The Search goes way out there. We take it as far as the Earth will let us go. In every ocean and in every sea, we seek the far reaches for waves mysterious and unknown. And we’ve found them and we’ve surfed them. Swells that break off glaciers, others that surge up rivers, and then, roping sand bottom rights that hiss like rattlesnakes as they grind and spit for over a mile long.
These are the life changing sessions that will stay with you forever and inspire your next exploration and they are what the Search is all about. However… sometimes The Search is also something else entirely. Sometimes it can be less like exploration and more like stepping back in time.
Indonesia first came onto my radar via the Jack McCoy surf flick Sons of Fun, and it wasn’t the pristine reeling green reefs of the Bukit that captured my attention either, it was the brown water peaks of Balian that had me losing my grommie mind. At that stage I’d never been overseas, and Bali in that film looked completely alien to me, but because those guys were having so much fun goofing off and ripping the bag out of the joint I knew it was a place I had to go. A year or two later I got my chance.
In 1998 I made the team for the World Grommet Titles held at Kuta Beach. I’ll never forget stepping off the plane and getting slapped in the face by that classic sticky hot air and then copping a lungful of rancid Gudang smoke. Back then there were no rules about where you could smoke and every person had a Gudang hanging from their lips. Guys in the terminals, customs officers, cab driver, hotel staff, all of em just choofing away like the chimneys in Mary Poppins.
I was sharing a room with Joel Parko and the first thing the coaches told us was that nobody was allowed to rent bikes. So, of course, Parko goes and hires one the second they turn their backs. He immediately crashed it straight into a wall. Completely totalled it. We figured out very quickly that Bali was a fun place to be 16. It was so different and intense compared to home. Walking around Kuta people would grab your arms and lead you into their shops, little kids would tie wristbands to you. Everyone was friendly, but at the same time you could get scammed at any moment. We kept our money in our undies. We were all warned to be cautious, but we didn’t listen… because all we wanted to do was go to The Bounty. It was just that kind of place. You could run amok.
The surfing on that trip was mostly done on the Kuta beachies. We went up to the Bukit one day and surfed Outside Corner pretty big, but we didn’t really touch the reefs all that much. We did surf Balian though and that was a dream come true. Every time I took off I felt like I was Dorian or Margo, doing these mad wraps… although I was still pretty skinny back then, so I was probably throwing less water than granny rinsing out her teapot.
Looking back now it’s pretty clear to me that I was completely clueless about the spiritual power of Bali and Indonesia, but once The Search made travelling to that region a regular part of my life I began to understand the significance of the islands, the magic of the people and why the archipelago holds a sacred place within surfing.
Search trips don’t often venture to the world’s most popular and crowded surf destinations, but we’d gotten word that an old gem was looking the goods to fire up.
It was stories and folklore passed down to me by the OG Indo warriors that gave me the insights I lacked as a 16-year-old. These were guys who had done serious time and hard yards exploring the place, inside and out. I began to understand the energy of the place. The boat captains in particular seemed to operate with a sixth sense. They’d back themselves on feel almost as much as they did on information that’d come through on the charts or over the walkie talkies. Back when we didn’t have phones they’d trust their gut instincts, and nine times out of 10 they’d get the wave on the best swell of the year. Storytelling is an art form for these guys, too… when they spoke, we listened.
Despite all the time I was spending in Indo, it took me 10 years to get back to Bali after my first visit. When I stepped off the plane I felt instantly connected to the spirituality of the place, in a way I hadn’t when I was a kid. And although I’ve only visited sparingly in the years since, I’ve begun to change the way I experience the island.
In fact, it was with visions of Gerry Lopez and Peter McCabe and Albe Falzon and Al Byrne… all those guys heading up to Ulus and Padang to surf huge swells by themselves back in the day… that Mason and I decided to revisit Bali and its surrounding islands. It was a full-blown purple blob swell strike mission, set under the Red Monkey Full Moon.
As I said, Search trips don’t often venture to the world’s most popular and crowded surf destinations, but we’d gotten word that an old gem was looking the goods to fire up. Considering I’d never surfed the place, we thought it was as good a chance as any to tick it off my bucket list. It was good to break the cycle of always trying to find something new, and instead to go back in time and revisit a wave that has been so iconic, for so long.
With the swell hitting hard myself and Mason scored an early morning boat ride and made our way out of Bali and across the channel to Java. As we neared the reef it was clear the joint was firing, and as we pulled the boat into the channel neither of us could believe what we were seeing. Eight foot eyeballs staring at us, and not a single soul in the line-up.
The surfing he does out there is just pure entertainment. I don’t know if he’s Rick James or James Brown but he’s funky and jiving and disco and soul all rolled into one.
There was talk it would improve with the tide and that maybe we should hit the shore and get breakfast, but I was having none of it. It’s firing out there! There’s no-one out, why the fuck would ya go to land? It turned out to be a pretty special day. It was my brother Sean’s birthday, and I was psyched I was going to surf this crazy left and get tubed on a wave that he definitely would have visited as a goofy-footer. The surf was absolutely incredible. It was pumping. Big and grinding it gave you the opportunity to go as hard and as fast as you possibly could. I felt so connected and on point with my surfing. Everything came together so perfectly on that day. I was just flowing.
After that Mase and I jumped a couple of ditches and headed for another famous left, Mason’s favourite wave in all of Indo. This thing barrels from start to finish, growing in size and speed the further it gets down the reef. There’s a classic yarn about Peter Crawford throwing his board to the ground and giving up surfing for three months straight after getting a two minute barrel there. He honestly believed he’d never get a ride as good as that again in his life.
I’d surfed it once before but I didn’t love it. It was really crowded and I didn’t get many waves, so it was never on my radar to go back. This time I stayed on land and hung with the locals and got to spend time with guys who love the wave, and it was a completely different experience.
As I said Mason loves the joint. Last year while he was on a Search trip on the other side of the world, he saw swell hitting Indo and wanted to drop everything and fly straight there. He’s incredible around that wave. He knows everyone there, he knows the wave, he knows when to surf, what food to order, how to order it, he just has the place so down. His confidence at the place is on another level.
The surfing he does out there is just pure entertainment. I don’t know if he’s Rick James or James Brown but he’s funky and jiving and disco and soul all rolled into one. He has so much going on in his head that he wants to try out there, bunny hops into the tube and different pigdog rail grabs. He was so excited and frothing out on all the different things he was going to try. He knows the wave so well, he’s always thinking about ways to make it more fun for himself.
We had a couple of days there getting drained, but for me, finding windows where I could sit out the back with Pablo, an absolute legend at this wave, was the most special memory. Pablo’s been surfing the wave for nearly 50 years, he’s based his entire life around it. Everything comes back to riding that one stretch of reef. To hear his stories and to share a moment where it was only me and him out the back… that was really cool.
As the swells faded, Mase and I retreated back to Bali for some lazy days spent scoping around looking for rights. Those few lazy days were the most fun I’ve ever had in Bali. We weren’t on any schedule, we didn’t try and get the best waves, we didn’t worry about the tides… we just got up and went for a spin and tried to find whatever we could find. And the coolest thing was that we happened upon so many little epic set ups. Just a handful of guys all happy and smiling, sharing perfect glassy waves. Even a session on the Canguu right wasn’t too punishing…