The surf explorer's final great discovery…
Does the name Martin Daly ring a bell? You might remember him as the skipper of the Indies Trader, the forty-five-year-old former salvage boat Marty used to explore the Mentawai Islands, revealing the remarkable archipelago slowly over a decade. First with Rip Curl’s The Search movie series and peaking, I think, with Jeff Hornbaker’s No Destination and The Hole at the end of the nineties.
The first time I heard of Marty and the Mentawais was in the early part of that decade when I saw a handful of film snapshots of Martin Potter and Tom Carroll on the biggest, cleanest waves I’d seen outside of Hawaii.
Fifteen years later the joint was overrun with charter boats and, now, the flotilla resembles a navy fleet as it steams from wave to wave, each captain pressured to give his paying clientele some sort of profound surf experience. It still has its moments but it ain’t nothing like it was when Marty and his pals first came to town.
“It’s getting more and more depressing. The rainforests are cut down, the reefs are dying again. It’s an absolute shitfight,” says Marty, “I saw a proposal for a multi-billion dollar project in southern Siberut (the biggest of the Mentawai islands, which are off Sumatra) that had ferris wheels and water slides. Like Benoa in Bali on growth hormones. And they’re trying to turn the area around Telescopes and North Sipora (the smallest of the Mentawai islands) into Kuta. You think people would learn a lesson. No, they don’t.”
As for Marty being largely responsible for its popularity, he says, “Maybe at some stage in the early days I was partially to blame, but my responsibility to the exploitation of the Mentawais ended in 1995. I went back to the Mentawais after The Crossing (A Quiksilver-funded around-the-world promo trip on the Indies Trader, from 1998 to 2005) but I felt like I’d had my turn. And this place…this place… kept luring me back.”
Marty, who is now sixty one, is talking about his little slice of the Marshall Islands, specifically Beran Island, a twenty-hour sail from Majuro, the republic’s capital city.
“I know what the ocean and the reefs are supposed to look like. I grew up diving pristine reefs, reefs without names when I was a kid in Townsville in Queensland. When I was on The Crossing I went everywhere, dove everywhere and I saw that ninety-five percent of the world’s reefs were impacted. Two thirds were actually gone or dead. Put your head underwater here and you see what’s supposed to be here.”
Near Beran island he found a righthander, which Marty called Nirvana (“The best thing I’ve ever seen”) and “like a typical human being when I first came here I sat on the beach and thought, I’ll put a treehouse here, a wharf here, I could build bungalows here. And I said to myself, ‘What sort of fuckwit are you? You spend your whole life looking for Nirvana, you find it, and the first thing you want to do is destroy it.”
Eventually, he decided, yeah, he’ll do something but he’d learn from lessons past and make something he calls “a shining light of responsible development.”
So he built an off-the-grid lodge for sixteen people, powered by wind turbines and solar panels. All of the rubbish the lodge creates is processed and all non-biodegradable refuse is taken back to Majuro’s dump furnaces and its recycling centre. He grows watermelons, papaya, tomatoes, kale, catches a ton of fish and even keeps a few hogs.
I asked Marty how much the joint is worth and he says it has a valuation, now, of around five million dollars.
He says his great trial is making a business while sticking to core values, “which is a compromise but hopefully we can walk a line down the middle between exploration and exploitation.”
Marty looks out the window, which he tells me via sat phone. There’s been no wind here for two weeks and the surf has been four-foot and firing.
“You never get sick of it. If you were standing here you’d go, ‘Oh my god, mate.’ It’s everything a bloke could want: great surf, great diving, the reefs are alive, it’s not fishing it’s catching, so we never run out of fresh fish. It’s stupid.”
If you click here you can examine the lodge’s rooms…well, suites… and here for pricing, although it is password protected so hit up Marty via the contact link for the password.
“Password protected so the great unwashed don’t go looking at all the surf breaks,” he says.
Marty says when he does leave the Marshalls now, which he does periodically, he finds the State’s interference in our lives confronting. “I hate leaving this place. I feel like the guy on Apocalypse Now (Colonel Kurtz). This is my universe and I’m in charge of it. No one is screwing with me. You don’t realise how much you get screwed on a daily basis until you’re not screwed at all. The TSA making me take my shoes off. That’s confronting. Here I’m completely independent of the universe.
“Fuck,” says Marty, “I’ve died and gone to heaven.