A thunderstorm rolled across the Fijian islands of Tavarua and Namotu around 2 a.m. Cloudbreak was first known as "Thunderbreak," so a number of surfers and Volcom Fiji Pro support staff housed on the islands thought the thunder was the noise of waves breaking on the fringe coral reefs, signaling the arrival of the huge south swell that everyone had been expecting.
At last light on Thursday night the swell wasn't showing, but at dawn the following morning, despite the heavy cloud cover and dumping rain, there were walls of white water crashing over the reefs. It was hard to put a size to it from the islands, but the early reports back from Cloudbreak were that the swell was in the 10- to 12-foot range with wash through sets ... and it was still on the rise.
The swell continued to increase throughout the day, and by mid-afternoon three sets of waves about 40 minutes apart were the biggest and cleanest waves people could ever remember seeing at Cloudbreak. Micah, one of the elder Fijian boatmen employed by the Namotu resort said that he's never seen waves at Cloudbreak like them.
Big-wave surfers from all over the world had watched the low pressure form off the east coast of Australia and start to push the south swell towards Fiji. Crew had been flying in over the past few days, but had to hang on the mainland because of the Volcom Pro taking up all the accommodation on Tavarua and Namotu. Guys like Mark Healey, Ian Walsh, Reef McIntosh, Nathan Fletcher, Ramón Navarro, Grant "Twiggy" Baker, Kohl Christensen, Danny Fuller and Jamie Sterling were all out there, as well as most of the ASP's Top 34 and guys like Dave Wassel, Alex Gray, Jamie Mitchell and Billy Mitchell who've been working the contest.
The lineup of surfers was impressive and the surfing was nothing short of breathtaking. By the end of the day there were at least five waves that could qualify for "Wave of the Day."
At dinner on Namotu the waves were on the big screen TV over the bar and being played again and again. The verdict from members of the Top 34 was McIntosh's wave was bigger and cleaner than the others, but it wasn't a unanimous vote.
"It was the best it can get," said Adrian Buchan. "I couldn't imagine it could get any better ... the big wave guys have just taken riding Cloudbreak to another level."
Yadin Nichol agreed, "It was disturbing what those guys were doing, it was a totally different league... I felt like an idiot out there in the lineup. I was just so under gunned on a 6'9" with no oxygen tanks or flotation vest. I just got flogged out there."
"So did I," said Buchan. "I borrowed a 7'0" and snapped it on my first wave."
But as you might expect, both the Hobgoods charged. Late vertical drops and deep barrels saw both of them eventually snap their boards, including one of Kelly Slater's guns that CJ had borrowed. When asked about who he thought had scored the best waves Damien Hobgood couldn't decide.
"I thought Ian Walsh's wave was the best wave I've ever seen, then Reef's was just crazy and then Wassel's wave was sick, it is so hard to pick," he said before adding, "The waves ridden today were just out of this world."
When Ian Walsh paddled past our boat it was a chance to ask his opinion about the day. "It's definitely the best waves I've ever seen any where in the world," he said, "and the session has been going all day."
When asked about his bomb wave he replied, "It happened so fast. I think that wave was the best backside barrel I've ever been near (laughing)." He was being modest with his answer because he got more than close, he was deep in the throat of a tube pushing 15-foot plus.
Champion paddler Jamie Mitchell had a similar view to Walsh. "I reckon they are the best waves I've ever seen," he said. "Pristine, beautiful, big, perfect. Some of the big waves that came through today were like a cartoon drawing, no, better than a cartoon, more perfect, they were just incredible. Today was one of those days that will go down in surfing history, it was an amazing day."
And sadly, the ASP tour relegated itself to nothing more than an open-mouthed spectator. After going on and off hold throughout the morning as the wind tried to sort itself out, eventually the last two heats of round two started the competition; Bede Durbidge knocked out fellow Aussie Adam Melling and Kai Otton won his heat over Raoni Monteiro, who injured his knee in a vicious wipeout. The competition was then called off for the day due to the windy and bumpy conditions and that's when the free surfing got underway.
The contrast between those that charge and those that don't has never been so stark. Should the world tour event have pressed on and tried to capture some of this thunder in a bottle? Most certainly. Walsh, McIntosh and all the guys that charged throughout the afternoon proved themselves, as Buchan noted, "to be on another level." So what does that say about the level on tour? The world's best surfers in the world's best waves? The ASP might want to think up another slogan, because with only a few exceptions, that one's just not cutting it.
VOLCOM FIJI PRO REMAINING ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15.43 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 14.23
Heat 12: Kai Otton (AUS) 14.33 def. Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 12.34
VOLCOM FIJI PRO ROUND 3 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Bede Durbidge (AUS)
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
Heat 3: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 5: Alejo Muniz (BRA) vs. Gabriel Medina (BRA)
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Mitch Coleborn (AUS)
Heat 7: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Heitor Alves (BRA)
Heat 9: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)
Heat 10: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. C.J. Hobgood (USA)
Heat 11: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 12: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Kai Otton (AUS)