May 1990. Bengkulu to Enggano Island to Mentawais. No surfer charter boats. Heck, no Indo surf travel industry, although that was looming just on the horizon. No Google Earth. No Youtube. No surf guide books with “X marks the spot.” All we had was the desire to poke our nose around an unknown surf zone, along with an underground rumor of a left near the Mentawai’s main town of Sikakap, and Dutch era marine charts. And the Wyeema out of Bali, the only blue-water sailboat in Bali back then willing to sail into the unknown, and which we organized to sail up to Bengkulu to pick us up. The yacht was owned and skippered by David Plant, a blue-eyed, square-jawed Englishman out of time, who should have been pacing the quarter-deck of an 80-cannon His Majesty’s ship of the line, squinting eagle-eyed for the glimpse of a French sail. Back then men were men, and boys were flogged. But I digress.
After Enggano (and that’s another story, talk about a remote forgotten island, at least in 1990), we cruised into Sikakap to refuel. On the way we spotted from the back a left wrapping and wrapping around an island. Swell was small but we thought this was sure the rumored left. (It wasn’t–the wave would end up being called Thunders). After refueling, we sailed around the corner and anchored up for the night off a dodgy left that definitely wasn’t the spot. We talked about going back to the island left in the morning, but just before sunset a wizened tattooed Mentawai islander paddled out in his dugout canoe. He couldn’t speak any Bahasa Indonesia, but he was wearing a dirty, ragged Local Motion surf t-shirt. We showed him a surfboard and he at once nodded and pointed with authority to the north. That way. That’s how we found the left that would be called Macaronis. The surf came up and held steady, 4 to 6 foot, every day until we had to leave. No-one else. We took for it granted, as we did so many other surf breaks. So many hours of empty perfection, and us being lazy, inglorious basterds on the boat. I wish I could have those days back, sliced and divvied up by the hour, taken like a dose of medicine to alleviate the modern crowd syndrome.
The point is that we were taking a punt, with no videos or photographs or hand-drawn maps, but we were far from being the first up there. Surfers had for years already been going to those islands the old-fashioned, cram-on-the-local-ferry-and-hire-a-fishing-boat way. The mosquitoes and malaria and dysentery and suppurating sores way.
And clear on the other side of the island chain, Nembrala at Rote Island, kind of a back yard for me and which I hear yesterday was packed to the gills with surfers, was first surfed in 1969 by a curious and wandering feral.
It’s now the year of our lord slater 2011. It’s a huge archipelagic country, Indonesia, with arcs of islands facing two giant oceans, but it’s a fair question to ask: have all the surf breaks been discovered?
I guess that depends on what your definition of “surf break” is. If a peak with a punt is a break, then considering all the variables of river mouths and sand banks and monsoonal winds and swell directions and all the inland seas that will throw up storm or monsoon driven wind-swells, then the answer is pretty obviously no. But if we’re talking about ground swell with shape, on the Indian and the Pacific Oceans (yeah, I know guys who have gone furtive off Northern Sulawesi and all that), I’d say chances are pretty good all the major and probably minor breaks have been found and surfed. Not one person knows them all (with the possible exception of Albert Taylor, he once of one eyebrow—an inside joke, hey Bert), but they are all known, I’d be willing to bet.
(not Thunders, not Macaronis, not even named–the surfer is Jeff Rapp, who hyperextended his knee this session, I believe, at the start of a month long trip, and rather than torment himself by watching us surf, we took him to a village where he hobbled onto a fishing boat back to the mainland, oh joyous crossing)
* I’ve done a fair bit of poking around on boats, and good breaks aren’t like Circle Ks, with four to be found at each corner of an intersection. They’re actually fairly rare, compared to the miles of coast line you have to explore. In the old days, that is. Now follow Google Earth and Youtube.