The Bertish brothers – Chris, Conn and Greg – escaped to South Sumatra (2009) to score some uncrowded barrels.
Words By CONN BERTISH
“We ran away to a corner of Sumatra and hoped no one would see. Sometimes you need to do that to keep sane.
It wasn’t an easy decision: there are many better-trodden surf spots with irrefutable high-gloss evidence of the kind of perfection that leaves you helplessly drooling. Unfortunately there’s also a whole world of surfers lining up to ride them. So we made the call. After a couple of tales, a wobbly mpeg and some guy’s photo of the ride of his life, we shunned Padang, G Land and the Metawais and looked to a little map of South Sumatran potential.
“There better be rights bro.”
“Ya, ya, there are like 5 points, rights and lefts.”
“They better be close.”
After 20 hours of travel, the drive to the point was 6 hours of hell, broken only by huge holes in the jungle road and the midnight-stop for mee goring and te manis. When we arrived it was like arriving at Kurts’ camp in Apocalypse Now, Croc’s hair was standing up, I was seeing things; shadowy cats, evil chickens and Chrispy, after a night of riding shotgun, had even madder eyes than usual.
We stood looking at the point breaking in the night.
“I thought you said it was a swell magnate?”
“For what bro … a rat?”
That night we had fitful dreams of perfect Bali, perfect Sumbawa, perfect Nias, all churning barrels, empty and wasted.
The first morning offered up fun 3-foot lefts and an SMS from Bali stating that it was as flat as a banana pancake. Our spirits buoyed, we surfed off the jetlag, swapping boards and having a laugh. The spot we were staying at sat mid-point, perfectly poised for a roll out of the mozzie net straight into the 150-yard coral reef left-hander. Fuelled by nasi goring and large cups of coffee we began a culture of 7 to 9 hours in the water a day, with hydration sessions and quick private bemo rides to a range of nearby surf spots.
The area boasted a Dunes-like beachie, which was always a few feet bigger than anywhere else and offered glassy tubes till mid-morning. Further down the pockmarked road through villages of typical indo flavour, lay beautiful bays of shallow coral tubular perfection. Lefts and rights with the occasional fishing perahu skirting the reef with friendly wave and the smell of clove cigarettes.
“The next one is mine dude.”
“Bollocks, you had that last cooker.”
“You guys are both shoulder hopping anyway, all the sets are mine.”
The swell began to rise and so did our hope of riding a spot dubbed ‘the Sumatran Pipeline,’ a heaving shelf of a wave that sent people home with permanent postcards of Sumatran hospitality raked across their backs. When we saw what we saw, we swore. It was pretty flippin heavy. The reef sucked almost dry, below sea-level ala Teahupoo, and wrapped in from outside off the point, dredging over vicious coral into an arc of spitting 6 to 8 ft tubes.
“Holy Malony! Look at that!”
“Just don’t do anything stupid, we’ve still got a week.”
“I’m so wearing my booties.”
The first session at this place was nuts. It was bigger than we thought and the tubes were rounder and more perilous than we had seen. One mistake could see you washed across the reef, copping at least three or four 8-foot white waters while being dragged over semi-submerged coral heads. Nice. We survived the session wide-eyed and babbling with tales of tubes better told by word of mouth, peppered with Bintang and Beng Beng bars. That night others gathered around to see the shots, ogle the barrels, ooh the wipe-outs and offer expert advice on how to fix that crease, broken fin, bashed tail.[We later found out that this beast of a wave is only surfed at high tide… but we just couldn’t wait that long. It had to be ridden.]
The week that followed was a buffet of wave riding excess, with as much variation as we could throw in: from little barrelly rights and lefts to 8 to 10 foot down-the-line chargers, there were waves for every mood, and most happening at the same time. We got to know the coast pretty well, pulling in for lunches at local warungs and keeping an eye on the wind. One of the villages had the Internet so we checked the swell and made sure not to look at anything that had anything to do with work. Through tropical downpours and freaky lightning shows the festival of surf continued, driving up demand for the local massage lady and stretching the smile of the local ding fixer. The bounty of waves left us wishing we had more time, more arms, more boards. Kind of like Christmas when you were a kid, we just didn’t want it to end.
“Look at the side of that island, check that right!”
“With a north wind, that would cook.”
“How do you say ‘boat’ in Indo again?”
Empty waves sped by the side of the van as we skittered around headlands, through jungles teetering over black volcanic beaches just waiting to be found. Thank god we didn’t go to Bali. It was flat. Very flat. 10 days of nothing flat. And there we sat, gorged, filled and beaten, by tubes and off the tops and cutback showers and 5-hour sessions that bled into the night. Thank god we weren’t wooed by the responsible option, the 1000 surfers can’t be wrong option, thank god we sat through the midnight six hour death race return to reality, eating strange boiled chickeny things on the side of the road in the rain.
“I’m not going to eat it.”
“You ordered it.”
“I’m not touching it.”
Later, flying high to Jakarta over nameless islands and bays, looking down for signs of the next G-land, we imagine Lopez and McCabe, misting up the windows years before. Staring down. Dreaming of waves, free from crowds and cameras and surf shops. And although the world is filled with more surfers than ever before, there are still plenty of empty waves just waiting to be ridden. You just need to take a chance. That’s what surfing is all about.”