Note: all the following photos have been supplied by our guest photographer, John Bilderback
When Jody and I started laying out the plan for The Best Odyssey our dream was to travel where no one else does and do what no one else has. I always define life as a string of moments- the more precious moments you can string together means life is being lived instead of passing you by. The last 8 days have been a continuous mind-blowing string.
First you’ve got to put together the right group- special moments are hard to have solo, and it’s hard to have an “Epic” (which we call these 14 day trips because that’s what we set them up to be) without highly motivated and talented people. Moehau Goold, Mauricio Abreu, Josh Mulcoy and Clinton Bolton– heavy hitters on all accounts, especially when it comes to waves are a good start. We’ve also been joined by legend photographer John Bilderback and his wife Alexis on video, Scott Wisenbaker, Nashara Alberico, Chris Smith and especially important to me- Jody. Then, after two weeks of almost no wind, we get a perfect forecast- for both wind and swell literally the day everyone arrived. We pull out the charts and make what we hope are educated guesses for what might work. There are no guarantees and there’s no history to go by- these places don’t exist outside of local knowledge, if at all. Our goal is to kite waves. We’ve still got 6 days left on this trip and the forecast continues to be perfect, but I can already say- our goal has been achieved.
First a forewarning. None of the places I’m about to write about are where I’m going to say they are or named what we’ve named them. The reason for this is twofold- one, we don’t know the names of them anyway and two, we want to protect these spots for the locals, who have been unbelievably generous and kind, sharing in the stoke we’re experiencing. Josh Mulcoy, who’s literally surfed all over the world, from Iceland and Norway to the Mentawais and Fiji had the best wave session of his life yesterday. Moehau Goold, who surfs Teahupoo on a regular basis said the waves he got were among best of his life. Personally I’ve been at this for 8 years and I’ve never seen or found even a fraction of what we keep getting, at multiple locations. For some reason we’ve got karma on our side.
But first, how we got here in the first place. It all begins in Fakarava, the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus. We motor sailed down to the south end of the atoll in hopes the southern pass would present a wave with a building easterly swell. Operating inside this lagoon is no easy task as there are pearl farms strung across the only charted route. We left at first light and quickly got wrapped up in one segment, and that was following one of the locals. A quick dive below freed the rope though and we headed onwards. Unfortunately the south end didn’t have a great wave- enough for the boys to get a few rides, and even a short kite, but the scenery more than made up for it. The pass here, as in all the others we’ve explored so far present perfectly clear waters and abundant coral and fish life. Add to that swaying palm trees, tiny sand motus and vibrant colors on every horizon and you’ve got a boat full of smiling people.
That evening Clinton got a dozen or so sharks interested in some left-over bonito we’d caught that day and went Steve Irwin on us (I think it’s his South African blood) for a few hours shark wrestling. Those of us more interested in keeping our fingers kept our distance.
We pulled anchor at 0400 the next morning and sailed downwind back to the north end of the atoll, some 30 miles to pick up Moehau and head onwards to Toau, a nearby atoll. The winds were now blowing well over 20 knots and looked to stay that way for a week minimum. En route to Toau, an easy and fast sail with the gennaker Scott and Chris hooked into a 5 foot beautiful sailfish, which they landed and Lars prepared into an astonishing array of sashimi and sushi. We sailed into the pass, little more than a small bay on the west side of Toau just before sunset, just in time for Moehau and Scott to get some flat water kiting under their belt, and the photographers to get some work done.
Another very early morning and another nice sail downwind to an atoll that will remain unnamed. We sailed into the pass, which was ebbing at 3 knots, a head-high left peeling down the reef with not a single person on it. Josh grabbed his board and jumped off the stern before I even knew what was going on. Moehau kept saying “what” and “oh my god” while frantically searching for his gear; Mauricio, Clinton and Scott in equal bewilderment. Unfortunately the wave was as perfect as it was dangerous. Within moments Mauricio made his first reef contact, splitting his elbow, then Clinton followed with a nearly full-body drag over the coral on his stomach, back, legs and feet. We wrapped up Mauricio’s elbow, and scrubbed down Clinton all the while watching Moehau and Josh get one unbelievable tube after another. Incredibly, we could keep Discovery hovering right at the end of the break in perfect flat water so all those on board or with cameras could catch the action in full.
The surfing continued until it all came down on Mauricio (aka “Morris”) in a bad way. He went over the falls and cracked his head, giving him a concussion and the need for stitches. Josh and Moehau fished him out and we motored into town, which thankfully had both a wharf we could tie up to and a medical clinic nearby. As Morris kept asking the same questions over and over we figured he could use a bit of professional help. We were ushered down to the clinic by some locals, who wore happy smiling faces and the generosity to match. In no time the doctor had Morris sewn up and Clinton covered in pink iodine, but their days on the waves were going to be limited. We attempted an evening kite session on the waves but unfortunately it was too offshore and everyone opted for another perfect surf instead.
On day two at our unnamed spot some of the locals came out to join those still able to ride and made tube riding look like child’s play. One kid, no more than 14 years old in particular must have gotten 20 barrels in a row, with all of us screaming encouragement. Watching Josh and Moehau rip the waves up is a sight to behold, but god this little kid was “killing it”, in verbiage the pros have adopted to describe something truly amazing.
That night, opting for more seclusion than the wharf and town we motored against the wind up to a small motu behind the reef inside the lagoon. Arriving just at sunset the looks on everyone’s faces was tribute to our surroundings. To describe it as “pretty” would be a wildly unimpressive adjective. It was perfect. Butter flat water behind the reef, long sandy strip for kite launching, palm covered motu in the backdrop. This was a kite surfers dream, and a photographers heaven.
The small kites came out the next day with the winds picking up even more. Moehau and Scott got things off to an impressive start boosting and doing tricks over a strip of land just off our stern while I took to giving Chris his first taste of kiting on the trip. I got my own taste for a concussion some time later while bringing Chris back upwind and failed to notice Moehau (it was mutual) doing a Slim Chance right over my head, which then got a nice shot to the outboard motor when he came down on my back. There was no pain, but things got pretty fuzzy for awhile.
Later that day we excitedly accepted an invite to join some locals for a pig roast at their pearl farm at the far side of the lagoon, one of the largest in French Polynesia, and a trip we’d promised Nashara since the beginning. It’s hard to get in shopping with the winds and waves cranking but somehow we got them both this day. The pearl farm was situated in waters protected by a 10 mile strip of land no more than a hundred meters wide. The lee side of the strip was of course ripple-free, which Scott and I couldn’t resist having a quick kite on. The others enjoyed a wander on the land, which included seeing photos of a 5 meter tiger shark that they’d killed just months earlier right where we were anchored. I was happy to have missed them, and even happier Scott and I didn’t get eaten.
After dinner we hoisted the sails again and ran off downwind across the lagoon under a moon-less and ominous sky. Everyone settled into bed for what was supposed to be an overnight crossing to Tikehau so Nashara could catch a flight home. But first we had to negotiate the narrow pass back out into the open ocean, no easy task even in full sun. With winds gusting to 30 knots and the ebb tide making for a current well in excess of 5 knots my heart was in my throat. I fired up the engines to have in case they were required, then put JB (John Bilderback) on my main sheet to control the impending gybe, and Jody on the computer so she could tell me where I needed to be. Then, without mincing words all hell broke loose. I suddenly saw a 3 foot standing wall of water from the current line, which as soon as we hit spun Discovery out of control. I gunned the engines, JB handling the gybe perfectly, then felt the adrenaline rage through my veins as the reef screamed by on both sides. Incredibly we ran through perfectly but god I think I’ll be recovering long after this trip is complete.
Safely back in open ocean it became apparent rather quickly that even with winds as strong as they were, we weren’t going to make Nashara’s flight the next day. Plan B was another close atoll which had a better flight option, but no swell. That is, none that we knew of. We flew all night, Discovery clearly enjoying the freedom of the black ocean. Arriving with time to spare Hannah and Lars hurried into town to get some provisions and fuel while Nashara said some sad goodbyes. We were pressing to carry onto to Tikehau so we could arrive with enough sun to negotiate yet another treacherous pass. But quite unexpectedly, on exiting the atoll for the run west a perfect, and I mean perfect right, with side offshore winds just appeared out of nowhere. A handful of surfers were already enjoying the goods, Josh and Moehau put their fins on in record time. And for the end of this log, let’s let the photos do the talking…