Big Toona – Fiji Pro 2014
Big Toona – Day 1
By Sean Doherty
Out in the Malolo Channel it was blowing diabolically at dawn.
In the absence of surf this week fishing has been the fallback du jour and the beasties have been on the bite. Kai Otton skulldragged a 130 pound dogtooth tuna from the channel yesterday and we were out there again this morning trying to replicate the feat. We were downrigging baits along the ledge, our teeth being loosened as the boat ran upwind into 30-knots of trades and an accordingly short sea. The event forecast had tomorrow pegged as the opening day, but as we fished we saw boat after boat heading out to Cloudbreak and figured something was going down. Today would be a bird-in-hand surprise.
I’m sorry, but it will hardly be one for the ages, this event. In the past three years we’ve become Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to the Fiji contest, conditioned to simply believing we turn up here and eight foot surf will materialise, but Cloudbreak is as mortal as anywhere on tour and we’re going to be seeing that over the next few days. Kelly has started lobbying for a handful of events (Fiji included) to be classed as tour “majors” and awarded double rating points. While the idea is not without its merit, if you doubled the points this week you may have to then halve them again straight away. It’s not going to be eight foot, a fact confirmed by Laird departing yesterday over the horizon on his paddleboard yesterday, headed for Hawaii.
Sitting in the channel at Cloudbreak this morning the wind was sawing the tops of the sets and blowing the freckles off the face of anyone foolish enough to be out there. Flying fish were breaching 200 yards, clean. Ronnie Blakey’s hair was everywhere and it kind of rattled him. Interviewing Kai Otton he mistakenly described Kai’s fish as a “bluetooth tuna”, the rarest but most connected of all the Pacific tuna. And I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of European backpackers on dinky jet skis is, but five of them turned up in formation and matching yellow vests, took one look at the scene, and promptly headed back to the mainland into the teeth of the wind, unsure of why they’d picked today of all days to head out.
The fishing hero of yesterday – “Viccy Hislop” as Kai Otton has christened himself – was catching sardines out there in the first heat of the morning, and the theory that the goofyfooters were set to reclaim this event after years of Slater domination was looking a little shaky.
Then Mitch Coleborn happened. With that swervedriving bottom turn and hot butter rail there may not be anyone who makes surfing this wave seem so natural. The Sunshine Coaster was in Indo surfing perfect Macaronis when he got the call that there was an alternate spot for him in the field here in Fiji, and after transiting through every airport in Southeast Asia he eventually got to Fiji and proceeded to blaze past Ace Buchan and yesterday’s birthday boy, Taj Burrow. The other goofy harbinger was Fred Patacchia, who dispatched world champ, Mick Fanning. It was tough going early on your backhand on the high tide, the guys torn between racing and turning. As I write this Mick Fanning is sitting opposite re-watching his heat and trying to gauge where it all went wrong. He’s shaking his head, reluctant to blame the surf. “Geez, I’m a dickhead sometimes.”
Kelly has been an interesting study, and there is no better place to study him in captivity than on Tavarua. He is of course the big dog of the island, and in the absence of surf the big chief has been exerting his authority on the ping-pong table. In particular he’s taken great delight in schooling Kolohe Andino – who beat him in the last event – to the point of sitting there and arguing the legalities of Kolohe’s serve. Once he got out to Cloudbreak it took all of a minute for him to find the first (and only) double-up drainpipe of the morning. Surprised, you are? Hardly. A little more perplexing was the judge’s apparent horniness for his three speed floaters soon after. Mick has just watched Michel Bourez’s high score from this morning, and figured the common thread is not so much the turns themselves, but the continuity between them, the space between the notes. It’s going to be a delicate act, juggling tubes and turns out here this week… and more importantly reading which the judges are loving more.
My proximity to the World’s Best Surfers® has also afforded me a glimpse into the shadowy world of the tour’s drug testing regime, and I can confirm it is indeed happening. Haven’t seen it with my own two eyes of course, but the fact it’s an official-looking lady who’s been following the guys into their rooms to witness the urine sample being produced has seen a few unable to perform on demand. The fact the guys being tested are only given the heads-up a minute before isn’t helping, but I suppose it does prevent them running off, strapping on prosthetic rubber cocks sported formerly by East German weightlifters and depositing a squeaky clean sample of someone else’s clean-living piss.
Back on Namotu Island this afternoon and Jadson Andre is walking around carrying a small silver briefcase, which seems only to be missing the handcuffs chained to his wrist. I haven’t asked him what’s in it, but I’m waiting for him to open it tonight, the golden glow bathe his face, at which point I’ll be asking him, “We cool, Jadson?” And as I sign off, Kai Otton’s prehistoric dogtooth tuna has emerged from the kitchen, transmogrified from its regal, natural form, turned into 20 pounds of five-star sashimi. I’m sure that he woke up in Malolo Channel yesterday morning he was not nearly expecting that to be the case.
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