Opinion: “The Mentawais now belong to the kook!”

A trip to Indonesian playground reveals startling truth, "the new line-up politics of adult learners and aggressive Europeans!"

Despite the darkness an opening ride at Macaronis feels as inalien as walking down the main street of a hometown.

A wide awake dream come to life.

Not a single original thought, word or deed is possible after 30 years of hyper-saturation. My trachea are filled with Indonesia’s finest clove scented tar and nicotine; liver with barley, hops and fermented sugar cane, bloodstream with the molecules imbibed after a friend scraped the rendang excreta off a rubber surgical finger swallowed and carried across oceans.

Soft pulses of light chime around thunderheads arrayed in a purple bruise which rings the horizon. Megalithic fauna wanders amongst the mangrove roots and dead trees to the last low rumble of the night. Mugwumps and plutonium wives slither out from coral crevices. Blood warm water envelopes like a jade green sap; the feeling of homecoming, so familiar to every Australian surfer at least, is almost over-powering.

Florid language is white noise to the working gal. We return to the prosaic.

Two, three or four hours later a pair of French-Canadian gals, wielding harsh accents and peachy buttocks like weapons of war take over the line-up, paddling straight to the inside wave after wave. The display of aggression, overt and implied, is stunning. Flailing limbs and basic positioning errors ruin many waves but the gals resolutely paddle straight back up the inside to the top of the line.

We portray global lineups poorly whenever harmony is implied. It’s more accurate to view them in biological terms: full of dominance, aggression, uneasy truces and, in non-gendered lineups, sexual sovereignty. Biogeographer Tim Low wrote about the uncommon aggression inherent in Australian birds and made the case that the abundance of flowering Eucalypts was a resource worth fighting for.

“Nectar”, he wrote, “rewards aggression”.

So too, perfect surf. Adult learners master that before a basic skill set. Like screaming lorikeet flocks fight tree by tree to dab tongues on sweet nectar heads; lineup politics in the Mentawais are negotiated boat by boat, day by day, hour by hour, set by set, bikini by bikini.

The screaming 50’s and roaring 40’s have shrunk the globe for a second time – not as ends to drive the spice trade – but as means to ends where a new wave of European expansionism finds common cause in energetic by-product on the reef breaks of the Mentawai. Sipora, Siberut, Pagai-Utara, Pagai-Selatan. Kepulauan Mentawai.

Here you’ll find Germans, German Swiss, Austrians, French, Italians, Russians,Slovenians, Slovakians, Portugese, English. Australians remain the dominant force, for now. Perplexed and enraged, as my Bribie mate was, by the new line-up politics of adult learners and aggressive Europeans.

“What the fuck are these kooks doing here?” he asked.

The world belongs to them now, I answered.

Why and wherefore this desire to get fucked up in Indonesia?

We hadn’t been in Padang more than an hour when I turned to my oldest friend and said, “For some reason, I feel like getting really fucked up.”

He said, “Me too.”

Hours later he was engaged in the kind of stupidity which makes a family man squirm with shame. Mike Oblowitz’s redacted 2008 doco Sea of Darkness offers clues. It charts the course of Indonesian exploration and exploitation and the dark temptations that wandered, like Neil Young’s beggar, from door to door.

Filmaker and Indonesian veteran Dick Hoole spoke in the film of the Asian sense of freedom and the difficulty in returning to normal life after tasting it. The dream, according to Martin Daly associate and convicted drug smuggler Jeff Chitty, was “60 feet on the waterline”. A boat to explore an endless oceanic playground. Chitty spent most of his adult life doing hard time, Daly veered left and steered the Indies Trader to fame/infamy. It’s stunning how easily the dream is now obtainable.

Apocalypse Now/Big Wednesday writer John Milius called bullshit on the whole program.

I paraphrase, because I was drunk when watching, but his observation was that the outcome of living this lawless dream was to become, not larger than life, but smaller than life. It diminished a man, in his eyes. That scarcely rings true, and if you look at the vision of Mike Boyum, whose life the film commemorates, you’d have to say it exerts a greater hold now than ever before. It’s scarcely possible to imagine an Australian surfer, fr’instance, who doesn’t have this virus embedded deep within, ready to take over the organism at the first whiff of clove cigarette.

Even with a scrappy forecast, the bang for buck on a boat cruising the Ments is immense. Day three and I’ve surfed into a state of almost total oblivion. Compared with a three-week passage between Honolulu and the Marshalls where the board didn’t come out of the cover and the salty taste of seasick pussy was all that sustained.

“Maybe you should go back to Kansas,” I suggested.

“Screw Kansas,” she said.

The family man does experience sudden shocks of panic in Indonesian perfection. He forgets home. Then forgets that he has forgotten and the whole thing starts to seem like a dream from another existence. He can’t touch his childrens’ faces, feel their little fingers wrapped around his neck, see his wife’s naked body in the moonlight.

Games without frontiers, ay. Family man now though, ay.

The family man does experience sudden shocks of panic in Indonesian perfection. He forgets home. Then forgets that he has forgotten and the whole thing starts to seem like a dream from another existence. He can’t touch his childrens’ faces, feel their little fingers wrapped around his neck, see his wife’s naked body in the moonlight.

Is it still there? Or gone.

Another set shimmers in the sunlight and all memory evaporates. Perfect surf is remorseless.

Feelings of home are counter-factual. The Mentawais remain remote. Shit can turn pear-shaped in a heartbeat. Clashings of the Burma, Sunda and Eurasian plates create the most tectonically unstable area on Earth. It’s probable more than possible that everything built to satisfy surf lust in the Islands will be one day smeared into rubble by a wall of water. These facts don’t alter feelings I have spending hours roaming freely alone up the outer edge of a central Mentawaiin reef, safer and more at peace than I do surfing a kay from my house. It makes no sense.

But we are who we are, as Nick Carroll said to Chas Smith at Lemoore, I think a version of Marcus Aurelius statement: “Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for thee for all eternity.”

You can surf too much, I think.

Into the state of dereliction that Bill Finnegan warned against in his memoir Barbarian Days, which reads, ironically, as a paean to such dereliction.

What seems more seductive? The Pulitzer or weeks alone on Tavarua?

I guess he got both, in the end.

In the end I got a prime set wave at a perfect reef and shared it with my friend, criss-crossing tracks as the coral heads flew by under-neath.

That was the last wave and now that the high has worn off the come-down seems scarcely worth it.

Wtf, yes it does.


From the what-is-wrong-with-this-headline department: Maya Gabeira wins Guinness world record for biggest wave ever ridden!

Special women's-only big-wave record!

It’s been five years since the Brazilian Maya Gabiera was squashed in what you might wanna call 70-foot waves. A busted tibia (lower part of the bone, near the ankle) and drowning was the price tag Maya paid for taking on the world’s creepiest wave.

When I called her the next day she’d just been released from hospital.

I’d asked what it feels like to drown.

“It’s really tough. But it gets peaceful when you black out. When you’re gone, you’re gone. And I knew before I was gone I knew that the only thing I could do was to try my very hardest to get as close as I could to the shore so Carlos could do his part. And I did my part and he did his part. That’s how we work. I try my best and when he sees me he’ll make sure he doesn’t lose my body.”

Now, after a short ride in January this year, Maya, who is the daughter of the anti-dictatorship revolutionary and one-time exile Fernando Gabeirahas been awarded a Guinness World record for “Largest wave surfed unlimited (female).”

From the WSL presser:

The 31-year old from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil successfully surfed a wave measuring 68 feet / 20.72 metres from trough to crest at the infamous big-wave break known as Praia do Norte in Nazaré, Portugal on January 18, 2018.

“To set the world record has been a dream of mine for many years,” said Gabeira. “But of course, after the accident in Nazaré 2013, it felt like a very distant dream. It took a lot of work to have a season like last year, to be 100% again, and to complete it with a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS title is quite special.”

What’s wrong with the headline?

Well, doesn’t it seem, and let’s pull a buzz word out of the bag, a little sexist? That the good burghers at the Guinness Book of World Records deem the female of the species incapable of being towed into the same-sized wave as a man?

I mean, #runlikeagirl ain’t a pejorative anymore, am I right?

Or is it a selective thing and I failed to read the fine print?

Oh, and whomever is doin’ Maya’s wiki page might wanna fix the typo up. Getting towed into six-foot waves ain’t that special by anyone’s measure.


Entrepreneurship: Harness surfing to make money the “new economy” way!

I think.

I read a sentence this morning in Forbes magazine, publication for wealthy individuals and/or individuals who aspire to wealth, and I had no idea what it meant. Not even the faintest flicker of recognition. Absolutely nothing. Can you help?

Unleash Surf is the world’s first digital nomad travel company for entrepreneurs who surf.

What is digital nomad travel?

Is that what we do? I mean, not “we” as in me n Derek n Longtom n Jen n Trav n etc. but, like, “we” as in upwardly mobile young-ish surfers?

Digital nomads?

I have to read the interview with Amy Schwartz and her partner John Furness to discover. Want to with me?

“When we hatched the idea, we were digital nomads in Peru, surfing every day and living a more relaxed lifestyle,” explains cofounder Amy Schwartz, who created the company with her partner, John Furness. Schwartz had heard of companies that help remote workers travel the world, but none that cater specifically to surfers with barefoot living in off-the-beaten-path locations, a variety of waves, private apartments and reliable internet 24-7.

So they launched a remote working concept in Peru in early 2018, and the results have been more impressive than the founders ever expected. “We didn’t set out with a cliche goal of changing lives — we just wanted Unleash to open our clients to the practical possibility of taking their work remote while surfing and experiencing a new place,” says Schwartz. “Many of our clients have reshaped their jobs, their priorities and their lives.”

We caught up with Schwartz and Furness to find out how Unleash Surf is catering to a group of digital nomads who take their work seriously but want more time to embrace slow travel. And we found out their tips for starting and running a business.

I still have absolutely no idea. Let’s skim the interview ok?

What inspired you to create Unleash Surf?

John Furness: I created my business so I could work remotely and travel, but like many small business owners with that dream, my mortgage and lifestyle closed in on me and I forgot that I could make that leap if I wanted to. For years Amy and I had planned on taking a few months to live and surf somewhere warm, where the internet was good enough for me to run my business. Three years ago we decided to escape the winter, so we bought plane tickets to Peru — where Amy had done her masters studies — and rented an apartment in a small, wave-rich town. I converted the extra bedroom into an office, upgraded the internet and we spent our days living the lifestyle we’d dreamed of: surfing as often as we wanted, getting our work done, no commuting, exploring Peru and going on adventures to places like Machu Picchu and Lobitos. We ate fresh healthy foods, made friends and we built a community in a new place. We realized how happy, healthy and productive we were on that trip and wondered how we could create a business that offered other people a similar experience, without quitting their job.

Still nothing. Do we keep going?

How does Unleash Surf work? Tell me about the business model.

Schwartz: People who come on Unleash are generally successful entrepreneurs, freelancers or people who work for cool companies that encourage remote work. Or they’re taking time to cultivate new ideas. Our groups are small, with 8-10 people from all over the world. People who come on Unleash aren’t necessarily beginner remote-workers, though: Many are experienced digital nomads or remote workers who are a bit further along in their careers and don’t have the time or energy to do all the legwork. With Unleash, they just have to show up, surf, get their work done and enjoy the amazing place we’re in.

Our clients come for two weeks, one month and up to three months. We ensure that when they get off the plane, they don’t miss a beat in terms of feeling at home. John and I personally take them to their fully-equipped apartment, then on a walking tour of the surf spots, markets, restaurants, juice stands and surf shops. We introduce them to our friends and make sure they have everything they need to get to work or to get in the water as soon as they need.

If I used emojis I’d use the one with the puzzled face right here but make it a lighter shade of brown to reflect Peru.

What’s in store for 2019?

Schwartz: We’ve got a roster of fascinating workshops lined up, including learning to build a caballito de tortora — the world’s first surf craft — with a local fisherman and learning to ride it. We’ll be taking people to Peru’s second largest produce market with a chef and then doing a cooking class with them. Taking people to the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where they make a mouth-watering pecan-sauce fish unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. And, of course, having sunset beers with the group on our cowork space balcony and doing dance classes in traditional Peruvian marinera, which has some similarities to flamenco.

If they did Cocaine + Surfing tours I’d totally go. Wait, is that digital nomad travel means? Cocaine + Surfing? Buy here!


The Florida surfer Oliver Kurtz, visiting the pool shortly before shutdown.

Waco pool closed until March 2019; no refunds (only credits) for pre-bookings!

But good news! Filtration system to be installed!

It always astonishes me, and it shouldn’t by now after so many orbits, how quickly life can turn.

On the day before the well-received Stab High event at the BSR tank  in Waco, Texas, a New Jersey surfer, Fabrizio Stabile, was dead in hospital after contracting Naegleria fowleri, known as “brain-eating amoeba”, shortly after visiting the pool.

Whether he got it in the unfiltered water of the pool (it’s classified as a lake not a swimming pool and therefore doesn’t, or at least didn’t, have to comply to the same standards as a public pool) or somewhere else ain’t clear.

But it did mean the pool had to close while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested for the deadly amoeba. And, now, it’ll be shut for the next five months.

It may not end there for BSR.

The family of Lauren Seitz, who died of the same infection as Stabile, is suing the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a million bucks.

And if you had sessions booked at Waco?

A Californian reader emailed this morning to say he’d booked a thousand bucks worth of pool time for he and his six buddies next Sunday (October 7) and after the sudden closure had been offered a “gift card” but no refund.

Upon reopening in March, we will continue to add chemicals to treat our lake but with a newly added filtration system, much like a swimming pool. We will be canceling all sessions currently booked and will be applying the total amount spent under each reservation to a gift card for future use.

“Coming back at a later date is not an option,” he writes. “Emailed for a refund but no response.”

Does the spectre of brain-eating amoeba put the wind up him a little?

“Ha! Fuck ya it does,” he wrote, adding that he might return if Waco got “a new filter and a bigger barrel.”


Mea Culpa: Wave Pools are the future and you should enjoy!

Fun on demand!

I’ve feeling bad all day after teeing off on dirty fresh wave pool water yesterday. I mean, not “bad” but bad if you can parse the difference because all those poor wave pool inventors and trying their best to bring surf to inland folk fun and good time and surfing and what am I doing? Drinking vodka and teeing off from a coastal enclave like a true unsolicited dick.

Like basically the bad guy of the whole #metoo movement.

And so I spent the day wondering if I was too harsh… or a prophet that should be heeded. “Hark I say unto thee, freshwater is shit and maketh eye infections and/or worse so run to the coast and be therefore cleansed in the salts.”

But of course I don’t “really” really think I’m a prophet which means I was too harsh.

Right?

And so I totally think you should go to surf a tank and enjoy every last second of gorgeous waves on demand but I don’t want to and am not because I realized I love saltwater.

Like really really love saltwater. “Really” really love saltwater and feel that it is more essential to our experience than we previously understood or at least I previously understood.

So yeah, go rip one just don’t take your kids if you have any and don’t take me because I hate them and think they are poison garbage that fucking suck so so so so so bad and worse than ever.

You won’t catch me dead near one and if you do catch me dead near one then I am dead from a brain eating bacteria.