Saturday, September 26, 2009

A House On The Point

It’s a place that finds you when you’re not really looking.  I’d scoured the pages of my Indo surf guide, read between the lines, searching for clues to steer me in the right direction.  But Java hardly conjured the idyllic surfing image that has led many a man to give up everything to plant roots down where rice paddies were once green.

The house on the point faces one of the most consistent waves in Indonesia.  Wet season, dry season, all season; it delivers endless early mornings sessions full of non-descript barrels and long, caramel-smooth bottom turns.  But the wave is fractional compared to the spoils on land. 

Living here, soaking in a way of life so foreign to us foreigners, is intoxicating.  It’s refreshing to be reminded on a daily basis that life will and can go on if the kid’s don’t find that perfect costume for Halloween, or the washing has to be hung out on the line. 

The river flows down past the house, almost as an after thought, nearly forgotten as you stare mesmerized by the pulsing ocean swells peeling mechanically down the smooth boulder-point directly in front of the shaded porch.  But the river is alive. 

Lizards, the size of a small surfboard, slink about on the mud-tinged banks, disappearing under water momentarily in pursuit of sustenance.  Fisherman cast their nets for tiny baitfish, perforating the detergent laden water that carries 40,000 shits from villages upstream into the ocean.  The floating, makeshift bamboo bridge acts as a damn, collecting meters of random rubbish; used plastic bottles, candy wrappers, pairs of unpaired sandals, and empty packets of mie goring and pop mie. 

The river smells of detergent and brine, a milky-slick surface that upon repeated encounters makes you cringe.  But that is Java.  It’s not Disney clean or pristine and untouched.  It’s millions and millions of people living on one of the most densely populated islands in the world.

It’s rice paddies terraced in a river delta.  Redbrick homes with wood fired ovens inside casting a warm glow and billowing smoke into the late afternoon air.  Sounds of the muezzin call most into the mosque to face Mecca and pray to Allah.  “Aaaaallaaahh uuuuu aaaakkbaaar”.

It’s mango trees and pepper plantations, cloves and rubber trees dripping with latex, miles and miles of palm oil plantations where ancient stands of teak and mahogany once stood.  Cacophonies of stimuli hitting you from all sides if you open you’re eyes, ears, and nose. 

One of my favorite things to do here is hop on the back of a motorbike near sun down, and cruise the streets into town.  The mid-day heat has passed and the towns and villages are coming back to life.  Warungs selling bottles of water, packets of instant coffee, and a mystery of fried assortments line the streets.  A sea of motorbikes swallows the road, often with families of five along for the ride.  Dad’s usually driving, an infant pressed between him and Mom, the tail end filled out with respective siblings in order of proper decent, sometimes with cell phones out sending sms’s to the sky.

People are always everywhere.  Squatting along the road, in the road, barely taking notice of the chaotic symphony that surrounds them.  Smiling girls grin and giggle as you pass by, brown skinned with jet-black hair coifed with the typical shark fin inlay across the forehead. 

Fireworks blast off in the distance as children race past with rice-paper kites in tow.  Laughter and exhaust mix with the call to prayer, creating a patchwork of treble and bass, lacing the early evening air in full stereo surround sound.

It’s free and 100 percent pure entertainment that no reality TV show could ever hope to capture, life passing about. 


Friday, September 18, 2009

So Where Is Your Home Break?

Five years ago, I was scouting the coastlines of Lombok and Sumbawa.  On the south coast of Lombok, about an hour east of Kuta, Lombok, I'd heard of a claw-shaped bay that had a heavy right and left-hand reef break, peeling on adjacent sides of the bay.

On this particular morning, the swell wasn't substantial enough to get the far outside points working properly. The only option left for a surf was a mellow inside right-hander that was more directly open to the minimal south-west swell.

I'd left Kuta at dawn that morning with my girlfriend in tow.   After an hour driving on the kidney-shifting track to the mouth of the bay, she was not in the best of moods.  And I was hesitant to push on looking for better waves, with the risk of a potential female melt down decidedly near.  So I decided instead to check out the right-hander tucked inside the eastern fold of the bay.  

To access the wave, I hired a local fishing boat from the small village on the western shore of the bay.  The sun was rising over the mountains toward Bali, and the cool morning air was dancing off my cheeks as we motored offshore.  We approached the wave from the back and I spotted three guys already in the water, floating on their boards and giving me a bit of the stink eye. "Great" I thought.  Not only is it barely rideable, but the scantily layered line-up was laced with blow-in Indo locals. 

I sat in the boat and watched a set come through.  As the first wave broke, I noticed the peculiar location the three surfers had chosen to sit in--a good five meters too far inside of the peak.  Each time a ride was attempted, the same outcome ensued.  Barely managing to catch the wave, each of the three surfers stood on their boards, attempted a bottom turn (this, despite being already caught behind the foam ball of the wave), then proceeded to jump off their boards as the wave continued down the reef for another 50 meters.  

"No worries", I thought.  I've got the place to myself.  I waxed up my board, slathered on the sun block and told my girlfriend I'd be an hour or so.  There's a snorkel and mask is in my bag, have a look around down below.  

I paddled straight out to the peak and waited for the next set.  As I sat on my board, I listened as the three other surfers jabbered away in German.  "That's odd", I thought to myself.  I've never met a surfer from Germany. By this time the conversation had elevated to a higher decibel with the surfers barking out "Ichs" and "Eins" by the second. 

Damn, this is annoying, I thought.  An otherwise peaceful morning surf was turning into a German shouting match.  I had no idea what they where saying, but it I could tell it didn't have anything to do with the present conditions.  

So as the first wave of the set loomed on the horizon, I spun around and paddled into it.  It was a mellow entry, and I dropped in with a casual stance, eyeing up the next section to see what the wave was doing.  I cranked it off the bottom of the wave, carried the momentum of my bottom-turn through the next section and worked the growing wall of the wave a few times before kicking out over the top.  Cool, that was a fun little nugget.  

As I paddled back out, one of the German surfers yelled something in my direction.  I paddled over to him and said, "What was that you said?", to which he replied.  "Yaaa,  zis is my wave.  I am taking zis wave now so you can go in."  I thought for a moment, your wave eh?  Coming from someone that most likely started surfing a week ago, I was slightly shocked to be hearing the words come out of his mouth.  To clear things up about exactly whose break was whose, I asked him "where exactly is your home break in Deutschland, would it be the Munich River? I didn't wait for a response, and continued my paddle back to the line-up. 

There were no more verbal assaults from the Germans that day, but it marked a fundamental shift in surfing dynamics that I had never experienced before--the rise of the oft land-locked European surfer.

Fast forward five years.  I never did make it back to Bali, or the eastern islands after that trip. I found much better waves and uncrowded line-ups in Java and Sumatra. And, until a few years ago, these line-ups were bereft of Euros.  But the end is near.  This year in particular, I've noticed a phenomenal number of British, German, Dutch, Norwegian and Polish surfers in the water. And they're all beginners.  Now, I encourage anybody to take up the sport and reap the rewards of a lifetime spent in the water.  But what I've noticed is that 90 percent of the euro contingent is not really interested in the soul and the beauty of the sport.  

They want to surf because they've seen it in a magazine and it looks cool.  They want to come to Indonesia for two weeks, and return to their cold, wave-starved countries of origin with a lifetime of surfing history and experience.  

They don't understand wind and tide changes, swell direction and period.  And from what I can tell, they don't care either.  They want to walk up to a break after reading a manual that tells them where to enter the water, how to negotiate the reef, what type of accessories to wear and what board to ride.  Of course, these are all things that are best figured out by simply sitting on the beach and watching the surf.  By spending time in the water and surfing new waves.  By the countless hours, weeks, and years of invaluable experience and dedication that comes from a lifetime of surfing. This, they want to ingest on the plane ride from Berlin.  

So the next time I'm approached in the water by a Euro fresh off the boat--white as a ghost and sinking off the back of a brand new board-- with a sheepish grin and funny accent, asking me "So now I want to surfing in the barrel", I'll simply respond, "Then first, my friend, you should learn how to surf.  And beware, it won't happen overnight."