8th October, 2017 – by Ian Portingale, Fiji National Head Coach.
We arrived in Fukuoka International Airport, Japan on the evening of the 18th September after travelling all day. It took a further 4hrs of driving to reach our accommodation at Kanegahama Surf Resort, Hyuga. This was a traditional Japanese style accommodation with mats on the floor and all of us in one room. Team Fiji shared accommodation and rental van with the Samoan team to share costs.
The Fiji contingent consisted of Ian Portingale as coach and manager, with Isao Ishihara as interpreter and guide. Surfers – Apisai Tibinaliva and Kalani Wakeham for the boys under 16 category; with Kiesha Wakeham for the girls under 16 category.
With 4 days to recover our surfers took to the waves to get familiar with the soft small waves. Testing their surfboards and adjusting their technique. With surf directly in front of our accommodation the kids could walk to and fro, returning to relax and rehydrate.
The opening ceremony was huge. The streets were closed to traffic and lined with 100’s of local Japanese, young and old, cheering all the 41 teams. Dignitaries to welcome the 500 competitors and officials included a member of the Japanese parliament, 2 local mayors, the head of Japanese tourism and other local leaders. With waiving flags and different team uniforms it was a sea of colour with cheering spectators and teams. There was the traditional mixing of the sands from each country and welcoming addresses from the Japanese dignitaries and ISA officials. In all it took 2.5 hours and everyone was fairly exhausted.
The competition format saw 20 minute qualifying heats and 15-minute repecharge heats, best 2 waves counted. A four person priority system was used. Our kids have never experienced a priority system nor used watches to keep time. Watches were purchased for Kalani and Apisai in order for them to free-surf with an awareness of time. Every night we held a team meeting to go over the days surfing and the program for the next day. All aspects of the competition were discussed each night and we attempted to train on our beach in front of our accommodation but in the kids heats it became obvious that Fiji lacked experience in the key areas above.
The surf was around 2 to 3 feet, soft but clean conditions with multiple random peaks. Apart from a day of rain the weather was fine and sunny.
In his heat Apisai surfed strongly from the start but failed to put multiple maneouvres together. His scores reflected this and he was 1 to 2 points per ride behind his opponents and finished in 4th position. Kalani was slow to start and when he did get started he was stiff and over cautious. Towards the end he found more rhythm but by this time he was chasing some scores in the good range and finished 4th. Kiesha was wobbly at the start and then found her balance to score 1 long left in particular but her opponents found the lip consistently and so Kiesha finished 4th.
The repecharges were a similar story of low scoring rides and catching waves that either closed out or went fat. Several times when they held priority they paddled for a wave that they didn’t catch and lost priority. Consequently Apisai and Kalani placed 3rd in their round 2 heats and departed the event. Kiesha surfed well placing 2nd in her round 2 heat. Then in her round 3 heat conditions became very windy and a little bigger proving very difficult for Kiesha. She struggled to reach the take off area out the back so her rides were shorter and provided less scoring opportunity and despite trying to the end finished in 4th place and was knocked out of the event.
This meant the Fiji Team was eliminated on the 4th day of competition so we used the time to surf different beach breaks and worked on their technique. They were all hungry to train and receive feedback in order to improve.
Kiesha finished equal 48th out of 62 surfers in the U/16 girls, whilst Apisai and Kalani finished equal 50th out of 82 surfers in the U/16 boys The Fiji team finished 35th out of 42 countries.
Team Fiji finished 35th out of 42 countries, which I believe, is a fair indication of where we stand in the world rankings but higher than many Fiji observers were expecting.
Fiji has much to improve in competition surfing.
Our surfers struggled to understand the basics like time management, interferences, and points scoring and having a strong presence in the line up. Most international surfing events are held in soft multiple random beach breaks not perfect reef breaks like in Fiji.
Our surfers seldom surf anything except perfection so never understand the technique of how to generate speed, how to hit a lip and maintain speed or to read the opportunities that each wave might present. Other countries have these conditions most days and subsequently develop these basic skills.
Our clubs in Fiji are holding our surfers back because they don’t hold regular club events and rarely do training for their club members. If the Fiji clubs conducted training sessions or club competitions on bad days at difficult breaks like Sigatoka or Natadola their surfers would have a better understanding of the proper technique that they need to develop.
Sometimes our Fiji surfers don’t attend FSA training sessions and competitions because conditions aren’t perfect or the surf is pumping else where or they have a better offer somewhere else.
In selecting a wave to ride our surfers struggle to read if the wave will improve their wave score with the opportunity to do multiple maneouvres. Reading if the wave has a link up to offer more or is it just adding distance without maneouvres. Hitting the lip at every opportunity is hard to develop on perfectly barrelling waves, so they don’t understand that this type of action is where the bigger scores are obtained. Our surfers need more time and exposure to poor surf conditions, not just charging perfect Cloudbreak or Frigates.
Currently there is one club conducting an annual event – Suva Lighthouse, and one Club that has regular training sessions – Vunanui. If Fijians surfers are to achieve greater success internationally our Clubs need to join the FSA’s development plan and conduct regular training sessions using accredited coaches and conduct monthly Club competitions. I am more than willing to assist Clubs or Coaches in these areas where I can but I need to be asked.
Thanks for the opportunity to coach a wonderful group of young Fijians and to the many supporters and sponsors that made the task that much easier.
Team boards came from Ian Muller at Fiji Surf & shaper Nick Tansley. Plus funding from these amazing people :
Dennis Millard – Utopian Cosmetics
& Bud Latham