A large chunk of the history of Indonesia surf pioneering consists of unknown adventurers hiring local fishing boats out of grungy scummy harbors to find along islands and coasts what they could find where no surfer had gone before. In the pre-charter boat era, there wasn’t much of an option. Damned uncomfortable, those cockroach-y boats, the sun searing down on you, the deafening beat of the engine boring a hole in your head, the stink of diesel fuel and miasma of black oily exhaust smoke adding to your misery. It seemed to be a law that on these boats, one could try to get away from the diesel fumes or one could try to find shade from the sun, but one could not successfully do both together. And if it wasn’t the sun, then it was a deluge from the skies, rain so thick it got into everything, even your waterproof gear stowed below deck. Nothing like mildewed T-shirts.
And these boats were not particularly safe, either. You know the saying, an adventure doesn’t start until something goes wrong, and on the local Indonesian fishing boat you chartered, the probability of something going wrong in a very bad way was about equal to the probability of you at some point in your charter chucking up your dinner of Super Mie instant noodle with boiled egg.
But this is now the good year of our Lord 2016. Half of the Toast Surf Trip crew were safely on board the safe and luxurious Bajo Baji, with nary a roach scuttling in a dark and hidden corner. Part Owner Robert Wilson makes sure of that by Baygon nuking every box and carton that comes aboard. The boat was holed up at Savu, with trade winds gusting at 30 knots plus and shutting all harbors. We had flown in to Savu from Kupang. The other half of the Toast Surf Trip crew, consisting of Steve Palmer and Tim Watts and Murray Bourton, were on a local fishing boat they’d chartered on the quiet, and which had slipped out of Kupang in the dark of night. By dawn of morning, they were somewhere out at sea, hopefully heading downwind and our way.
Or were they already starting the adventure of a lifetime, even before they had a chance to go surfing? Well, they wouldn’t go thirsty, at least not for a while. They had five cases of Bintang beer to sustain them.
At least we had some waves to surf as we waited, sporadic head high sets that we shared with the land locals and the other surf bus boat guys. The modern Indonesia surf experience: no island too remote. You think you’re going to have an epic solo session and then, wait, what’s that I see scuttling out of the jungle, or looming on the horizion?
Savu’s one of those tropical languor islands, where time’s measured by sebentar (soon) or nanti (later) or mungkin nanti (maybe later, which pretty much means never). On Savu, only mad dogs and surfers stir in the mid-day heat.
When would our boat boys show up? Who knew? Nanti. The island’s cell phone tower signal extended a dozen or so miles out to sea. When would the boys get in range to make a call? Sebentar.
By about two pm, though, Robert Wilson begins to fret. Robert’s not a nanti or sebentar sort of person. He’s a sekarang man. Now. As in, right now. Finally Robert’s cell phone does ring, and Steve Palmer says, “Hello, where are you guys?” His voice is faint, shouting over the dong-dong-dong of a very loud diesel.
Robert’s relief is short-lived, turns quickly to exasperation and frustration as he tries to explain to Steve where the Bajo Baji is anchored, because Steve’s sense of direction is determined by the intricacies of his tesseract brain, where north is indicated by a random cosmic ray stirring the mental gyroscope.
“No, mate,” Robert growls, “you go around the top of the island and then head south – that’s to your left. You turn left. No, no, you don’t turn left now, you have to clear the top tip of the island. The tip, that bit of land that’s as far out west as you can see, west where the sun sets …oh for *!!# sake, let me talk to Watts.”
Tim Watts. Tim’s sense of direction is spot on. He’s stoic and calm, about as flappable as a manhole cover, yet paradoxically he’s also a man of rampant action. Not in the sense of being continuously restless, but always doing something, whether in the surf or the snow or running his business empire. An early Outside Corner and Padang ripper, and also G-land when the getting there was damn tough. Paid the price with malaria. In the early years of the 80s his business was batik and clothing, and then he branched out into exporting vanilla beans. This was ballsy, a white bulé invading vanilla fields across the islands, trying to teach the farmers to let the beans mature on the vine, for goodness sake, and get better value. In doing this, he pissed off a lot of middlemen who for decades had a monopoly on the crop. Ballsy, I say again. (You want to read more about Tim The Dog Watts, he’s been profiled in Surfer’s Journal
Thus it was that our boat people finally show up. The Toast Surf Crew is complete. The five cartons of beer haven’t been raided. Robert Wilson sprays the hell out of the Bintang cardboard cartons with Baygon before they so much as touch the Bajo Baji
And Tim immediately gets into rampant action: