Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Straw Draw

My hands are starting to get horribly sweaty. It's not the tropical sun getting to me though, but nerves.
It's a Saturday morning in early November 2007 and I'm stood on the sand of Tavarua Island in the South Pacific with three small lengths of palm frond gripped in my outstretched hand and I'm waiting for an American, an Australian, and chance to decide where I surf today.

Prior to a recent change in Fijian Law which had extended land rights to the coral reefs over which islanders fished (and thus meant that island surf resorts such as Tavarua and Namotu could claim exclusive access to several world-class waves) the only way that you could catch a wave at Cloudbreak if you weren't paying US$350 per night to stay on Tavarua was to turn up on changeover day and surf the short window between one set of guests departing and another set arriving.  I was staying on the mainland, next to the mangrove swamp and boat ramp that was the jumping off point for these luxury surf resorts, and had asked the lady at the place that I was staying to call ahead and book me a space on the boat out to Cloudbreak for changeover day.  Somewhere along the line there had been a mix-up and Tavarua resort were only expecting two of us, rather than the three who jumped out of our skiff into the warm, ankle deep, waters off their beach.  Their boat was already almost full of surfers who had boated in from other islands and the mainland, so there was no way around this:  we were going to have to draw straws and one of us would be heading back to the soft right-hand reef pass that none of us had travelled to Fiji to surf.  I didn't want to put the pressure on myself to draw a straw, let alone go first, so I picked a fallen palm frond out of the undergrowth and tore two long lengths and one short one from it and arranged them in my fist.  The others could decide my fate.  I offered out my hand, equidistant between the young American surfer who I'd been surfing with all week and the Australian banker who'd unapologetically dropped in on me several times the day before.  They both reached out and simultaneously drew a piece of green.

Deep breaths.

I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry.

It felt as though I was being punched in the chest but from the inside, my heart was beating so hard.

On the count of three we all opened our fists to see who would be taking the two remaining seats on the Tavarua skiff.  I exhaled loudly, tried to stifle my smile, and made ready to spend the next few precious hours grabbing my outside rail and hoping that I'd make it to the end of each wave.

This piece was also published online this week by the folks over at Approaching Lines, timed to coincide with the start of the Volcom Fiji Pro 2013.  Please head over to Approaching Lines to check out some of the ace content that they're publishing.

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