Outer Banks: Cloudbreak
Josh Ku’s dream of towing into one of the world’s most celebrated waves – on a foil – had to be timed to perfection. The universe aligned and that time finally came…
Words: Joshua Ku
Photos: Chris Peel & Gumby
I teamed up with my friend and photographer Gumby to shoot big Cloudbreak. We had access to a jet ski, so we planned it out with Gumby’s brother-in-law, Ari, who we lined up to tow me into some Cloudbreak bombs.
Cloudbreak is known as one of the heaviest waves in the world. It is situated in Fiji, a stone’s throw from its two most famous islands, Namotu and Tavarua (both now on the bucket list for plenty of foilers). This outer reef takes about 20-minutes to get to from the surrounding islands, and on any given day it is packed with tourists coming to have a crack at the famous wave. The wave is a fast left hander that barrels in spots and slows down for turns in areas not consistent to each wave. This makes the wave challenging and really separates the rookies from the pros. Up to six foot, it gets crowded but any bigger the crowd thins out and people start getting more selective with their wave choice, as the reef can seriously cut you up. Cloudbreak loves a long period swell, with up to a 20-second period not uncommon. And the bigger the period, the more perfect the wave is. Trade winds which are found from March through to September are favorable, as this lines up with the swell season.
I’ve had a vision of tow foiling big Cloudbreak for a long time, as I have been visiting Fiji and surfing this challenging wave for the past 10 years. When Cloudbreak gets over eight foot it breaks on a second ledge, which most of the time is fat and perfect for foiling, as the barreling waves break far on the inside – a challenging spot for a surfer to sit, as usually there are 12 foot bombs washing through that area and sending the occasional unexpecting surfer into the shish kebabs section, usually enduring an eight wave clean up set on the head. When the swell is not big enough to break consistently on the second reef (usually 15 foot) the line-up is usually empty. Fortunately, we had a moment in the swell where people were exhausted from all the clean-up sets, so I switched from my eight-foot gun back to my 4'5 Amos Raptor, as Ari said he would tow me in on the foil.
I don’t consider myself a local at all, but from coming to Fiji for the last decade I know the usual suspects and I always want to be respectful in not taking too many waves. I also really didn’t want to give foiling a bad rap, so I waited for the line-up to thin out before I had my attempt at towing it on the foil. I only had my Unifoil Vyper 90 with me, with the 83 Katana mast, medium fuse and 13 Shiv tail. The wing did a great job, even though it’s not meant for waves of that size or power. My first wave I towed quite wide and felt out the energy. Once I’d successfully ridden that I got the confidence to go bigger and deeper. Second wave was the one, and I was in the perfect spot. Realistically, I should have pulled in (there is a photo of me pulling off the wave where it is barreling… regret!). In hindsight, I wished I’d had my 95cm mast and longer fuse to deal with the extreme speed of the wave. I also wish I’d had some safety stuff on, like an impact vest and a helmet, but I wasn’t gonna let this opportunity slide.
The last wave I rode went exactly how I’d dreamt it would. I did two open face carves and then dropped into the barrel section and did a long, drawn-out bottom turn. Unfortunately, the foil breached as I was going way too fast… I was not wearing a leash (and it was dead low tide) and I lost my board over the dry reef. It didn’t matter as I was just so stoked. I finally got the opportunity I’d been waiting so long for! Ari and I drove the ski around to the lagoon. The tide was so low that we were scratching the bottom of the jet ski on coral heads. Maybe 50m away from the board I just jumped off the ski and then clambered over the reef to retrieve it. Surprisingly it was fine, there was not even a ding on it!
Gumby had been waiting patiently on the boat, driving and shooting. Unfortunately, when I started getting waves on the foil the other boats drove in front of him to get a better look, as you can see in his shots. Photographer Chris Peel was on another ski and he was able to sit in a good position to shoot the waves with little in front of him. Jamie O’Brien and Balaram Stack were looking on from another boat. Bal even high fived me and gave me a solid “yew!” after my last attempt.
It was honestly an amazing trip. I got so tubed the day before while surfing, and then the next day I got to tow foil big Cloudbreak. Amazing. It’s for sure got me amped to hit the place again with a little more thought put into what gear to take out, and perhaps an even more courageous attitude.