JP Chronicles: Jason Polakow’s Cloudbreak diary

In this latest episode, Jason Polakow heads to a huge swell off the tiny Fijian island of Namotu.
© Beau Pilgrim
By Jason Polakow

Check out the video above for an edit of some of the Fijian madness that ensued when Jason Polakow headed over to Namotu and Cloudbreak last October.

Polakow, who is now easing his way back onto his board after the motocross crash we saw in the last episode of the JP Chronicles, details the experience in full in his Cloudbreak diary below.

Cloudbreak 2014 – A day to remember

Just when I thought the season of south swells was over I received an alert on my computer of a massive system heading towards Fiji, my favorite spot on the planet to surf and sail.

Heading to Fiji the last two years I've been slapped in the face by Hugu – the surf god – so I was very dubious about this latest prediction.

To give you guys a quick insight into why this place is so fickle, you have to look at the geography. New Zealand stands right in the firing line of big southern low-pressure systems hitting Fiji. Only a very few systems have the right northern component to squeeze between NZ and Australia, and make it all the way up to Fiji.

This particular system had the right direction but part of the low pressure was split by NZ, making my decision a difficult one, especially considering all the direct flights to Fiji were booked solid. If I was going, it was a 24-hour flight instead of a five-hour direct flight.

By nature I'm a procrastinator. I can never make a decision on anything so having something like this hanging over my head was pure torture.

The flipside of this inherited disease is that my brain doesn't want to miss out on any big swells. The thought of missing double mast high Cloudbreak trumps my indecisiveness, and that's how I keep the ball rolling from year-to-year. Two halves of my brain fighting constantly. The only people who really suffer from my affliction are my close friends, my parents and my girlfriend. That's a lot of people actually. Sorry guys.

Let's just get right to the meat of it.

I was like a kid in a candy store on the Namotu boat heading up to Cloudbreak. You never really know just how big it is until you're there. I had two feelings rolling through me: sickness and excitement. As we rolled into the line-up around 6am the first set came through. It was massive and a bunch of big wave specialists were already on it.

Light wind was blowing through the line-up, around five to eight knots, and that was enough for me to start frothing at the mouth. Before anyone had time to digest the information I was already unrolling my sail and rigging on the boat.

Anything can happen at Cloudbreak on days like this. It can be windy for 30 minutes then gone for the day. You have to be on the water in the line-up waiting, ready to pounce all day long, period.

6.30am: Early-morning obstacles

I was paddling my windsurf gear like a surfer, only going about a quarter of the speed or less

I was in the line-up already with no chance to catch a set. The wind was just too light.

Sets were coming in and I was just making it over the tops of the waves by centimeters. I was paddling my windsurf gear like a surfer, only going about a quarter of the speed or less. I was paddling right next to all the boys. They were looking at me, thinking I was completely nuts.

7.00am: Jet-propelled

The game began. Myself and the some of the best big wave surfers on the planet all sat next to each other

I decided to try and use the jetski to help me, like I had at Teauhpoo in years past.

There are only a handful of guys that can drive a ski with myself facing backwards and my gear on the sled, and position both of us right on the take-off point. I was so fortunate that Chris from Namotu Island is one of them. Without his help I would have caught far fewer waves. Big thanks Chris. You da man!

So the game began. Myself and the some of the best big wave surfers on the planet all sat next to each other in the line-up, taking turns to catch the bomb sets. It was super cool of them to let me have the ski sitting right next to them on the take-off point.

When it was my turn, I would run down the sled and onto the board to get some forward momentum as the ski would climb a 30-foot face. I tried this for an hour with no luck.

You have to have nerves of steel to do this, because you just never know what's behind the next wave. Surfers can paddle quickly to get out of the way but I am stuck like a lead weight hanging on to my gear as a life preserver.

8.00am: Catching a break

As I raced down to the bottom of my first wave and made my first bottom turn I felt the adrenaline surging through my body

I got lucky just before 8am and rolled into my first set. If you have not been to Cloudbreak before, then let me tell you a little about this amazing wave. The wall is so long and steep that it looks like you're dropping into a close-out, so I convinced myself there was a high probability I was going down.

As I raced down to the bottom of my first wave and made my first bottom turn, I felt the adrenaline surging through my body. I rode this monster out to the channel with such contentment it is hard to describe. There was nothing easy about this day and that's what makes it's so special to me.

9.00am: If it ain’t breezy, it ain’t easy

Don’t get me wrong, I was having the biggest rushes of my life out there...

The wind had filled in slightly – the inside had absolutely no wind – so I needed the ski to help me out each time.

The thing I need to talk to you guys about is that windsurfing these sorts of waves with little or no wind is extremely difficult. Once the windsurf gear is moving faster than the surrounding wind, negative pressure accumulates between the water and the bottom of the sail. This forces the sail upward, reducing your power. That's why when you see me bottom turn I'm trying to lay the sail over as close as possible to the water without hitting it.

Not many people will have experienced this and it makes it super difficult to cut back, as the sail wants to move towards the barrel of the wave. You're basically holding onto something that is creating negative power, if that makes sense. Imagine trying to ride a bike without a chain. That's what's its like. Annoying as hell!

Don't get me wrong, I was having the biggest rushes of my life out there with a grin from ear to ear that is still there even as I write this. I just thought it would be nice to educate you all on the technical aspects, if you were wondering why I was not doing better out there!

10.00am: Big sets and big hits

I got a bit too cocky and went too deep on one of the big sets...

The wind had come up to maybe 10 to 12 knots by now and I was able to catch more waves, but was still using the ski for assistance.

I was able to catch one of the biggest sets of the day. I remember charging through the line-up, passing the surfers as they were screaming and cheering for me, a lot of them caught inside. I could see brightly colored boards flashing around me as I lay into my first bottom turn.

It was so surreal to be the only windsurfer out there sharing waves with other surfers, exchanging shorts stories in the line-up after each wave.

As always, I got a bit too cocky and went too deep on one of the big sets and I had to straighten out as 30-feet of white water came crashing over my gear. I held on to the bitter end, but with power like that it's just impossible to stay with your gear.

I had another rescue ski to help me and he was able to get in and get me after the set had passed. I put on my flippers and jumped off again near the inside reef and swam to my gear. You have to time your jump off the ski in between sets and swim to the inside quickly. If you take too long and a set comes, you're going to get shredded.

Jason Polakow nails a bottom turn at Cloudbreak, Fiji, in October 2014
Jason Polakow, bottom turn, Cloudbreak, Fiji © Beau Pilgrim

11.00am: Getting the gear

I had to untangle my gear from a super-sharp coral head

I spent the next hour swimming on the shallow reef trying to get to my gear. It was low tide and its impossible for any boat or ski to get inside at that time. I had to untangle my gear from a super-sharp coral head and then swim with it to the inside, where there is a little lagoon for the ski to pick you up.

I rushed back to the ski as quickly as I could to get new gear

12.00pm: One final, giant set

These are the times you have to keep your shit together and focus. Keep the heart rate down and go into your zen mode

I sat in the line-up once again, waiting for my turn to get a bomb. The wind had dropped slightly and I knew I had to be on my A-game to get another.

I waited and waited, as I only wanted the biggest sets. Another hour went by. Then another. On the horizon I could see there was something massive but didn't really have time to reposition. I was already sitting about 20-feet outside the furthest surfer, so I thought I was good.

We went over the first wave. A huge south set was already upon us, breaking way up the reef and outside our position. The ski took off and I tried to hang on with my equipment but found myself sitting in the water right in front of a massive wave.

These are the times you have to keep yourself together and focus. Keep the heart-rate down and go into your zen mode.

That's almost impossible, but you have to try. I heard the mast pop next to me underwater, and then I tried to curl into a ball and deploy the Patagonia CO2 suit. This helps, but only to a certain extent.

Everyone started popping up in the white foam and I knew then my day was done. The wind dropped to zero right after that and I was so tired and exhausted that I was happy to make it back to the boat alive.

3.00pm: Homeward bound

I love working with motivated people. I wish you all the best for the rest of the season

I would like to use this conclusion to thank the many people from Namotu Island that helped me achieve my goals.

I would also like to thank all the video guys that walked over shallow reef and braved it out on the boats to get the shots I needed. We all love what we do, whether you're on or off the water. I love working with motivated people. I wish you all the best for the rest of the season.

To keep up to date with Jason’s adventures, follow him on Facebook or Instagram.

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