Reminiscing about Fiji? Here’s a recap of our SMA conference on Tavarua to keep you buzzing till next year.
When: June 30-July 7, 2018
After bailing out on Tavi last year just, weeks before our SMA trip, it felt good to get back and herding you all to the best lil island in the world! That nasty cancer I had came roaring back so I spent all of last summer hooked up to an IV pole getting my daily dose of chemo. Bald, nauseated, 30 pounds skinnier, and out of breath I vowed to get back to Fiji. Couldn’t let you guys have all the fun without me! I got back in the water after going through that wringer and months later, when I could- got into half way decent surf shape again. While not in tip top shape, I still stroked into some fun waves and had a good comeback. Thanks for all the backslaps, shakas, and well wishes you guys! I feel lucky indeed.
We had a solid showing of guests from the states-fertility specialist Mark Kan, entrepreneur Thad Martin, prior SMA jefes Paula and Ward Smith, GP Tom Holthus, eye doc Brian Sturgill, pain rehabber Adam Daily, internal med Connor Johnson, attorney Rudie Baldwin and biz pro Kat Gavylchenko and myself derm scabies eradicator Brian McArthur. The Henkes family from San Diego-Justus and Jenna with rippers Lillian and Judd joined us as well and were adopted into our clan.
The hurricane survivors from Puerto Rico were Tavi veterans heart fixer Enrique Figueroa and gastroenterologist Roberto Casanova. They brought along their mates Orthopedic Luis Torres Miranda, plastic surgeon Claudio Corral, Orthopedic Pedro Tort Saade, restauranteur Hugo Perez, and finance advisor extraordinaire Hector Laffitte.
The down under crew were radiologist Tim Campbell and his family Emily with Louise, Eve, and Charlotte, Eye doc Matt Green and wife anesthesiologist Jo Burton with Isabella and Lachlan, anesthesiologist Perry Fabian, radiologist James Linklater, psychiatrist Paul Stevenson, eye doc Gus Clark and his wife attorney Georgie with lil Harriett, business whiz Ben Derwent and his ripper kids Evie and Jasper, Pro Surf coach Matt Grainger with his shredder daughter Bella, Ortho doc Glenn Valaire and his wife Kristi with grom Jemma, emergency doc Warwick Isaacson and his fiancé and teacher of the year Naomi Robinson, psychiatrist Ben Allard, Orthopedist Sam Martin, and anesthetic fellow Simon Campbell
The waves: Fun size. 4′-5′ Cloudbreak for our opening session. Overhead sets on day 1 and rippable. The rest of the week was in the 3′-4′ foot range with some occasional 5′ overhead sets. Restaurants was small-not doing it’s thing our week. Hey, we can’t always get everything we wanted, but still we got fun waves everyday. Stealthy in the know escapists took boats over to Namotu Lefts, Wilkes and Despos and scored fun lesser crowded waves. The foamies ruled out front at Kiddieland. SUP sweepers were seen circling the island. Foil boards were spotted plenty. The CEO of Google had his yacht-or what looked like a military ship, parked off Namotu and the fellas were wind surfing and foiling through the lineups.
-Hugo with style on a Cloudbreak gem
-Mark, me, Thad, Perry- logging day at Cloudbreak
Every night after dinner we were entertained with SMA talks on Pterygium and pterygium surgery from Matt Green, Surfing Injuries over 45 years from Glenn Valaire, Why the UV index is misleading for surfers from Sam Martin, Surfer shoulder injuries and knee arthritis from Pedro Tort, Fatty Liver and Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis from Roberto Casanova, Physiology of breath holding from Warwick Isaacson and guest appearance from big wave champ Paige Alms, Cardiovascular Risk Factors from Enrique Figueroa and Traveler’s diarrhea from Perry Fabian. We got 7.5 hours of AMA CME for all that brain info! Vinaka everyone and a particular thanks to Mary Showstark for getting our CME approved.
-Pedro schooling us on bad shoulders
We boated over to Nabila and Momi on two days of our trip. After intros to the tribal elders, with legs crossed and butts on the floor, we clapped, drank the kava, presented gifts and gave thanks. We took our hats and shoes off and went to work with our friends and patients in these villages. Blood pressures were taken and recorded. Eyes examined. Diabetic patients had to be managed. There were Fijians with cysts and infections that had to be drained. Kids covered with scabies to treat. Patients with tropical diseases and impetigo that needed attention. Glasses were fitted and donated.
-Sturgill and Gus doing good work
Diabetes, GI, blood pressures meds distributed. Lots of our Fijian friends had joint injures, muscle injuries, you name it- we were on it and fixing them up. With part of our conference tuition, we bought a laptop computer and donated it to the village nurse to keep track of all the meds and medical issues for both Momi and Nabila. The other half of our crew went to the school and distributed needed supplies and got into some pickup rugby and footy with the kids and adults. Special thanks to SMA member Lori Reisner from UCSF for helping us get the medications to our Fijian friends.
-Me and Warwick in clinic-scabies and more scabies..
-SMA post clinic wrap up
Tavi owner John Roseman and manager Dylan Fish threw us a great 4th of July bash to help us American’s celebrate our Independence holiday. We had a stellar fireworks show, a bonfire and an amazing dinner of fresh caught fish and fixings to boot.
Every adult attendee of the SMA Tavi trip pays a conference fee. The fee helps to fund, in part, a scholarship for villagers to attend college. We have, over the years, supported many village kids who’ve gone on to careers in law, medicine, and other pursuits. Paula Smith continues to work with Nabila to pick out the most promising and deserving students for funding.
In addition, the fee pays for a large donation each year to the Tavarua Employees’ Christmas Fund. This is basically the “tip” from the SMA in appreciation for the amazing care and feeding that we get while on Tavi. The fee also helps support SMA efforts purchasing medications, medical supplies, insurance and administrative costs.
Here’s a few journal entries from Brian Sturgill, Kat G, and Matt Green of a day on Tavarua:
Cloudbreak. The wave I’d idolized since I was an adolescent. The pinnacle of surf trips. She was the hottest girl in school, but always out of my league. Suddenly, here I am.. in her grasp, trying not to take one on the head, or worse… get washed into shish kebabs.
Less than 24 hours before I was in Arizona—about as far from Fiji as you can possibly be. I’d just finished up with my last patient; an uncontrolled diabetic with mild retinopathy. I rushed home to finish packing, pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. Kissed my girlfriend goodbye and boarded a flight to the South Pacific with my trusted confidante.
Tavarua was never really the plan; like I said.. always out of my league. It’s where Bob Hurley and Kelly Slater vacation; not an average surfer living in the desert. Plus it was a pumping left; what natural footer would be crazy enough to fly around the globe to surf a shallow barrel on their backhand?! But here I was, putting a last coat of wax on my board and getting my fins tightened. On the boat ride in, I felt my knees tremble and the lump in my throat swell.
I sat on the shoulder, dodging head high and the occasional overhead set for about an hour and a half. The sun was sinking and I still hadn’t gotten my first wave. Why couldn’t we have started at Namotu lefts or swimming pools I thought to myself? I made up my mind that I had to get one. I paddled hard into a couple, but the offshore winds kept me from making the drop. Wiping the salt water from my eyes, I increased my resolve. Mark Kahn encouraged me to sit a little deeper. I crept deeper in the lineup. A set swung wide putting me in perfect position. I put my head down and started to paddle—recruiting rarely used muscle fibers in both my shoulders and arms. Feeling the wave pick me up I jumped to my feet and grabbed my outer rail. Time began to slow down as I glided across the face of the wave. Kicking out just past the tower I realized I’d just caught my first wave at cloudbreak. A smile pursed my lips, as I heard Thad give me a hoot of approval. The sun set and we boarded the boat back to Tavarua. Stoke levels were high. In no way did I own the session—that was Rudie, but I knew I’d conquered a fear. I knew I could surf cloudbreak.
Tuesday, July 3, 2018 – Another day in Paradise
Wind conditions ~ 10 mph
Air temperature 80 degrees
Cloudbreak conditions – 2-3 ft
Restaurants – closed for restorations
The day started with another amazing breakfast. I think the Fijians are trying to fatten us up so that we do not end up looking like Kelly Slater’s girlfriend. Shortly after breakfast, most of the SMA group loaded up into boats to head over the mainland of Fiji to visit the local village of Nabila, approximately 30 minutes away.
Village visits are a big part of the SMA trips. On our way, Paula told me a little history of the SMA humanitarian aid for the local villagers over the past thirty years; not only with medical supplies and care, but also with establishing a community center and educating the people about the risks of smoking, drugs, and bad nutrition. Most of the staff on Tavarua are from these two villages and it’s my honor to give back to the amazing people who take such good care of us while visiting their beautiful island.
Once in Nabila, we were greeted at the community center by the local elders. They welcomed us with the traditional Kava ceremony. We sat around the elders in a circle, making sure we do not point our feet at the cava bowl, which is considered disrespectful. Most everyone drank the cava out of the same bowl, including me. We are in this together, bring it on Norovirus.
After the ceremony the group split up; some stayed behind in the village and set up a clinic to see the locals; two docs went to the local hospital to see a girl who got hit on the head with a coconut tree; and others went to the local elementary school to deliver toothbrushes, toothpaste, books, and glasses, and to visit the kids. I chose to visit the elementary school. We walked about 30 minutes along the railroad tracks which led us straight to school. From the looks of it, there hasn’t been a train there in many years. The kids and teachers make this walk every day.
Once at the school, the kids were gathered by their superintendent and sang a song for us in their native language. They sang it loud and proud! The superintendent welcomed the SMA group emphasized to the kids to listen and learn from the doctors. Fiji has a very high rate of diabetes, so the educational effort on proper nutrition is very important. There were many posters hung up outside of school, created by the kids, about good foods vs. bad foods. Some include saying like these: “We should not these: lollies, biscuits, fried chicken, chocolate, chips, sausage. We should eat these: fruits, vegetables, beans, eggplant, okra, and pawpaw” (I’ll have to google that later when I have wifi, my guess it’s papaya). Some other posters had a strong emphasis on not doing drugs and stopping child abuse, which makes me wonder about the conditions these kids live in. Dr. Matt and Dr. Gus (SMA optometrists) were able to see some kids and check their vision. The others, played the meanest game of rugby. We were at school for about an hour before heading back to Tavarua.
Back on the island, I was the first in line to get on the fishing boat just to find out it was already fully reserved. I wrote my name down as an alternative but didn’t think there would be a chance. Slightly disappointed, as I was determined to catch tuna today, I headed back to the bar to drown my sorrows in some fresh local coconut water. As I was wallowing into my coconut, room opened up on the boat and I was invited by my new Australian friends, Naomi, Warrick, and Glen to join their fishing expedition. I was ecstatic!
Approximately 20 minutes off the coast of Tavarua, we saw a large swarm in the water. The birds were dive bombing for scraps of bait fish. At last, TUNA! First cast, and we are on! Dreams do come true. Altogether, we caught four tuna, two mahi mahi, and the most gorgeous sunset. The tuna and mahi will be cooked for dinner tomorrow, and the sunset will stay in my memory forever.
After dinner, SMA Doctors present their PowerPoints as part of their Continuing Medical Education. Most of the topics are about surf related injuries. This evening’s presentations were about Traveler’s Diarrhea and Surfer’s Eye, both conditions which could be acquired during surf trips; both very informative and not recommended.
In the words of Ice Cube “Today Was a Good Day”.
A beautiful penultimate day on Tavarua.
The day started with a pickup in the swell which was well attended by the members of SMA.
Families held the fort on the island entertaining each other and patronizing the pool.
The night led to a big wave video compilation from May 2018 Cloudbreak big swell videos.
Talks were extremely interesting tonight. Wazza talked about breath holding in surfing and the dangers of hypoxia. Sam talked about the UV index and the challenges of standardization. Two very well received talks.
Sad to be leaving tomorrow. Looking forward to coming back.
We’ll be booking next year’s trip within the coming month. SMA members who attended this year get priority openings! Keep a lookout for an email.
SMA veteran and eye doc Brian Sturgill has stepped up to assume the Tavi trip coordinator for 2019. He will have our dates for Tavi 2019 soon!
I’ll be coming back next year again so look forward to seeing you all!