Recalling Big Cloudbreak with Jon Roseman

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)

Perhaps it was the big wave paddle revolution? Or perhaps it was the internet revolution and the promulgation of images and video that followed? Whatever it was it's kinda bizarre to look back at Cloudbreak's rise to prominence as a legitimate big wave spot.

There it was - Cloudbreak - once the most famous wave in the South Pacific and home to the world's first exclusive surf camp. No-one could say it was flying under the radar, more like standing in the spotlight, and yet for the better part of its existence few people knew just how big and perfect it could get. 

It wasn't like we didn't know it could get big. The odd XXL image seeped into print yet for whatever reason they didn't capture our imagination like the last two huge swells at Cloudbreak have.

Swellnet recently spoke about this with Jon Roseman, the co-owner of Tavarua Resort and a person whose seen more large Cloudbreak swells than anyone.

Swellnet: The Volcom Pro Fiji wasn't the first swell of that size in recent times, in September 2010 a similar size swell hit, how often does Fiji get hit by swells of this magnitude?
Jon Roseman: Fiji gets hit by several large swells a year. The problem that I've seen over the years is that by the time they get to Fiji the surface conditions can really vary. Because the wind is predominately southeast trades, a lot of these swells can get lumpy and the lines broken up by the local outside wind conditions, turning it into a large windswell. Fortunately Restaurants and some of the other waves can get good when it's like that.

Was last year's Volcom swell the largest you've seen Cloudbreak? If not, when was the largest swell and how big did it get?
Last year's Volcom swell was definitely one of the larger ones, and what made it unique was the interval and the light winds in the evening. Unfortunately the next morning the trade lump caught up with it and tore it apart.

I've been fortunate to both witness and ride several others, there's probably been a dozen or so similar days in the last ten to twenty years that have been really clean. One crazy one was Easter Day in 1995. We had just started towing out there on the big days with underpowered skis and this one particular day was sunny and sheet-glass all day. What was amazing was that driving out to Cloudbreak to tow it looked only 3 to 4 foot except there were giant foam balls in the channel and restaurants was 8 to 10 foot. It was probably 20 to 25 and not a drop of water out of place or ripple on the face. Really dreamy and scary at the same time.

Why did it take till September 2010 for the wider world to realise Cloudbreak received, and indeed handled, such size? 
I think it was probably the rarity of being that big and super-clean coupled with Restaurants firing when there's any swell that big.

Many years ago Tom Servais took a picture of Conan Hayes looking back at a towering Cloudbreak lip (See photo above), do you remember that swell? 
That was definitely one of the best days over the last couple decades. We actually towed it for a few hours before the trade got on it. I remember there were some crazy swing-wides that were going below sea level. Every big day out there has it's own unique look- almost like a different surf spot each time. This day was ledging so hard on the biggest sets that it was hard to know how deep you were and it was also scary for the driver because one second you're on a lump and the next it's a 15 to 20 foot double-up.

Are all of Fiji's large swells produced by the same sequence of weather events? 
It depends. Obviously the bigger the storm down in the Tasman the better, but so much has to do with the fetch and how long the storm lasted in the slot. A lot of times we'll keep charts as reference and go back and try to understand the conditions that translated into big surf and the timing of them. In the old days before Surfline, etcetera, we would to have to go to the Nadi airport and look at the hand-drawn maps used for aviation and predict that way.

Lastly, are there other more protected spots in Fiji that work under these heavy swells?
Restaurants is really protected; if you look at an aerial shot you'll see how far inside the channel it breaks - it's almost like the inside of a river mouth. There are quite a few really good waves in Fiji with a similar setup.

And on that ever-so-coy note we'll say thanks and fire up Google Earth.


stunet's picture
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stunet Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 5:31pm

From Tom Servais, who has seen every XXL size swell at Cloudbreak except the Sept 2010 one: "One swell of significance that was left out was the recent one in July of 2011 when Kohl Christensen got what I believe was the biggest paddle-in barrell ride ever at Cloudbreak."

therealneil's picture
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therealneil Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 8:31pm

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't that shot of Conan Hayes on a mag cover in the late nineties? I remember looking at it thinking fuwark that's a big wave and wondered why there wasn't more fuss made over it at the time

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 31 May 2013 at 7:56am

Bang on, Real Neil,

ASL Vol 122, November 1998.

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brutus Friday, 31 May 2013 at 11:02am

anyone remenber the Globe Fiji Pro...Laird Towed Koby into a pretty big back door barrel...made a few covers!!

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stunet Friday, 31 May 2013 at 11:07am
fitzroy-21's picture
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fitzroy-21 Friday, 31 May 2013 at 11:48am

Woah Stu, that pic is scarily beautiful (if there is such a word).

I kind of remember a few articles on that session with Laird.

All this talk of Fiji is taking me back to being there a few weeks before the comp last year. Love the place, its people and the waves.

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caml Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 at 7:06pm

Perfect tales of days of old . Thanks for the link . Now i want check 1995 easter chart

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mick-free Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 at 8:08pm

That photo of Conan is incredible. He's bit of a visionary too - he started RVCV and sold it to Billabong.

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caml Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 at 8:37pm

Yeah mick . I remember that pic and debating if it was towed or paddled . When it seemed it was towed then it wasnt so incredible . at the time there were a few hoaxes being published of tows made to trick for paddle ins .