Lauren Hill in Tonga
In the words of Billabong team rider Lauren Hill -
Having few preconceptions and expectations of a place really sets you up to have your mind blown. That's what I found on a recent adventure to Tonga, anyway.
I hadn't met many people who'd been there, hadn't heard much about the surf or the geography of these South Pacific atolls. I hadn't even seen many photos. The flights are at awkward times and the islands are pretty remote, so Tonga isn't really on the tropical island getaway radar, yet.
So I went with fresh eyes, ready to take in Tongan beauty for the first time. And it was more stunning than I could have even imagined---
It was the stark limestone cliffs that plunged into deep Pacific blues, and the sweeping vistas over coconut palms and coral sand beaches. And falling asleep to the sound of whales breathing just outside our palm thatched fale. And days spent freediving in deep, clearwater caves and amongst some of the most awe-inspiring creatures on the planet, humpback whales.
Commercial whaling nearly wiped out humpback populations in the south Pacific, decimating a population that once numbered in the 120,000 range around 1900 to a mere 500 whales in 1963. The humpbacks who visit Tonga are amongst the slowest to recover, with numbers currently around 3,000.
I was awe-struck and humbled by the opportunity to be in the water with the humpbacks; to feel their song through my body as I swam, and to see the immensity of their form moving so gracefully into the depths. Unforgettable.
Photos by @thedrifterblog