“How good is that!” Albert Taylor exclaims as the boat he’s skippering pulls up to a reef exploding with white water.
What I’m looking at is a beast thundering down the line. Not a drop of water out of place, true, but the water that is in place is about ten foot of concave suck and three foot of lip. But Albert’s eyes are lit up and his crinkly hair is sparking.
“What do you reckon, boys!” he says.
I reckon I’m going to get a flogging, but with Bert, you got to paddle out. (Disclosure: I’m not specifically referring to the photo above. I’ve never been to that particular break.)
There’s a lot of Indo surfing history under the bridge (or on the bridge) with Albert Taylor, one of the legend Indo surfboat skippers who’s been floating about Indonesian waters for thirty years, from Sabang to Merauke. Anybody who’s somebody in the surfing world has either been on a boat with him or knows somebody who has—five degrees of Albert Taylor would probably cover just about everybody in surfing, period.
If anyone can comment on Indo swells, it’s him. So I caught up with him in his coffee-shop lair over Kuta side to ask about this underground famous surf shot below of probably the biggest Outside Corner ever seen, much less surfed. Jim Banks is on the wave, and that speck in the lip is Bert. Bruce Hansell was also in the lineup, with a couple other guys who paddled out and then disappeared.
“It was a minus tide,” Bert told me. “The biggest sets started marching in with that current line just hanging out the back. Biggest I’ve ever seen it.”
What about other swells in Indonesia, all those deep water offshore spots he knows about?
“Nah,” he says. “This day at Outside Corner tops them all. Not only was it huge, breaking top to bottom, it was perfect. But you had to surf it down the line.”
I asked him if he remembered this particular wave. “Hell, yes, mate. I went for the wave before this one in the photo, couldn’t get on it. I’m stuck kind of sideways in the lip. Not a good position to be in. But I had a good view of Banks taking the drop. I’ll never forget it. He turns around on the lip, just does a two-handed stroke, once twice, and he’s in.”
Bert reckons he was nursing a mild hangover when he paddled out that afternoon. The whole ocean was alive and marching north. At sunset, when he got back to the beach, he bellowed the loudest shout he could muster, letting loose all that adrenalin. He wasn’t hungover anymore, either.
These days of a thousand video cameras capturing every swell, history is well recorded. But not back then. The date of this photograph isn’t nailed down. Bert reckons in was September 27, 1987. Peter Miller, who took the photo, says October 4, 1991. Jim Banks says the biggest he’s seen Ulu was in Sept, 1988—either he’s referring to this day and misstated the year, or there’s some other swell that was even bigger than this.
It could be that all the post-session celebrations tweaked the memory banks a little bit.
By the way, if you are curious about your blog correspondent’s published fiction set in Indonesia, the following titles are available from Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition. They are officially “young adult” but a lot of adults have read and loved them, too. Edit to add: I’m reluctantly tooting my horn here, because in this social networking era, this is what publishers expect and appreciate their authors doing.
A novel about the 2004 tsunami that stunned the world.
Isaac Williams, the 12-year-old son of medical missionaries in Java is certain that his friendship with Ismail, a Muslim village boy, is as solid and enduring as the majestic flame tree in the yard. But in the aftermath of 9/11, this friendship is severely tested.