Everywhere else seems to be getting waves other than the bay. Like PA, not looking too shabby at all (image Peter Britz). JBay & Seals have had some good days. But the bay. She be flat, or close to it. That means there're a lot of frothing surfers without waves. So anytime there is a small lil bump there're a stack of guys scrambling all over it. Which means that sometimes ou's forget their manners. Don't. Everyone is just as hard up for waves as you are. So bite the bullet and don't lose sight of basic surf etiquette. Need a refresher course? Take a look...
Peter Coffey paid the price for an over-crowded under-waved line-up when he had the nose of his board taken off by a beginner riding over him. Think a good approach to dinged or bust boards is to make the ou who rides into you pay the damages. If someone dings your car they pay, so the same principle should apply to a board. Then maybe the guys would be a bit more careful.
Brad Beck has escaped the flat spell at home by bailing to the Maldives for a stint as a surf guide over there. Not a kak job to have to surf all day - in kiff waves, warm water, waving palm trees and wearing baggies. And definitely not slumming it all feral-like either. Four Seasons hotel if you don't mind. Gonna let him settle in for a few weeks then hit him up with and interview to find out all about island life.
Not much else going on due the almost complete lack of surf in the bay, so here's a few shots from the week.
Everyone wipes out. There's as many ways to wipe as there are to surf. Variety is the spice of life, and beatings come in all flavours. You can launch yourself over the falls and get drilled by the lip, land upside down and get a bit of ocean shot through your sinuses or do the full washing machine rinse and spin cycle. Like it or not, if you surf, you will wipeout. The degree of spectacular-ness is up to you. Wanna grab your sack? Now's a good time. Or throw a victory salute to the photag? Go ahead.
Most of the time they happen too suddenly to make a claim whilst going down. Despite the speed at which you go from surfer to wiper, you still have to do a coupla quick things in that instant. Makes all the difference between a happy tumble and a panicky pummeling.
Your board goes from best friend to worst enemy the minute the two of you part ways. Try get away from it. Otherwise it has a nasty habit of pinging itself into your head. Which hurts. As you start to fall - try give it a kick away from you. Voetsak!
Fall backwards and push ya board forwards is the way to go. Never go in head-first if you can help it, as it's a good way to bust your neck. Feet or butt first is the best way to go. If you've got some padding on the rear - may as well use it. Think bomb-drop position. Harder to twist an ass than an ankle. Jumping backwards into the whitewash can also give you a bit of a cushion. Don't, repeat don't, dive forwards into the trough. That is a very kak place to be. Into the wave face itself is OK, there's still water there, but down the bottom in the hollow of the wave....uh-uh, asking for trouble.
Take a breath. Sounds simple. Just don't forget to do it. Getting held down by a big 'un is a lot less fun if you're doing it on anything short of a full lungful. The average person can hold their breath comfortably for 30 seconds, not many wipeouts in our part of the world will hold you down for anything near that.
Cover your pip. Hands and arms become an instant Gath helmet for your head. Protects you from the reef and your board - both of which are just frothing to cause you damage. The consequences of hitting the reef with your head are never good. Had an Aussie mate who crashed into the reef at GLand, took his scalp off and cracked his skull open so you could see his brain peeking through the hole. Luckily got medivac'ed by chopper out to Singapore and spent a month in ICU. He lived to tell the tale. And pay the bill. Unluckily didn't have travel insurance and cost him a cool $250k (Moral of the story: always always always have travel insurance if you're going on a surf trip)
Don't panic. It wastes energy, which uses oxygen, which means you run outta air quicker. Relax, lie back, enjoy the beating. Take your mind to a happy place. Don't try and be in control cos you are not. Come to terms with that. Count slowly if you're someone who panics about running outta breath. Most of the time you'll pop up before 10. Remember you can get to 30 easily.
Holding your breath is as much mental as it is physical. Remember - when that sensation of "I have to breathe RIGHT now" sets in - guess what - your body's just giving you an early warning signal - you can actually hang on for at least another 15 seconds. So don't gulp yet!
On the howling offshore days it's worth staying under water an extra few seconds after wiping out. Listen for that thwack as your board hits the water. Cos it's a helluva lot better than popping up and having it thwack your head. Can't tell you how many times I've seen guys heads pop up and the board is flying back at them like a missile in the wind and misses their pip by inches. Good idea to come up with your hand over your head too - rather have board hit hand than head.
Wipeouts are often more psychological than physical. So get your mind right about the time you'll spend in the rinse and spin cycle and you'll start to enjoy it, not fear it. You can even Frogger it, like Pipe local Casey....
Ever wondered who came up with the idea of deck grip? Obviously some ou got gatvol of slipping off his board and decided there had to be a better way. That ou was surf legend Herbie Fletcher.
Fletcher developed his traction pad gear in his own lab and sold the first decks in his surf shop. Here’s what he had to say about Astrodeck’s early history:
“In 1976, I started playing around with a polyurethane elastomer foam, synthetic rubber. When the skin was lightly sanded it off exposed an open cell that acted like miniature suction cups that gripped your feet. Wow, was I stoked! I had these great sheets with pressure sensitive tape that would cover the whole deck. The stoke was short lived, surfers didn’t even want to give it a try. It was difficult to apply and they were used to using wax.”
Luckily some of his best mates just happened to be the best surfers in the world. Gerry Lopez, Rabbit, Mark Richards, Shaun Tomson, Michael Ho and Cheyne Horan thought it rocked. And what the main manne were ripping on, everyone wanted. Punk helped too.
"Punk was pretty heavy by then, so I made some little dots and squares, blacks and pinks and grays, and they started going off. Pac Man, Space Invaders, kids' stuff."
Things progressed, and Herbie started adding kicks, arches, and different surface patterns for ultimate grip and control until the designs evolved into the patented multi-gridllock high performance foot pad of today.
Interesting Herbie wasn’t the first guy looking for better grip. Surf inventor extraordinaire Tom Morey came up with something called Slipcheck. It came in a spray-on aerosol can, and no-one was into it. Just as well. Imagine trying to get the airlines to let you carry on your spray can…
Traction pads helped guys go harder, and higher. Arch bars and kickers meant your foot had some real estate to leverage off. And leverage they did. Surfers like Carrol and Kong lacerated wave faces from Kirra to Pipeline, and everywhere in between, and Pottz and Christian Fletcher took to the air. Everyone took notice. Everyone wanted to surf like them. So everyone went and bought a deck grip.
By the early '80s, every board had an Astrodeck on it. Some loved it so much they went full deck. Gotto love the eighties, man. Excess was so “in”. Dooma (aka Damien Hardman, above) and Barton Lynch won world titles in the late 80’s with full length deck grips.
Thankfully the full deck approach waned off in the 90’s, and today we’re in a mostly back pad era. Herbie’s son, Christian, still rocks the full deck. Like to see anyone diss him for doing it…
Like with anything that sells, soon everyone was making it. Everyone jumped onto the deck grip bandwagon and today pretty much every surf company has its own branded traction. Every pro surfer has a signature model. Walk into a surf shop and you’re confronted with a smorgasbord of grips. Arch bar or flat, kicker or not, boring black or neon. Stripes, dots, skulls, palm trees, you name it, they have it for you to stand on.
You try shoes on before you buy them, right? So test out that stomp pad. Chuck it on the floor and stick ya foot on it. Does it feel lekker? Guys with flat feet might find arch bars annoying. Those with high arches might like a bit of foam under there.
As with most things in life you get what you pay for. Go cheap, and the stuff will rip the skin off your knee in no time. Which is always a kak thing to discover when you’re on your first trip to a tropical paradise and have been able to ditch the wettie for the first time. The glory of surfing in boardies is soon replaced by the gory of having your grip cannabalise your knee cap. I still have the scar to prove it. Learnt my lesson too. Island Tribe, you will never grace my boards again.
So do yourself a favour, if you like your kneecap, give that grip a bit of a feel before you buy it. Soft is good. Soft is grippy. Soft doesn’t eat your knee. Pay for soft; it’s worth every cent!
If you’re really flush with cash, you can even buy one with a shark repellent built into the kick tail. That way you not only save your knee, but your leg too!
Now make sure you really, really like that pad. Happy with the colour? Check. Happy with the design? Check. Cos once that puppy is attached to your stick she ain’t coming off without some serious effort!
Just remember Rule #1 of traction pads. Take the time to apply ‘em properly. Do a rush job, and you’ll have it peeling up at the edge’s in a week. Getting your toes caught in the lil flappy bits as you’re getting to your feet is annoying as hell, especially if it means a barrel turns into a bog.
Clean that deck. New stick’s always have a bit of foam dust lurking about. If it’s a board you’re upgrading from wax to grip, there’ll still be some oily wax residue hiding here and there even after you’re scraped the wax off. Give it a wipe with some acetone, and then dry with some paper towel afterwards.
Now this is where things can go pear-shaped without some planning. Work out where you want to stick it before you start peeling the adhesive backing off. The length and type of board you’re riding will determine where you want to position it. Generally about 3cm (an inch) above your leash plug works for most standard boards. Good idea to mark the placement with a pencil if your hand-eye co-ordination sucks.
Peel the paper off the back and make 100% sure your positioning is right and then gently lay her down. Now give it a firm push along all the edges using the heel of your hand. Go round the whole grip doing this a coupla times, paying plenty of attention to the corners and the kicker. A few more general pushes all over the surface and you’re done.
Convention says you’re meant to wait 24 hours before you go rip on the new grip, but if you’ve pushed it on real good and made sure there’s no air bubbles you can probably hit the surf straight away if it’s cooking.
It's more Indo than India. A tropical paradise so remote you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd climbed into a time machine. Centuries old forest creeps right onto the water's edge. Pristine sand beaches teeming with turtle tracks and hermit crabs. An untouched ecosystem - parrots squawking in the tree's and more fish than in an aquarium. And waves. Beautiful waves.
But paradise is still paradise for a reason. It's so far off the beaten track there is no track. This ain't your typical surf holiday. You won't find trips here advertised on the net. There are no surf charters or surf camps. It's a bitch to fly there. You'll travel through airports that have never seen a surfboard (and charge excess baggage fee's accordingly!)
You need special visa's and a local fixer, and even then expect to be tied up for days by bureaucracy. Our trip nearly ended ever before it begun - as the yacht's owner and one of the crew were deported for supposedly having the wrong visa's (which were the same visa's we all had). That took a day or two to resolve. Could we leave now? No. We think you're all drug dealers. Whaaaat!? So we sign affidavits stating we're not. OK, now can we go? No. Phark. Why not? Just because.
Back and forth from various government departments, local police, the chief of police, the Governor. No one in any particular rush...except us, of course.
Being solid South African citizens, and assuming things work the same in India as they do back home, we suggested to our surf guide that maybe a "gift" would speed things up. Turns out they'd already "incentivised" the officials quite substantially, and it hadn't helped.
After 3 days in limbo in the humid hell that is any port town in India, we finally got the call that we could up anchor and set sail. And that's only after the Chamber of Commerce dude had pleaded our case to the Governor.
Was the mission worth it? Damn right it was.....
The islands are packed with surf - but plenty of places are out of bounds. Many that are home to stone-age tribes are strictly off-limits - enforced by the huge naval presence - and the locals themselves, who will happily launch a few arrows in your direction if you venture ashore. Others are off limits to Westerners; again, not worth trying to sneak in as the navy cutters patrol the area 24/7. And then many spots have another kind of local you most definitely don't want to drop in on. Massive salt water croc's cruise through the line-up's at some of the premier waves. So until someone come's up with a croc-pod, perfect peaks will remain untouched.
Arrived at first light after an overnight sail to be greeted by some solid 8ftr's unloading on an outer reef. A lot like BankVaults in the Ment's. Big. And shifty. But plenty of solid clean walls if you were up for it. A quick check round the other side of the island revealed a long left point winding down the reef. Multiple sections meant you could pick your spot.
Sucking at lefts I opted to grab the fishing rod instead and took off in the dingy to go chuck some poppers. Cast #3 and into a nice sized GT. Always good to secure supper! There was only one goofy in the crew on the first trip, so the call was made to up anchor after a day going backside and head off in search of some rights. En route we passed some incredible set-ups. Are the waves good there? Yes. So can we surf there? No. Why not? Croc's. Big one's! And lot's of them.
Bang, bang bang on the cabin door at first light. The surf guides were off to check the waves and knew I was super keen to surf this spot. A light mist hung over the dense jungle canopy....and solid 6-8ft lines funneled like freight trains down the reef. Seven waves sets bent and warped mindlessly as far as the eye could see. Yes, it was as good as people said it was. Those who've surfed it say it's faster than JBay. Much faster.
Duncan Scott, PE's own local ex-QS surfer, big wave hunter and long time surf vagabond, did a trip here in the 90's. Says it's the fastest wave he's ever surfed. And Duncan has surfed pretty much everywhere. So fast that as he was flying along he heard this weird thwocking noise. Got to the end of the wave to see if his fins were still there - they were, but every sticker on the bottom of his board had been stripped right off! Duncan reckons he never went onto his outside rail once. Stan Badger put it well when he heard we were off to the legendary point - "Gotto have your skate shoes on out there" he reckoned.
Unfortunately the epic point is a little outside the ability level of the average surfer, more so after the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake tipped the entire island and raised the reef. Seriously "pay to play" kinda stuff thanks to the super shallow shelf it breaks on. You make probably 2 outta 10 waves. If you're good maybe up that to 5 outta 10. The guides said that every time they'd surfed it previously someone had bled. Not a naff lil reef cut, like a proper bleed, with missing chunks of flesh. Seeing as it was just the start of the trip, and anything resembling medical care was a 15 hour sail away we wimped out. Next time maybe....
Not all the reef set-up's are flesh eating. There are some friendlier options about. A selection of little reef passes offered up a nice mix of rights, some with mellow walls, others with heart-in-your-mouth drops, and the odd one with teeth.
We set up base for the next few days in the area and motored between spots depending on the tide. Our yacht was the perfect surf vessel. A big 70ft cat with a huge top deck, and jacuzzi. Which only got punished once after the boys survived a double overhead session at a screaming left point later in the trip. Aircon is a must in this part of the world. Majority of the time it feels like you're in an oven with the grill switched on. Amplified by the mostly windless conditions.
Generally got 3 surfs a day, so plenty of waves to go around. Only rained once, and wonky winds the odd arvo, which glassed off in the evening again.
The surf season here is another reason it's stayed pretty much off the grid (besides the remoteness, bureaucracy, cost and crocodiles). It's only a month long. The islands pick up the Indian Ocean swells that hit Indo and Maldives from April - September. However, the breaks are mainly on the west and SW coasts - which are straight onshore for the entire monsoon (wave) season. The trick to catching surf here is to go before the monsoon starts, and hope there's some early season swell.
It's hit and miss for sure. Duncan's trip back in the day had 11 days of total flatness, and 3 days of cooking surf. Plenty of effort and time and a serious chunk of change to roll the dice. Luckily we rolled a double six and scored 2 weeks of surf that never really dropped below head high.
There's only one small village on the island we based ourselves at, and a tribal reserve. No-one around. Not allowed on the beach in the tribal reserves, which means losing your board isn't an option unless you want to risk a spear to the head to swim in and fetch it.
It's home to an awesome looking right point set-up, which stayed dormant during our time there - it needs a very specific swell direction. We tried to drum up the surf gods by paddling out there one arvo after seeing a head-high set funnel down the point during a surf check. Half an hour of absolutely nothing. Not a single rideable wave. We'd all drifted right in onto the reef, and next thing a one n a half overhead set came through outta nowhere. The surf guide managed to scratch out wide to grab it (the rest of us getting nailed inside) - and raced it full ball 200m down the beach, and came back grinning ear to ear. But that was it. Flat again. We gave up. One Wave Point was christened. But in the right swell....yoh.
Ancient hardwood tree's still stand thanks to some serious forestry regulations which prevent the logging which has decimated much of Indo's old tree's. Fish are plentiful thanks to no commercial fishing allowed in the entire archipelago. And no Indo or Chinese trawlers chancing their luck cos the navy would be only to stoked to use them as target practice. Certain area's have better fishing than others and the more north you went the better it got. We travel with as much fishing gear as surf gear...
After a few days hanging about surfing the south, we headed northwards again. And slap bang into a really, really good left point. Hardly any swell showing on the charts, yet on the right tide it was dishing out some double overhead sets.
Easy roll in at the take-off - then it hits the reef and locked you in for the ride. At high tides it was super quick - just race, no time for turns. At low tide it was a lazier beast, allowing for snaps and cutties. As it closed out eventually on fairly dry reef you had to work out where to get off before you got sushi'd. Must say I thought of all the local PE goofy footers who would just have gone to town out there.
Continuing my allergy to lefts I opted to swim in to shore and shoot some pic's instead. Got some gnarly sand-flea bites for my efforts. Wandering along the shore and came across a small portable solar panel connected to a dry-bag. 21st century in a land where even the capital town barely has internet connection.
A handful of feral surfers from the mainland and the odd Aussie (really!?) make their home under tarps and mossie nets among the tree's for a month every year - risking malaria (and all the other exciting ailments & challenges of living in a steaming humid jungle) just to surf a beautiful, uncrowded left point.
Despite a solar panel, pen and paper was non-existent in the jungle! One of the local surfers from the mainland came past for a chat after his sesh - told him I had some shots and would send them to him if he gave me his email addy. 20 minutes later he wandered back across the reef with a small piece of bark which he'd scratched his email address on to! Boer maak 'n plan.
After 7 days cruising the outer lying islands we trekked back north to drop off the guests at the port and pick up the guys for the next charter. We'd booked back to back charters cos reckoned that it was waaay too much mission and expense to go there just for a week. Two weeks is always better than one! And so it was.
After another day's drama with custom's we headed out for week #2....more of the same. Lekker.
Sure, you'll get bigger, better waves in Indo for far less cost & effort. But you certainly won't be the only boat within 1000k's. Here in the land that time has forgotten you get a surf adventure, not a surf trip. And that's worth it's weight in gold.
Cheers India. It's been real. We'll be back.