Despite its incredible waters, Fiji’s surf industry is one of the world’s youngest – having gone from zero to hero in just 21 years, thanks to the dedicated efforts of some passionate Fijian surfers, who have championed their local waters and caught the world’s attention. We caught up with surf-addict Ian Muller, one of the founders of the Fijian Surf Company to find out about Fiji’s surfing history, its present and its future. Ian told us, ‘My viewpoint is that of a local surfer who is of the first generation of Fijian surfers. Our fathers and forefathers never surfed, only played rugby. We pioneered the Fijian surfing industry from nothing 21 years ago and it has been a long, hard but memorable journey to what it is today – being one of the best surf destinations in the world.’ Here’s what he had to say…
What’s special about surfing in Fiji?
Surfing in Fiji is unique and special in so many ways, which I’ll highlight for you.
1) Fijians were once surfers in the late 1900s, with mostly women and children from a few villages surfing back then. Sailors and traders that documented these sightings saw surfing being done in Hawaii as it was in Fiji. But in Fiji, the women that surfed were mostly commoners; in Hawaii, only those of chiefly status were allowed to surf.
2) Fiji has some of the friendliest people in the world, giving such a welcoming and happy vibe in the water, compared to other countries that can display localism and aggression.
3) Fiji’s waters are warm, pristine and clean, with amazing live coral and a diverse marine ecosystem. Surfing in Fiji is like surfing in an aquarium.
4) The surfing industry in Fiji started late, due to early foreign settlers taking a monopoly on these world-class waves. This late start could be an advantage: Fiji now has the only surf law in the world, the Surf Decree, passed by the government. The Surf Decree abolished all existing, exclusive surf licences, opened up the waves to everyone and protects the oceans, water and surfers. Fines are applied to those that hinder other surfers from surfing, like dropping in and constantly not allowing other surfers to catch their waves ($1000 fine).
5) As a follow-through from the Surf Decree, we are working towards setting up a Ocean Reserve for this highly prized surf and marine area through a charity trust fund. This will protect and sustain these precious resources for longevity and future generations. Fiji and its economy are only as strong as its world-class resources – we need to preserve them.
6) Fiji hosts the annual WSL Fiji Pro, where the best male and female surfers in the world compete on a global circuit, with Fiji being named by the pros as the best surf destination in the world. Fiji recently hosted the World Stand Up Paddle Board Championships, setting a new benchmark in SUP competition.
7) Fiji has such a strong culture and language, with ownership of up to 91% of our land by our iTaukei people. This keeps our country, its people and foreigners in check and grounded. It gives us an identity and common purpose that has a flow-on effect into Surf Tourism in many ways, from business to traditional welcomes and protocol. This keeps Fiji… Fiji!
Can you tell us about Fiji Surf Co?
Fiji Surf Co is a Fijian-based operation that started 21 years ago in the backyard of a small Nadi house, with limited upstart and virtually no support. The local visionaries wanted to set up a local surf brand and service that we could be proud to call our own. We wanted our own identity and did not want to be connected to an overseas brand as Fiji can carry its own in the surfing world: we have world-class waves, surfing history, Pacific culture and art and the athleticism to produce incredible Fijian surfers. Since then, we have set up the Fiji Surf Shop, Fiji Surf School, Fiji Surf Tours, Fiji Surf Travel, Fijian Surfboard Co, Fijian Bilibili SUP Boards and Fijian Water Patrol, and other small ventures. This journey of partaking in the pioneering of the Fijian surf industry has been a shaky take-off, but a barrel of a ride, with more tube time to come. We have probably seen one of the biggest shifts in any country’s surfing industry: from literally no industry to an industry with the Fiji Pro here annually. This has all happened because we have some of the best waves in the world, which our forefathers never knew about until surfers on yachts started discovering Fijian waves. If you ever visit Fiji, come and surf with us and we will share the Bula Stoke with you!
What three tips would you give surfers hoping to head to Fiji?
Prepare your equipment and get fit. Fijian waves are long and can be heavy, so fitness and prepping your equipment are key. Bring a step-up board for when the waves get bigger, especially in our winter time, when there is pretty much a new swell coming each week. Please leave the aggression and hunger for waves back home. Fiji is a land where we share and care for each other, on land as in the water. Otherwise, the Surf Decree may play a role.
What else do you love about Fiji, apart from its waters?
Our amazingly beautiful country, resources, culture, language and people. Special moments in Fiji are hard to beat. I can’t explain it – you need to feel Fiji for yourself.
What three things would you tell people to do while they’re here?
Surf, learn to surf or go out on a boat and watch surfers, especially if there is a World Surf Competition on or if the surf is big! Visit Shark Dive or another one of the amazing dive sites here in Fiji – and explore the breathtaking islands that we have. Make a Fijian friend: our people are our biggest asset and some of the friendliest people in the world.
Want to take to the waves? Read all about the Fiji Surf Company and start planning your trip…