Wave Seekers: From The Jewel to Fiji and back again, Jon Roseman embodies the La Jolla ‘surfing style’


Editor’s Note: As a world renowned surfing town, La Jolla has its legends of the sea. We’re stoked to bring you their stories in this new summer series.

There’s a heart-shaped, 29-acre island in Fiji by the name of Tavarua that the entire La Jolla surf community is talking about. It’s got great surf, they say, perfect weather and kind people. Plus, the co-founder and co-owner of Tavarua’s all-inclusive resort is one of the most beloved local surfers and the protagonist of this week’s Wave Seekers series, Jon Roseman.

“I’m from La Jolla and I started surfing pretty adamantly at age 10,” he told La Jolla Light. “At WindanSea, it’s a little more advanced, so I guess I was 12 or 13 when I started sitting on the inside. There was a very set pecking order back in those days; you had to earn the respect of the older generation, and then, slowly, I earned my place in the lineup.”

Roseman said he considers himself lucky to have grown up in La Jolla. “La Jolla has some incredible waves for California; it’s a really good training ground for surfers. WindanSea, Bird Rock, Little Point, Horseshoe ... there are incredible waves that are very preppy for places like Hawaii or Fiji. The other thing that’s great about La Jolla is that it breeds a lot of style in everyone’s surfing.”

When asked what the La Jolla surfing style looks like, Roseman replied, “It’s like grace under pressure. The great surfers that have come out of La Jolla, from way back, like Chris O’Rourke … can ride a really juicy, powerful wave, effortlessly. Like they’re almost doing it while they’re asleep. But at the same time, they’re doing crazy, giant, powerful turns. I like to think that’s what makes a La Jolla surfer stand out from the rest of the world.”

Roseman attended La Jolla High School, surfing the waves of WindanSea after class, and though he “never wanted to leave La Jolla ever,” he went to college in Santa Barbara. “I was really fortunate, I had tons of friends that I grew up with in La Jolla, it’s hard to leave that kind of brotherhood.”

He continued traveling, looking for waves all over the map from Mexico to Hawaii.

Roseman recalls, “I had a girlfriend from Malibu while I was up at school. We broke up for all sorts of reasons, but the most important reason was that I loved to surf and she didn’t, and because of that breakup, I went to Hawaii. My late friend, the incredible La Jolla surfer David Anderson, and I spent the whole winter there with another couple of Australian friends. I was going to meet them in Australia, but I heard there was an incredible wave in Fiji called Tavarua, basically a surf camp, so I thought, ‘On my way to Australia, I’ll stop by there myself.’ I think it was late 1988 or early 1989, and that was my first time to Fiji.”

And that, Roseman said, was the trip that would change everything.

“They just had a cyclone, and the waves were terrible (laughs). It was pretty intense, but I still fell in love with it, the Fijians and everything, I didn’t want to leave. I remember the first fun waves I got out of (reef surf break) Cloudbreak. I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is it, this is clear paradise.’ You can get like 20 tubes in an hour. It’s mind-blowing. It’s what you dream of your entire life. The waves are like the ones you draw on your schoolbook when you’re falling asleep in class.”

Roseman stayed in Fiji as a lifeguard in the then-primitive surf camp. “In 1993, the owners wanted to sell my partner and I, part of the management package of the island, and we were talking about it. ‘Geez, what if we just try to borrow a bunch of money and try to buy it ourselves?’ So that’s what we did. We borrowed money, we did everything we could, anything to be able to own it. We mortgaged ourselves pretty heavily at that age, which was our early 20s. It was a crazy endeavor back then, because Tavarua, as gorgeous as it is, it’s in a Third World country, and it’s kind of a dichotomy in the sense that it’s paradise, but there’s all these challenges.

“We suddenly had some really big Fijian employees, and we had to earn their respect, learn to deal with the Fijian people, their customs, their rules.

“We came up with a concept to ramp up their surf camp and make it into a more user-friendly resort, to have surfers, but also families, kids. And now, about 30 years later, we have second-generation staff, even the villages that surround the island, they’re our families. It’s a big part of the Fijian culture, which is a very social culture. They say, ‘what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.’ I think that can expand to so many different things.”

Through the years, Roseman started several charity programs in Fiji, including the Scripps’ Health Scripps-Fiji alliance. “My dad, David Roseman, who retired from Scripps Hospital, helped me start the Scripps Fiji, providing medical care, education to Fijians, but also bringing Fijians to the United States for advanced treatment of all sorts of cases,” he explained.

At age 51, he still surfs at the highest level, and expects to continue “for the next 20 years.” But to do so, he trains with a local instructor.

“I work with Jay and May Complete Health. It helps me a lot with confidence, and you get all this extra training that targeted for surfing muscles. For example, last week we had a pretty good swell down in Fiji and we paddled a couple really big waves at Cloudbreak. My arms felt great. I was thanking Jay in the water,” he said.

Roseman has a 14-year-old daughter, Helena, who also likes to surf. “It’s really neat,” he shared. “She’s like my little surf buddy now. She’s always like, ‘Dad, take me surfing here and there!’ It’s like a dream come true.”

As a surfer who divides his time between Fiji and La Jolla, Roseman often gets the question, “How can you surf in La Jolla after experiencing waves in Fiji?” In those cases, he answers, “I have as much fun surfing at home as I do when I’m in Fiji. The waves are different, but it’s as fun. Home is home, and we’re lucky to grow up in WindanSea and La Jolla, one of the most absolutely beautiful spots in the entire world.”