Tiny heart-shaped Fijian island located just off the western shore of Viti Levu; home to Cloudbreak and Restaurants, two of the world's best left-breaking reef waves; site of the Tavarua Island Resort, often called "the Club Med of surfing."
Tavarua breaks best from May to October, as Southern Hemisphere storms generate consistent surf, which is often met by side-offshore winds. Coral Sea cyclones from February to March can also produce excellent surf, but much less frequently.
Cloudbreak (a shortening of "Thunder Cloud Reef," which is translated from "Nakuru Kuru Malagi") is a powerful open-ocean wave located just over a mile south of Tavarua; waves here often subdivide into three main sections—the Point, the Middle, and Shish Kababs—which occasionally link up to offer a screaming 200-yard-long ride, with a number of tube sections. Like many tropical reef-pass breaks, Cloudbreak tends to get faster, shallower, and more critical as it goes. Waves here are regularly four to six feet, and it's been ridden up to 25 feet.
Restaurants, the nearshore spot named located just in front of the resort's kitchen and dining area, funnels around the western edge of the island; it breaks in extremely shallow water over sharp-edged coral heads, and waves here are usually half the size of those found at Cloudbreak. But the shape is perfect, and skilled riders can ride inside the tube at Restaurants for 10 or 15 seconds at a time. Cloudbreak Rights, a temperamental right-breaking tube on the southeast side of the island, is best from November through March. Tavarua is tropical and humid, with water temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s.
American yachtsman John Ritter noted the likely-looking waves at Tavarua in 1978, and passed the information on to friends in Australia and America; who actually rode the wave first remains unclear. In 1982, Californian Dave Clark, who'd been teaching on nearby American Samoa, spent two months with his cousin camping and surfing on Tavarua. They met with three local Fijian tribes, and secured what they hoped would be exclusive surfing rights to the area's surf breaks. Clark and California surfer Scott Funk quickly built an early version of Tavarua Island Resort, which offered limited occupancy (24 surfers maximum), private cabin accommodations, and a number of amenities for $100 a day.
The Tavarua surf and the Tavarua Surf Resort both came to the attention of the surfing world in a 1984 Surfer magazine cover story featuring longtime California wave-hunters Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson. The island quickly became a favorite destination for high-end surf vacationers, and was soon booked solid months in advance. The resort's exclusive rights to Cloudbreak were tested through the '90s, however, as surfers staying on nearby islands sometimes boated over to ride the perfect surf. Clark had procured fishing rights to Cloudbreak's reef, but the legal and ethical grounds of Tavarua Resort's exclusivity was challenged by some Fijian officials as well as surfers. Finally, in 2010, the Fijian government lifted all restrictions on surfing at Tavarua, opening the island's breaks to all-comers, whether paying resort guests or not.
Tavarua has hosted pro surfing contests since the late '80s, including the 1995 Tavarua Tuberiding Classic (won by Shawn Briley), the 1997 Oxbow Masters (Terry Richardson), and the 2002 Roxy Pro Fiji (Melanie Redman). The first world tour event was held at Cloudbreak in 1999, and various sponsors have staged WCT contests there since; winnners include Mark Occhilupo, Luke Egan, and Kelly Slater. In 2012, the Volcom Fiji Pro was interrupted by a massive swell that drew the world's top big-wave riders. The event was suspended—a controversial decision, as it seemed like the world tour pros were hairing out—and the big-wave specialists gorged themselves on what many were calling the finest oversized waves ever ridden.
Tavarua's island's stunning blue tubes have been featured in dozens of surf movies, videos, and documentaries, including Gone Surfin' (1987), Endless Summer II (1994), Surfer Girl (1994), Great Waves (1998) Tavarua: Pressure Drop (2002), and Globe WCT Fiji (2005). Cloudbreak was also used as the raft-smashing stunt site for the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away (2000).
Surfing magazine named Cloudbreak one of the 25 best waves in the world in 1989, and an Australia's Surfing Life magazine poll of the world's top pros in 1991 found Cloudbreak tied with Hawaii's Pipeline as the world's best surf break. Surfer had Cloudbreak at #5 on their 2011 "100 Best Waves" list.