5 May, 2010 5 May, 2010

Frigates Pass – Fiji Islands Spot Check

Frigates Pass, in Fiji, pumping.

Our author, Gideon, getting slotted at Frigates.

After Teahupoo and Cloud Break, Frigates Pass is one of the best known South Pacific waves. But it is not the kind of wave that us Saffas, even those with plenty of Indo experience, will be used to. Although it does break over coral, and it’s a long ride like Ulus or Telescopes, it’s the actual place where this wave is found that is unusual. It is situated on the western-most side of Benga Atoll,Fiji. Benga Atoll is massive, about 40 miles across, and scattered inside the lagoon there are a bunch of islands, with the biggest being Benga itself (on the eastern side), and one of the smallest being Yanuca (on the western side). There are 2 surf camps on Yanuca, being the nearest bit of dry land to the wave, and most of the surfers who surf Frigates stay in either of these two camps. But the wave is not on Yanuca. It’s on the outer edge of the atoll itself, about 10km’s from Yanuca, and a solid ride by speedboat.

Click here to explore the region on Google maps. 

So you’ve made it to Yanuca, and you’ve stowed your stuff in your bungalow. Now you will have to wait for the rest of the camp’s surfers to get their stuff together, and then all jump on the camp’s panga (open fibreglass speedboat with 40hp yammie on the back) for the 1hr ride to the outer reef. It’s too far to ferry surfers out there individually. About half of this distance is across the lagoon, then you exit the lagoon via Frigates Passage, then you hook a left into open ocean and head for the bottom western corner of Benga. Finally you will see the endless lefts of Frigates detonating on the reef.

At 18 degrees south of the Equator, Frigates is situated smack bang in the center of the South East Trade Wind Belt. Once these trades have kicked in, they blow day in and day out, with a period of light winds every now and then. So its best to surf it early morning, as the trades increase in strength as the day progresses. These trade winds bring good news and bad news: The good news is that they are offshore at Frigates. The bad news is that because Frigates has some much lagoon in front of it, the wind chop created inside this huge lagoon gets blown into the face of the wave. So even an offshore can look like an onshore. That does not sound good, we know. But here’s the catch: When its low tide, especially close to spring, then the reef in front of Frigates exposes itself, and creates a wind barrier with perfectly clean conditions on its lee side (which is where you surf). So time your visit with a mid morning low, and you will be sorted, even in strong trade wind conditions. Frigates’ latitude is also far enough south for the water to be chillier than you would expect for a tropical destination, so come with at least a shorty, or even a 2mil full suit.

Frigates Pass overview image:

This corner of the reef is very exposed to any southern ocean dribble, so Frigates is consistent. But because the swell does not refract that much, it can also be quite wild and open. But it rarely goes flat which is what you want in a surf destination. Depending on the swell direction the wave can be throw big carving walls or line up for endless cylindrical barrels. It’s not a mechanically perfect wave like Maccas, but it can handle size and its diversity will keep you interested. On the downside, it does get blown out, and the long speedboat ride, especially on the way home against the chop, can be wet and miserable. If Frigates is crap there are no other options in the immediate area. But Yanuca Island is idylic, and the snorkelling is great. Plenty fish like Dorado and Yellow fin are also caught during the ride to and from Frigates.

You have to fly to Nandi International Airport, on Viti Levu, Fiji. For South Africans this will entail 2 long flights, via OZ or New Zealand. From Nandi you make your way to the south side of Viti Levu, where the Yanuca Surf Camp has a satelite office. If you can afford it you may want to combine your Frigates mission with a stay at Tavarua Island (also in Fiji), to surf the legendary Cloud Break.

YouTube footage of Frigates doing its thing at perfect 4-foot.

Frigates info box:

1. What surfboards:
Your Indo quiver plus a pintail semigun to handle big bumpy days at Frigates or Tavarua

2. Water temps:
Colder than Indo. Definitely take a shorty wetsuit.

3. Currency:
Fijian dollar. Not too strong.

4. Beer:
Fijian bitter, about R40 per six-pack

6. Chance of getting laid?
Plenty of Euro backpacker ladies, Fiji’s backpacker resorts are legendary.

7. Favorite or Stock chow:
Indian chow, same as Durban

8. Handy phrase:
Bula! (Howzit in Fijian)

9. Essential kit: (You will spend a lot of time on a speedboat, going to the outer reefs and back.)
oTide table
oWindbreaker jacket
oPolarized sunnies
oTide watch
oMask and snorkel
oTrolling Handline.

10. Funny fact:
The locals LOVE Springbok rugby over there!

11. Last gasp:
If you arrive in a remote area you will have to present Kava root to the chief. Brush up on your Kava ceremony etiquette. Google “Sevu-sevu”!


Meet the Author: Gideon Malherbe


Gideon built and skippered the legendary Indies Explorer, explored every inch of the Indo coastline and captained more than 70 charters over a 10 year period. Since then he foundedAll Aboard Surf Travel with his wife Chantal, and most recently took two years to explore the South Pacific on his yacht.

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