Has Foiling Changed the Dynamic of Surf Trips?

Matt Rode

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Updated 147d ago

Surfing in Fiji has typically been synonymous with two waves—Cloudbreak and Restaurants—and for good reason. Cloudy is one of the best and most challenging left-hand reef points in the South Pacific and arguably the most consistent break in the region, working on pretty much any south or southwest swell and trade winds ranging from ENE to SE.

Restaurants is a much rarer score, but when it goes, it might just be the most perfect, machine-like reef break in existence. With these two waves only a couple of miles apart—in addition to half a dozen other quality setups that fire under a variety of different conditions—most people can agree that the Namotu/Tavarua zone is one of the best places on the planet to be a surfer.

Travel Guide: Fiji

What many people don’t realise, however, is that this might also be one of the best places in the world to foil. Nearly half of the waves in the area turn into dream foil setups at high tide, including Restaurants, Tavarua Right, Swimming Pools, and Namotu Left—the latter of which gets epic for foiling for at least a few hours pretty much every day of the year, no matter how big or small the swell might be. That’s where foiling comes in. For anyone who both surfs and foils, it’s virtually impossible to get skunked in Fiji

There are also a couple of other mysto foil waves relatively close to the resorts that reportedly provide rides of up to four minutes, plus lots of wind for those who enjoy wing foiling. In other words, while the surf in Fiji is world class, the foiling might be just as good.

This is great news for anyone who pursues both sports, especially since most spots on the nearby islands are booked out years in advance. Pre-booking dates and hoping for swell isn’t exactly the most effective way to score, especially in the modern era of detailed surf forecasting, when surgical strikes are virtually foolproof.

But most people don’t have the luxury of chasing swells at the drop of a hat—and with very few cancellations at Fiji’s major surf resorts, the opportunity doesn’t really exist anyway. This is why people book their trips years in advance and invariably end up getting skunked from time to time—which is exactly what happened last week, when there was a lot more wind than swell on the reefs off the coast of Viti Levu.

Wanna go? Us too!

Wanna go? Us too!

© 2023 - Josh Bystrom

That’s where foiling comes in. For anyone who both surfs and foils, it’s virtually impossible to get skunked in Fiji. Last week we had six days of small swell and weird, erratic wind, and only one day of small, clean Cloudbreak—not exactly a stellar forecast by anyone’s standards. But half of the crew on Namotu was either an experienced foiler or interested in learning, which meant that every morning, during the three hours surrounding high tide, they were absolutely scoring.

Minute-long rides were standard at the Left as multiple riders linked lumps and did endless crossovers from the reef to the island. Swimming Pools provided the same experience when the wind settled down, and the Mini Pools bombie served up the perfect chip shot into chest-high peaks at the bottom of low tide. And for those who weren’t up for paddle or wing foiling, there was always the daily tow foil lesson behind the boat.

The people who most appreciate the foil conditions are the resident staff and local employees at the resorts, who spend weeks (and sometimes months) on these tiny islands, often sacrificing the best surf conditions to ensure guests enjoy their stay and score the waves they came to ride.

No one likes missing a session at cooking Cloudy to take crew to a more user-friendly lineup, but those sacrifices don’t seem to sting as much after a couple hours of endless flying. And when the conditions inevitably deteriorate and everyone is forced to take a down day—well, let’s just say that there’s no such thing as being dry docked for staff members who foil.

Your author with yoga instructor and partner, Kilty Inafuku.

Your author with yoga instructor and partner, Kilty Inafuku.

© 2023 - Josh Bystrom

Fijian lifeguard and surf guide Nalvy seems to have the program more dialled than anyone. He’s up early every day, checking conditions and ensuring that the guests all have their daily surf transfers lined up. Then, when everyone comes in to eat breakfast while waiting out the high tide, he sneaks out for a quick session, stepping off of his boat directly into waves and linking turns all the way to shore, kicking out mere feet from where the crew is happily chowing down on waffles.

For Nalvy, foiling has completely changed the dynamic of life on Namotu. No matter what happens, he and the other surf guides are always scoring—even when the ocean doesn’t deliver in the traditional sense.

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the foil movement and have found that the sport receives different levels of acceptance depending where you are geographically. Foils have become just another tool in the waterperson's quiver in Hawaii, where you are just as likely to see people gliding two feet above the surface on the North Shore as you are to see them buried deep in the tube.

In other parts of the world, like California, on the other hand, there still seems to be a bit of resistance to the foil, with only small enclaves popping up along the coast, typically in areas that are renowned for having the softest of waves.

Wind foiling has become popular away from the lineups.

Wind foiling has become popular away from the lineups.

© 2023 - Josh Bystrom

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it’s easy to differentiate between foil and surf waves in Hawaii, where the power at the typical break makes it virtually impossible to paddle into a wave on a foil. California, on the other hand, has a lot of ultra-crowded waves that are relatively soft and that might tempt foilers to mix it up with surfers, potentially leading to conflict. Or maybe it simply has to do with the fact that the foil movement started in Hawaii—with early innovations by Laird Hamilton and crew inspiring the recent exploits of Kai Lenny and others like him—so the sport has had more time to gain acceptance.

Whatever the case, there doesn’t seem to be any lack of acceptance in Fiji, where the integration of foiling appears to be nearly complete. On the reefs surrounding Namotu and Tavarua, there’s no debate about whether or not foils have a place in the lineup. Instead, the only discussion is when you are going to convert—because until you do, you are only tapping into half of what the area has to offer.

Wanna go? Us too!

Wanna go? Us too!

© 2023 - Josh Bystrom