Falling in Love with the Heart Shaped Island: Tavarua Island Resort

Posted by Rhea Cortado on


Photo by Scott Winer courtesy of Tavarua.com

Jamie Isbell had always wanted to go to Tavarua, and it was true love that finally brought her to the heart shaped island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean more than 15 years ago. At the time that she was dating Rick, her soon to be husband, she didn’t know his life’s work was building the Tavarua Island Resort.

“We had a slow courtship and despite being VERY “ into” him, I wasn’t sure about committing to a guy with such a transient lifestyle,” Jamie says of their early relationship. “He surprised me with a beautiful note and a ticket one day. The rest I suppose is history.  The funny part is, before we even met, I had a savings account devoted to a Tavarua trip.  I still haven’t spent the money in there — it’s kind of a “memorial” to our destiny.”

Home sweet home. The Tavarua Island Resort. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com

Today, Jamie and Rick have raised their three children constantly rotating between Tavarua, visiting Hawaii (where Rick grew up), Seal Beach, California (where Jamie grew up) and Mexico (because, why not?) — all not too shabby surf destinations. We’re super excited that Jamie chose Seea to be sold at the beautiful Tavarua Island Resort. In between working on a forthcoming exclusive collaboration style, we caught up with Jamie across the big blue sea to find out more about the special island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and her experiences raising a family on it.

What was your first experience arriving in Tavarua? What did you fall in love with right away? 

My husband, Rick Isbell was born on the big island of Hawaii and has been involved with Tavarua from the beginning.  He and his partners took over ownership in 1994.   It has been his life’s work.

My first Tavarua visit changed my life forever. The warmth of the Fijians, their commitment to the island and each other has altered the way I see things. A pristine ocean and the awesome surf are simply the icing!!  I married into this extraordinary life and feel very blessed to be a part of the Tavarua story.  My surfing father passed away in 1987 and there are times that I feel he helped “direct” me to this place in life.

Jamie paddling in her Seea Doheny rashguard! 

What kinds of waves are in Tavarua? Are they all expert level? 

For the most part, the Tavarua breaks offer something for everyone.  Right out front we have a little break we call “Kiddie Land” that is actually inside of “Restaurants.” Even first timers can have a great time there.  “Tavarua Rights” is a gentle right hander, but it can be a bit more challenging with size.  It is a great spot for gals that are progressing and even very experienced surfers have a blast there. “Rights” is my personal favorite.  “Cloudbreak” and “Restaurants” definitely require more skill and experience.  That’s where the real thrills are had, but depending on size and tides, they can have friendly days as well.  Other fun breaks closer to Namotu Island are “Swimming Pools”, “Namotu Left” and “Wilks”.  There is sincerely something for everyone!

Famous Cloudbreak. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com. 
Swimming Pools, a playful right. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com

What is the culture of the Tavarua people? How is the culture incorporated into the resort experience? 

Despite the missionary influences in Fiji, Fijians as a whole have maintained many aspects of their traditional culture.  They have embraced Christianity, but did not discard many of the ceremonies and practices of their ancestors. We have included indigenous architecture; art, food and music into our resort experience and try to teach our guests something about the history and legends of Tavarua.  We also have a proper ceremony where we serve kava each week.  It is a legitimate ceremony to honor special occasions or guests and is still a tradition in Fiji.  It is similarly practice in Fijian villages throughout the country and is often followed by local food, dancing, and music.

The food on Tavarua is a varied offering focusing on fresh, local ingredients.  We serve up an international menu with emphasis on local fresh fish, vegetables, and tropical fruits.

Dinner served in the open air restaurant. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com

How was raising your family in Tavarua different from a childhood they would have had in America?

I have raised two daughters Meagan, 27 and Madison, 24 [in Tavarua] since they were 9 and 11-years old. I am now raising my son 10-year-old son Trevor here, who has been coming here since he was born.

My children have had very different experiences growing up compared to a "typical American childhood”.  For one, they almost never wear shoes!  ha!  They spend most of their free time out doors or in the water.  They have been fully exposed to a very different culture and I feel like they have learned a greater appreciation for simple things.   They are open minded and easily embrace unusual foods, customs, and ethnicities.  They spend almost no time watching television and very little time with computers and other electronic media.  The computer was and continues to be integral in their education as they were/are homeschooled and correspond with a teacher, receive curriculum, and send assignments via the internet.  But when it comes to fun…the computer is shut down!

I also feel like my children have acquired a unique ability to socialize, not only with their peers but with anyone.  With our guests and staff coming and going, I find it interesting that all of my children are completely comfortable in diverse company.  Male, female, old or young, regardless of religion or color…my kids can converse or play games with anyone!  I also believe that our way of life has led to them being amazing travelers.

Both of my daughters have traveled the world solo.  Many of their friends feel a bit intimidated by foreign travel, especially to exotic locations, but I believe their Fiji experiences have made them savvy and capable travelers.

Jamie on a playful right wave. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com
One of the Tavarua guests, Evie wears the Seea Palmas in Red Flower in Tavarua. Photo by Scott Winer.

What is special about surfing with other women in Tavarua? 

In the early days of the resort there were very few surfing gals.  Times have changed in a wonderful way, and now we not only have surfing girls, we have entire surfing families!

Without question, women bring a different energy to the line up.  My daughters and I have always coveted our sessions with other women.  Females seem to find a unique balance of camaraderie, playfulness, and just plain charging!  All of my best sessions have had a nice balance of women in the water. We are the secret ingredient for BIG fun!

What’s the vibe of the island when the annual surfing contest comes into town? 

The contest is pretty crazy, but such a fantastic experience! I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve been able to watch first hand some of the best surfing in the world…EVER! !  The ASP team along with media folks, camera crews, support people and competitors add a very different element to our usual program on island.

We were really happy to see the women come back this year after a long absence.  I have always felt like they deserved a special venue like Tavarua and their talents are without question ready for the challenge! Regardless of Women’s or Men’s event, the contestants have named our contest one of their favorites year after year.  Not only is the surf amazing, they actually get an opportunity to hang out without the “circus” environment that other contests seem to generate.  It’s a unique and special time on island for sure. At the end of the chaos we feel like a big family.

An aerial view of the island. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com
Under the clear blue water. Photo by Russell Hoover courtesy of Tavarua.com

What is the ideal season to go to Tavarua and why? 

That really depends on whom you ask.  Bigger surf is more common between April and October, but conditions can be stellar between November and March.  Weather patterns continue to shift and we are seeing all kinds of surprises these days.  Our bookings are constant throughout the year with return guests each having their version of “ideal.”

What are some of the special experiences that you offer at Tavarua Resort that keep people coming back? 

Our location is truly spectacular! Our proximity to some of the world’s best surf and thriving Fijian sea life is unlike any other.  Our partnership with the Fijian staff and local villages is unparalleled. Nearly all of our staff members are related to one another and many have been with us since the beginning. They are brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and/or children working together on island.  This family dynamic keeps our resort casual and cheerful. In many ways we are more like a fine bed and breakfast within a Fijian Village.

Our guests come from all over the world and many have been regulars for over 20 years!  Some have developed personal relationships with our staff and have directly contributed to their well-being. Once you experience life on this heart shaped island, you are never quite the same.  It’s simply the Tavarua magic.

Can it get any better than gliding with dolphins? Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com
Just relax here forever. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com

Why is it important to be respectful to the country as a foreigner? 

We have as many as 60 locals living on the island at any given time, but they all rotate back to their villages on the mainland as well.

We are completely and totally respectful in Fiji and understand that we are fortunate to be living and working in this country as a foreigner.  We adhere to all the local laws and protocols as well as honoring local traditions and propriety.  It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice in any way.  It has been a full emersion way for us to absorb this rare experience and affords us fantastic lessons in perspective.

How did you find out about Seea? 

My wonderful daughter gave a surf suit for Christmas. It was love at first sight!  Another time I was in the water and one of our guests was wearing a rash guard…more LOVE!

That’s awesome! What suits do you wear and how have they worked out in the Tavarua waters? 

I adore both the Palmas and Swamis surf suits and of course ALL of the rash guards.  Ease of wear and sun protection is key in this tropical environment and the SEEA pieces are so comfortable!  My first favorite was the sleeveless rash guard because the boat neckline is wide and the arms remain so free.  Right now however, my favorites are everything in the 1mm neoprene.  It’s Fijian winter right now and the soft cozy layer is perfect, but still great looking!  I wear them for surfing, diving, scuba, and stand up paddling!

Our guests’ reaction to SEEA in our island boutique has been fantastic!  We’re all very excited to be doing a special Tavarua edition!

Thanks Jamie! We’re excited too and can’t wait to see more girls enjoy it in the Tavarua waters! 

Pure magic. Photo courtesy of Tavarua.com

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1 comment


  • dream land , magic waves.

    paulo rosa bezerra on

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