Cloudbreak is the holy-grail of the Pacific Ocean. The famous reef break, located about a mile off the coast of Tavarua Island, Fiji, is one of the most photographed surf locations in the world. Photos of its famous face are riddled throughout magazines, social media, television and scribbled on the back of many text books. For many surfing photographers it is the make or break of the surfing world and this week, it broke its fair share of boards and records. Internationally renowned surfing photographer, Steven Lyon, retells the tale…
As a water-baby and lover of all surf that curls, I had recently been frustrated by the prolonged period of small waves lapping at Australia’s East Coast. Every day was the same. Flat and windy, or pouring with rain. It seemed like the ocean was on a mission to drive this surf photographer insane – and it was working.
But that soon began to change when, in the late weeks of September, I checked the swell charts and saw a glimmer of hope. In fact, it was more than a glimmer. It was four and half metres of pure surging white water racing for Fiji. Indeed, a huge low pressure system had just formed below Australia and New Zealand and was about to send the biggest swell to Fiji since the Volcom Pro in 2012. Desperate to get back into the water with my camera, I booked the next flight to Fiji on the Fiji Airways website and I was off.
On Sunday the 5th of October I was welcomed with famous Fiji smiles at Seashell@Momi Resort, a secluded hideaway along the south east coastline of Viti Levu that boasts stunning views of the ocean and surrounding mountain ranges.
“The Boat leaves at 6am, are you ready?” said Seashell’s boat captain with a grin.
“Definitely!” I said cheeringly but again I was questioning myself. It was the day before the big swell and this was going to be the biggest slab of ocean I had ever tackled. A new emotion trickled in through my excitement. I believe it is commonly known as fear.
Cloudbreak is a wave that forms on the outer reefs of Tavarua Island. The locals call it Kurukurumalagi, which means “Thunder in the Clouds”. It was branded this because the waves were high enough to reach the clouds. I was about to see the mother of mothers at full height.
Adrenalin kept me up that night so the 5.30am wake-up knock was a welcomed escape from what seemed like a very long night of tossing and turning. It was time to load the boat and get ready for the big day. You could feel the exhilaration in the air around the Resort. The rolling white mountains of ocean could be seen on the horizon from the breakfast table packed with excited surfers scoffing their coffee and pancakes. As we jumped on the boat, the sky started to shine. The new day was here. The boat ride out to sea was deathly quiet as we couldn’t take our eyes off the swell that was waiting in the distance.
Arriving at Cloudbreak that morning is a moment I will never forget. Within minutes of mooring up, I watched an ant-sized figure take a drop on a giant 30ft wall of water. He did a huge bottom turn into the long barrel and got spat out into the channel.
The collection of spectator boats erupted with roars and whistles. Goose bumps were sent down my spine, it was a dream come true. While everyone was chatting and congratulating each other, they were also keeping an eye on those who were unlucky and felt the wrath of Cloudbreak’s power. The skilled Jet Ski drivers from Tavarua, Namotu and Fijisurfco were on standby for anyone who got caught on the inside and needed help. The atmosphere out on the passage was electric. Everyone was working in unison to ensure the safety of others while enjoying the magic that Fiji’s Cloudbreak had produced.
After many hours of watching the surfers and one talented windsurfer battle the monster, it was time for me to jump in and get a few different photo angles from the water. Swimming with the beast of the Fijian ocean is one of the most thrilling and nerve-racking experiences I have ever had. It is to be at the complete mercy of Mother Nature, but to be in awe of her at the same time. It is something I will forever find very hard to describe, so I hope the images can help me out here.
Shortly after we headed to another wave off Tavarua Island called ‘Restaurants’ which delivered some more world class waves on a smaller, safer scale. The day ended with hugs, laughter, many high fives and a round of much needed beers by Seashell’s swimming pool.
We shared stories of the day, cheered to the unforgettable memories and took pride in our efforts. Was it the scariest wave I’ve ever been in? Yes. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Sorry mum!
Steven Lyon is an Australian-based water and landscape photographer. His snaps are regularly featured many surfing publications such as FluidZone and magicseaweed.com.
Getting there and away
Fly to Nadi with Fiji Airways. From Nadi Airport, take a 20 minute drive to Port Denarau, where you can reach the Tavarua island by yacht or speedboat, which depart daily. There are also transfer points at Vuda Marina Fiji.
Organise your Fiji Holiday
Flights to Nadi - Fiji Airways operates flights to Nadi daily from many international ports including flights from Sydney to Nadi,flights from Auckland to Nadi, flights from Los Angeles to Nadi and flights from Hong Kong to Nadi.