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Kalione Nasoko: The Yasawa Flyer

- By TIMOCI TUIKATAKAT­A Photos SUPPLIED

Karl Te Nana aptly named him the ‘Yasawa Flyer’. To us Yasawans, the name fits. Of the six high speed catamarans operated by South Sea Cruises, ‘Yasawa Flyer’ is the most rock-solid, meanest and sexiest of the fleet. When the trade winds howl at more than 40 knots and the waves on the 100 km journey are swelling past the four metre mark, there is only one boat strong enough to bulldoze the mighty Yasawan waters. It’s the ‘Yasawa Flyer’. Kalione Nasoko grew up on Waya Levu, an island at the southern tip of the Yasawas. The Yasawa group is a chain of islands formed along a volcanic ridge that edges the western coasts of the two main islands of the Fiji group. His village sits literally on a rock face, with houses in descending order right down to the rocky beach. There are none of those powdery white sandy beaches there, something that the rest of the Yasawas are world famous for. Nasoko attended Ratu Naivalu Memorial School, the only one on Waya island. It is located 10 km away from his village, on the opposite side of the island. Going to school involved a two hour hike up the rock face every Sunday and then down into the village of Yalobi. It was boarding school from Sunday to Friday, then Nasoko faced the two hour trek back home on Friday evenings to spend the weekend. Such was life on Waya and it would have been tough growing up there, no doubt. This seems to have shaped the character of the man. He comes across as a quiet and shy, but this masks a steely resolve and the determinat­ion that has carried him this far. Kali was in class one when Waisale Serevi lifted the Melrose Cup in Hong Kong. The date was 23 March 1997. He watched the finals live, along with the entire village on the only TV on the island. That was the game that lit the flame that would burn for life. The flame that would fuel every decision he has taken up to this point. “I did high school on the main island, and then I returned to the village to help mum and dad,” Nasoko said in his quiet, matter of fact tone. I had invited him and his wife Kini to Nanuya Island Resort for a few days. During lunch one day I asked

him how he got into the Fiji Team. “I played rugby whenever the opportunit­y arose, which wasn’t much when you’re out in the islands” he said. “When Waya formed a team to compete in the B division, I joined. When the Yasawa South team was formed a year later, I put my hand up, When Botaira Island Resort fielded a team in the island competitio­n, I joined that team as well. Even when others asked me to play for their village teams, I was there. I would do anything for a game of rugby”. After a pause, he added: “Whether it was the years at home helping dad on the farm, or taking hotel guests out snorkeling, or teaching them how to weave a coconut basket, the dream was there and it never left me. Every afternoon, I would either jog along the beach, or do short sprints up the hill, or do exercises to maintain my fitness levels. People who knew me knew that was my normal routine. Whenever I closed my eyes and my mind drifted, I saw myself wearing the black and white of Fijian rugby”. The break came in 2014, when Fiji Seven’s coach Ben Ryan was invited to watch the Nacula Sevens in Central Yasawa. There were 24 teams from the entire length of the Yasawas competing, and on this occasion Nasoko was playing for Nalovo from Soso village on the island of Naviti. Spectator Ben Ryan picked the best 12 players on the field that day, and formed the Yasawa Stingers. It was this team, under the leadership of Reverend Manasa Takala that brought Nasoko into the national spotlight. When the Yasawa Stingers reached the finals of the Marist Sevens in 2016, he was selected to be in the extended Fiji squad as feeder into the Fiji Sevens Team. “I knew it was all a waiting game now” reminisced Nasoko, “but when Ryan came back victorious from the Olympics and announced his resignatio­n, I was gutted. It was him who had seen the potential in me two years back and now he was leaving. My chances of making the team looked bleak”. The assistant coach, Nacanieli Cawanibuka was in charge during the lull between Ben Ryan leaving and the new coach coming in. He had to prepare the Fiji team for the Oceania, the Dubai, and the Cape Town Sevens. The call was his. He took the gamble, and picked Nasoko for the squad. The rest, as they say, is history. “I knew that it was now or never. This was my one chance,” Nasoko said about his surprise inclusion. “The evening before match day is when the team and management get together for the Jersey presentati­on. When my name was announced and I went up to collect my Fijian jumper, I cried. I stood there in tears, jersey in hand, thinking about how long and hard the journey had been. The barefoot running along the beach, the long walks across the island, the Yasawa Stingers sleeping on the floor of Rev. Manasa Takala’s house for months as we prepared for each local tournament. For me, all of that had been leading to this moment. I promised myself then that it wouldn’t just end there and I’ve never looked back since”. So it was that 20 years after he watched his hero lift the Sevens World Cup at Hong Kong Stadium, that the ‘Yasawa Flyer’ ran onto the hallow ground of rugby sevens. “My first game, I was unsettled and completely rattled. After years of watching the Hong Kong Sevens on TV, all of a sudden you’re on the field playing. It’s a lot to take in,” he said this with a hint of regret – as if he’s apologisin­g for his debut performanc­e. There is another slight pause, a smirk and then straight back into that quiet monotone: “It happened just for the first game. By the second match I was OK. Before the next game started, I just told myself; Yes Kali!.. it’s the Hong Kong Sevens, but it’s just another game of rugby. And rugby is my life.”

 ??  ?? The Nasokos…Kini and Kalione
The Nasokos…Kini and Kalione
 ??  ?? Where it all began…grassroots rugby.
Where it all began…grassroots rugby.

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