Saw my friend’s mom (pictured) on the island 14 years after the above photo was taken. She said, “You seem familiar,” and I thought I recognized her as well. A week later she rummaged through some old film and found this photo of us from back in the day. The Lesters (pictured) are such a cool family.
Before Tavarua was a surf resort, it was a surf camp. The first time I went was in 1993; I was 13 years old. My parents talked with Jon Roseman (who was managing the island at the time) and Rusty (whose surf team I rode for) about getting me down there for my first time.
Stoked it worked out. My parents put me on a plane and I was on my way. That trip opened a new dimension to my life. The first day I was on the island, the surf was huge. Kalani Robb, Noah Johnson, and the Hobgood brothers were down there for their first trip as well, and we were all stoked out of our minds!
During that three-week trip I ended up surfing the best waves of my life, and got an introduction to girls (from a group of strippers who took advantage of me by holding me down and shaving my head).
Toward the end of that trip I had a terrible wipeout, where I was pinned to the reef and almost drowned. I was rescued by Shawn Stussy (the founder of Stussy clothing). By the time we made it to the island, I had lost a lot of blood and was passing out.
Since there was no running water on the island back then, Jon Roseman and the other boatmen had to scrub my wounds with collected rainwater. They were pulling out coral fragments from in between my kneecap and in between my ribs for close to three hours. There was no clinic on the island, so all of the medical procedures were done on the couch in the little old office behind the stinky restaurant.
After a gang-load of stitches I was able to carefully walk out onto the deck overlooking the surf. When I got to the deck and looked out to the reef where my wipeout happened, I saw that my surfboard was still attached to the reef—tethered to a coral head in the impact zone.
If Shawn Stussy hadn’t risked his own safety to rescue me off the reef by undoing my leash and swimming me to shore, I would probably have drowned.
I ended up getting a terrible staph infection from my reef cuts and was sick for month. When I got back to California I ended up failing some seventh-grade classes and had to retake them during the summer.
Safe to say I learned a whole lot more about life from being on Tavarua than I would have if my parents made me stay in class instead.
Jon Roseman had me sleep in the boatmen’s bure with all the salty old lifeguards while I began my boatman apprenticeship that trip—and I’m lucky to continue to crash there each time I go back.
Vinaka vaka levu to Tavarua, Roseman, Rusty, and my parents.