Mission Outer Island – Chapter 3
5:57am: No skullduggery last night… it’s a re-birth… a new leaf… the second coming… honor and deep absolution – that’s the order. Dawn exhales… the jungle murmurs.. mist shrouds… imagination stirs… there’s a story out here.. beyond that nebulous mass of jungle. The sweet offshore massages my consciousness… endorphins manipulate my mind. Across the Raja life stirs.. crew rise… it’s an emancipated soul.. pulsing with possibility.. strong… up for anything. Nyoman’s pours coffee… I hitch a ride… treading lightly across the floor… don’t want to scold any corpses. Leaning upon the bow’s rail.. I size up the reef – its more manicured today – 4 to 6 on the sets – a broad playing field. As dawn’s first rays shimmer upon the glass… Damo paddles past with a sultry grin – the golden light illuminating his enthusiasm. Meditating on the moment… it’s a soulful vision as he strokes towards solitude … no glorified propaganda – no sales pitch – no agenda – just that purity of spirit.
The raw spectacle of Indonesia’s islands must be witnessed at least once in any surfer’s story. In a universe strangled by deep cynicism – busy with corruption and self-interest – there’s a common resolve that nothing is good anymore – that only before was better. But right now… no degree of rot can diminish the inspiration one feels when embracing the raw reality of this Indonesian archipelago. It makes one believe that the spirit is impervious – immortal.
If not now.. later.. the privilege of this experience will be deeply understood – deflecting all negative impulse – squashing any bullshit. One can only bow and give thanks to whatever makes this possible. These are the days.
7:18am: It’s a very still boat… team Raja are peppered up the bay… distant figures dance upon the water… joining makes no sense. I note Ironman paddling towards Timmy’s… think I’ll roll with the veteran today… grabbing my 7’2… I dive straight in. As the warm water engulfs… it’s another glorious baptism… the surfer’s path to immortality – the life-giver – emotional infinity. Up at the zone the sets look smallish… I approach as the Man suggests hitting the beach – we begin our migration up the bay.
On land… life’s different… the jungle has an aura all its own… sounds emulate from beyond… there’s a complex symphony at play – one that I’m yet to understand. Suddenly the man’s expression contorts… there’s something up ahead… buried beyond the trees…“tiger!”. As we maintain our approach.. I comprehend the play.. hanging in the branches –by a string – an inflatable toy in the image of a striped cat. It was lost to the Man earlier and somehow landed upon these shores. We leave it hanging – to be collected later. Gags aside… the Captain’s claims sizable paw tracks some years back… close to this beach – the chance of an encounter remains very real upon these wild shores.
8:00am: Half a click later we pause just shy of the boneyard – a sweet overhead peeler migrates downward – good enough – this is us. I trail for the paddle out… boils and bubbles abound… local knowledge matters. Once beyond… it’s an arcade of bowls.. playful walls.. crystal waters – not a soul anywhere. Forget hardcore – this is it – a holiday – pleasure principle and beyond – the kind of wave you could ride forever. After more than my share… the dawn posse begins filtering from up the point. The runabout ping-pongs… shuttling crew back to the mothership.. some retiring… others refueling. Gazing toward the horizon I witness some distant lines… I quiz the man… he concurs.. it’s a wave… but not for the paddle. I signal the dingy - time to explore.
Climbing aboard.. Rio’s eyes are busy… there’s a lot going on… the reef requires constant attention. This West Sumatran lad is still just a kid – but with significant life experience. The Captain claims courage beyond his years – an asset in a tight spot – a deckie with solid skills… only eclipsed by that unadulterated cheekiness and bad manners. Whether he remains is uncertain – but for now he’s a welcomed hand.
Ironman finally joins as Rio winds up the engine threading us back out to sea. The fertility in these waters are validated as a massive manta ray launches 6 feet into the air – hovering a wing span way beyond record. As the belly flops.. it leads my eyes toward the tip of an iron carcass peaking from beyond the ocean’s surface. I question the Man – “it’s an old supply ship that ran a ground”. As we pass the ghostly frame the surging swell consumes it’s mass – producing vertical spray like a sperm whale – crying out for a past buried by bad luck. As we persevere.. more sets approach – a head punches through the lip - it’s Mike. The Man motions Rio to stay wide… there’s plenty of rogues out here… we maintain a holding pattern as Mike paddles over. As he crawls aboard I collect his board… its stained in blood. Looking at his arm there’s a sizable gash.. he describes being thumped by a 3 wave set – cut all to hell upon the reef. No lemon juice onboard – first aid will come later.
Marching on.. we plow up another vertical face as we near the outer line up. The set waves are long… vast… and hairy. I understand the potential… but for my money it looks like too much work – without reward. There’s a deep-water randomness here – a colossal sense that anything could happen. The man reckons better with less size – maybe tomorrow… relief ensues as struggling amongst these surging faces.. isn’t really on the wish list.
9:23am: Rio winds the motor as we head back toward the bay. Entering its arch.. we slide past an ominous grinder charging between two opposing reefs. I turn to the man – “What’s that wave?” – “Dunno.. it don’t really have a name”. As I gaze into the eye of this emerald cathedral… Rio eases off the throttle. Turning to the team I measure the mood – “Looks kind of makable..”- there’s silence. At closer examination… the wave was kind of abstract – difficult to define - unpredictable – mysterious. It would first rise… seemingly soft.. then slowly steepen… then almost immediately… it would morph.. into something else – another species – a mutant. In double over conditions.. this was a calculated risk – acceptable. My soul was famished… the islands were calling… before anyone spoke… I leaped out of the boat. Now for us folk with wrinkles.. its understood that before sliding into the saddle of a wild stallion – its imperative to take notes. It pays to consider the steed’s nature – its moves – its character. Like going into a fight – it always pays to have a plan. But logic aside… today was more from the heart – not the head… like skydiving at 15,000 ft… you never really know until you hit the ground. As I paddled closer… I saw the others follow…. slipping deeper & deeper my eyes remained trained on the horizon – watching for any wobble. Finally at center stage… I saw Mike & the man take the box seat… I knew the mindset – lets watch the lamb and learn. Old enough to know better and young enough to take a chance – this was my head – where I wanted to be.
As the first stack of sinister shadows approached… the leader was as handsome as they come - well measured – no peripheral bumps or funk. Wanting to avoid a rut… I spun straight around and dug hard… Ironman let out a loud hoot… it was now or never. Angling for the pitch… my pulse thumped as the wave seized me… thick – fast – solid – strong. The entry wasn’t complex – maybe a bit – but as my core arose and the feet found traction.. I layed into the drop… hooking my rail… drawing a high line – textbook – easy. As my track lowered toward the bowl - reins firmly in hand – control was solid… adrenaline high. As I turned the next page… the section appeared… instant… fast… meaty – angry. The lip began to crest… time stopped… suddenly – without warning – I was too deep – way too deep. The curtain began feathering…the passage expanded… time bent… reality switched. This was the morph – the game changer – I was in damage control. As this monster wedged up on the reef… I needed an exit… fast… the only option – punching through. As I shot into the face… the board made it… I made it – rewind - I didn’t make it… suddenly there was this hideous sensation… slowly but surely… it started to pull me back… way back… falling… diving… absorbing… lost within a waterfall of Amazonian proportions.
This was the beginning of my journey.. into the depths of darkness… an immeasurable gut-wrenching odyssey… a non-negotiable quest… an expedition into a cruel world of deep pain & harsh suffering. I was entering a lonely place – a place where nobody loves you… a place where no one cares. As I sank below the surface… I vanished… dissolving.. disappearing beyond the abyss… a downward spiral toward a horror unknown. Down amongst the dead men… everything was black… lifeless… there ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone – and I was really gone. Relaxing the body… I attempted calm… until the forces decide to release me. Finally emerging – my eyes sodden and blurred – I trained hard upon the next course of evil that was fast approaching toward me. Whatever’s coming now… its gonna have its way - I don’t get a vote – nothing can alter my fate. As the second heartless monster directed its furious energy upon my trembling frame… I inhaled deeply and dived for the bottom again… clinging to anything… praying hard that sweet mercy would deliver me. As the rim of this brutal leviathan ripped at the back of my neck… I barely escape oblivion – clawing the reef for sweet life – only to reemerge and be met by another… and yet another. After surviving this brutal four wave set… my lung capacity was at its end. Another of these juggernauts and I’d be calling code red. While far from the worst hold downs in history – the raw energy of these brutes still demanded an unquestionable respect. As I popped up for the final round… the entire force of the bay seemed to be focusing it’s will toward me… dragging me further inside… further toward something that looked suspiciously unpleasant.
Suddenly the ocean began transforming… the current became a raging torrent… clearly wherever I was going – I didn’t have a say. Before long my second trial appeared… a supremely ugly minefield of boils and jagged coral tips – I was now about to enter what is commonly referred to as the dreaded ‘bone yard.’ Seeing this at low tide… it was an unforgiving forest of diamond cut – razor-sharp coral mounds… a place you wouldn’t even wish upon your worst enemy – this was quite simply… the definition of Hell. But as luck would have it.. the Gods took pity on me – just a bit. Today’s tides were somewhere between mid and high. Star-floating across this maze of sinister boils and bubbles… I was given slim passage over one of the most menacing seascapes known to man – a chess match that could’ve certainly have transformed me into the sloppiest of pizza toppings.
Several 100 meters later I arrived to the sanctuary of the key hole… a gap in the reef delivered me to freedom. Post shock – floundering like a wounded turtle – I noted the dingy departing… holding half a dozen heads. This refueled crew had no-doubt witnessed my entire little episode – a live to air broadcast – a one man puppet show – without strings. Giving it approximately 30 seconds… I chose to flag further attempts at this wave – I think I got the point. Out of the corner of my eye… I saw Ironman drifting my way. As he approached – with that Cheshire grin – he exclaimed -“really thought you had that one” – “me too mate” – “well I guess we’ll have to name it S-P’s now”. Feeling a blend of humility and dignity I carried the gesture with a strained smile. I was convinced such privilege – a wave in your name – was no longer possible – at least not in this universe. Deserving or not – I maintained calm and simply let the moment breathe.
As we drifted back towards Timmy’s… I felt neither a failure… nor a warrior. I was just a surfer who’d lived another moment… one that massaged my heart… and stirred the soul. As we continued our way back towards some tamer lines… I felt at peace. I knew when I hit that bunk tonight… I would dream deeply. The kind of dreams that were no longer possible… the kind of dreams I would never forget.
Finally… I was home.
To be continued…