Deep, fleshy rakes across faces, legs, and backs are an almost compulsory toll taken by the wave gods in exchange for this wall of water, legendary for both its perfection and propensity for breaking over a razor-sharp dry reef. One of us suffered a coral head’s punch to his ribcage in the first few days here, and he’s been drinking Fiji Golds and watching the horizon ever since.

I’d just kicked that reef myself a few days ago when I saw Happy racing toward me, a massive grin plastered across his face. The crashing lip clipped his head and he fell hard, but emerged from the frothing whitewater unscathed and laughing. He paddled over to me, sat on his board, smiled, and told me he surfs this wave every year, and maybe he should take a break since he usually doesn’t eat shit like that.

He meant every day, not every year. Happy works on the island as a boat driver, shuttling us around to world-class breaks and smiling a lot. He reminds me of Ulai 25 years ago… young, lean, and always stoked. He leads with joy and is gaining repute as an aspiring professional surfer, but I know him best as the Fijian who most lives up to his name.

Until yesterday.

I’d been in the water since a little after sunrise, surfing with a few guys I’d met on this trip. My shoulders were no longer willing to cooperate, so when I saw one of the island boats approach, I waved and started paddling toward the channel.

Happy threw my board in the boat and I clamored over the wooden rail. As we swung toward the island, I noticed the name embroidered on his shirt.


Which sounds a lot like Happy.

All this time I thought he was Happy.

Which he’s not.


He is.