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.