Indo surf exploration and pioneering: then and now

Time: a day in September, 1989. Place: the treehouse restaurant on Gang Poppies 1, back when the lane still had leafy trees and palms. Who: three friends, including your blog correspondent. What: discussing a boat trip. Where: two British Admiralty maps spread on the table, one of Enggano Island, the other of the southern Mentawais. The problem: we couldn’t find a boat to charter. Not in those days.

I did have the Hati Murnih, a converted Indonesian fishing boat, but it was a simple thing rigged for coastal sailing along Eastern Indonesian islands.

The solution: a boat in Benoa Harbor called the Wyeema, skippered by a blue-eyed, square-jawed English sea lord who came straight out of a Patrick O’Brian novel, pacing the quarterdeck and bellowing orders to his crew as his steely gaze scoured the horizon for signs of the perfidious Frenchmen. Of the boat captains at Benoa we approached over the next few months (not a great many at that time but some), he alone relished the challenge we proposed (as well as the dollars).

He sailed up to Bengkulu in Sumatra where we boarded, armed with no knowledge except the charts and what we knew of Indian Ocean swells and reefs. I’ve told this story elsewhere. Why I am bringing it back to the blog today is just an older man’s reflection, when he is grounded thanks to worn shoulders being body-shopped at the surgery, on how things have changed. Now there is a fleet of charters boats available for every budget and every Sumatran destination, not to mention the land resorts (check out World Surf Adventures, for example).

I know the surf stoke stays the same, but we of that era of Indonesia surfing (I am speaking of a tribe, not a few individuals) were incredibly fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for genuine pioneering exploration. Finding and riding a surf break for the very first time by definition can only be done once. I, supposedly a wordsmith, find it hard to express that sense of adventure that we had, that anticipation of wondering what we would find, and the undefinable excitement of discovery, rooted in the ancient human compulsion to see what’s over the horizon, when we did guess right and find a world class wave spinning as it had done for millennia. We surfed and we left, the ocean covering our tracks. We left no marks and made no claim. Whoever stumbled across the break the next time would have the same ineffable sense of discovery.

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2 Responses to Indo surf exploration and pioneering: then and now

  1. mattjenna says:

    So grateful for the mention of the Tree House-brought back many a memory of pancake breakfasts-loved that place. Couldn’t even begin to be able to locate it now.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I wish I had a chance to explore during that era, but in 1989 I was just a kid dreaming of doing that kind of stuff some day. Luckily when I got old enough, there was still a bit of exploration left to do. One of the greatest experiences of my life was approaching an uninhabited island in far Eastern Indo with a hollow left on one side and a long right on the other all by myself and under my own power. There was one guy there already, but we were actually glad to see eachother in such a remote area (and he needed a new fin) Just weeks later a luxury surf charter came through, and a few others. Things change super fast, but Ill never forget the weeks that I spent there camped out. Porcelain Point!

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