I witness someone drawing smooth lines on an asymetrical slider, tombstone-style alaia or vintage Steve Lis fish, my focus invariably winds up not on the equipment, but rather the rider and on the transcendent nature and enduring value of great style. And that’s not something you can buy off the rack.

Your shaper can’t imagine or engineer style into you. He can only provide a framework for drawing out your own natural expression of it; an expression fashioned by some inexplicable combination of God, genetics, friends, heroes, the break(s) you grew up surfing and the good or bad memory of 640 different muscles that make up our human bodies.

Great style is magical.

It is hard to define and as unique as our own DNA. At the same time, most of us claim to know great style when we see it, even if it’s served in a thousand different flavors. Clearly, it’s important to us. It’s one reason why an explosive, acrobatic world champion can be criticized for stink stance, while others with air games nowhere nearly as advanced, are routinely recognized as being better overall surfers.

Heck, did Tom Curren ever ascend even ten inches above the lip? More to the point, did he need to? No.

And yet, Curren is still universally heralded as perhaps the second greatest surfer of all time behind only Kelly Slater (witness some of the most stylish tuberiding ever at 7:32), whose unparalleled mix of speed, style, power, flow and explosiveness may never be rivaled.

Great style is transcendent.

It transcends age, gender, body type, wave type, conditions and whatever surf craft it is you might happen to be riding. It typically begins to evidence itself early in our surfing lives and matures as we ourselves do. To be certain, we can all improve our skills and work to refine our style over time, but core style is so ingrained and inherent in each of us that slivers of its true nature will always be revealed, no matter how much time and attention we’ve dedicated to “fixing” our less stylish bad habits.

I can recall two specific instances in my life when the true nature of style presented itself to me in clear, unequivocal fashion–two occasions when I paddled out with different surfers who were regarded as two of the best, most stylish surfers in the area where I grew up. Perhaps not coincidentally, both were pretty decent on a skateboard, as well. Although both were often encouraged, neither had much interest in surfing competitively. They were simply passionate about surfing as an activity and a lifestyle.

Randy, the first fellow, was pretty much an All-American kind of guy–smart, laid back and just a really cool, fun guy to be around. Physically, he was on the short side of average with a compact, athletic build not uncommon to many pro surfers. We agreed to meet out at the Jax Beach Pier one hot summer morning to try and catch a few. But when we arrived, as is the case on so many Florida summer mornings, there was little energy in the ocean, save for the slightest occasional burps from a far-distant SE background swell.

While I almost immediately resigned myself to the fact that there’d be no surfing that day and began weighing our fishing prospects, Randy began waxing up his board saying, “Well, I’m gonna’ go catch a couple. You comin’?”

No.

There was no way I was even going to try–especially being one of only two people who would have in the water at all that morning, trying to ride a swell that was only barely there. But Randy went right about his routine as if it was just another session. He removed his leash from his board and to my surprise, pulled on his baseball cap and sunglasses before trotting down to the water’s edge. And there wasn’t a damn thing pretentious about it.

Randy wasn’t trying to attract attention. He was just trying to beat the blistering Florida sun on a windless summer day. And within two minutes

of paddling out, there he was gliding effortlessly down the line on these periodic, glassy one-and-half-foot bumps; hat dry, sunglasses in place, finding energy where none existed, and turning 360s without displacing a single drop of water, with as much grace and style as you could possibly imagine. It was just all so smooth. I was fully content to just sit there and watch the show. I learned that day that truly great style is unaffected by shitty conditions.

The second instance was with my friend Tony. He was a hipster through and through–a tall (about a full foot taller than Randy) skinny musician / guitarist / vocalist / surfer / skater and independent music connoisseur who oozed charisma. At the same time, like Randy, there was absolutely nothing contrived or self-conscious about him. He was unmistakably, authentically himself and that just happened to be extremely stylish, in and out of the water.

Just like with Randy, Tony and I had decided to meet up for a paddle out, this time a little further up the road at a sandbar behind my dad’s place in Neptune Beach. Tony showed up that afternoon glassy-eyed and ready to have fun. The waves were about 2-3 feet and offering up some really nice peaks.

I was keenly interested in trying out Tony’s board and immediately asked him if that would be ok. I determined to figure out how he could surf so well and learn what his board had to do with it. Was his craft noticeably lighter than mine? Was there something different about his rails that helped make his lines so much more fluid and his turns, so much smoother and arching than mine? Surely, a revelation was at hand. And it was.

Tony handed me what looked to be a standard 6’ thruster- a worn, yellowed beater that I estimated to be about 2-3 years older, a little longer, wider and heavier than my own. In exchange, I gave Tony my board. He wasted little time getting at it, casually paddling over to spot about 15 yards away and beginning to surgically dissect the fun peaks in a manner not altogether different when he was riding his own board.

Meanwhile, to my astonishment, there was no extra “magic” that I could conjure from his board. Nothing helped make my turns look like his, nothing helped me to displace more water or create more symmetrical fans; nothing prevented my dominant right arm from dropping towards my rib cage when I really needed to keep it extended… the writing was on the wall.

Some people were–are–just naturally more stylish than others. Period.

This point was driven mercilessly home when Tony then mentioned the antique longboard hanging in my dad’s garage. I think it must have come with the home when my father purchased it. He certainly hadn’t ridden the thing in years and frankly, I was embarrassed of it, and not curious about it at all.

But Tony was. He wanted to try it out.

I tried to laugh off his suggestion off at first, but he was serious. And so we took it down off the wall. It must have weighed 50 pounds and had faded far past yellow. It was now closer to steam pile brown. I was red-faced as Tony enthusiastically tucked it under his scrawny arm and lugged it across the sand and out into the water.

And just like that, he was up and riding it–his stance and body positioning largely unchanged, like a cat about to pounce as he navigated shifting areas of the waves where opportunities presented themselves to hit open faces, step up to the nose or bend a knee to pull a graceful, flowing turn.

Oh, Tony fell a couple of times. But when he did, it was always with a smile on his face and, well… just a lot of style. He loved riding that monstrous old antique. And he looked every bit as brilliant riding it as he did on his shortboard. Or mine.

I came to the realization that day that great style isn’t necessarily subject to a certain kind of board under your feet. Rather, it is something that lives inside you, and you bring it with you wherever you go and on whatever craft you happen to be riding. If you’ve got great style, it’s going to show up whether you’re on a shortboard, longboard, dick-shaped board, a finless plank, door, or a table. Heck, even with another little human strapped to your back.

And finally, if your style still needs work: Hey, no worries. Just keep on trying, having fun and smiling like the rest of us. After having spent a great portion of the past 30 years in lineups at home and abroad with surfers of every different skill level, I promise you that’s the most effective style-enhancer that any surfer of any ability can ever hope to master.

Note: This post was originally created for, and published on The Inertia. You can see the original, including article response, here: http://www.theinertia.com/surf/matters-of-style-and-the-style-masters/#ixzz3XnthvnWC

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, I Made Surfer’s “Hot 100” Issue! Sort of…

28 Mar
March 28, 2015
Hey, that's (not) me on the cover of SURFER! No worries, though, I'm on the inside.

OK, so I didn’t make the cover…

Ok, well not officially in the "Hot 100" section, but... Did I mention they spelled my name wrong?

Well, not officially in the “Hot 100” section either, but… Hey- they spelled my name wrong!

The Brazilian Storm: Force of Nature or Overblown?

14 Mar
March 14, 2015
World Champion surfer, Gabriel Medina

Only time will tell.

The World Surf League kicks off the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour on February 28th at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. There are many plot lines heading into the season, none more heralded than the arrival of the Brazilian Storm. Since last year’s Snapper event when Gabriel Medina, the new Brazilian World Champ made clear his intentions for an historic 2014 title run by taking down hometown favorite Joel Parkinson, the buzz surrounding the rapid ascension of the Brazos over the past 3 years, and more notably, the past twelve months- has reached a crescendo.

This year, with seven Brazilians on CT, Medina returning to make his title defense and some of the current CT elite getting up there in years, will we witness the Brazilian Storm evolve into a veritable force of nature or watch this impressive run-up dissipate into something far more mundane?

Rest assured, I’m not a hater. I admire the Brazilians for their tenacity and passion. I used to date a girl from Rio when I lived in south Florida. She and her friends lived packed together in a tiny little apartment with barely any possessions, but the clothes on their backs. But they were all intelligent, kind people who loved life and weren’t shy about showing it regardless of what may have been occurring around them at any time. Little Claudia and her friends always talked about their home- their deep love for it, as well as the heartbreaking political and socio-economic problems its citizens faced (And that was a long time ago. Clearly things have been too slow to change). But no matter where our conversations went, they always returned to just how special her people and her country were.

So, I’m not here to disparage the Brazilians. Just to offer some balanced perspective in the face of media hype, and before the rest of us Americans, Hawaiians*, Australians, South Africans and Europeans cede the next 10 years of CT glory to the Brazos. Here’s why bustin’ down the door doesn’t necessarily mean Brazil will be taking over the house.

Dantas & Ferreira: Back Seat, Rookies

The Brazilians begin the year with two rookies, Wiggoly Dantas and Italo Ferreira both coming from the QS. Both are very talented with Italo looking particularly sharp in small waves and Dantas with a history of nutting it up in smaller and larger surf. That said, the shift from the QS is still notoriously hard. The CT features larger, more powerful waves than what QS’ers are typically accustomed to.

In addition, the event seeding system pits lower-ranked surfers against the highest, most talented and often most experienced CT ones. So these rookies will be facing not just the best in the world– but the best of the best, right off the bat. This year, that includes Medina who Dantas will face in his very first CT heat. It’s just a tough ladder to climb, although Snapper will give both a fair shot. Ultimately, both Ferreira and Dantas could easily find themselves fighting to stay on tour by the end of the year.

Andre, Pupo and Toledo: Muddling in the Middle

…Ditto Jadson Andre. Jadson is a extremely talented surfer and by all accounts, a great guy. But he has ambled inconsistently along the WCT since arriving with fanfare in 2010 when he finished 13th. Since then, Andre has finished 22nd (2011), 32nd (falling off tour in 2012 and having to re-qualify in 2013), and just making it back this year by securing the final 22nd CT-issued slot by the skin of his teeth (or CJ’s foot). He also qualified via the QS, and may well wind up having to do it again, this year. But, will he ever break away from the lower third of CT performers? He seems to be stuck in the rip as Alejo Muniz, despite Alejo’s valiant year-end effort.

What about Miguel Pupo and Felipe Toledo? I loved seeing more of these guys, here. They’ve been on the cusp of breaking out with Toledo showing a bit more promise both in small waves and larger ones. Felipe finished 17th overall last year (15th in 2013) and also won the QS while at it. He finished with two 5ths at Pipe and Portugal, which bodes well for his future. On the flip side, Toledo himself has admitted that he needs to work on his heat strategy. And head games can often prove to be more of a lingering problem than things like acclimating to larger surf. I do believe Toledo will crack the top 10 and that we may see him end up swapping places with Adriano De Souza, this year.

As for Pupo- I’m pulling for him. He seems determined to keep up with his peers and has had moments, but has been plagued with significant health problems (now corrected). Most of all, he has battled inconsistency with a 36th, a17th and two 19th place overall finishes, including one year off the CT over the past 5 years. If Miguel can just get rid of one or two more of his 25th place event finishes, then he could potentially become a long-term fixture in or around the Top 10. Otherwise, his career begins to look much like Jadson Andre’s and Alejo Muniz’s- promising, without ever really being able to really pull it all together in a way that fulfills that promise.

De Souza: Battle-tested. Battle-weary?

Adriano De Souza is a battle-tested CT elite, a perennial top 10 guy never finishing lower than 13th in the past 7 year with three top 5 finishes, a 7th, 10th and an 8th last year (even while missing Pipe). Adriano has been criticized for everything from a squatty stance to over-claiming. But he’s a plenty stylish, sure-footed surfer who rips in all conditions. Most impressively, he has always risen to the occasion, no matter what was required, including elevating his aerial game over the past years as rising talent levels demanded. But De Souza has a persistent knee problem and a pack of hard-charging young talent hot on his heels. He could easily slip out of the Top 10 this year.

Medina: Under Pressure

Gabriel Medina. He earned his title, even despite Kelly’s seemingly diminishing desire and John John’s late charge. But as one astute pundit pointed out on The Inertia, it’s one thing to win a crown. It’s quite another to wear it. As great as the pressure was on the boy king to win the title last year, will it be any less to repeat with the pride of his nation overflowing, the death of Ricardos dos Santos heavy on hearts and minds, and the global surf media beside itself over the prophesized Brazilian apocalypse? He is still 21, after all.

It is also worth mentioning that two of Medina’s wins last year came by .03 pts each over Joel Parkinson at Snapper and Kelly Slater in Tahiti. That’s not to suggest that luck had anything to do with it, only that they were that close. Slater won his first title at age 20 in 1992, but didn’t win his second until 1994. I believe that entrenches himself in the Top 5, but will be surprised if he repeats this year, given the weight upon his shoulders… again.

Old Guys Rule

Kelly Slater (age 43), Taj Burrow (36), Joel Parkinson (33), Mick Fanning (33) and right behind, Josh Kerr (31) are the core CT elders who continue to clog up the Top 10 each year, making it extremely difficult for lower seeds to make their way up the competitive ladder. And these guys should never be asked to apologize for their enduring health, talent and competitive drive. The question for their competitors is how long does desire last for each? If success equals talent less motivation, then you have to wonder if Kelly’s recent comments in Surfer are indicative of the beginning of the end, as even Slater himself finds it unusual that his losses aren’t bothering him as much these days. And I can’t help thinking that if Slater finally declares himself satisfied, that it might have a domino effect within this group. For the time being, these are the guys who really dictate the world order, year in and year out.

Brazilian Storm: You’ve Got Company…

Finally, Brazil is hardly the only nation with rising young prodigies on the brink of fulfilling their destinies. Although credit goes to Gabriel for being the fastest to punch through, South Africa (Jordy Smith), Australia (Julian Wilson and Owen Wright), America (Kolohe Andino and Nat Young) and Hawaii* (Who da guy?) all have young guns in contention to step into those top rung spots and potentially secure a championship for their respective countries. Every one of these guys are rock solid in big waves or small, all are coming on strong right now and at the end of the day, there are only so many spots at the top.

*Hawaii is America’s 50th state.

Note: This article was originally published on The Inertia

Everybody’s Ripping – Rincon

17 Feb
February 17, 2015

Friends in High Places

01 Feb
February 1, 2015

You know, I’ve lived long enough and experienced enough to understand that things are never as good or bad as they seem. Life, for the most part, is what you choose to make of it and there are tradeoffs for almost everything. What you see on the surface doesn’t always accurately reflect exactly what’s underneath.

If you’re a surfer and an adventurer like me, then you’re going to want —you’re going to need— to keep this top-of-mind when you watch this beautiful film from Cyrus Sutton. It leaves me with many questions, but I’m not going to bother asking them. Nope, I’m just going to enjoy it for what it is. Hope you do the same.

Carnage, Pure and Simple. Caught Inside at Jaws.

25 Jan
January 25, 2015

To be certain, glory and adrenaline are powerful forces. But is anything worth this?

Dream Jobs: Bryan Pohlman’s Endless Summer

21 Jan
January 21, 2015
Surfer Bryan Pohlman in the Maldives

Another day at the office for Bryan Pohlman

If you could have your dream job, what would it be? Is it safe to assume it might revolve around surfing? Would you desire it to include heavy doses of travel and adventure, allowing you to surf the world’s best waves in exotic destinations? Would playing a role in helping others realize some of their own dreams help top things off?

Most people never get to live their dreams, because they don’t pursue them. Others, like Bryan Pohlman, do, precisely because they make it a point. His job, as Global Sales Consultant for Waterways Travel, the world’s largest surf travel agency, is a veritable Endless Summer.

In fact, the parallels between Bruce Brown’s iconic surf film, which celebrated the virtues of travel, wonder and discovery by following two surfers–Mike Hynson and Robert August–as they chased summer around the world, and Pohlman’s own life and career, are uncanny.

Pohlman not only spent a significant part of his career shaping boards for August, but also constructing a life to satisfy the deep wanderlust within him and the DNA of pretty much all surfers, that Brown’s film so beautifully conveyed. Indeed, the film’s concept was born at the suggestion of a travel agent who informed Brown that a flight from LA to Cape Town, South Africa and back would cost $50 more than a trip circumnavigating the globe. This inspired Brown’s idea to make the film about chasing summer around the world and to call it Endless Summer.

Pohlman, who began his career with Air New Zealand and also worked for Quiksilver Travel, has surfed in multiple locations around the world this past year alone, all while collecting a paycheck and helping others pursue their own endless summers. I caught up with Bryan to gain some insight about his professional journey, and his current dream job at Waterways.

Tell me a little bit about Waterways, and your own career timeline. 

Waterways is the largest surf-travel agency in the world. We’ll be celebrating our 21st anniversary in 2015. I’ve personally been in the travel business since 1996.  I started at Air New Zealand and worked there for three years, took a break to be a ghost shaper for Robert August, shaped 600 boards, and then started Quiksilver Travel in 2001. I worked there until 2013, before moving over to Waterways.

How’d you get the job? 
I met Sean Murphy, the owner, on a surf trip to remote Panama in 2007. Even though we were competitors at the time, we got along really well. When Quiksilver Travel shut their doors, it seemed natural to transition over to Waterways, since they were the biggest and best at what they do. And I knew that Sean was probably the only guy in this business who I could still learn a lot from.

How great is your job?
I love it. Getting to interact with traveling surfers keeps me stoked. It also keeps me in tune with tour operators all over the world and gives me a unique perspective on global surf patterns. This year alone, I logged tube time in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Not too bad!

What does a typical day/week look like at Waterways? 
Normal office job from 9AM – 5:30PM, but Sean is the best boss ever. He’s always buying lunch for everyone and we’re looking at photos and watching surf contests. Working at Quiksilver for over 10 years was pretty special and had some insane perks, but I think on a day-to-day basis Waterways is a fun place to work because of the people that work here, not to mention our many awesome clients!

Have you always been a frequent traveler?
Always. I’ve been going to Baja since I was 8 years old. I’m just one of those people that sees a map and says, “I have to go there.” So, that’s what I’ve done.

So, you get to travel and surf a lot for work?
Yes, we all get out to R-and-D our surf tours several times each year. I like that part because not only do we get to know our tour operators well and really evaluate their operations, but we also get to meet our clients. I can honestly say that having been in the business for so many years, that most of my best friendships started as client/agent relationships. I love being able to help others fulfill their own dreams. Obviously, I can relate.

Do you get special rates?
We turn down tour operators all the time that want us to come down to their spots. Everyone wants us to check out their tours, because we are the front line of the sales force. So yes, we do get offered lots of free trips, but we don’t expect free trips. We understand that our tour operators need to make a living and we don’t take advantage of them. Plus, I find it’s better to pay, because then you don’t feel obligated to sell a specific resort if they aren’t up to Waterways’ standards. The old saying “There is no such thing as a free lunch” is definitely true in the travel business.

Where all have you been?
(Laughs) a lot of places, and most of them multiple times. Sumatra, Mentawai, Bali, Sumba, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Samoa, Hawaiian Islands, Chile, Peru, Panama (Pacific and Caribbean), Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mainland Mexico and the Dominican Republic
.

What’s your favorite destination?
I’ve learned that every destination is unique and different in its own way. But my favorite wave in the world is probably Macaronis.

Some have said that travel is increasingly become a luxury item, a privilege enjoyed primarily by the wealthy. Would you say this is true?
I definitely think having a discretionary income to travel is a luxury. Of course, a lot of surfers travel while they are young and before they have families. And if you’re smart, you can get great value on a surf trip.

Who are your primary customers? Do you work with traveling pros at all? 
Here at Waterways, we’ve been in business since 1994, so most of our customers come back every year or every other year to book their surf trips. I don’t have any official stats, but I think an average age of about 35-45 year old men, some traveling with their non-surfing companions, make up the bulk of our customers. We work with pro surfers and photographers on a regular basis, because many of our destinations offer world-class waves with the best accommodations possible.

Did the recession impact your business significantly, as it did so many others? If so, how did you weather the storm and are you seeing continuing improvement?
Yes, things slowed down some for a while, but we are back on track. Waterways is a niche business with a great reputation and track record. We’ve always offered great prices and work with the best surf tour operators in the world. When you’re the best at what you do, people will buy your products in good times, or bad.

What are some tips for cost-effective surf travel? 
Well, if you have more time than money, you can just go with the flow and show up places. You can meet local surfers and do things on the cheap. But most of our clients can’t leave work and family behind for a month at a time. Most are traveling for 7-14 days. When you have only a few days, you can’t take 3-4 days getting settled in. You need to hit the ground running and be connected with someone who can take care of the other little things like food, transportation and lodging logistics, so you can forget all that, relax and go surfing. That’s what you’re there for and that’s our specialty at Waterways–maximizing the value of your time.

These days, people are increasingly placing value upon “experiences” over “things.” People have realized that you can lose “things” (like homes) and are realizing that these kinds of material possessions can be fleeting or lose their value, whereas experiences last forever. And of course, experiences help shape our identities and define who we are. Have you seen evidence of this in your job?
Absolutely! As a group, surfers have always placed a high value on experience. That’s what surfing really is… it’s an experience. And no one can ever take that away from you. At the same time, you can’t take a wave home with you after you ride it. It’s gone and that particular experience is over until you paddle back out for another one.

I’ve done a great deal of surf-traveling myself and know that sometimes, things can go wrong. Have you seen much of this in your career?
Things can go wrong on any trip, but for some reason, we love to talk about the worst surf travel experiences in our surf media. I don’t know if it’s a “badge of honor” or if people just love to hear stories about trips gone awry, but my motto is, “Expect the best, be prepared for the worst and the trip will probably fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.”

What are some of the trickiest situations you’ve had to deal with?
As an agent, we deal with al sorts of issues from airlines losing bags to guys getting injured and needing to be evacuated, but cancelled flights are one of the biggest headaches for travelers and agents alike. As a surf traveler, I’ve fended off crackheads, walked through knee-deep mud to find waves, super glued my cuts and had to figure out foreign lineups all alone on some really sketchy days.

For readers, of the places you’ve been or promote, where are some of the best destinations for each of the following:

Nothing but hardcore surfing:
Sumatra, Salina Cruz, El Salvador and G-land 

Adventure:
Samoa, Galapagos, Mozambique, Dominican Republic

Couples:
Namotu, Matanivusi, Chaaya Island and Nemberala Beach Resort

Families:
Tavarua, Waidroka, J-Bay, Bocas Del Toro

Best with an unlimited budget: 
Kandui Villas, Chaaya Island, Macaronis Surf Resorts

Best on a tight budget:
Peru, Mexico, Dominican Republic, G-Land, El Salvador

So, do you need some help setting up an East Coast office, so that we can get folks off to the Caribbean, Nazare, Mullaghmore, Mundaka, The Canary Islands and J-Bay most efficiently (hint hint)?
Ha Ha! Maybe some day. But not now.

Ok, well at least there’s still hope!

Where are you personally headed next?
This year, I was in Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, the Maldives and the Dominican Republic. Next up is Teahupoo, Tahiti in March… nothing booked beyond that.

Any words of wisdom for those wishing to pursue their dream of a career like yours?
You know, the travel industry has changed so much since I began in 1996 that it’s hard for me to give advice to newcomers.  I’d just say that if you want to travel the world, do it any way you possibly can, whether that is being a travel agent, chef, boatman or a teacher. Experiencing different cultures and getting to know people that come from completely different backgrounds is truly a priceless, life changing and enlightening experience that will forever shape how you view others and the world around you.

When you hear Kelly Slater talk about his life, he doesn’t brag on world titles. He talks about being a citizen of the world and how many wonderfully diverse friends he has who have taught him valuable life lessons and provided him with differing perspectives… This is because he has been traveling the globe for the past 30 years. The fact he’s the best surfer who ever lived is just a bonus for the rest of us.

Note: I originally conducted this interview and created the article for Waterways Travel and The Inertia. You can find the that post, here: http://www.theinertia.com/surf/dream-jobs-bryan-pohlmans-endless-summer/#ixzz3PPtMnsok

And You Thought Shipsterns Was Violent?

15 Jan
January 15, 2015

Boy, if you think Shipsterns is the most mutant wave on the planet, you’d better take a look at “The Right” in Western Australia. Ryan Hipwood got a good view. Wow. For more on this spot, check out this story on Networka.com. Enjoy!

Lagundri Bay, Nias

15 Jan
January 15, 2015

Love this relaxed edit from Jason Lesh, Justin Buulolo, Aloha Aerials and Ryan Meichtry. Nice work! Beautiful waves and barrel riding…

Kelly + Rincon

11 Jan
January 11, 2015

The guys from the Surf Station dug this one up. As Matt O said in his blog, Kelly Slater + Rincon = Endless watchability. So true. Rincon is the perfect break for surfers with perfect style of which Kelly is certainly one. Here’s a clinic on style and form. Nice work Michael Kew and crew.

The Most Barreled Man in the Mentawais

30 Dec
December 30, 2014

Any wonder why they call this spot the Mentawai Wavepark? The man in the video getting barreled over and over is Christie Carter, official MD for Mentawai Wavepark. Not a bad place for an office.

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