In a recent Surfer on-line article, Martin Daly, legendary owner-skipper of the Indies Trader, gives us his ten rules of surf exploration. The guy should know. I was fortunate enough to be a passenger early in the Indies Trader years, an end-of-season, back-to-home-port cruise with Martin. Even though that was just an expenses-only trip, Martin worked hard, and was stoked to get us good waves. Guy ripped, too.
The rules are worth me plugging here. In my own minor, wooden-boat, coastal hugging way, (and one memorable trip on a 12-foot tin dingy crossing the Lombok Straits), me and friends have been dodging around the East Indonesia coastlines for over thirty years, looking for surf. I was a fortunate son to have been in just the right place and the right time, when “surf exploration” meant just that, no photos and no x’s on the map and no whispers because nobody had been there before (or least the few who had weren’t talking about it). These adventures were addictive—it wasn’t just the surf, but chugging around a point and seeing across the bay a blue water wave peeling off into a straight white line, a wave that more than likely no surfer had even seen before. The photo of Martin in the article, gesturing to a left behind him, pretty well expresses the feeling.
I’m no Martin (on the said cruise above, Martin innocently asked me and a couple other first time Indies Trader guys if we wanted to go on a dinghy ride to check the surf, and we said sure, and he whipped us and the dinghy into a five foot Macaroni’s wave from waaay out the back, scaring the living daylights out of me), but from my own much more limited perspective, allow me chime in on his points:
(First, my own rules. 1) Never leave good surf to try to find better surf, and 2) To find even better surf, you have to leave good surf.)
1. “A bit of research goes a long way.” Yup, we did have British admiralty charts for the islands, plus some Indonesian navy charts, and a couple pilot books we scoured for references to “high surf” cautions.
2. Stay in contact. Well, 20-30 years ago, there was no way to stay in contact. We didn’t even have a short wave radio (our bad). A couple times I had to take the horse cart to the local village to make a phone call home just to let my wife know why I wasn’t home yet (“it’s the ocean, honey. It’s not a bus route”). . On the tin dingy ride I mentioned, the Balinese wife of mad Mike the Pope who put the trip together, prayed at the house shrine. That was the sort of communication back then.
3. “Have patience.” Yup, yup, and yup. Martin points out, “I’ve been driving up and down the Mentawai chain for over 20 years, and there are breaks that we wrote off only to find that on the right day they are unbelievable…and there are probably more we haven’t figured out yet! Keep an open mind. Just because it’s crap on the day you checked it doesn’t mean it won’t have its day.” I don’t know what’s worse, though, having to have patience because there’s no swell, or having having to have patience because while there’s swell everything in the last two or three days of cruising is an unsurfable mess.
In a previous post, I said I reckoned all of Indonesia’s A-grade breaks have been found. Now in my mind A grade implies at least a seasonal consistency, but Martin would know better than me. I stand corrected. There are indeed probably A-grade spots that have yet to be found.
4. “Don’t take others’ word for what’s out there!” Martin says “surfers are sheep.” I’ve been thinking for a while of a blog post just on this topic, because that is soooo true. Why, one time at Scar Reef….I’ll save this for later.
But there’s another aspect about others’ word: Clued in surfers who know how to keep their mouths shut will indeed say, “nah, don’t waste your time at Island X. Nothing there.” So it becomes an interesting psychological game: is this guy telling me this a dweeb, or is he bluffing. Only one way to find out, regardless: like Martin says, go and have a look.
5. “If you are exploring with others, make sure you’re prepared to spend difficult times with them.” Martin has gotten stuck with “major dickheads” probably because they’re paying customers–otherwise, being the sort of guy who doesn’t tolerate fools, he’d chuck them off the boat. Me, almost without exception, I’ve only gone on Hati Murnih” with friends I’ve known for a while—and surfers they vouch for.
There’s a classic story of a husband-and-wife on a two week charter trip out in the middle of nowhere. The dutiful wife (who’d arrived in Bali a few days after hubbie to join him) films her husband surfing, all joy and harmony. Until she goes through old tapes and finds something the stupid fellow had forgotten to erase—him in a Bali whorehouse. Well, thus starteth huge row. The wife refuses to spend another day in the company of her perfidious husband and demanded off the boat, so she gets dropped off at Ends of the Earth village, with a local ferry due in the next day. Three days later, the charter boat has problems, can’t get back to the mainland in time for flights, so limps into the same village for the other charter guests to get the local ferry. But the first ferry hasn’t shown up, so the wife is still there, and she and her husband have to share the same small accommodation, stuck together all over again.
6. “Learn some first-aid.” Goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many surfers, who travel hard into dangerous places, don’t.
7. “If you find something, keep your mouth shut. Martin says, “Just because there’s no one there on the day doesn’t mean you’re the first one to find a break. There could be a whole local crew that keep it a closely guarded secret. Think of the damage you can do by posting photos online with specific location info. Even better, don’t take photos! Be responsible, you could destroy other surfers’ dreams—guys that live there and have based their whole lives around surfing the area.”
Well said. But look, there’s some irony here because the Indies Trader was the first to bring the marvels of the Mentawais to mass consciousness. However, I’m not pointing out anything Martin wouldn’t say himself, because he has in previous articles and interviews expressed conflicted feelings about this. I have friends who will have no truck with “surf exploitation” but on the other hand I know surf captains who have a charter business not only as a way to make a living but because they love surfing, too.
8. “Be aware of local customs. Watch the locals—if their girls are covered up, so should your girl.” Yes! I tried to tell the girlfriend of a surfing buddy to do the same in South Lombok, a staunchly Muslim area—she was cruising the beach in her bikini and complaining about the local boys perving on her, and when I said maybe she shouldn’t wear her bikini to shore —boy, did she go off on me, calling me a sexist pig, she could wear what she wanted.
9. “Don’t carry narcotics of any kind.” Martin’s talking about illegal drugs. If you carry pharmaceuticals, make sure you have a doctor’s prescription for them.
“10. Get a boat. Real exploration happens when you are charting your own course.”
Sometimes a bus or a rented four wheel drive to the end of the track will work. There you might look around for a local fishing boat to hire. This was how me and some friends stumbled across Ujung Kulon (and that was the time we ran into Mike Boyum slumming incognito in a south Javanese village—another story).