Surf taxi safety and etiquette

(The Time Before — we were the only ones there, now it gets packed)

(A water taxi swamper)

Six Japanese surfers clambered onto the Nusa Dua outrigger, crewed by a couple of the salty seadog fishermen who’d fished the Bali Straights all their lives. This was an ocean-going outrigger, before the Nusa Dua taxi service switched to the tourist fiberglass boats.

An overhead swell was curling on the reef, with an occasional larger set. If you paddled out the keyhole instead of taking the taxi service, it was the sort of day where experience has taught you not to cut the corner too quick as you paddle down to the peaks. If you do, those occasional sets have a tendency to rear up out of nowhere right there on the corner there and catch you. It can be rather disheartening to see a double overhead blue peak rising up and bearing down on you with an evil grinning lip, and with nowhere to run.

That day, I was at Sagi’s beach shack warung, watching the outrigger cruise out the normal channel by the left. As it crossed the keyhole, it seemed to me the skipper was hugging the reef awfully close. Sure enough, the outrigger suddenly swerved seaward, the motor racing. Too late. It made it halfway up the wave and then became one with the lip, spilling bodies and boards in the explosion of whitewater, the outboard prop still spinning, ready to chew flesh.

People on the beach shrieked. The fishermen in the water taxi shack grimly raced to a second outrigger. I grabbed an ancient windsurfer plank that Sagi used for seaweed collection and paddled hard across the lagoon. One of the Balinese crew was in the tail end of the white soup, silently clutching a broken bamboo outrigger for his life, his face barely above water. I hauled him out like a fish and paddled him halfway to the beach before the second outrigger got to us.

Nobody was killed or injured, fortunately. This being Bali, within fifteen minutes there was a priest on the beach, making an emergency offering to the offended sea gods. And this being Bali, the fishermen still demanded that the Japanese surfers pay for their taxi ride out.

The outrigger captain was accustomed to the sea, but not exactly the surf. Generally speaking, fishermen and yacht skippers avoid surf. If you’ve ever gone a surf charter with a non-surfing yacht skipper, you know that for him to deliberately drop anchor in a surf-washed channel goes against his very instinct, screaming at him to get the hell out of the there. The same applies to skippers or crew who ferry surfers in dinghies to the line-up.

I think about this quite frequently at some surf breaks that have become popular surf resort destinations. This one place, it used to be land surfers had to paddle the five hundred meters or walk across low tide reef, but now there’s a couple dozen water taxi services. Some of them putter along with unreliable outboards, loaded to the waterline with a pack of surfers, the driver smoking a cigarette as he cruises right by you to drop the guys inside you. On bigger days, I keep waiting for a rogue set to nail one. I mean, you’re out there trying to have a fun time, but when these lumber into view, you’re planning an exit strategy, to get the hell out of the way, just in case.

And what’s with this paddle inside business? Why is it that traveling surfers who take the taxi feel like they have a right to get dropped off right inside everybody else who’ve been patiently waiting, and snag the next set wave? The surfers in the water, I’ve noticed, are too polite to make a noise about this (and some of them keep quiet because they’ve done the exact same thing), but jeez, I’m going to have to start lodging complaints, for the sake of my blood pressure, which skyrockets when I keep my emotions all bottled up.

Or maybe I’ll just be an ass and start dropping in. (Nah, not really…not my style, best not to start being a jerk. I’m reminded of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Recovering a$$hole. I try to be nice, one day at a time.”)

And while I’m on the subject, this one popular break has several peaks on the curve of reef. Helps scatter the crowd. But taxi service boats will zoom right across the lower peak and throw up wakes that ruin the incoming sets. Go wide, slow down, for crying out loud. Think. Be courteous.

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2 Responses to Surf taxi safety and etiquette

  1. Bukit Bear says:

    That’s a classic story – still chuckling.. Yeah, its kind of offensive when people get dropped off to the inside… and then stroke immediately for a set wave (you’ve waited an hour for).
    So far.. I remain on the paddle program @ Dua – it helps maintain fitness and respect…

  2. Sil says:

    here here :]

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