2023 FIJI PRO: CLOUDBREAK CONTEST
The big guns of the IWT/PWA descended on Fiji for a world cup wave event at Cloudbreak that showcased windsurf wave riding at its best. Some of the top finishers give us their thoughts.
WORDS – Sarah Hauser, Ricardo Campello, Robby Swift, Sarah-Quita Offringa // PHOTOS – Fish Bowl Diaries
Ricardo Campello – 2nd Mens
The conditions were great, but I feel it wasn’t great in my heats because I was always in heat 1 of the day, except finals day, so the wind was always light as it was just starting to blow!
I also feel that the waves were not as good as the first 2 days I got here for windsurfing. It was fast, light winds and a bit offshore sometimes! The first days before the contest were much easier to sail! To me during the competition you couldn’t really go vertical and push much, because it was so light and offshore, except the first day of competition during the later heats, when it looked awesome and perfect. I was jealous, I really wanted to sail during the best time of the day. In my first heat I was pretty much surfing rather than sailing, but happy I made it through!
I was always focussing on getting the biggest waves, as I think they were really giving good scores on the big ones, but it was tough. Conditions were changing a lot, every day was different, and most of my heats I was against very light guys and it was hard to fight for waves with them! So my strategy was to stay in position and let them have the medium ones and pray for the sets to come while they were on the inside! It was risky, but thank goodness it worked out most of the time. I was stressed and worried as I thought I wasn’t going to get the second wave and I couldn’t mess up because I might not have a second opportunity!
In the semi-finals I could only catch one wave, and saw the boys getting wave after wave and I was really struggling. With less than 30 seconds to finish the heat and only one wave on my score sheet, I had to go big or go home to make it to the finals, so I got a really good wave that seemed to be a medium size one, it was the only opportunity I had, so I rode it the best I could. I pulled upwind a bit as I started the ride and did some nice turns, without pushing too much so I wouldn’t fall. I did a sort of floater landing in front of the wave that the judges loved and tried to milk it as much as I could. I tried an aerial at the end of the wave (which they probably wouldn’t count because it was past the judge’s boat), but I didn’t care, the heat was over and I had to give it my all, so I hit a lip full of whitewater at ‘Shish Kebabs’ (the end of the reef) and when I saw the bottom it was literally dry reef, so I had to let go and try to land on top of the wave rather than in front! In the end I destroyed my sail sleeve on the reef and cut my foot and arm. It was worth it though as I qualifed to the final, so I was stoked!
In all my heats I was using my 88-litre and 5.0 and in the final I had to use my 5.3 because it was extremely light! In general I was happy with my performance but I know I could have sailed better than what I did during my heats, but I did what I could with the opportunities I had. I feel that if I had more wind I would sail a little differently. Baptiste really deserved the win as he was ripping in every heat during the event. I think his size and weight gave him a bit of advantage compared to others, but he really was on another level!
Sarah Hauser – 1st Women
When we showed up it was pretty much glassy. Low tide at midday tends to do that. But at around 2 p.m., a very very light breeze started to pick up and my heat started at 2:30 p.m. I was prepared for this and had asked Keith Teboul at Quatro to shape me a custom board that would basically be a replica of my 58-litre Ho’okipa board, except 5 litres bigger and with a tiny bit more length to handle big waves. It’s a thruster with MFC fins: 8 cm custom TF sides and a 14 cm centre fin that Adam Lewis dug out of the MFC archives (I think it used to be part of a quad set), the whole set-up felt amazing. I rigged my biggest sail (Goya 4.0 Banzai X Pro) and was able to catch waves, but it would take time to get back to the peak. The current was strong. As for the waves they were beautiful. Not giant, but solid mast high, so powerful and fast. When we showed up in the morning the surfers were getting insane barrels. I thought it was a wave sailor’s dream out there. Sure it could have been a little easier to get more waves with stronger wind, but I really liked being forced to surf the wave and rely solely on its power to draw my lines.
In terms of tactics it was pretty standard: don’t go on the first wave of the set, pick a landmark to figure out where the peak is for the set waves, and make no mistakes. This event had no double elimination and the reef was still dry when we started, so falling or not making it around the last section of the wave meant serious consequences for your gear and feet on the sharp coral. I had a spare set of gear, but it was my small board and a smaller sail, which I didn’t want to end up on. I guess another tactical aspect that seemed obvious to me was that it was all about the set waves. The smaller ones didn’t offer enough opportunities to make turns, they would turn into fat shoulders pretty quickly and leave you gybing out of them in the middle of the break and vulnerable for the bigger ones. If you don’t want to get a bomb on the head the best strategy is to catch it.
During the final I felt nervous because wave selection was key and while things had gone well during the semifinals for me, I still was aware of how easy it was to make the wrong call. I took some deep breathes and sang some Kaneka (New Caledonia music style) songs to calm me down. When the first set came I wasn’t in a good position to catch it. Coco and Sarah-Quita did. Then a couple of minutes later I managed to catch a really nice wave, but the wind was so light I put my feet in the footstraps during the drop! I rode it pretty aggressively and felt like I could try to push things a bit more on the next one. It took a long time to get back to the peak and then nothing. No set came for a long time. I was staring at the horizon needing a second wave so badly. I was starting to run out of time and questioned whether I should go get some points with a smaller wave. But my gut told me to hold strong and keep waiting, a set had to come before the end. I had been keeping track of their intervals. When it finally came Sarah-Quita and I were figuring out our position, looking for the best combination of priority and being in a spot where the wave would be steep enough to drop in. We both pumped for it and for a split second I wondered if I truly had the priority. I was deeper, I wasn’t sure if Sarah-Quita was higher on the spot, but I could see I was on the steep part and she had to go over a lump. In the end she didn’t go and I was committed. It ended up being the best ride of my life. On my second turn I looked at the lip and thought I wasn’t going to make it, but somehow my gear and body did what they needed to do. I followed up with 2 more vertical turns and kicked out of the wave feeling so grateful to have experienced this whole thing.
It means so much to win on a wave like this, as it was this kind of wave riding that made me want to dedicate my life to windsurfing when I first windsurfed in the waves of Tenia in New Caledonia, which are similar to Cloudbreak. I’m so stoked also to see a future generation of female windsurfing chargers in Sol Degrieck and Coraline ‘Coco’ Foveau who really showed how hungry they are during this event.
Robby Swift – 3rd Mens
The conditions were pretty epic; the waves were just insane. We had been watching the guys surf all morning and I had actually ended up going surfing myself to brush off the nerves and get acclimatized to the powerful swell. I got one of the best barrels of my life to warm myself up, so I was feeling pretty confident and felt like I had a pretty good read on where to position myself in the lineup.
The wind was unfortunately really really light and I had already destroyed my 5.3 earlier in the trip. I went on my 5.0 and 88-litre board, but it was really hard to get upwind and to ride the waves in a critical way with the wind being so light. Despite that though, I felt like I timed the sections pretty well and did some decent turns. I couldn’t really push as hard as I wanted or go for the big aerials that I would have liked to land because I just couldn’t risk crashing.
I did end up kicking out of one wave and getting a massive barrel on my head which destroyed my second 5.0, so I only had one old 5.0 left to use for the second half of the semi-final and the subsequent final, so at that point I had to really take it easy. It’s definitely not an easy place on gear!!
My board was the final prototype of the 2024 Magic Wave 88. Morgan, Jules, Jake and myself were all lucky enough to have received those boards just before the trip and they were really perfect for these waves. I’ve been working hard on the development of them with Werner specifically for conditions like these and it was amazing to have them here. I had the previous prototypes last year and they were really good, but these final ones were on another level.
I would have used my 5.3 if I hadn’t broken it, but in the end I used my 2023 5.0 until I destroyed that, then I destroyed another one and then I was down to just the 2022 one which luckily survived until the end of the final!
My tactics were pretty simple. It was clear that they were really judging wave size so I was waiting for the biggest waves. The more westerly ones which came in looking like closeouts were the best ones to go on as they were smoothest and had the best walls so I was trying to pick them. The wind was so light though that sometimes they just ran under you as they were moving so fast, so I did miss a couple of sets that I would have liked to have caught.
I think I only got 2 waves in the semi-final and maybe 3 in the final, and they were 28 minute heats so you can see how light the wind was. If it was slightly windier, I would have been way more confident and I am sure that the level of all of the riders would have sky rocketed, but it was still amazing to be able to show what windsurfers can do in those waves.
I was strangely not that nervous. These are my absolute favourite conditions to sail in and I feel really comfortable in those kinds of waves, so I was mainly just enjoying myself and having fun. I wished the heats were longer so I could have spent more time out there, or that the wind was stronger so I could have caught more waves.
Performance wise, like I said, I would have sailed much more critically and taken much more risk if there was more wind. I watched the drone footage of all the waves in the final and I thought I actually performed pretty well considering I was taking it really easy. To be honest, I actually thought my waves were a little bit better than Ricardo’s ha ha, but judging is very subjective and the scores were really tight so I will just have to come back next year and try to do better!
I think that the judging was made even harder than usual as the waves were so big that they had to park the trimaran they were on quite far down the reef and I knew that since the waves I was picking were the more westerly ones, they broke further in on the reef, so I don’t think the judges were able to see anything past about the 2nd turn on the wave. It was something I was aware of and that the judges had mentioned in the morning briefing, but it’s hard not to take the waves that you want when you see a bomb just because of its position on the reef. Hopefully next year it will be possible to either rebuild the judging tower that used to be on the inside of the reef, or possibly use the drone footage to show the judges replays of the wave so they can see the whole wave. I think that would make the whole thing way easier to judge and would be really interesting for the judges and sports fans alike.
Overall my impression of the event was that I was blown away by the logistics that they managed to pull off here. It is an immensely difficult thing to do to place a flotilla of boats many miles out in the ocean and run an event and broadcast an extremely well produced show of the event around the globe from a 5G internet connection. The Fijian people who are responsible for all the logistics on the ground and securing the permits etc. are so amazingly helpful and thorough and it’s just incredible that this even happened at all. I’m still in awe of how amazing the sailing was and how Simeon and crew pulled this whole thing off and I can’t wait to come back again next year!!
Sarah-Quita Offringa – 2nd Women
I sailed Cloudbreak for the first time the day before the final. But it was marginal and not comparable to what I actually sailed in the competition. Before that I had only watched the men in massive waves, and I have not been in such conditions for a while, so honestly I was having some anxiety before my heat. In a competition like this where the elements are quite extreme, it’s more about overcoming myself rather than outdoing my opponents. I went out a heat early so that I could line up with the riders in the heat before me. It gave me a good sense of where to position myself. In the first heat I feel like I eased myself into it and stayed safe. It got me through to the final where I felt like I grew in confidence. Before I knew it I was on a massive wave and the rush I felt going down the mountain was exhilarating!
Feeling the energy of the wave crashing behind me was unreal. I don’t think I felt comfortable, but the adrenaline was pumping and once I was on it, I just tried to do what I saw the guys do, stay close to the peak and ride more in the pocket. I did three turns and kicked out screaming of excitement, and I could hear everyone yelling from the boats as well. I was terrified and stoked at the same time! Coco kicked out of the wave before me and she was just beaming and that’s when I started enjoying and appreciating this chance we had to have this break all to ourselves. After that I filled up my score sheet with two smaller waves and then waited out back for a big set. Unfortunately I was not in the right position for the first waves of the last set that came through right at the end of the heat, the other girls caught those waves and I saw that Sarah Hauser did 3 amazing hits on the wave. I felt a bit gutted at that moment, but then I looked over and saw I was actually in the right spot to catch the biggest waves of that set. I had a massive opportunity! Sadly, the size scared me and I let those waves go. I think this is going to be one of my biggest regrets in competition. I had a huge opportunity handed to me but I froze. The wave behind it was even bigger and already breaking so I bailed and dove under. And that was the heat over.
I only sailed my 5.0 Combat and 88-litre Hyper. I had a quad set-up with 9 cm front fins and 14 cm rear fins. It’s quite a big board, but the wind got lighter and lighter, so in the end the extra litres were really helpful.
My tactics were I just told myself to not waste time on the smaller waves and be patient to catch the bigger waves. Once I was out there and after catching some waves, I felt more relaxed and comfortable and eventually I was just very excited and grateful to be out there with only 4 other women in the lineup. And after catching my first big wave I was elated. It was a very special feeling being out there.
The location already is iconic. Cloudbreak allowed riders to display windsurf wave riding at its absolute best. Some riders that have been flying low on the radar were shining at this event. It was a mission to go out 20 km to the break, but once there in the middle of nowhere it felt really epic watching everyone’s performance. I think the images we have from this event will go down as some of the best ever in windsurfing.
We’ve had about 3 events for the unified wave tour and I’m excited to see after the Canarian leg what the rankings will look like, as we will have then integrated pretty much all the riders.