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Barrelled in the Marshall Islands

Jun 16, 2009

Author: Words by Gavin McClurg Photos by Jody MacDonald

Aerial view from the Best Oddyssey. MacDonald photo 

 "The pass is now picking up swell and the wave is immediately compared to Fiji’s
infamous “restaurants,” but aright-hander that peels a deliciously long time." 

We’ve prepped for this day for months and now that it has arrived I feel miserably behind schedule. My new First Mate was supposed to show up a few days ago but she missed her flight in Honolulu. This means that instead of handling the expedition’s inevitable logistics nightmares I’ve been making beds and cleaning heads. I’ve only been able to root up the scarcest of information for our planned itinerary; the supply boat hasn’t arrived to stock the stores with goods; my “to-do” list remains way too long. It’s tropically hot and humid and my brain throbs, insisting I give it and my body sleep instead of the endless cups of coffee which have kept me going the past few days.  
    We’ve been operating trips like this for 11 years; you’d think I’d be more relaxed. But today is different. Today our guest list includes four of the finest wave kiters in the world. These people travel the world seeking out the best there is and I’ve talked them all into coming to a place most people have never heard of. I know it’s windy, I know it’s remote, I know from the charts there’s a good chance for waves, but beyond that it’s a crapshoot. It has all the ingredients of what will hopefully be a grand expedition, but my usual optimism has been replaced with rampant doubt.
    My handheld VHF barks to life. “Discovery, Discovery, Discovery this is Bilderback.” It’s game time. Our crew has arrived. I slosh down another cup of coffee and crumple up the to-do list. Things will have to be left undone. I race into the wharf with the dinghy to meet two large vans; one stuffed with jet-lagged bodies, the other with gear. Smiling faces emerge and I am instantly more at ease. A great expedition begins with great people and in this regard we are not in short supply.
    I meet Pete Cabrinha for the first time but we embrace like old friends. His body is sculpted from a lifetime of surfing and, though slighter than I imagined, he exudes strength and power; yet his smile is humble and magnetic. I turn to meet four-time world champion Kristin Boese and am instantly smitten. She is a goddess, there is no other word. Moehau Goold and Mauricio Abreu return for their third trip on the Best Odyssey and I’m already anticipating watching these guys go to work. John Bilderback and Jody MacDonald will capture all the action on film and camera. Two guests and shareholders round out the kiting group (the boat operates as a time-share for like-minded kite explorers): Bruce Marks, a lovable doctor from Australia and Scott Wisenbaker, recently relieved of his obligations in New York as part of a recent Goldman Sachs “reorganization.” Sole, our Chilean chef tells me she’s scored what she needs at the store, and I finally meet Pia, our new First Mate, also from Chile.
    I give a quick safety brief after everyone gets settled and describe the itinerary. We must sail a long way to get to a place that beyond what lies on the chart, little is known. The Marshall Islands stretch over a great expanse of the Pacific Ocean some 2,000 miles west of Hawaii and consist of 29 atolls dotted with more than 1,200 islands scattered around their perimeters. Only two are serviced by air. The rest are sparsely populated, fantastically isolated and inaccessible except by an offshore-capable yacht. There is no safety net where we’re going. No hospitals, no stores, no supplies. 
    The first leg of the journey takes 18 hours at a moderate pace. Bilderback’s stomach disagrees with the motion in the most violent of ways and my own doubts increase. What have I gotten us into?
    The island has two passes on the north side and the first proves totally flat. It has promise, but there is no wave. I’m on the brink of tears as we sail down to the second pass. What if we completely bomb out? I know these people are not the types to place blame, but I feel like I’m on the wrong side of a pressure cooker. Thankfully the second pass is picking up some swell and our forecast shows a big surge heading our way. We decide kiting is the perfect medicine for queasy stomachs and one by one everyone launches directly from the stern of Discovery. A dozen or so locals appear out of the trees like a mirage in the desert. We’d all assumed the island was deserted and I find myself staring at them in disbelief as you would an apparition. Their eyes are drawn to the sky for their first-ever view of kitesurfing, and soon they are whooping and crying out a song of “whoas!” and “wows!”

Getting Barrelled>>>

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