Sarah Hauser wasn’t the only sailor with Fiji on their bucket list. Florian Jung scratched the itch on his desire to make a trip to the South Pacific and tells us how he found perfect waves but left with a changed perspective.
Words Florian Jung // Photos Marie Christen
I write this with a ripped ligament in my knee that I picked up in a competition. These are the hardest moments in every athlete’s life, when your most important asset – your body, is not working. It takes weeks to learn how to walk and get back into shape, but I hope to come back stronger.
These down days give you the time to reflect, to appreciate and see things from a different perspective. Life is a constant flow of waves that goes up and down. With each wave we ride we have experiences – good and bad. In the end it only matters that we take challenges as a reason to evolve. These are probably the most precious lessons, or at least it’s the best way to tell myself that everything happens for a good reason.
Due to this injury I had some time to go through pictures from recent trips and came across a photo of a beautiful boat anchored next to a tropical island. For me that picture tells a personal story of why it’s so important to go out there and really go for your dreams and be the captain of your life. Looking back I am really grateful for each of these experiences.
MAKING A CHOICE
A trip to the South Pacific, especially Fiji, was on my bucket list for years. I read various interviews of people that had circumnavigated the world. French Polynesia and the islands of Fiji always seemed to be the highlight of their journey – there had to be something special about it. That’s why I wanted to see it first hand.
When you look at ticket prices to get to Fiji from Europe you need to budget at least €1800 per person. Once you make it there you need a boat in order to get to the spots and discover this unique paradise. To cut a long story short, I simply didn’t have the money. I tried to find sponsors and ask the tourism office for support. But to be honest, I failed. Maybe that was due to the fact that I wanted to take my family with me as well! My son was just under two years at the time and his ticket would have been for free. The clock was ticking, as I knew that 3 flights where completely out of my budget.
I contacted a lot of people that had been there or had connections to boat owners in Fiji. Still nothing seemed to work. After sending emails back and forth I was about to give up. One day an email from a friend of Kauli Seadi popped up and told me about a family with an old boat that was looking for crewmembers. I wrote to them straight away and it seemed like the perfect match. A young family that loved to windsurf and kitesurf with a 30 metre sailing boat with lots of space for gear. They offered a really fair price and I could even take my family. The only down side was that they were leaving Fiji in a couple of weeks heading to Asia. I basically had to make a choice to leave the next day or it wouldn’t happen.
If I’ve learned one thing over the last decade, it’s that travelling is a good investment. I have never regretted any of my previous decisions, so I made my choice, even if that meant that I had to sell my car afterwards to afford it! I bought the tickets and the next day we were sitting in a plane that brought us all the way to the other side of the world, albeit with 2 x 10 hours flights in a row with a child that just wants to move all the time! Fortunately the stewardesses seemed to love him and kept him busy!
WELCOME TO PARADISE
After a never-ending journey we finally arrived in Nadi, one of the biggest cities of the main island named Suva. Our captain Marco and his son Mathies picked us up and gave us a ride to the boat. We were fully jet-lagged with a time difference of 10 hours and on board I fell asleep straight away with the sound of splashing water banging against the hull of the “Silverland”.
The next morning I looked out of the window with an unbelievable view of a tiny island.
We had anchored in front of Namotu, a private island resort with a famous reef break where once a PWA wave world cup event took place. Right away I rigged a 5.0 sail and jumped into the blue ocean to catch a few “nuggets”. A few surfers around me didn’t seem to mind. The waves were small and the wind was quite light. It was a perfect warm up session with unreal water colours under my board, though it seemed like I was floating over dry reef with coral heads coming extremely close to my fins! I had some really fun turns on fairly long forgiving waves that were running all the way to a channel. I went back to the boat after a few hours, full of pure excitement that I really had made it to paradise.
In the following days we had quite good forecasts but somehow they never came to much; it was the waiting game that we as windsurfers know only too well. I tried to avoid having any expectations and took each day as it came. We went surfing a few times a day, discovered the amazing underwater world by scuba diving and snorkelling and did hikes on some remote islands and connected with locals. In Fijian the words ‘Bula Bula’ mean hello, goodbye, buy me a drink, I’m bored, I’m hungry or I’ve run out of conversation! They are also the perfect icebreaker to get in touch with these warm hearted people. We bought fruits in little villages, baked fresh bread and lived on what the ocean or the rich island culture had to provide. We probably visited the nicest places you can imagine. Palm trees, empty white sand beaches and beautiful water colours. There was just a small detail that really distracted.
Basically everywhere we went, except places that got regularly visited by tourists and therefore cleaned up every morning, we saw piles of plastic waste on the beaches. Some of it was partly from the local communities that don’t have a working waste management system, others perhaps from ships that throw waste overboard or little plastic particles that have got swept up on ocean currents. We found out that the islands of Fiji are also one of the most threatened nations from the effects of climate change. Sea levels rising, coral bleaching, increased intensity of storm surges and coastal erosion are just some of the problems that the 322 islands of Fiji are facing. I wonder how this place is going to look when my son is my age? Will he walk on plastic pieces instead of sand?
Finally after a week with no windsurf action a little swell arrived and I had the chance to score “Cloudbreak” for the first time. Some people call it the “ultimate wave” – fast, hollow and runs up to 500 metres on a good day. Just avoid the razor sharp dry reef on the inside! The spot, or let’s say the reef, is so far away from any other islands that it is a bit tricky to navigate your way in the lineup without any landmarks. I was the only windsurfer out and I tried to respect the handful of surfers that were catching the inside peak. I started to take the big set waves that were already breaking far out. It was an incredible feeling to ride these perfect blue walls and hit the thick lip that launches you up into the sky like a rocket – pure perfection! After a few hours on the water the wind turned onshore and the place changed within minutes to a chaotic mess, but I had finally got what I came for.
With just two windsurf sessions, it was more a family adventure than a pure windsurf trip. The weather conditions are hard to predict and that’s the beauty of our sport. We always have to adapt to the natural elements, not the other way around. Besides perfect waves to surf and a place of pure beauty, Fiji also shows the fragility of our ecosystem.
I was grateful to be able to see it with my own eyes and together with my family. These are moments that last for a lifetime, but also make me rethink my own lifestyle. I do my best to be carbon neutral at the end of each year by planting trees for every trip and to live plastic free as best as I can. I have to admit, plastic free is not easy, but manageable if you are well prepared in your daily routine. I really hope that we will be able to end plastic pollution in the long run and better balance our economies with the need to protect our planet.
“Fiji also shows the fragility of our ecosystem.”
Flights from Europe mostly have with stopovers in Seoul, Brisbane or Los Angeles.
Best season is from May to October. Best swell – S-SW direction and 3-20 feet in size.
Best wind – SE trade winds.
To find out more about the Silverland yacht and her schedule – see www.sailing-silverland.nl/en
Check out an innovative conservation initiative to protect sharks in Fiji: www.MyFijiShark.com