Fiji National Archery Tournament
26 October 2013

The archery tournament is the Fiji Nationals held annually in Suva, the capital of Fiji. Our archery club in Savusavu boasts a membership of 25 people. Of those, five or six take the sport seriously. Of those, Shane, John, Martin, and I had decided to attend the tournament in Suva. Martin can't get off work until Friday so he will fly to Suva. Shane, John and I will take a slower path.

The least expensive way to go from Savusavu to Suva, is by ferry. The least expensive ferry sails from Nabouwalu, in the southwest corner of Vanua Levu (the large, northern Fijian island where I am) to Natovi, on the northeast corner of Viti Levu (the larger, southern Fijian island).

This route required that we first take a bus from Savusavu to Nabouwalu; a 6-hr trip over roads that were for the most part little more than a single-lane, dirt path. The Chinese government is improving the road and once it is complete the trip should only take 3-hrs. But they are a couple of years away from completion. As I complained about the slow, rough ride, Shane told me that it used to be much, much worse before they started the improvement. It used to take 8-10 hrs for that bus ride.

The route. Savusavu at top, Suva at bottom.

The bus departed Savusavu at 5 AM on 24 October. The bus is almost empty and we stretch out for a comfortable ride. We traveled across the island for 2 hrs on one of the hardtop roads. And then, to my surprise, we waited at the crossroads halfway to Labasa for another bus.

At the crossroads waiting for the Labasa bus

After an hour or so that bus shows up. it's traveling from Labasa to Nabouwalu. But this bus is almost full. We transfer our bags and climb aboard. By the time we're all on every seat is taken. It's going to be a long ride. But off we go on the 4-hr trip over the unimproved roads along the northwest coast of the island. Fortunately I find a 3-person seat with 1-1/2 people in it. So for me it wasn't so cramped

The kid next to me on the bus

Partway through the ordeal we pull in to a rest stop. There are food venders and I get a Sprite and a tuna roti. A roti is a bit of flatbread with a smear of filling. In this case it was potato salad that may have been somewhere near a can of tuna at some point, hence they called it a tuna roti. You couldn't prove it by me.

Venders at the rest stop

My 'tuna' roti

The ferry is a bit late and everyone mills about. It's hot and humid and most people just sit in the shade to wait.

Vehicles lined up waiting for the ferry

There are the ubiquitous food venders along the road and we buy a little something for lunch.

Selecting a lunch.

Finally the ferry comes into sight.

The ferry finally comes in

Once the ferry arrives they unload the arriving vehicles and passengers and our bus rolls on. There are three busses among the other vehicles.

Passengers queued up and waiting to board.

My Savusavu Archery Club traveling companions, John and Shane

All the buss passengers have queued up to board on foot (we have to have our tickets checked). We file into the lounge which is air conditioned and filled with pretty comfortable seats. Soon families are spread out all over the floor sleeping and playing games. There's a large screen TV and the crew shows a couple of fairly recent movies to help the passengers pass the time on the 4-hr ride across Bligh Waters; the shallow sea between Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, named after Capt Bligh of HMS Bounty fame.

As the ferry approaches Natovi, we climb back on the bus. Once the ferry is docked, the bus heads for Suva, about 1.5-hrs south. At least these roads are paved and the ride is smooth and relatively comfortable. We do, however make about a hundred stops for passengers to get off at various villages.

We arrive in downtown Suva at 6 PM. This makes for a very long, 13-hr ordeal/adventure. We get a cab and ride to our hotel rooms. John has family in Suva and he heads over to visit and spend the night with them. Shane and I head to a local pub, the Bad Dog, for beer and dinner. We have to go to the range early in the morning to help set it up so we make a short night of it.

About eight o'clock the next morning we take a taxi to the range. It's an open field next to a girl's school on the outskirts of town. It's been raining for the past few days and Friday the bad weather continues with a light drizzle. The field is chock full of water-filled holes. We are soon soaking wet and covered with mud. But we get the targets positioned and manage to get in a couple hours of practice.

The match was to begin Saturday morning at 0830. But being Fiji, the match actually starts a little later. The match is a standard FITA international match. We shoot six sets of six arrows at each of four distances: 90, 70, 50, and 30 meters.
The sets of six arrows are called 'ends.' And I finally found out why. Tournaments in the past were conducted with targets at both ends of a field. After shooting at targets at one end of the field, everyone would walk to that end, collect their arrows and shoot back at the targets at the other end. Hence a set of six is called and 'end.' That may not be accurate but I like the explanation.

Anyway, it boils down to 144 arrows, about 2 miles of walking and takes all day.

The archers are divided into four groups: Men and women classic recurve bows and men and women modern compound bows. I should a compound bow. Fiji's Olympic archer, Robert Elder, thankfully shoots a recurve bow and will not be competing directly against me. The top lady shooter, Shanti Cook, shoots compound. Robert is really good at this sport. And Shanti has been shooting for 17 years and takes it very, very seriously. "This is my one passion," she told me. Unfortunately, Shanti is the only serious woman competitor so she routinely wins a medal.

While Robert and Shanti predictably took the gold medals for men/recurve and women/compound, respectively, I surprisingly took the gold medal in men's compound bow. And I came in third overall behind Robert and Shanti.

The winners from day one.

The match took all day Saturday. Then on Sunday we spent the morning doing a 'ranking' shoot. 72 arrows at 70 meters and 72 arrows at 50 meters. I ranked number 2, only 6-pts behind Shanti, and just ahead of Robert. I was very pleasantly surprised by that. But it was only a ranking match to set the pairs for the afternoon's head-to-head elimination match.

We were still split into our four groups: men/women shooting recurve/compound bows. Within those groups they set up a series of single elimination, heads-up bracket matches. It came down to Shane and I battling for the top honors. I took the gold medal for men's compound bow in that competition, too while Shane had to settle for silver.

Shane and I shooting head-to-head for the gold medal

Winners from day two: Fred from Suva, and me and Shane.

So, some serious competition and I take two gold medals back to Savusavu. Not bad for a guy who just started this a few months ago. Now, I know that being able to say I'm the "Best Male Compound Archer" in Fiji may not be saying much, but it ain't nothing.

Now, the Fiji Archery Association had said that the top five shooters would receive financial assistance to travel to New Zealand to represent Fiji in the New Zealand Pacific games to be held in January. I placed 3rd. I thought, cool. I get to go and represent Fiji with 4 other top shooters. But, wait.... "You are not a Fijian citizen, are you?" they ask. Nope, American, say I. "Well, we don't know if the Fiji Sports Authority will let you represent Fiji if you're American." But.... That's not what you said.... Whaaaaa! say I. "We'll look into it and get back to you," they say.

In any event, my scores qualify me to compete in that NZ event and I can go if I pay my own way. Which I may just do.