The Surf-Resort Boatman: Steven Baker
What I Do:
Tavarua Island Resort is situated on a tiny private island in the Fiji chain that has easy access to two of the best surf breaks on the planet. Guests stay in thatched huts known as bures, eat locally caught fish in a communal dining room, and, whenever the mood strikes, ask a boatman to ferry them across a two-mile open-water channel to the off-shore barrier reef that produces the wave called Cloudbreak. “From 1994 through 2000, I was one of those boatmen. For most of that time, I worked six months on and two months off,” says Baker. That meant loading surfboards into the boat, motoring out over pale blue tropical water, and then anchoring the boat in a safe spot. It also meant joining clients in the warm-water surf. "I surfed as much as I wanted to. That might be four times a day, and I might even get some fishing in, too. For extra exercise, me and the other boatmen would sometimes paddle out to Cloudbreak on our surfboards — two miles each way. It was the healthiest lifestyle I’ve ever been involved in.”
What does it take to ferry surfers for a living? Mostly time on the water. Baker grew up on the ocean in La Jolla, surfing and sailing. "I had some boat-driving skills before I went down there, but that’s about it." That, and the completion of a Emergency First Responder course.
The Most Gnarly Day:
The waves at Cloudbreak are long and powerful. A single ride might be four hundred yards long. One day, Baker was riding those waves with guests when he saw a guy fall. “He came up to the surface really strangely,” Baker says. “I paddled over and his eyes were as big as they could get. He said, ‘I think I broke my arm,’ and I was keeping him calm, but he knew something was up. His whole body became rigid, like he couldn’t move. I got him onto my surfboard on his back and then I swam him over to the boat. We called all the other guests and they helped us get him into the boat. I had a cervical collar, so I put that on him and radioed for a helicopter to meet us back on the beach. One guest was a doctor and he did a couple of tests and said, ‘I think this isn’t good.’ Two days later he was at Scripps Hospital in San Diego with a broken neck. I ran into him four years later and he had a full recovery.” –Daniel Duane