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Joy turns into tears

Manoj Kumar On Tavurua Island
Friday, June 14, 2013

IT was cheers and tears for 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater.

He was oozing confidence going into his first wave at the Volcom Pro Fiji 2013 final against Australian Mick Fanning on Wednesday.

Slater wowed the crowd and his opponent at Cloudbreak when he stretched both his hands out in the barrel on the first ride — that was an amazing sight, one that Fanning termed as "doing a Jesus Christ" on the wave.

Slater had just scored a rare double 10 in his quarter-final heat, his brother's family had just had a baby and all was looking good.

Slater went on to win the championship by retaining the title, took the lead on the ASP World Championship Tour rankings, and cashed in $US75,000.

He was carried on the shoulders of Tavarua Island Resort staff from the beach, the party had begun and the American had every reason to cherish the moment.

Straight after the final, I queried as to how he had grown to love the culture and tradition of the locals and was a regular visitor at villages like Momi and Nabila.

"I enjoy going there. You know (Etuate) Barakuta he once said to me 'you know people come to Fiji they don't know the real culture, they stay in the hotels'," Slater said.

"He said 'we love it when people come visit us'. That created an impression on me, that's why I love going there to see the kids, it's nice you know."

An hour later, at the presentation ceremony, he mentioned his best friend's (Barakuta) name again while dedicating his victory to the former Tavarua employee and Cuvu's Ratu Sakiusa Nadruku, the first Fijian surfer.

He knew Barakuta was sick and at his Momi Village home, however, little did the master of the waves know that Barakuta had died the same morning before Slater hit the waves in the quarter-finals.

"We did not want to tell him in the morning as that could have affected his participation," Ratu Sakiusa said.

Some 30 minutes after the presentation, Slater was called aside and the news was broken to him by the resort's director Rick Isabell and his wife Jamie. Slater was completely shattered. He broke down in tears and had to be consoled by his girlfriend Kalani and his other two close friends Ratu Sakiusa and Aisake Ratu.

Chief 'Druku', as Ratu Sakiusa is commonly known, says Slater has plans to visit Momi before jetting out.

"We have the funeral next Friday but by then Kelly will be in Indonesia for the next leg of the world tour," Ratu Sakiusa said.

It was a day of joy and sadness for the winner.

He won the title but lost a very close friend — one of many dramatic stories to come out of this surfers' paradise and the Volcom Fiji Pro 2013.

* On Sunday: Surfers in the village

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