When the likes of Julian Wilson says today he caught 'the best wave of his life.' You know something special's just happened. This was always going to be a wild one. Cloudbreak to stand tall, as tall as it has been in almost half-a-decade thanks to a huge swell, that rocketed up from the Tasman, setting pulses racing, right off the heart-shaped island of Tavarua.
We'd seen this thing coming for a long, long time. But it was coming with caveats; the wind, slightly funky. The swell; not as big as 2018's historic session, as monstrous as Thundercloud in 2012. But then, it didn't have to be. This is Cloudbreak, not in the 20ft plus range (though some would argue it is) but a decent two, three times overhead. And while we've had a bit of a mad run at Teahupoo this season, it was time to cast an eye over to neighbouring Fiji -- and go live from the channel on the back of a ski.
And we knew who to call. Photographer Stu Johnson lives out there. Knows Cloudbreak. Can plot its nuances like a careful cartographer. "It got off to a slow start," he said. "But the second session cleaned up hugely, hollow and wild. I think if there was another few feet on this and a couple more seconds on the swell period, this would have been all-time."
Billy Kemper hopped a flight at a moment's notice. Koa Rothman was out there too. And a face we haven't seen in a while – Julian Wilson, who hucked into one of the bombs of the day, at the start of a three wave power set that marched from deep out of the horizon, Jules first then Tevita Gukilau and finally, Jon Roseman.
"Was that the best wave of your life?" Stu shouted as Jules paddled past, all determination and filled with belly-fire. "Best wave of my life," he said. But look at that wave after from Tevita, aka Veet, below. It is as flawless as Cloudbreak can be. But when it's like this, and you get a wave like that, the universe sometimes has something to say about it: "I certainly paid the price!" Veet told MSW. "Had the worst tower tour afterwards through shish kebabs.
"Was in ankle deep rapids while getting mowed down by massive whitewater. After like the tenth wave on the head I was so exhausted I was thinking this could end up a pretty serious situation. It was too low tide to get a ski in. Eventually I got washed in enough to walk a couple hundred metres down the reef and get back out to safe water. Cloudbreak can give you the most magic moments and also the most terrifying! I wouldn’t want her any other way though."
"What dreams are made of," said visiting surfer Sam Schumann, who got one of the first waves of the day. "Today was a dream. Good vibes in the water with excellent surfers. Nothing better. The forecast was pretty spot on."
"Super slow morning with the crazy tide," said Jojo Roper. "Sat for a few hours, where not a single wave came. Jon Roseman and I decided to grab the rope and whip some insiders, but the insiders became some crazy west mutants further out on the next ledge. A lot of faces of Cloudbreak. Changed every hour it seemed like. Got Jon on some sick ones and he whipped me into one of the biggest barrels of my life. Was stoked. Then came the paddle session for some more exciting waves. Great day."
Tyler Stanaland was out there too: "There was a little uncertainty of how big it would actually be," he told MSW. "When we got out there Jake Maki and I saw a few waves on the second ledge but nothing huge and decided to be the first ones out.
"I caught a smaller one off the bat and as soon as I got back out the back a five wave clean up set came and landed on our heads. Jake had to pull his leash and swim and each one was a little bigger than the last. After that the ocean took a two hour break and we all thought it was maybe a one set swell. Literally not a wave out on the second ledge for two hours. Then it started slowly waking up before going absolutely nuclear around noon. The dreamiest conditions you could ask for on a day like that. Everyone got a few good poundings and a few waves they won’t soon forget."
Tyler's partner in crime Jake Maki added: "This is a day I will remember forever. The waves started to get really clean and consistent around late morning to midday and the crowd was pretty light so everyone was scoring. It was super cool to see everyone trading off huge perfect barrels all day. Cloudbreak is such a perfect wave, I’m so stoked to be down here, and to get a big swell like that was a really awesome experience."
MSW's Tony Butt broke down this swell: "A complex area of low pressure had been sitting south of New Zealand, producing southerly winds in the Tasman Sea. The first part of the swell actually hit Fiji on Monday," he said.
"During a period of about 24 hours or so, the main system stayed in place, and a peripheral low developed on its western flank, off the southwest tip of New Zealand. An associated area of storm-force winds moved NNE up through the Tasman, from just off Tasmania to the North Island of New Zealand. This moving windfield resulted in an even larger pulse of swell on the back of the first one, that hit Fiji on Wednesday.
"There's more on the way over the next few days. The swell gradually tapers down through Thursday but pulses again on Friday, with stronger winds. Then expect smaller swell on Saturday with lighter winds, before it fizzles out on Sunday."
MSW SESSION BREAKDOWN
Bomb of the session: Tevita Gukilau. Just look at that thing above. Veet knows exactly how to wrangle Cloudbreak, may have paid the price, but the price is worth it? Yes. Yes it is.
Wipeout: Our hearts go out to Beau Pilgrim... getting hung up in the lip is nasty business, let alone when it's flawless. View must have been nice for a second though.
How big are we talking here? A few gigantic faces, but the consensus on the ground is, this is a 15ft day at the Fijian power wave.
Will it be good tomorrow? Yes! This swell's hanging around for the next few days, it won't be as crunchy as today but there will be more moments of glory through until Friday.
Should I book a flight over there? If you're not already there.. tell you what, you pop open an ice cold chiller, take a seat, and we'll bring the action to you. Deal? Deal.
Was this paddle or tow? Paddle day, couple tows out there, but mostly this was a giant slaying day and the boards used to get the job done.
What made this swell so special? By all accounts, it's the biggest of the season so far. But the season's only just got started really... *insert eyes emoji here*