Once Upon a Hard Tile

Blood is thicker than water in the Sumatran swell. Photos by Harry Mark & Tom Hawkins. Words by Ano Mac.

Swell prediction has become an art. There is no ‘something of’ about it. Around the world, on any given day, the watchers of waves study low-pressure systems building in the roaring forties and fifties and if they look like they will become something, they slide rulers across charts and plot the points on maps where those massive swells are likely to land. They can predict where, when and how big with an incredibly high degree of accuracy. The only thing they can’t control is the when.

So when the word goes out there are a sprawl of surfers who react. They drop what they’re doing, pack their boards, head to the airport and fly to the predicted spot on a map.

The Sunday night of the Deus 9ft & Single, Art, Film, Music & Log Fest is called the Wrap Up Party and for a lot of good reasons. It’s the time to let your hair down. The contestants, for the most part, would have spent large chunks of the previous four days in the water competing in the Fish Fry, Womp Comp, Under 9 foot and the log events. So, it’s no small wonder that they like to partake from the wide and varied tipples on offer at the Deus Bar. For Harrison Roach, Zye Norris and Lewie Dunn, three of the Deus Team Riders, this time around, it wasn’t to be. The call had gone out. What would have been a very saturated session had been whisked out of their clutches like a last call at your local.

Six seats were booked on the midnight flight west, the weekend’s awards ceremony went on early, Harrison had won three events and Zye had come second in two. A few drinks were imbibed but time was of the essence and they needed to pack boards, rucksacks, cameras and other supplies one wouldn’t find in remote Indonesia. The pin was firmly stuck into an island off the coast of Sumatra a long way away from Canggu and just getting there was setting itself up to be a hell of a ride.

Six people, 10 boards, eight bags, five cameras and their 14 odd lenses including the massive six hundred which is a bag unto itself. It was way too much gear for just the one car, instead the lads loaded up two vans and with a couple of fistfuls of rupiah and an itinerary that wasn’t taking prisoners, they headed off into the night.

The drive to Bali’s airport was marred by the usual chaos of the heavy evening traffic. What should take half an hour took nearly three times as long. They quickly unloaded the transport and dragged their paraphernalia into the departures hall with only enough time to check in and run to the boarding gate to take the last flight of the night to Jakarta. Their piecemeal itinerary meant every bag had to be retrieved at the end of each leg. None of the normal tag it and you’ll see it at the other end.

Arrival in Jakarta came just after 1am local time, the near solitary halls needed to be navigated to retrieve their bags before they were able to move, caravan like, to the departures area where they set up camp on the expansive tiled floor to wait for the check-in to open just after three. All except Tom, one of the photographers. He’d accidentally left his laptop on the previous flight and realising it, scurried off to the different lost and found desks in the expansive airport to retrieve it. Wandering early morning masseuses got some brisk business from the boys who found the white flawless tiles both hard to look at, as well as sleep upon.

At twenty after five in the morning they were strapping themselves into the second plane of the trek. A two and a half hour flight to Medan in Sumatra. They arrived and trickled out onto the still early morning tarmac before queueing up to retrieve, yet again, all their luggage. The gypsy wagon of men, boards and bags headed straight to the check-in and divested themselves of their kit before seeking out some sustenance.

The gorge and quenching only served to enhance the dreamlike state they all staggered around in, so lodging was once again sought on the hard white tiles of the regional departure hall. If only as a chance to get horizontal.

You can tell that you are getting more and more remote as the planes become progressively smaller from the first to this the last. Despite the size the take off was smooth, momentarily headed Singapore-ward before taking a large sweeping curve left that plunged them on a south, south, west collision course with the island off the coast of Northern Sumatra. The trip was short in length, just an hour and a bit, coming in low across a flawless bay before bouncing into land and taxiing up in front of the low terminal building.

Walking the short distance from the plane to the shade was enough to break into a sweat under the full force of the late morning tropical sun. They continued their sweating in the shade as they waited for their baggage to be brought over. Luckily the pre-booked vans were there waiting, no one wanted to go out into the heat to search for them. It was slow going loading up their gear. The boards went onto rooves while the rest was used to fill all of the gaps inside. Everyone made a spot to slide into, all cocoon like. This journey was still far from over.

If you’ve ever been on that road you know it’s repaired in the dry only to deteriorate again during the following wet. The passengers would just be nodding off when a tire catches a pothole and the resulting bang shudders through the vehicle’s superstructure with such force that they are jolted back awake. The process repeated itself ad nauseum for the next hour and a half until the need for fuel for both vans and humans pulled them up at one of the ubiquitous roadside stalls one can find throughout Indonesia. It was hot, and everyone was tired, irritated, shitty but at the same time there was an escalation in the underlying excitement. On this type of trip, you never really knew what was in store for you.

The now wilting wanderers bundled back up into the vans and laid back to bounce on for another thirty or forty minutes through the dense green jungle barricades lining the roadside before the road popped out of the tangle and back to the coast. At first, there were just glimpses of turquoise until in a final act the sea revealed itself. What they saw though wrenched them awake and sent them into animated chatter. They saw unridden small waves rolling into postcard perfect bays. To the untrained eye there wasn’t anything unusual but the occupants had been down this road before, literally. They knew waves didn’t come this far around the island. For them to be here, a swell of some size must already be hitting on the exposed sides. The van’s direction changed from straight south to head towards the east and along the bottom coast. Those waves they saw grew too.

After three and a half hours on the road, they finally pulled into the outskirts of a small town which was to be their home for the next few days, they had arrived at their destination, the pin on the map. The road came in from the north through small farms broken by buildings, the bay was still not to be seen. They threaded southward down century bent streets and houses all made in the same block design. The afternoon sun was now well into its daily dive towards the horizon. After what seemed like an age, but was in fact a mere five minutes, the two vans pulled up at the bay and the occupants all tumbled out. There was nothing else to do but stare seaward and seeing the new swell in full flight, let out a collective, “Holy Shit!” And so the good times rolled.