(Go here for French translation of this article)
Fiji resident Stu Johnson is a surf photographer and surf guide with FijiSurfCo.com, one of the most experienced surfing companies in Fiji. He and his lovely wife Malia are also editors of Fiji Surf Blog and are regular contributors to Fijiguide.com.
Stu knows how to properly prepare for a surfing vacation in Fiji and in the following article provides the answers for some of the most frequently asked questions. (All of the photos featured in this series are by Stu Johnson).
So let's start at the beginning...
Q: When’s the best season to surf in Fiji?
A: The rainy season begins November 1st through April 31st and sees less long period southwest swells. However when they do arrive, there is a good chance you'll see some of the cleanest conditions with light to dead winds. Beware of afternoon surfs during this time of year. Typical weather patterns during this time see quickly forming low pressure storms out of the north which generate terrible surf conditions and make for a VERY bumpy and uncomfortable ride back to shore.
From May through October you see the trade winds come in and dominate the weather making for sunny perfect weather and predominant offshore winds at Cloudbreak and Restaurants. Lots of these days it doesn't matter what time you start your day in the water. It can be good all day long! Just make sure to bring enough water and sunscreen or the next day will hurt.
That being said, scoring good waves is all about timing and you come to find quickly in surf travel that you can get skunked any time of year, peak season or not.
If you have the flexibility, I would suggest keeping an open schedule in February and March and watch swells and wind predictions. Some of the cleanest, most perfect sessions can be had during this time with minimal crowds. If you need to book your holiday in advance I would recommend going May through October which will give you the best chance of not spending your entire trip in a cyclone!
Q: What do I need in the way of gear over there.
(If your traveling with Fiji Surfco.com they Supply the last three items on the boat Free of charge)
(If you need ANY of the above items you can replace them at Fiji Surf Shop in Nadi Town)
Q: Will I need booties?
A: For people who have surfed beach breaks most of their life they are used to standing on the bottom before jumping back on the board to paddle back out. If you
want to continue this habit I would recommend booties as most of the reef cuts we see come from people standing and kicking off the reef as they re-mount their board after a wipeout. When surfing a reef,its best to master the" high-body-float to crawl back on board" technique. The biggest hurdle to overcome when surfing a reef for the first time is the fear of hitting the coral.
If wearing booties helps you feel more confident in getting better waves then I would say bring them and ware them with pride.
Side bar #1: Reef cuts are 90% superficial and harmless when cleaned properly upon returning to your hotel. The worst injuries in surfing don't typically come from bad wipeouts on the reef. The most dangerous thing I've found in surfing is hitting your own board! )
Side Bar #2: Surfing solid Cloudbreak or any size Restaurants at low tide is for expert surfers only.
If you feel legit fear looking at waves breaking on dry reef then stay on the boat and watch. Many people have gotten in over their heads at these spots and have ended up with serious injuries which even booties would not be able to prevent. When in doubt, don't go out. Just sit on the boat and watch the carnage! Your wife/girlfirend back at the hotel wont be very open to a surf trip in the future if you come back with serious injury!
Q: Wet suit or vest?
A: 1mm Wet suit top is always a good bring on a trip. You never know when a chilly wind might come through. (Plus if your surfing Low tide at Restaurants its good to have a little extra protection)
Q: How do you compare the shape, size and power of the waves in Fiji to the North Shore of Hawaii or other major breaks in California?
A: California is typically fast and weak when compared to Fiji and Hawaii. The famous breaks on the North Shore are made up of a diverse coral bottom and are set up more like a beach break with out a definitive channel commonly found at reef passes and point breaks.
Fiji has all the power of Hawaii but differs in the different wave set ups. Most popular Fiji waves begin breaking toward the end of a long reef shelf. Have a look at Cloudbreak or Restaurants on Google Earth and then look at the stretch of beach from Sunset to Log Cabins and you can see the difference. Waves at Restaurants are predictable in how they break and many will forever marvel at how mechanical and machine like restaurants can look when doing its thing.
Pipe is still arguably the Mt. Everest to master because on a perfect day at Pipe there are lots of close outs, but if your patient and know what your doing you can chase the worlds most perfect and deadly pit.
Fiji is much more user friendly then Pipe!
Not only is the reef safer at Cloudbreak but the crowds in Fiji are mellow and welcoming (to those who keep an upbeat, sharing attitude). If you think you have what it takes to catch a 6-8ft (Hawaiian scale) bomb but dont want to deal with the hierarchy at Pipe then Cloudbreak could be your best bet to get the stand-up barrel of your life!
Q: Can you help me decide what kind of board to bring?
A: Bring a couple shortboards and maybe one wider/fishy style board if the forcast looks small. If the forecast shows for bigger waves bring a step-up. If its your first time dont bring a gun. Get to know cloudbreak with your shortboard then on your second trip bring out your gun if your up for it. Otherwise it will be dead weight in your bag.
Q: How do I plan air/ground travel to Fiji?
There are a number of options for discounted airfares. There are also travel wholesalers such as Waterways.com that have air/land packages. Waterways has some premiums for Fijiguide.com readers that you should ask for.
For a list of airlines and wholesalers in the US and Australia/NZ that service Fiji see list below:
Q: Are surf guides available? How do I find one and how much do they charge?
A: There are several new companies that offer surf charters to Cloudbreak and the surrounding waves but there are only a few that offer surf guides with the tours. At FijiSurfco.com our boat trips come with both an experienced guide and life guard as well as a personal surf photographer who uses his pro-gear to get you surfing for no extra cost. Check out Fijisurfco's photo blog which show cases daily highlights from every surf trip.
If you are looking for a guide to get you to other spots outside of the normal reefs of Cloudbreak and Restaurants simply inquire at Fijisurfco.com. There are lots of other waves for you to discover only hours away from Cloudbreak and they will most likely be empty! (Cost estimates would be available upon knowing more info duration,car rental fees, boat fees, etc).
Q: Can I pull up an online surf report in Fiji?
A: We reference many sites to get a more accurate swell reading, some of our most used are,
Q: Do you have point breaks, beach breaks or reef breaks over there? What can I expect to find?
Q: What about medical care? Is it fairly easy to get treatment if I bash my shins on the reef?
A: Emergency Medical is available in Nadi Town at both the Government hospital as well as several different private Doctors. At Fijisurfco.com we asses the seriousness of the injury and if needed end the trip immediately to get the guest to a doctor for treatment. Dr. Zen Low in Nadi town is our preferred Doc for emergency care. Cost for walk in, no insurance visitor to Fiji is around $150 Fiji Dollars give or take a stitch.
Q: How far are the nearest hospitals or clinics from the major breaks?
A: From leaving the breaks to the clinic door will be about 45min to 1 hour.
Q: Do I need any immunization before I go?
A; As far as protecting yourself, you would want the bare minimum of a up to date tetnus booster. If your coming to Fiji to party I can think of a couple other vaccinations to recommend!
Q: What should I bring in the way of medicine?
A: Unless you are prone to some specific pain or discomfort you don't need to bring any Meds. If you get sick or injured Nadi town has about six Chemists (Pharmacies) with Doctors on call ready to diagnose and prescribe antibiotics right then and there over the counter! You can spend 5 minutes in a chemist shop and leave with enough anti-biotics to kick your cold for about $20 Fiji dollars out the door.
Q: Will my US, Canadian or Australian insurance cover any medical expenses?
No, but its quite affordable. (if you require air-evacuation due to extensive injury that A: will be expensive and you would most likely need travelers insurance to cover that!)
Q:What are the do’s and don’ts of Fijian culture? I don’t want to offend anyone.
A: If you follows the Do's you should avoid most of all the Don'ts
A: If your staying in a fijian village at a homestay you may be served some coconut intensive meals but even at a homestay they cater to a western palet of bread and fried eggs and Ketchup. You'll be fine.
If your staying at hotel it'll be like you never left home.
If your living on the cheap and are eating in town areas then you may eat more curry than your used to. Even if you think you like spicy food, unless you've been to India or Thailand, ask for the dish to be mild. It will still have a kick.
Q: What about petty theft and crime? Is Fiji pretty safe?
A: Be smart with your wallet. keep it on your person as much as possible. Theft is 99% opportunistic so if get ripped theres a good chance you could have prevented it by taking that extra second to hide your money a little better. Yes Fiji is safe. But if its not nailed down and your not around it may be gone when you get back to it!
Q: What kind of hangouts are there in the evenings if I want to socialize? Anything you can recommend near the surf resorts?
Generally the surf resorts are pretty remote areas so there's most likely not going to be much partying. The Nadi Area has a few bars and friendly locals. Here are a few options: