Baptiste Cloarec

Not to be outdone, Ricardo Campello used the advantage of his more powerful gear and larger frame to engage in slashing under-the-lip cutbacks. At times his feet, driving deep into the throwing lip, would lift above his head, inverted, before the arc of his turn rounded out into an air-drop recovery. The fan of water this turn created would catch the insanely strong updraft created by the barrel. Water from his board jetted upward, painting the sky, something that could only be possible on a wave like Cloudbreak.

Robby Swift and Marc Paré started off the second semi with a set that rounded the reef in perfect timing with the beginning of the heat. At the raising of the Fijian flag, they faded into the pit. Their waves were beautiful, the riding perfect, but the narrow exit on these monsters grew tighter as the riders dipped into turn after turn, hungry for more of this insane wave. It was here that the aforementioned “El Capitan” wave judged both of them for their greed. The section came up so swiftly that it raised alarm bells all over the channel, everyone voicing aloud their vicarious terror in one voluminous uproar! I can’t imagine what the rider’s experience was like, watching the wave mount for an attack you could not hope to turn away from.

It seemed that at this moment a marked shift in energy had come. KuruKuru was nothing to play with, it demanding respect, protocol must always be observed. A perfect time for Antoine Martin to come fanging into another set, riding with audacious flare, the gaunt face of the west bowl already rearing to meet him. Call it hubris, foolhardiness or the desire to know, but Antoine launched himself at it. In a place where a surfer would be pumping like mad to outrun the foam ball, churning like a singularity within the barrel, this windsurfer harnessed the wind and flung himself out over the brink. In landing, the first point of contact was mast against crashing lip. For a split second his sail was as a hand in the barrel, pressing against it, stalling inside it, effectively tube riding a windsurfer. His board, however, could not manage the massive leverage applied via the sail. Fins unable to find purchase, his board spun out and swung wickedly up with violent force of drawing water going straight into the mouth of the barrel. Carnage ensued, a hideous wipeout of gear curling with the snarling lip to be gnashed into the razor sharp reef. This was another moment best captured by Jace in 200fps, at the moment when glory turns to calamity, and Antoine’s eyes widen to the reality of his impressing doom. I think he saw death.

For a long time Antoine was just gone, safety jet skis marshaled along the reef, but there are certain places where a person is just alone. It took the majority of the heat for him to come out of that Shish Kebabs zone, for the ski to lift him out and towards his gear, then out into the lineup. He must’ve been shaken, but had no time to recover himself. Three minutes were left in the heat and they passed quickly. With 30 seconds left Antoine took one more stab at a wide set but couldn’t get in. Again, I think a lot happened to Antoine out there that we can’t know but can infer based on any brushes with disaster we’ve faced. His confusing actions in the wake of that wave might be better understood given this context.

I conclude this article, two days after the events of Finals day, back in the channel of Cloudbreak. It seemed the best place to try to understand what we saw in the water that day. There’s something special about this wave, the Mana, as Polynesians have identified it, is strong with karmic “knowing”. As violently as it exacted its chiropractic adjustment of the sailors, it retracted its wrath. A paced and ordered calm seemed to resume in the water. It set the stage for the final, a clean slate.

Sarah Hauser picked up where she left off in the semis, finding that perfect line on waves with just enough wall to work with, but not so much west in it that the wave would bend into an inescapable trap. Sarah had one wave where I genuinely mistook her as Antoine Albert sailing through the heat! She approached the wave with a different attitude having acquired a solid base of scores, busting her fins out off the top of a looming outer section before carrying all its barreling speed down into a flawless lay-down bottom turn. Her resulting carve a thing of perfection. There’s no doubt that Sarah deserved the win here, she rode immaculately.

I watched the finals from aboard the French boat. That isn’t the name of a particularly French boat but a general descriptive term for any boat occupied by French. This method of describing French territory extends beyond boats for there are French villas, French tables at dinner, French WhatsApp groups. There’s also a certain French way of doing things, like the Germans they are always on time, their time, but here in Fiji that always seems to be the right timing for everything. It was, unsurprisingly, a focal point of energy for both the men’s and women’s finals. We had Sarah but also Coco to root for, Morgan was a ball of nerves watching his girlfriend play casually in waves of enormous consequence. He didn’t show it, until at one point Coco kicked out of a relatively small wave up the reef, with a wide set looming on the horizon, a critical misstep. “Pump,” he kept saying “pump… just try pumping a little Coco… just frickin pump!”

As the women’s final concluded, and Morgan could take a breath, we discussed our pre-heat predictions. Truly, my money was on Swifty. Robby Swift rides with the classic measured pacing of one who knows when to push and when to fade, the mark of a keen surfer. While surfing, Swift has been getting the biggest and best barrels out of everyone here, learning the positioning and rhythms of Cloudbreak with eagerness and genius. I really thought that if anyone had the mojo to counter Baptiste’s flow, it would’ve been Robby. And at the opening exchange of the heat, it seemed my prediction might hold water. Robby timed another perfect set, one of the biggest, and went to work on it with a style that blends many of the Greats: Polakow, Prior, Josh Angulo and even some notes of Naish mixed to great effect.

In the semi heat prior, Takuma Sugi cut open the side of his face during a brush with the reef. It didn’t stop him from making the finals. Still bleeding from eye to cheek, he let out a warrior’s cry, and was back out in the lineup prepared to swing for the fences again. In terms of fandom, I follow Takuma the closest and get most excited about him as a windsurf athlete. He’s the total package, a skillful down-the-line wavesailor, fearless in the air and in high winds, and a freestyle wizard. He’s in the stage now where he’s going for maximum effectiveness in competition, but just imagine when he starts throwing his own stylistic flare into everything he does, blending his multiplicity of talents into one unique flow. And Takuma’s got the spirit to do something like that, he’s a one-of-a-kind type of guy. I feel that in this final we saw a glimpse of that flow. Takuma hit a switch, probably around the time he kissed the reef, where he realized it was about more than points, more than a ranking, it was something personal between him and this wave. A dance ensued, tight, erratic, full of raw feeling, like a Koto.