the nothing whatever...

Surfing in Kuta

The surfing in Lombok deserves its own section, not just because it is appealing to a specific demographic, but because it has been some of the best surf I have ever had in my life with, at times, not a soul out, and I feel I might bore people by elaborating that point.

When I was a kid, I always used to look at perfect uncrowded waves in Tracks magazine and think that for there to be nobody in that barrel it had to be either at a place totally and utterly inaccessible to civilization, or that it was a freak wave that had come through per chance, and some lucky photographer with a zoom-lens happened to be in the right spot at the right time to shoot it. I just couldn’t comprehend that those places existed, and nobody was surfing them.

The night after chilli-crab, I went for another early morning surf with Mido (this time on my own scooter), and as we rounded the neighboring mountain that overlooked the Kuta Lombok coastline, Mido threw his hand up in the air with a big thumbs-up. Whatever he saw that indicated it was bigger than yesterday, he liked, and I began to get excited.

We took the turn off to Aregoling and negotiated the dirt track very slowly with its newly accumulated mud tracks and puddles. I was so desperate to see what the place looked like when it was working that I nearly slid out a countless number of times, eagerly speeding up, then losing traction and slowing down again. It didn’t seem to be a problem for Mido, who had rocketed ahead without me, and by the time I got to the parking area he was already examining the conditions with his shirt off.

“Not big, but bigger than yesterday.” he said to me with a grin, as I stood and salivated over a peeling empty left-hander that had nobody on it.

Although the right was by no means crowded, with a group of 3 or 4 surfers each taking a wave of the set and getting lengthy, slow and forgiving rides, I pressed Mido about the more racey and dredging left, thinking that he would tell me that it breaks on dry reef that is as sharp as a razors edge, or maybe has some sort of rogue man-eating octopus living in the reef, and it is a spot reserved for the psychopathic or suicidal.

“The left just barrel, sometime I go there but I don’t like left. I like right.”

Oh, of course, that makes perfect sense. The left is just a perfect hollow barrel that ran for six seconds, with a big blow of spit at the end, and that is why nobody is surfing it. Before he had finished his sentence I already knew where I was headed.

After a 200m paddle, I got to what I thought was the line-up (finding it difficult to tell with nobody else out) and watched a few come through. From the shore, it had looked like one big clean long barrel, but out there I could see that deeper inside there were various sections where it closed out and was unmakeable, and would leave you with an extremely arduous paddle to get back out. But, I had made a decision that I was not going to shoulder hop early on in the piece. I was chasing that barrel, regardless of the consequences, and I couldn’t be worried about it shutting down on me. No guts, no glory.

The best way to become comfortable in surf that makes you uncomfortable is by willingly sending yourself into the worst case scenario you can imagine, and then surviving it (the second bit is fairly crucial). So, although it was only about on average 3ft or so, I was in a foreign location, my first wave was a larger set, a little bit of a double-up, and a complete close-out. It didn’t even look makeable when I was taking off, but I was just so interested to see its relationship with the reef and whether it was as hollow as it looked from the shore. I dropped down into it, bottom-turned, and the wave bounced once and threw out in a way that I haven’t seen emulated by beach breaks, just so unnaturally far. I was in a giant blue and green crystal cathedral, with one tiny and unreachable door in the distance. But I was only in there for a second before the entire thing imploded on me, and luckily, rather than be thrown into the depths and onto the reef, I was almost immediately bubbled out behind the wave. The next ten minutes was spent paddling, as set after set after set pushed me further and further away from where I wanted to be, and a strong current swept me closer to a rock island a few hundred metres away. But a short lull gave me the opportunity to make some headway against the break, and I used it. When the next few waves came through, I was out past where they were breaking. I survived.

I am not going to go into detail with every wave that I caught that day, but I paddled a little further towards the shoulder, and can remember one barrel specifically that made me shake my head with wonder; I dropped into it a little late, sliding the tail and rocketing along when it finally caught. I was leaning so far forward that I thought I might bog the nose and was almost ready to give in, but then all of a sudden I felt a rush behind me pick me up and propel me forward, then a haze of water vapor, and I was on the shoulder, looking across at all the non-goofy suckers fighting for waves. You can tell you are euphoric when you are totally alone and laughing at the top of your lungs.

By the next day, the surf had dropped right off, and Nic and I went for a ride out to Selong Belanak following the suggestion of one of the owners of Yuli’s Homestay (where we were staying). The beach was beautiful, but the ride itself was worth the trip, so scenic and remote. We decided that on the way back, Nic would record the entire 20 minute ride from Selong Belanak back to Kuta on her phone, including us attempting to high five a little girl and nearly running into a tree in doing so. We cut it down to 11 minutes, but here it is.

I went for another memorable surf on our last full day at a spot called Mawi, a left-hander that breaks a little closer to shore, although the paddle out proved just as tedious as that of Aregoling and Shipwrecks, if not more so. Fortunately, I quickly recognized that to best plan of attack was to paddle around the break rather than through it, unlike the group of three young kids that attempted the feat as I was leaving. They were literally lulled into a false sense of security as soon as they arrived, and just when they thought they had made it out the back, wrapping around the point came a succession of 4 or 5ft walls to batter them into oblivion. Nic and I had a good laugh on shore.

There was only four of us out there when I was out though, and as such the feeling among the lineup was one of pure elation, everybody grinning stupidly at each other. Whenever a bomb came through and someone looked to be in the perfect spot, there were three envious sets of eyes willing them on and a myriad of hoots and whistles. It was a steep takeoff, and it required that you to paddle your guts out before it hit the reef and threw, otherwise there was no chance you were escaping either being caught in the lip or beneath it. My two main regrets that day were that I had a ridiculously thin coating of wax on my board and could feel my front foot sliding whenever I built up a few G’s in a turning circle, and I also wish I was riding something a little bigger, maybe a 6’4 or 6’5, as then I wouldn’t have had to wait till the wave pitched to stand up, I would already be on it, in the pocket, and lining up for the barrel. Nic had come with me in my hunt for Mawi that morning, and took some snaps of me.

I know I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to surfing in Lombok, and there are plenty of other spots that I did not get to surf, but I think of this as a scouting mission. I can honestly see myself coming back with the sole intention to surf my brain out, eating for six bucks a day, staying in a ten dollar a night room, and just surfing, surfing, surfing until I am a walking rash. Kuta Lombok has not seen the last of me.