READY FOR THE ISLE OF ORIGIN
News provided by ASP World Tour on 25 May 2005
As Australia prepares for tonight’s sporting spectacular with the NRL State of Origin showdown, akin to American Grid-irons’ Superbowl, Japan’s Yakyu Baseball, the French Open, or England’s FA Cup final in terms of public fanaticism, the Foster’s Top 45’s continue their preparations for the Globe WCT Fiji, which remains on hold, with not just personal victory in mind, but a win for their ‘own’ island. To be topical, call it surfing’s ‘Isle of Origin’ showdown. The current victory tally has Tavarua leading with three notches, to Namotu’s two. The Namotu crew are out to even the scoreboard.
The surfers, ASP and Globe crews and media are of course spread over two islands here – Namotu and Tavarua, separated not only by a kilometre of rip currents known locally as Rara Strait, but some cultural differences as well. Americans lease Tavarua from the local mainland village of Cuvu, while Aussies own Namotu’s lease, courtesy of an agreement with the Solevu village on nearby Mulolo Island. Though America and Australia are loosely kindred western societies, they are eons apart in many ways, and the islands of Namotu and Tavarua are just as different.
There has always been friendly rivalry between the islands since this event was first run in 1999, Fiji initially a reluctant alternative to the political nightmares of East Java’s Grajagan, where Quiksilver first stepped out boldly to take ASP WCT surfing from slapstick beachbreaks to classic reefs in 1995.
Mark Occhilupo won the inaugural event here at the world famous Cloudbreak in 1999, a feather in the cap for Namotu, otherwise known as the ‘Aussie Isle’. The very next year, Occy’s roommate and power-broking peer Luke Egan took out the event at Cloudbreak, another win for Namotu. Ironically, to this day, Occy and Luke have always shared Namotu’s Bure One (‘Bure’ is Fijian for room).
The following year of 2001 was a nightmare for the ASP Tour. The Fijian event was to be transferred back to Java’s G-land that year, the original plan being to alternate between the two locations every second year, but political upheaval in Indonesia in the months leading up to the event’s May slotting in the ASP schedule, lead to security warnings in diplomatic circles, and insurance companies issuing similar alarm bells giving notice that they were unprepared to provide coverage in Indonesia.
With the associated risks of running an international sporting event in such an unstable place, and the inability of the sponsor to insure, the event was cancelled. With there being insufficient time to allow the organization of a million and one details and move back to Fiji, we skipped an event in Indo’ or Fiji that year. Five months later the 9/11 Twin Towers calamity in New York saw the European leg of the WCT tour cancelled. It was not a good year on any front.
The tour returned to Fiji in 2002, Australian south-coaster Mick Lowe winning the event here in some mighty fine waves at Restuarants, Tavarua’s own immaculate left-hander that takes its name from the fact that you can sit in the island’s restaurant checking the incredible wave rifling down the reef over your plate of cheeseburger and fries.
Though he’s an Aussie, Mick Lowe has a long association with Tavarua, having regularly surfed and fished from there since he was a grommet, and since he always stays on Tavarua, the American isle finally had a win to boast about. That same year, an incident went down after dark, that will live on infamy in pro’ surfing history, and maybe somehow upset the ‘balance of power’ between the islands. It involved the one and only Nathan ‘Hog’ Hedge.
These days the surfers actually refer to Rara Strait as ‘Hog Strait’, and for good reason. On the night of May 27th, 2002, the eve of his 23rd birthday, acknowledged dawn raider Nathan Hedge decided that he was going to give himself a guaranteed birthday present by being the first in the lineup at Cloudbreak at dawn the next day.
Slipping down to the water’s edge around midnight, Hog slipped onto a kayak, and towed his Chilli surfboard out into the darkness of the treacherous strait. Cloudbreak is almost four kilometres due south of Tavarua, yes, obviously a reef, but literally out in the middle of the ocean.
Somehow Hog made it out there, climbed up onto the contest tower on the reef and went to sleep, surviving what was a seriously dangerous and chance-medley stunt. Yes, he was first out in the lineup, but only just, the noise of the approaching outboard motor of a Namotu longboat awakening him. It was Bure One’s Luke Egan and Occy heading out for the early, wondering where their young apprentice and roommate Nathan Hedge had slept that previous night.
Boys will be boys, but we reckon that when Hog gets to heaven, there’ll be a battalion of angels calling that it’s his shout at the Pearly Gates Bar. It would have taken a battalion to guide and protect him that night, but nothing could protect him from the insurance-conscious wrath of the Tavarua resort part-owner John Rose when Hog came back to shore on his birthday morning. We know that Namotu operator Scott O’Connor, a dinky-di Aussie, mentally bestowed a knighthood on Hog that same day, but the possibility of a Bure One and Namotu trifecta, was about to go out the window.
In 2003, Hog returned to Fiji to find that he was rostered to sleep on the island of Tavarua. Perhaps the powers that be wanted to keep an eye on him, perhaps it was a form of punishment that he would be separated from his Aussie mates on Namotu, That same year, our champ Hawaiian Andy Irons included Fiji in his cache of wins that led to his second world title, as well as Tavarua’s second win.
Hog missed Fiji last year after dislocating his shoulder the preceding week in the final at Teahupoo. Hog’s fellow-dislocated-shoulder brother Damien Hobgood won the 2004 edition of the Fijian event at Cloudbreak. It was Tavarua’s third win on the trot, a continuing horror story for Scotty O’Connor’s Namotu Aussie Isle. To rub further salt into Aussie pride, it was also an all-Tavarua final, Andy Irons coming in as runner-up.
This year, with Globe at the helm, we’re missing Damien Hobgood, the popular Floridian unable to defend his title after eerily repeating Hog’s 2004 stunt of dislocating his shoulder in the Teahupoo final last week. Is that spooky or what? Last year it was no Hog because of his shoulder, and Damien won! This year it’s no Damien and Hog back in Bure One on Namotu.
Is history over its hiccup? Can Nathan Hedge complete the brotherhood link with Dooma Hobgood and claim this year’s Globe WCT, thereby putting Namotu back on evens on the Isle of Origin scoreboard? Stay tuned folks, the swell is coming…and how! Check out the meteorological maps. There’s a 940 low ripping the Southern Indian Ocean apart right now, and the monster low is headed into our ideal swell projecting window for Fiji. We could be wrapping up Globe’s WCT inauguration in perfect 6-8’ Restuarants.
The next call for the Globe WCT Fiji will be at 6.30am tomorrow (Wednesday May 25th) morning.
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