FIJI YOUR FACE OFF: A Paddlers Epic Adventure

The Beginnings

“Buzzz buzzz.” a text came in. I was snowboarding through the terrain park approaching a box rail, the text could wait. I checked my phone when on the ski lift, the text read “FIJI YOUR FACE OFF!!!!”

fiji-1I was in Utah on a family ski trip when I got this seemingly random text. I was lost, what was this all about? I figured it had something to do with Fiji, or maybe it was a typo and meant to be Fuji? So I text-ed back. It was Odie. To my surprise he was inviting me and my wife to an outrigger paddling adventure in Fiji. “Wait, what?! For real?!” I wondered.

As soon as I got back to work I checked my schedule and weaved together some very polite emails to my boss and waited for the response.

YES!

Through luck and a little charm I was able to fit in a 10 day trip to my calendar. Unfortunately my wife Jackie would not have the same luck, although exceedingly charming,  she was just starting her new teaching job in Hawaii and was settling in. She loves the ocean more then anyone, so knowing I was off in Fiji might not sit well. Well she was nice enough to let me go on my own, thanks babe!

I replied to Odie “My face be ready for Fiji”. Still not knowing what that really meant, but I was in. He told me to buy a round trip ticket to Nadi, Fiji on Aug 3rd, departing on Aug 14th. Everything else will be taken care of. Easy. Done. This is going to be fun! Or was this going to be a mistake? I heard the Luaus in Fiji had alternative kalua pork, the other white meat. Should I be concerned?

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this trip. All I knew is that we were heading to the island of Kadavu somewhere in the Fijian islands. I heard there might be some diving and fishing so I packed some light dive gear ‘just in case’. Spear fishing is my first love, I have been diving since my pops first took me to the tako grounds on the south side of Oahu and I have been in the ocean ever since. Needless to say, I have always wanted to explore other islands and over the last few years I have been fortunate to dive in places like Tahiti and Okinawa. Discovering the culture, people, fishing/diving techniques and endemic wildlife

The Cast

560830_10100692387337216_1231451004_nThe morning of our flight out of Honolulu, I met the other five lucky paddlers that were to be the first group to go on this Fiji outrigger paddling adventure. Corey Simpson, Juliet Jones, Seril Shimizu, Annet Sumi, and Odie Sumi. Everybody super stoked and eager to get this trip going and see what awaits. It wasn’t long before we began talking story and joking with each other. We realized none of us had even seen this mystery host, “Fiji Tom”, so we decided to have a “Fiji Tom Drawing Contest”.

Needless to say, we all got along right off the bat, it was going to be fun and full of laughs. There was one thing we did take serious thou, our mission, and our mission was simple: Do Fiji Right!

We arrive in Nadi, Fiji

579036_10100692386154586_1994202464_nOur 8 hour flight out of Honolulu landed in Nadi (pronounced Nan-di). Nadi is one of the most populated cities in Fiji and is on the western coast of the largest Fiji island, Viti Levu. We took a bus into town to check out the shops and downtown area hoping to take in the sites and sounds. There was no Waikiki type shopping district, no drive through restaurants or ABC stores, no man holding parrots or booze cruiz tickets. We were really in a remote island nation, maybe what Hawaii was like decades ago; locals walking barefoot, dirt roads and simple living. Not much wealth on the outside, but riches on the inside, smiles and aloha everywhere, as we would learn to know.

Awesome Day In Kadavu

Kadavu is where the real adventures began.

We flew into Kadavu from Nadi in a Twin Prop plane, similar to an inter Island Air flight from Oahu to Molokai. The views of the coastline and coral reefs were breath taking. As we approached the island, the plane was ecstatic and charged with energy, snapping pictures and high fiving as we could see the island paradise just below us. It was very apparent that we all made the right decision and the text we had all received from Odie began to make sense, as we stared down, we faced off with Fiji.

The landing runway was a short half mile stretch of gravel with a sandy beach at both ends. The 971943_10100692386349196_1910452112_nairport was a house sized building with a few benches and a bathroom. The only road on the island was a dirt path to a cluster of homes a mile away from the airport. We were greeted by Bruce, a dark skinned grey haired Fijian who happened to be one of the best freedivers and scuba divers on the island. Very friendly and knowledgeable. He would take us by boat to our accommodations about an hour away.

About 30 minutes after we left shore we were low on gas. Bruce picks up the spare gas can, puts it on the chair, opens the lid and puts a rubber hose in it. Seril and I look at each other thinking “is he about to do what I think he is?” sure enough, the other end of the tube goes in his mouth, sucking hose to siphon the gas, then shortly after puffing on a smoke. Dorothy, were not in Waikiki, were in Fiji!

In Kadavu, since most transportation is by boat, everything is based on the tides, what time you wake up, when you travel, when to go home etc. As we motored along the beautiful coastline, villages were few and far between, just miles of beaches, coves and tropical forest. The water was a deep turquoise blue with lively coral heads everywhere. On a low tide they could 536972_10100692386853186_1096540342_neasily take out the prop if not careful. Bruce was weaving through the reef maze like he knew the coral heads by name, as if he could see the sea floor in his mind.

When we arrived at the resort, we were greeted by Tom Bashaw. To be clear, when I say “resort” I don’t mean a 30 story building in Waikiki. The three resorts we stayed at during our trip were a set of small cottages, with a maximum capacity of a dozen or so guests. Very secluded and isolated, unlike anything I have seen or experienced before. We saw maybe 1 or 2 tourist during our stay, we were basically the only visitors on the entire island. I was just hoping we weren’t the main course for dinner. Ok ok, I shouldn’t bring any of that up, but you know the stories. Haha!

The next day would blow our minds. And what really opened my eyes to the 1157625_10100692388085716_849643311_ncharacter of this entire experience. We boated around the corner to the storage area of the brand new OC1 canoes, Scorpious XMs and XSs and full rack of brand new Pure Paddles. Tom’s crew, 12 native Fijian men, stood in a circle of the OC-1s rigged and ready to go. I felt like a kid at a carnival getting to chose what bumper car I wanted to ride. The crew then carried each of the OC1s into the water to begin our first downwind run in Fiji.

1209072_10100692386828236_234968864_nLucky for us a mild weather system was rolling through, giving us a good 15-18mph wind swell. We went to work dropping in, flying amas and cheering each other on. The 3 escort boats following us as we paddled, making sure everyone was safe. We were on the inside of the Astrolabe barrier reef, so there was no ground swell, but nice runners everywhere. Not super huge or gnarly like you might see at Maliko, but really fun! The wind swells lined up perfectly. We had the use of escort boats and they picked a perfect line. We ended in a calm bay surrounded by lush green mountains and valleys.

Once we arrived at the finish the crew loaded up the OC1’s on the boat, then motored back upwind and put us in the water AGAIN! Did I die and go to heaven? What is this place? I don’t think anyone has ever imagined this type of treatment and experience. It was a dream come true! So there we were on another awesome downwind run, back to back, no cars, no issues, no worries. We rode bumps down to a stretch of sandy beach to find lunch waiting for us. I rubbed my eyes again. And if you paddle canoe you know there is no better feeling then being surfed out and then grinding with friends & beverages when pau. 1174995_10100692387586716_190057606_nWe jumped in the water after lunch, snorkeling around in an area protected by reef. Crystal clear warm water with lots of fish and healthy coral. After snorkeling we boated on to a nearby village and hiked up to a gorgeous waterfall. Once back at the resort we were treated to a three course dinner and ended the night relaxing, listening to Bruce play guitar.

And that was just day one!

Each day after was more of the same unreal experiences and always interesting. Adding in to the mix, trolling, top water plugging for GTs, more waterfall hikes, spearfishing, traditional Mekke (dances), village tours, groumet lunches, gourmet dinners, mangrove tunnels, Fijian lovo (luau), snorkeling the Astrolabe reef, Kava ceremonies, and lots and lots of beer. Oh yea..AND a wedding proposal, congrats Juliet and Corey!

In Summary

Did we accomplish our mission? Did we do Fiji right? I think Fiji did us.. and did us good. Sometimes in life you go all in with no expectation, maybe a goal or two, but you come out the other side changed, seeing the world a bit different. I have to give a shout out to Tom at Astrolabe Outrigger Adventures for the amazing experience and providing amazing services. And to Odie for bringing me along for this experience. The food was excellent. The accommodations were awesome. The staff was the best,  super flexible and constantly asked what we wanted to do next.

What I put here to keyboard and photos I post do not do justice. Its an experience that you must go on yourself to truly find Fiji, face to face with a mother natures beauty and glory you peel back the stresses and impulses of the day to day and truly live what you love about life. This epic adventure has been the most eye opening trip I have been on, by which all future adventure trips will now measured.

Some things I learned

  • 1. Fijians are the nicest most welcoming people
  • 2. OZONE OC1’s are awesome canoes
  • 2. Vonu is delicious
  • 3. Bring a longer tag line
  • 4. Bring heavier fishing line
  • 5. The Kadavu locals live very simple and humbly, bring clothes and gear you are willing to give away.
  • 6. Use OC1 seats for upwind boat rides
  • 7. Don’t ever take your eye off Odie.

Photos and Video

This video contains highlights from my Fiji adventure. The background songs were sung by the villagers of Kadavu and performed for us as a gift.

Author: Jasen Kaya
Editor: Naim Ferguson, Liquid Media

Jasen is a Canoe Paddler from Oahu, HI currently living life to the fullest in Seattle, WA. He paddles canoe with Hui Wa’a O Puget Sound and co-founded the Seattle Va’a Association. Jasen also paddles with Team Pacific Northwest, canoe paddlers from different clubs of the Northwest United States and Canada, training year round in the sometimes freezing cold conditions in order to compete with the best in Hawaii. Check his Youtube Channel.

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