Riding underwater ponies and examining spectacular latissimus dorsi on other surfers!
Ok, haoles. Well, I think the thing I’ve learned, is I’m the haole.
Mid-40s, surfing for 30+ years off and on and none of it translates to Indonesia. A steady diet of east coast USA beachbreaks that gets above thigh high maybe 25 days a year do not in any way prepare one for surfing Indian Ocean ground swell breaking over shallow and sharp rock reef.
But I digress.
If any of the 20 of you who actually read BG and engage in the comments have been seeing my Hurluley sticker placement pics, then you’ll know I’ve relocated away from the east coast to the other side of the world.
And it’s a one-and-a-half-hour flight to Indo, of which I’ve gladly taken advantage of. The mythical, fabled Indo of my 30+ years of obsessively imbibing surf films, mags, websites, contests, and more recently, YouTube and Instagram fodder.
Yeah, that Indo, of always double overhead, crystal barrels populated by pros and bros featured in omnipresent surf porn propaganda: a playground for shredding.
Luckily, my gig pays enough and has enough structured downtime to allow for some quick post-COVID entries.
In the few months I’ve been living in a radically different time zone, I’ve been on a three-day run to Bali’s Bukit and an eight-day hit to Krui on Sumatra.
Here is what I’ve learned over those two brave missions.
1. Indonesia’s government is going to get their money from you one way or the other. Have that cash ready for the Visa upklon entry.
2. Find a driver you can trust to get you around, and tip them well.
3. Directly related: Don’t learn to ride a scooter in Indo.
a. Wear that helmet.
b. Don’t wear slaps.
c. That accelerator and brake being on the same handle? Yeah, that will fuck with your brain.
d. When you inevitably wreck (see 3c), hope that it is on a rural road without cars, trucks, cows, other scooters, and dogs coming at you, and that there is a ditch to land in.
e. When you land in ditch, hope there’s a local willing to help get your scooter out of the ditch, while they and all the 50 people along the street are laughing.
f. See 3b. And probably 3a.
4. Don’t assume the locks on the seats on scooters are safe from rabid 12-year-old boys traveling in packs. In fact, that’s a very bad assumption.
a. See 2, above, as they’ll watch your shit in the car and keep it safe.
b. Bring back up glasses,as rabid 12-year-old boys will grab those out of your scooter and now you’re too blind to drive back to the surf camp (see 3 a, b, c, d, e, and f, above).
5. Quiver. If you’ve got boards you trust, pay the excess and bring ‘em. Nothing like wasting your first five waves trying to figure out a beat up rental board.
6. Reef shoes are your friends. Bring an extra pair to gift.
7. Waist-high Padang Padang will be full of 100 people learning to surf from all over the world. At least one of those people will be an entitled, rich as shit colonizer, probably a woman from Britain, who will yell at everyone in the lineup to get out of their way, especially since they’re paying top bill for a private instructor to help them navigate the 100 other people also learning to surf in inconsistent waist-high Padang Padang.
8. Inconsistent waist-high Padang Padang at one pm with the sun out will dry you the fuck out so not only will you be annoyed as shit at the woman yelling at everyone (see 8, above), you’ll also be lightheaded and somehow, sweating while in the water. In short, electrolytes are your friend, and therefore:
a. Fresh coconuts after a session – heaven.
b. Fresh Bintangs after a session – heaven squared.
9. Jenny’s Right at three-to-five feet is heaven cubed. With a six-foot sleeper set, be ready to duck dive deeper than you’ve ever duck dived and it’s still not going to be deep enough.
a. Hope the velcro on your leash is strong.
b. After you realize the velcro on the leash on the rental board is shit, especially compared to the power of six feet of Indian Ocean breaking right in front of you, be ready to walk over sharp ass rocks to get your board after it washes away (see 6, above).
c. Be ready to get dehydrated walking over the reef as you get your board (see 9a, above).
10. Be prepared to see skill levels that have you dumbfounded – how did so many people, and almost all from Australia, get so used to surfing solid waves over sharp reefs like it’s nothing? You’ve been to Bali 20 times?!? And G-Land, 10?!? Well, I’ve been to Spanish House, once, so fuck you.
a. If you see a sticker for a surf company on a board, that person will shred.
b. If you don’t see a sticker for a surf company on a board, that person will still probably shred, especially if they’re in their 20s and speak with an Australian accent. Or are in their teens and speak with an Australian accent. Or are in their 30s, or 40s, or 50s, and speak with an Australian accent. Israeli, Brazilian, New Zealand, Japanese, French, Portuguese, and US accents (except mine) also correlate strongly to shredding.
c. If you see a sticker for a surf company on a board of a female-presenting surfer and she sits six foot deeper than everyone else at Uluwatu and falls out of the sky on a four-foot wave (see 12, below), that person will have made the craziest and latest drop you’ve ever seen anyone make in your life.
Seeing that drop will also make you wonder what videos she’s been in and how many top-class waves she’s surfed over her short (compared to you) life already, to be at that skill level, with all that travel to tropical reefs footed by her sponsors, with each dollar deserved (how the fuck did you make that drop?!?!).
You’ll be blown away by that drop and want to tell her that but the in-shape guy she’s paddling with, the guy with biceps in his triceps and lats like slabs of beef, looks like he’d take it the wrong way, and, well, it’s a long paddle/walk across sharp reef (see 6, above) over a misunderstanding. Best to just realize you’re not in Kansas anymore and keep your mouth shut (or maybe not – see 15 and 16, below).
11. Everyone else in the world uses the backs of waves instead of faces of waves to discuss wave/swell size and no one uses body size. A two-foot day for the USA’s east coast is also waist high, called by looking at the wave. That’s considered flat in Indo, and would be maybe called one foot, even though at my home break there’d be 500+ people on it.
For Indo, two foot is actually chest high. Most people in Indo it seems don’t give a shit about the waves until they hit six foot or bigger, because most people in Indo are from Australia, and according to the Aussie blokes I met Australia also has more surf than it knows what to do with (lucky fucks).
a. As a lifelong east coaster used to one-foot/thigh-high dribbles breaking on sand, seeing a a set of eight waves clocking in at a solid six feet clear out an entire lineup, puts you right at the edge of some surfing soul searching: do I paddle out, knowing I’ll be undergunned on a rental (see 5 above), will probably have to swim for my board (see 10a and b above), and will just get in other people’s way as the sharp ass rocks visible right there, directly below where the 12 foot (East Coast USA wave height from the front) wave is breaking, where those sharp ass rocks will keep me paralyzed in fear to even want to turn and paddle, since I’ve only surfed weak as shit dribbles over sand my whole life and with being in my mid-40s and past peak testosterone and past peak-paddle fitness then all the sudden it seems that taking pics from land is a good idea as I watch people get washed through the lineup as I’m checking the waves that jumped two foot (rest of world measurement) overnight, brainsurfing myself wrecking on all eight waves…and how the fuck do these people surf six-foot waves (rest of world measurement) like it’s a two-foot day at my beachie?!?!
And how is it still small for them, when this is the biggest surf I’ve seen in 30+ years of surfing, and it’s not even peak season when the 12-footers (rest of world measurement) come rolling in out of the Indian Ocean!?!? Yeah, definitely not in Kansas anymore.
12. Australian surf blokes are fucking classic. Until they’re drunk and loud and blasting AC/DC and booting up the karaoke machine at 3am.
13. Humble yourself before the ocean.
14. Get used to telling everyone else in the water after you hoot your head off over a three-foot wave (rest of world measurement), and they’re staring at you like you’re a haole, that that wave was bigger and better than anything you’ve seen in 30+ years and multiple thousands of hours spent in the water at your home break.
a. Get used to hooting more and more, because fuck it, you’re in paradise, even if the roads are crazy and the reef sharp as shit.
b. Unfortunately, no one else is hooting, or seems to be stoked, despite being in paradise, sitting in waves that are better than anything I’ve seen in 30+ years of surfing and multiple thousands of hours in the water.
c. Which makes me wonder, when did surfing become so dour, insular, and entitled? At what point for surfers, does the ocean become boring?
15. Given 14c, hoot anyway, from 2 foot (any measurement) on up. Why? Because we’re only alive now (RIP, Offrocker). I may be the biggest haole in all of Indo, but damn if I can’t hoot better than anyone with a sticker on their board.
Tell that person as they paddle by you because they’re going to sit deeper than you (see whole list, above) that their wave was fucking great and the session is fucking great and there are volcanoes in the distance, a few tigers roaming around those hills and palm trees on the beach and probably kids stealing shit out of the scooters, those same scooters that want to kill me, but that this is 1,000,000,000,000x better than watching TV or sitting in an office and no one I know has any fucking idea where I am right now, and no one from my beach has ever probably surfed these waves, and yeah, I can’t wait to see you catch the next one and I’ll be hooting at you then, too, and maybe you want to grab a fresh coconut after the session and share story?
17. Spread stoke like it’s an unlimited gift, because it is. The only corporate propaganda I’ve ever seen to be true is this one, and it applies to any body of water in the world: “Only a surfer knows the feeling.”
So yeah, I’m hoping to get back a few more times while I can, with more lessons to learn.
I know quite a few of you here on BG get to Indo, so If you see some middle-aged guy with a US accent on a yellowed rental who is wearing reef boots, looking too scared to drop in over the ledge, but smiling his face off, that’s probably me.
Feel free to paddle over and call me a kook.