The Kupang to Flores Surf Trip: Yes, there is surf in Savu

It seems to be a cosmic law that every feral surfer who pops out of the remote shoreline jungle upon the unexpected arrival of other surfers is named Dave. In thirty years of careening through Indonesia’s outer islands and along their unpopulated coasts, I’ve met more skeletal, malarial, thirsty, and socially (not to mention hygienically) deprived Daves than I can count. There was Scratchy Dave, Super Dave, Stinky Dave, Speechy Dave (couldn’t get him to shut up), Sorrowful Dave (he’d accidentally stepped on his beloved pet hermit crab).

And this being a tale of a surf trip to remote islands, there will inevitably be yet another Dave. Whom I’ll get to in a minute.

But first, the other half of the Toast Crew, had first to get to Savu from Kupang by fishing boat. The last we heard from them was the evening they boarded, with all other supplies and board bags and five extra cases of beers. Then they went dark upon the wind-tossed sea, with no more word. We weren’t really worried – Tim Watts for one had decades of traveling the islands by land and air and sea on various modes of transportation, and he hadn’t lived to his ripe old age of 60 plus by taking unnecessary risks, such as chartering sketchy boats that barely looked capable of floating in placid harbor waters. Our main worry was for Steve Palmer, who would be without Internet for more than 24 hours. Could he cope? Would he have a breakdown? Would he arrive gibbering and whispering, “the horror, the horror”?

During the day that we waited at Savu, the swell arrived without much fanfare, just a few desultory head-high sets, but the boys were out there. Yes, boys and girls, Savu does have surf, its main right-hander a fairly technical barrel that at the end gurgles over shallow reef. Clayton showed us all how it was done, surfing like he was drawing a picture, the same smooth and easy lines, seeing it in his head and making it happen without hesitation, an organic process.


Then from the distant shore appeared a surfer, knee-paddling a longboard, a floppy hat perched upon his head. “G’day,” he called out to us as he cruised by. Grizzled and weathered and sun-beaten. I guessed about our age, sixty or so.

He ripped. His familiarity with the wave was clearly evident.


A couple hours later, as he headed back to shore, Robert Wilson invited him on board for a cold drink.

“Hello, fellows,” he said, “my name is Dave.”

Thus we met Savu Dave, who was not sixty but in his seventies. When he was younger he’d wandered the Indonesian islands looking for a place that called to his soul. It happened to be Savu, a lovely yet mostly arid island, where to this day the locals still drink palm juice when their wet season wells and cisterns run dry. He’d been living there for many years, married to a local princess and running a farm and traveling around the small island showing locals the skills he’d learned in a lifetime of farm and handyman work. Also popping into schools for impromptu English conversations and demonstrating basic computer skills.

He lived up in the hills with an eyeball’s view of the right. He surfed it every time it broke, which wasn’t often, he said. The biggest? Double-overhead, which for that wave is big and throaty enough.

The trouble, he said, is that surfers and surf charter boats know when the proper swells are coming and will show up.

And sure enough, in quick succession, there paddled out these guys from shore. (Thus we would meet Arno — in the back — who was doing some sort of on-the-quiet surf resort development in Sumba and snuck over to Savu for this swell, staying in a villager’s home and renting his canoe).


And then, in the distance, we could see a surf charter boat puttering toward the bay, a regular bus route charter boat crammed to the gills with Europeans eager for some uncrowded waves after a few days of packed Rote Island, but the inescapable trouble with surf charter boats, of course, is they bring their own crowd with them.

Meanwhile, Tim Watts and Murray Bourton and Steve Palmer were still dark somewhere on the Savu Sea.

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2 Responses to The Kupang to Flores Surf Trip: Yes, there is surf in Savu

  1. Glen Keaughran says:

    Gold Richard absolute gold

  2. Ludovic martin says:

    Thks for the pic.i was on this small canoë Whit arno.nice to see That pic.happy New year guys

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