This boy is getting married in San Diego. As father of the groom, and not in the custom of wearing suit and tie, I have my full-press batik shirt packed and ready.
There he was, waiting at the doors of arrival hall of Kupang’s El Tari airport, his porter’s uniform neat and tidy. Good old Nathaniel. He’d been porting my surfboard bags and gear for nearly thirty years now, ever since I started flying to Kupang to get on the surf tramper Hati Murnih. Never pre-arranged, never phoned ahead, but he was always there, as reliable as the January monsoons, the August trade winds. We greeted each other, I gave him our baggage claim stubs.
Mike said, “Take care of things for me, I’m going to hassle the Susi Air manager about getting our stuff on board tomorrow morning.” He blasted through the throng.
The poor manager had no idea about what was to descend upon him. Mike in his hassling mode kind of reminds me of that Biblical story about the poor widow who kept harassing the judge until the judge finally says, “Okay, okay, you win, just leave me alone.”
Nathaniel collected our gear. Thirty years at this job, always there, his once black hair having turned gray, his handsome face wrinkled. Remember that novel and then television series “Roots”, about a black American searching for his African heritage? Nathaniel doesn’t have to do any searching. His roots are all around him, ancestors and family and land and his steady employment as porter at El Tari airport.
And what about us, the Toast Trip crew—Robert and Steve and Michael and Clayton and Tim and Murray and me? All of us having wandered far from the places we once called home, settled down in places that have become home, even myself in a way for all that I, as the son of missionaries (and my mother having been born and raised in Tibet as daughter of missionaries) have lived my whole life in Bali apart from university years. What are my roots? I think I might have to write a novel about this, but a blog post is not the place.
Also waiting for us was Noven, ever reliable taxi driver, although for him I’d called ahead for the pickup. We loaded up and waited for Mike, who reported that the Susi Air manager was a very nice fellow who said he’d do what he could. What couldn’t get on the flight would be handled by Steve, Tim and Murray, who were arriving the following day and still weren’t certain how they’d get to Savu as there were no Susi Air flights and the harbormaster was not allowing any vessels to leave ports in this high wind (which was why, you recall, the Bajo Baji was stuck in Savu).
In fact, there were a number of surfers on the same Garuda flight headed for Rote who were hoping to catch the next day’s ferry. (One woman had checked in an stand-up paddle board double-taped clear round nose to tail with cardboard — but that wasn’t the sturdiest surfboard bag I’d ever seen — in the early 80’s Mike had a Balinese carpenter make a three surfboard shipping container out of plywood, and the thing literally did look like a coffin and weighed a ton but in those days outer island spot were unknown and few surfers were hopping on Merpati so there was always plenty of cargo space). Anyways these surfers were going to be stuck in Kupang for a few days, which is not a good way to spend a surfing holiday, this below being a typical Kupang beach front property:
“So where’s a good hotel?” I asked Noven, as we hadn’t booked one.
He took us to the newly built Aston, and fortunately there were rooms. I sent Noven off to sniff around a fishing village just down the coast for a boat that would be willing to sail under the radar, so to speak, for some of that Magic That Must Not Be Named.
Mike hassled the receptionist for a superior deluxe with the stunning panoramic view of Kupang Bay, and then went about hassling the hotel staff to get the three boxes of food, including Steve’s soy burgers, into a hotel restaurant fridge.
Clayton and I waited on the lobby sofa as Clayton doodled pictures and I read my Kindle.
Mike reappeared to re-hassle the receptionist into changing his rooms from the deluxe superior to the standard. The stunning panoramic view of Kupang Bay was through a glass plate window that didn’t open, bathing the room with light and tropical heat. His cell phone rang—Steve, asking if his soy burgers were in the fridge. Mike rushed off to check again.
Finally we all settled in, decent rooms, meaning the sheets were clean, the air-con worked, toilets flushed, and the room fridge with its beers was cold.
Noven phoned me, said he’d found a skipper willing to run dark, so to speak. Tim Watts, old Indo hand experienced in the Magic, would be settle the details when he and Steve and Murray arrived the next day.
Later that afternoon my room phone rang, Mike asking me if I wanted a happy hour beer at the hotel bar. I wandered down to the second floor, where the bar was just opening up. Mike was on the cell phone, talking logistics of gear and boards with Steve still in Bali, and with Steve, it’s risky to talk logistics because that’s not how his n-dimensional tesseract mind works.
“All right,” I heard him drawl, “will do. And how are the soy burgers? Keeping them nice and cold?”
Mike assured him, hung up, sat back and sipped his chilled Guinness stout. He got that pensive-slash-irritated look he gets when he’s fretting.
“How many beers did you order for the boat for yourself?” he asked me.
I told him. His frowned deepened. “That’s not going to be enough. You’re going to be dipping into my stash. You’re always dipping into my stash.”
I assured him I had ordered enough and would not be dipping into his stash, but Mike had beer on the brain and he fretted and calculated and fretted some more and so it was that the Beer Crisis raised its head again.
He got on the phone again to Steve. “We’re going to buy four more cases of tall Bintangs,” he said. “We’ll leave them at the hotel lobby with the other gear. You’re going to have carry that as well.”
“Okey-doke,” Steve drawled. He’s as unflappable as a manhole cover.
Mike finishes his Guinness, orders another, frets some more. He gives Steve another call. “We’re going to make that five cases.”
“Okey-doke. No problemo.” And this from a tee-totaler. Gotta love the guy.
That evening, Mike and Clayton and I used a hotel taxi to take us to the Restoran Nelayan down the road, a beachfront establishment which isn’t quite La Lucciola, and certainly not the Potato Head, but which serves a terrific barbecued prawn dish. There’s also a small mini-market attached, so after dinner we bought five cases of Bintang and Mike some of his chocolate nibbles (“and stay out of this stash,” he barked at me) and loaded them into the taxi. Many Kupang locals are Christians, and the driver had a cross sticker on his dash with the words “Jesus Christ.”
“Ah,” I said in Indonesian, “Yesus Kristus, Juruslamat Dunia.” Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.
The driver gave me a startled look and then a smile and when we disembarked and unloaded the extra cases, gave me a thirty percent discount on the fare.
Sometimes, it pays to drop a name.
So far, I’ve left a lot of threads hanging regarding our surf odyssey from Kupang to Flores. What about the lurking beer crisis? And the snake lady, what of her? Was one of us lured to her lair by her siren song to be sucked dry, turned a withered husk who will one day stumble out of the jungle to startle a beachcombing surfer from a surfer charter boat passing by chance, whispering hoarsely “the horror, the horror”?
And the surf on Savu: well, is there any? I hear mutters leaking through my WiFi: For God’s sake, can’t you just tell us?
So there were three of us on the Garuda flight from Denpasar to Kupang, Mike, Clayton, and your blog correspondent. Mike fretted about getting the boxes of food, including Steve’s soy burgers, onto the next day’s connecting flight, the tiny single-engine Susi Air plane to Savu. Mike fretted about getting his Outer Island surfboard on the plane. Clayton hadn’t trucked his boards, trusting the Bajo Baji to be in Kupang, and Mike fretted about getting Clayton’s boards on board the puddle-jumper, too, although Clayton himself didn’t seem too bothered about the serious possibility he might be without surfboards on a surf trip as he doodled more carefree sketches on his art pad.
And I believe in the back of his mind, as he fretted about the logistics of getting lots of big things on a small plane, Mike began to subconsciously fret about the beer supply on the Bajo Baji.
I first met Murray years ago on a boat trip to the Mentawais, where I badgered him into fixing a ding on my board. Asking a surfboard sharper of Muzzah’s renown to fix a ding is rather like asking Michelangelo to repair a broken bathroom tile. But he graciously helped. On the Kupang to Flores trip, I did not ask him to fix any dings, although I might have if I’d brought a board (as you recall, post shoulder surgeries, I was only swimming)
During the Kupang trip, Murray shared something he’d written a while back, which I thought interesting enough to share on this blog (with his permission), which is today’s post:
SUNBUM (just to be clear to any copy and pasters, that this is copyrighted by Murray Bourton — written with the same stylishness as his boards are shaped)
To get things into perspective from the start, I am sitting on my balcony during a cold late autumnish night peering up at the three quarter moon which is radiating such a glow on this relatively still night (no wind, I know I am a surfer). I am aware that I am in darkness knowing another hemisphere is drenched in sunlight and somewhere surfers are getting shacked off their nuts. But not here; it is night! It is July the 10 /2007and here on the Goldy we have a good run of southerly swell but the crowds and the rips have been gruelling. To add insult I have mixed a red with a Corona which I think is almost as creative a mix as the old THC which I might add- I have been sworn off for the last 10 years…okay the last five!
Okay where were we…yeah, I look up and I see the suns radiation bouncing off the moon, and as I said realize the light and warmth that at this moment I am missing- has indeed encouraged some Euro or Seppo on the other side of the planet, to paddle out and surf to his heart’s content. Alas! The sun is God! No wonder the Egyptians worshipped it like they did. The sun is day, the sun is warmth and without it the lifestyle that I have led the last 57 years would never have been considered. I left Vico in 1970 when the icy south westerlies dimmed my lust for the sea. The point is; I followed the sun. Yes I could have built and lived in a house with artificial heating and survived that dreadful winter, but I chose not to, because instinctively I needed that vitamin D. I look up again and I see all that D just radiating off the moon and think to myself how that glow has guided my life, as it has others I expect, but mine, probably more so.
I shape and design surfboards for a living and in a global economy I am told that there are not more than a million and a quarter real serious surfers on this planet (according to the last global blank sales) to whom my skills would bare relevance. I am okay with that statistic, even though I would not like to be in the water with them all at one time, I would however like to get around their heads with my designs. With the internet that may be now possible since traditional media was too costly; a humble surfboard company could never advertise around the six o’clock news, but now Google search engines could expose the shaper to his market without sending him bankrupt in the process.
Back to the relevance of the sun and moon that inspired this drunken rant. I am sorry but this is where it gets political. With summer and lots of sun comes the apparel thing i.e. shorts, shirts or cooler clothing to deal with the heat. Think of this; what better vehicle than the beach, sun and the act of surfing, to launch a summer clothing brand. Well we all know how well they did and as an old Ozzie would say, Good on E’m.
Without having to give you good people a history lesson I hope, it is safe to say that the actual surfboard itself is what really underwrites the culture of surfing! Without this thing that could be stood on and powered by freaks of nature; namely waves, the whole culture could never or would never have existed. The whole surf apparel industry was thus born from the desire to look like one belonged to that club, and so a T shirt and board short became the symbol of your identity. You either looked like a surfer or you looked like something else. I remember in my own case I was a fashion victim to the ultra casualness and I might add scruffiness of George Greenough, whose influence to this day I support as an excuse for my slobbishness. My wife has never heard of the guy and just thinks I am a poor dresser, so I know how powerful this wanting to be a part of the tribe can be.
Now mid-2007, it has become painfully obvious the tribe has now out grown itself, call it corporate greed or simply just too many shirts and shorts on hangers, whatever, but what it really means is there are too many in the club that have no salt in their veins. You have only to turn on your telly any night of the week these days and there is some skin head drenched in tatts from head to toe being bundled into a paddy wagon for more often than not glassing some poor bastard in a night club, and you can guarantee he will be wearing one of the big three! I am sorry, but do you really want to be in the same tribe? I don’t think so! Middle Australia having never surfed are representing us and our values. We are the real sun worshippers who thrive in the waves and can only be determined with a blood salt count or a measure up of that board in the garage. Ten foot six and you’re out. (I live to close to the Currumbin Alley).
JUMP FORWARD 7 YEARS- 2014
I am not sure when I wrote this chapter above, but it must have been around the time I was passed over as a shaper for one of the big three, (thankfully now looking back) during the time when they were at the top of their game and their share price was going through the roof. Perhaps I felt at the time irrelevant to them because of my age or that I was beginning to get over the young gimmie generation that expected me to live on a third world income in order to keep up with their throw away play things! No team- no marketability was the mantra then, but hopefully in the future a good living in this business may still be possible without being father xmas.
It was that long ago, so whatever the reason for my dire rant is really not that important as I now read back on it, What is important though, is that the sun is still shining, but it is not still shining on the big three. This is not really a cause for celebration, but after reading Phil Jarret’s book (salts and suits) on the way over in the plane to Bali where I am currently working, I feel my thoughts somehow vindicated. The greed that went down and the soul that was lost in the effort to sell the look to land lovers was extraordinary when you now see where it all ended up. The saying “every dog has his day” certainly rings true?
Come 2014 the surfboard industry is nevertheless still actually thriving, and why should it not, it has underwrote the culture since there was one! We could never have tapped into a market that never existed for our product – say in Dubai or somewhere stupid, because there were no surfers there, so our market was relatively static, as I said about 1.25 mill give or take, and that’s not counting that fricken Sup thing that has now become a plague on our shores.
We seriously went perilously close during those heady days ourselves, of being swallowed up by that corporate greed. When it appeared that for billboard sake the big three were hell bent on turning the surfboard into a marketing tool and were promising us the world if we signed up. What truly saved us was that corporate logo on the nose (the nose being once a location of our own brand decal) that they demanded, and were also in the same position on all their pro team riders boards. Their marketing departments foolishly believed that the logos on all there stock boards should be the same! The basic fact that most board customers who paid full retail were of intermediate standard and most were unwilling to paddle out into the line-up badged up like a pro when it was obvious they could not lay a decent rail turn. Consequently they did not buy them, and as the GFC loomed the bean counters in the corporations were all too ready and waiting to cut away the dead wood. We were saved and all thanks must go to our customers!
The wheel has turned, the sun is still shining and the market has opened up from the tunnel vision of a market dominated by pro signature models that should have been sold with a free snorkel rather than a free grip. To be a shaper now during this new creative design renaissance is a breath of fresh air. Thanks to free surfers like Rasta, Donavon, Ozzie and many others it became cool to be riding something other than a pro needle, in fact it became more functional since these boards more suited the skill set of the major part of the market.
This seismic shift is now reflected in retail board inventories where the needles are outnumbered 4 to 1. The creative juices are now flowing more than ever now the market has opened its arms to the alternatives. Tommo’s shovel nose Firewire lays testament to how open armed the market now really is, and free thinking shapers on smart programs are now almost pushing into the ridiculous, but out of that ridiculousness there will be a much greater chance of another breakthrough than there ever would have been if we had have stayed micro focussed on the whims of our pedantic athletes.
For me yes, the sun is still shining particularly as I finally finish this rant on a boat somewhere along the equator. I am just so glad that our DNA as shapers and surfers never got meddled with by the suits and that those that shape and surf will do it for the same reason I did which was purely lifestyle, coz there ain’t no better one out there that I know of?
The Toast Surf Trip Kupang to Flores, Part 5 — “There’s gonna be no surf in Savu, but don’t worry, be happy”
We had a situation.
Six of us were trying to get from Bali to the Bajo Baji anchored up Savu. Three of us (Mike, Clayton, and your blog correspondent) were on Friday’s Garuda flight to Kupang. The big jet had no problems taking our bags, the four boxes of delicate chilled provisions packed in Stryofoam, and Clayton’s and Mike’s board bags. However, the next morning we flying on Susi Air, a small single-engine plane, from Kupang to Savu. The 30+ knot winds were keeping all ferries in port, and the two Susi Air flights were fully booked. We’d been lucky to get seats. It was uncertain the little plane could carry all our stuff. (I am reminded of a story of a missionary pilot in Papua who told the five local passengers getting on his plane that they couldn’t carry the two banana stalks they had with them– too much weight. So the passengers sat down on the grassy field and ate all the bananas before boarding.)
Our back-up plan was to leave whatever could not get on the plane at the hotel where we’d be staying, although we didn’t know where yet. Steve, Tim and Murray, arriving on Saturday, would then add these to their gear and get on whatever boat to Savu they could finagle. Things were uncertain. The winds were howling. The harbormasters were refusing boat clearances. It appeared that for Tim and Co to get to Savu, they would have to quietly scout around for a local boat and practice some of the Magic that Must Not Be Named. This trip was getting more expensive than planned.
But we were motivated by the swell forecast. So were a lot of other surfers on the same flight to Kupang and then on to Rote via the afternoon Wings Air flight. Old days, you’d have to spend the night in a flea-bag Kupang hotel and next morning catch the slow, the very very slow, vehicle ferry to Rote and then a slow bus, a very very slow bus, to Nembrala.
I ran into “Bingin” Mick at the airport. Oddly enough, for all that both of us call Bali home base, I’ve only ever seen him at Rote, where he has a place away from his small boutique Bukit operation and where he takes a busman’s holiday to surf by himself. Rips, too. He said he’d sailed to Rote for one of the previous large swells and it wasn’t really doing it. He reckoned chances for this swell were pretty iffy. I kept this to myself. Why bum the boys with negativity?
Although Clayton is impervious to negativity. Even though he is the artist as a young man (his age relative to us greybeards), he’s not one of those tortured artists. You know that song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” ? That’s Clayton, beaming out positivity and good cheer. The perfect guy to have on a small boat with many people, his presence wafting a combination of aerosol Xanax but more organic and uplifting, and that soothing background decor you find in good mental institutions.
(Clayton with Chef Danch’e)
I can imagine it, me wandering back to Clayton and Mike in the airport waiting lounge. “Looks like Savu isn’t going to have any surf and we’re going to be stuck there looking at a flat ocean.”
Mike curses and frets as only Mike can curse and fret.
“Hmmm,” Clayton says, as he continues doodling at his portable drawing pad, “we’ll go in search of the Snake Lady of Savu and have adventures anyway.”
You’ve no doubt seen Clayton’s art work, as he is the artistic director of Surfer Girl. Just like some people read books when in waiting lounges, or twitch through the Internet on their smart phones, or play solitaire or some other application game phones if there is no Internet signal, Clayton doodles. He has with him his small pouch of colored drawing pencils and skinny rectangular drawing pads cut from a full-sized drawing pad. It’s mesmerizing to watch him doodle as he chats. He draws a smooth line and then just as smoothly puts in a small kink. It’s effortless. Water flowing downhill. You have no idea what the doodle is going to be, and then voila, there it is.
(Snake Lady Ridge, as drawn by Clayton …. would we find her coiled upon the peak?)
Let’s see, where was I? Ah yes, Robert Wilson and the Bajo Baji were stuck in Savu, pinned there by strong easterly winds that prevented the good ship from reaching our designated pick-up spot of Kupang. The rest of the Toast Crew were in Bali strategizing bemos, boats and ojeks to get to Savu. The first beer crisis had been averted, but another would soon raise its foamy head.
While beer tops the list for any surf trip provisioning, it must be admitted that food comes a close second, especially the cuisine that the Bajo Baji is famous for.
Robert had not only planned in military detail the beer supply but also sauces and bread and coffee and pasta and cheese and fish and meats and vegetables and a seemingly endless supply of soybean burger patties for our resident surfing vegetarian, Steve “the Deve” Palmer who eschews all things slaughtered, and chews only things harvested.
Steve’s originally from the western suburbs of Sydney, and while I don’t know much about the western suburbs, I know enough to know that Steve would have fit like Westerly Windia in an army barracks. Actually, that’s a lousy comparison. Steve’s never had gender issues or confusion, that’s for sure. So, fit in like an organic tofu burger in a McDonalds? Fit in like a hyper-dimensional tesseract in Bob’s Auto Shop? The Deve’s always been in his own creative world – can we call it Steve’s World? — his mind fissioning with endless ideas. As Clayton put it on the trip, Steve’s brain is wired like a tangle of spaghetti, requiring a special liquid helium-type cooling (which is probably generated by his special mix of soybean burger). Come to think of it, Steve’s attention span resembles a hyper-dimensional tesseract, which is to say a small percentage of its bandwidth is dedicated to ordinary 3-dimensional stuff like talking to those around him, while most of his neurons are fissioning into hyper-space where only the brave crew of the Starship Enterprise have dared gone before. If he could, he would blend his neurons into the Cosmic Internet so that he would be eternally and internally on-line 24/7.
Remember when webbed surf gloves first came out? Who wears them these days? Steve does. I recall one trip we did to the Hinakos pre-earthquake days on the Bohemian (captained by Steve Bridge with the late great Charlie Harris on board as well). We pulled up to a solid 10 foot plus swell booming on the reef. Steve waxed up his board and slipped on his webbed gloves and charged. He says paddling bare-handed into waves is like paddling with drumsticks.
Steve was one of the founders and creative forces behind OM Clothing Company, about the first real big batik and garment exporter out of Indonesia. in 1980, OM sponsored Bali’s first pro contest, the OM Bali pro. Then he moved onto the Bali Quiksilver franchise with Ketut Kasih. He contributed Genius Mental Radiation to the original Tubes Bar. Surfer Girl, as well. Steve got up to lots of other things too, but Jeez, I could write a book about it, not a blog post.
At any rate, all these provisions were chilled and boxed in Styrofoam coolers, ready for our Garuda flight to Kupang and hence straight onto the Bajo Baji. Now we had to get the damn things to Savu. Robert re-sorted the provisions down to the essentials packed away in four boxes, one of them being Steve’s soybean burger patties, otherwise the poor fellow was going to starve away to bones on the trip. Somehow we’d have to keep this particular box chilled the entire way while traveling to Savu on bemos, boats and ojeks.
This past week I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest and haven’t had a chance to write more about the beer crisis and whether or not there is in fact surf in Savu.
So for today I offer a gratuitous scenic shot of one of our trip anchorages.
That white speck is the Bajo Baji. At this point, we were still blissfully unaware of the Snake Lady of Sumba singing her siren song, and that doom and disaster lurked.