Monday, June 27, 2011

indo report 8

A few considerations at the end of my first Indonesian experience.

The first one is about surfing in general.
Without a doubt, it's the most humbling and slow learning sport I've ever done. And that's why it's so great! If you're impatient it could be frustrating, but, being so damn hard, I actually find it extremely rewarding when you finally do something decent on the wave.
I remember back in 2003, after one year I started longboarding, I asked myself how I would rank me. "From 0 to 10, 10 being Dave Kalama, I think I'm a 2" was my fair judgment.

The photo below shows my first session ever at La Perouse on July 18 2004. A friend happened to be taking photos. I was still ranking myself as a 2.

This one was taken at Honolua bay Nov 22 2004. Still a 2.

Sand Piles, Nov 26 2005. Still a 2.

And this is Cloudbreak, last month. I clearly improved a lot in 9 years, but, believe it or not, I still think I'm a 2!!!!

The reason is that the better you get, the more you realize what it takes to rip like the good guys. New little subtle things keep appearing along the road. Staying a little lower, taking off a bit deeper/steeper, moving the whole body in a fluid way, using the turns to generate speed without digging the rails too much... Without even mentioning more basic stuff like bottom turns, top turns, cutbacks, throwing spray, hitting lips, floaters, paddling efficiently, reading the wave, timing, positioning, duck diving.... the list goes on forever. All this stuff improves at an amazingly slow speed. Well, at least when you're 48! :)
But there's nothing that compares to the feeling of sliding on a surfboard on the face of a beautiful wave and dancing with it. Nothing, really.

The second one is about the Bali waves.
The consistency of the waves in June (and July and August should be even more so) has been amazing. Even the days in which the forecast was calling for "only" 3 feet (and the surfers were saying:"tomorrow is going to be flat"), Ulu Watu was head high. The weather has been extremely consistent too. Other than a couple of cloudy/rainy days, always sunny, always mild. The trade winds are very reliable too and that means clean (or choppy, depending on the breaks' exposure) waves every day.
So, the quantity of the waves was never a problem, but let's talk about the quality of them.

Most waves in the Bukit peninsula are fast. Very fast. That means that they are for advanced surfers only and once you're up, you have to start screaming down the line. Not exactly my kind of surfing, since I prefer a more open face where to do turns. Fortunately Secrets is a more mellow wave and often allowed to do so, but overall I didn't do all that many turns all together.

Photo below is Peaks at Ulu Watu as good as it gets.

The reefs at Kuta are great, but they are crowded.
The waves in the Canggu area are more mellow, but can get crowded too and will get windy at one point during the morning. Below is a photo taken in that area a day in which the picked up to levels of being totally sailable. A kitesurfer showed up and had it all to himself.

In other words, in my 25 days here I caught a hell lot of waves, but not a single one of them was memorable. I only spent a week in Namotu and pretty much all the waves I caught in three days at Cloudbreak were memorable (well, those were the best waves of my life, to be precise). I also caught many memorable waves in Maui in the last two winters (da hell, we're still talking Hawaii!!!).

Sure, when Race Tracks at Ulu Watu lines up is a lot of fun (but that one is ALWAYS crowded) and Padang-Padang can offer Pipeline-like barrels (if you can handle them), but overall I wasn't too impressed with the quality of the rides. I'm going to shock many by saying that for me a glassy head high day in Maui (both north and south shore) is more fun than anything I surfed in Bali.
Good, 'cause that's where I live the rest of the year!
Well, too bad there's not many glassy days in Maui on the north shore, but that's why I windsurf too. And there's also not many head high days on the south shore and that's why I came to Bali.
Anyway, this is a very personal observation that your unbiased reporter felt like doing.

BTW, you do need booties, since often you'll have to walk on the reef to reach the waves on low tide. The good news is that I got used to them and I've been using them at high tide too. As a consequence, I did not put a single little cut in my feet. That is a really good thing (read the paragraph about the hygienic conditions below) and I might have to get over the look and keep using them in Maui too.

This was one of my main concerns: "how am I going to do 25 days without cooking my own healthy and good food?".
Geez, that was not a problem at all! Despite the good food "warnings" I received from many friends, the food exceeded any possible expectations. So freaking delicious, and also healthy (well, that depends on what you order...).

A few favorites of mine:
- asparagus soup at Fajar (photo below). Rp11.500 = $1.35

- fish kebab at Bamboo Corner (photo below). Rp22.000 = $2.6

(One day I wanted these first two so bad that I had the soup at Fajar first and then moved to Bamboo Corner (they're 2 minutes away) for the fish kebab. And when I was done, I felt like doing it all over again...
- cap cay at Dian Cafe II at the beach next to Echo beach.
- mie goreng at... everywhere (photo below)

This place is cheap. They say it used to be a lot cheaper, but it still is cheap for American, Australian or European standards. You can sleep for $10/night, eat three meals for just as much, rent a scooter for $4. You can live here with $25/day. Not many other surfing trip destination can offer that.

Tourist services.
Bali is extremely well organized in terms of services to the tourists. You might have to bargain for some of them (and there I had another big advantage being from Napoli), but renting cars/scooters, booking hotels/excursions, getting a massage or dining out is as easy as it gets. There's so many options around! And let's not even talk about shopping.

Culture/other things to do other than surfing.
What the hell do I know... I only surfed! But I got the feeling that there's a lot to see/experience from this point of view.

I love these guys. Even though it's quite clear that most times they like you because you bring easy money, they are nice, smiling and helpful no matter what. They give me the idea that they understand the fact that withouth the tourism they would all still be in rice fields (no judgement on my side on that), and hence they treat the tourists with the respect they deserve. In other words, pretty much the opposite of what the sticker "welcome to Hawaii, now go home" communicates to the visitors.

Even though I heard of occasional rip-offs (unjustified tickets from policemen, for example... get yourself an international driver license if you come here and even that might not be enough) and thievery, Bali struck me as a very safe place. It probably has to do with the above mentioned respect for the tourists, in addition to crime being a very bad thing in their religion. For once, a religion that does a good thing!

Hygienic conditions.
That's a pretty low score here. Kuta streets are filthy. Unfortunately, over here they don't have any recycling culture yet. You go to the beach on a Monday morning (Sunday afternoons everybody is at the beach!), and you'll see tons of trash. The same trash you'll find in the lineup as soon as the tide comes in to collect it.
Unfortunately I unwillingly contributed myself to that (there's no alternative!). I wanted to count how many plastic water bottles I used in my trip, but I got too depressed about it. I would recommend not to use the tap water even for brushing your teeth. Showering is ok, but I was rinsing off a couple of little knee cuts with bottled water afterwards.
Some bathrooms in the places where I've been will probably show up again in my worse nightmares in the future... but you can avoid that by not being as cheap as me and spending a bit more.

Final judgment.
My original plan was to go to Bali, spend some days and then go somewhere else. The two little attempts I did (Nusa Lebongan and Sumba) were definitely not successful (the waves weren't as good), so I happily spent all my vacation in Bali and overall liked it a lot.
I think next year I'll be back to Indo (still hard to beat the affordability of the trip), but this time I'd like to hit Sumatra and maybe the Mentawais. We'll see, it's way too early to start planning. But in the meantime, once again, Maui remains a bloody awesome place to go back to. I didn't even check the wave forecast, because even if it's flat there's always the downwinders, the friends, the sunsets, the clean air and a bunch of other things I can't really think about it now, but I'm sure I'll remember (or discover) when I'm there.

Beauty is everywhere. Just have your eyes open.

PS. Ok, I just did check the wave forecast for Maui and, despite a week of flats upon arrival, the map below (June 30) shows a nice fetch that will send a decent south swell around Thursday next week.
Mmm... uncharacteristic slightly bad timing. Maybe I should change my flight and stay one more week...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

indo report 7

Especially because of how it went, the Sumba trip represented the end of the experimenting phase of my Indo trip.

Back in Bali I had 5 more full days to surf and I wanted to just surf the two best waves I found so far: Secrets at Ulu Watu and Airport lefts in Kuta.
The great thing about those two waves is that the first one works the best on low tide and the second on high (at least, that's how I like them).

Yesterday (Friday 24), that allowed me to do a morning session at Sectrets and an afternoon one at Airport Lefts. The waves were fun, so I can say that the plan worked beautifully.
Clearly, in order to be able to do so, I had to rent a bike again, probably one of the easiest things to do in Kuta.
Now that I know the road and don't get lost anymore, my personal record is 37 minutes for the commute. Driving to Honolua Bay from Paia takes way more than that.

This morning (Saturday 25) a new long period swell hit and the waves at Ulu Watu were way bigger than the day before. Nonetheless, I decided to take the walk to the launching point for Sectrets. I finally figured out that at low tide you can walk on the rocks and launch almost in front of it, cutting the paddling time down from 20-25 minutes to 5! That means more people too, but never more than 5-8.

The waves looked double overhead plus from shore, but I just wanted to check them out anyway. Well, I couldn't: I got rejected by the inside ones. I got slammed on the reef on a duck dive and that was the clear sign that it was not going to be a safe session.

So I hopped back on the scooter and drove down the coast . I paddled out from the deep water channels that sits between Padang-Padang and Impossibles and noticed that the former only had three surfers out. It's a world class wave famous for its heavy barrels, which is not exactly my kinda stuff, but I decided to go check it out.

I caught one of the shoulder, managed to stick the nonetheless very steep drop, got a little cover up and triumphally kicked out at full speed in the channel.
"Hey, I can do this! And even if it's a shorter ride, this is way more fun than Impossibles!"
There's one thing I don't like about that very properly named spot, in fact: no matter how much ground you manage to cover, sooner or later it's going to shut down on you. And that for me feels like a wave I couldn't make. It's a psychological thing and I guess it derives from the fact that I pretty much only surfed in Maui, where almost every wave has a channel.

All pumped up from the first successful wave, I caught three more. On two I had to straighten towards the rocks because the heavy lip was heavily closing right in front of me, and on the last one I went over the overhead falls since it jacked up at the speed of light.
Fortunately I survived the wipeout and while paddling out again I saw a guy getting the biggest barrel I've never seen from the water. He had his arms spread wide open and there was still plenty room. Then he got annihilated, eaten, erased. The whole water world he had around collapsed on him.
"Well, Impossibles is not a bad wave in the end... I guess I'll go check it out."

The first wave I had there was finally a really long one (Josh's lineup instructions workded!). But once again, after that one, I just got closeouts after closeouts.
"Okey, I got it: lunch time!"

After that, I went back to the hotel (below a view from my room: $10/night).

I took a little nap and upon waking up I took one of the best decisions of my life: ditch the sunset session (my mind really wanted to, but my body said: no way!) and went for an hour massage instead. Same price of the boat trip to the Kuta reefs: 5 bucks (that answers the question in one of the comments of the previous post. Thanks everyone for those, btw!).

After that, I chilled out at sunset with a couple of Bintangs on the beach and observed the many surfers getting closeouts after closeouts in the beach breaks.
Now I'm having a lovely dinner at this Wi-Fied restaurant and I can tell you that life here is not bad at all.

I think I'll be able to do one more post before I leave on the night of the 28, so stay tuned.

Assorted photos below.

One the way back from Sumba. No idea what island is that, but sure there's no shortage of waves!

Peculiar toilet sign at the domestic airport in Bali.

The word "onde" meand waves in Italian. I had to try one of those. No idea what they're made of, but they're very good and I had to get a whole bag of them. Feels to good to know that I can have as many onde as I want...
BTW, Rp. 1,000 is about 12 cents. Can you buy anything at all for 12 cents in the States?

Forecast for the next days. Damn, tomorrow is even bigger! Maybe I'll go back to Canggu and surf those more mellow breaks again. Hope I remember how to get there...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

indo report 6

"Proper out there!"

That's how my Sumba trip mate commented what he was seeing 5 minutes into the taxi ride from the airport to our destination on West Sumba.

He couldn't have been more right. But before we get to that, let's see what happened in the meantime.
In the last proper Indo report, I was still enjoying my stay in Ulu Watu.
Below is the last low tide sunset I enjoyed there.

One of the guys staying at at Thomas' (Paul 24yo from New Zealand) was ready to move and wanted to go somewhere remote, wild and uncrowded.
Another guy (Pete from Australia, 46yo travelling since 5 months in Indo... what a myth!) recommended Sumba.
"The left at Pero is really fun, I surfed it always by myself. There's also a right and the accomodation is right on the spot and it's cheap and the people are nice."
Paul was looking for mates to share the adventure and it all sounded good to me: "I'm in!".

But it was too hard to organize the flights from Ulu Watu, so in the morning of Sunday 19, we moved to Kuta, took a room and started the investigations on the available flights.
This is the final bill at Thomas. The guests are supposed to write down everything they consume and calculate the bill by themselves... my total for 12 nights was 1,733,000 (1 million 733 thousands) rupias. That's pretty much 200 bucks!
Oh, the one to the right is the map that Josh (another Kiwi with a really good energy) drew to show me how to line up for the best Impossibles take off spot.

Sumba has two airports, and we were looking for the West one, so that the taxi ride to the spot would only be one hour (as opposed to six). I couldn't find anything, but Paul had better luck and found a flight for the morning of Tuesday 21.

The two days in Kuta were extremely pleasant. I surfed Airport Lefts twice and that, as I said already, is the most fun wave I've found here so far. Crowded, but not too bad. Sometimes the local kids forget to take turns, but I had my share of waves.
I hooked up with Pete for dinner both nights and he took me to local non-tourist places were the food was both incredibly delicious and cheap. I also enjoyed a bit of people watching. So many tourists in Kuta!

At 9am on Tuesday I met with Putu (the taxi driver from the first night from whom I was renting the bike) at the airport. He picked up his bike (for 17 days it was 3 bucks a day) and was so kind to bring me the 6.10 Kazuma from where I left it in Canggu.
The check-in went smooth and there was no need of taking advantage of airport facilities like the ones below.

A new swell was supposed to hit that day and what I could see from the window undoubtedly confirmed that (that's either Lombok or Sumbawa).

Another good news was to find out upon arrival that there were plenty chicks! (look in the boxes).

Soon we found a car driver (or better he found us) for the transfer to Pero.
And now I feel like mentioning that a good friend of mine from Croatia is called Pero. He was a really good roomate in my first years in Rome so it felt like kinda nice to go to a place called like that.
Once in a while we would meet a local mini bus and it looks like the most desired seats were on the roof.

When we got to Pero, we were overwhelmed by the smell of the main local food resourse. They fish squids in great quantity and (not having freezers, I guess) dry them in the sun.

This is the local fishing fleet.

They go out at sunset through a narrow opening that connects that natural river mouth harbor to the open ocean.

This was my room and I really enjoyed the presence of a mosquito net (there's still traces of malaria in Sumba).

The hole in the roof wasn't quite as enjoyable, but you can't have everything.

The interesting living room of the Pero homestay.

Praying room here too.

The toilets (I've taken a photo of the inside, but trust me... you don't want to see it).

Squids everywhere.

We got there just in time for lunch. Yes, squids. But not only. Everything delicious.

It was a bit windy so we decided to wait for the sunset session. It was my first nap inside a net.

And that's how the left looked after that. Pretty good, don't you think?

And that's the right.

Unfortunately, and that's something I definitely learned here in Indo, not all waves that look good are good. There were sections that we just could not make. It was low tide (supposedly the left works at all tides) and we didn't feel like pushing ourselves deep in the break, because the inside looked pretty shallow. So we hung out on the shoulder, but right there there was punchy section that punished us unforgivinbly. I managed to make only one wave all the way to the channel and that was not a fun session at all for neither of us.
"Maybe it needs a bigger tide, let's see how it looks tomorrow", we both agreed.

Back at the homestay, we found this lovely fellow on the floor. It was big (my foot is there for reference), but it looked completely innocuous and peaceful. I didn't want anybody to accidentaly step on him, so I gently pushed him out of the way with my sleeper.
He did not like that and expressed his feelings with the most unexpected, loud and unnatural skriek. To the point that I literaly jumped (provoking the laughter of one of the local ladies).
"Hey Paul, come check out what our friend can do!"
I pushed him and again and he skrieked again and this time was Paul's turn to jump.
You see a bug in Sumba? Let it be.

Time for dinner came, but the electricity was cut off. Nonetheless we enjoyed a romantic candle light dinner. Bintang (warm), rice, vegetables, eggs and, you bet, squids.

After dinner, still with no electricity, we smoked a couple of cigars (that I had brought under Pete's suggestion as giveways for the locals) and chatted on the porch. It was a nice way to connect with a young man half my age.
Glass half empty train of thoughts:"damn, I wish I started that young to surf and travel the world"
Glass half full train of thoughts:"I'm twice as old as him, but nonetheless I surf and travel the world. Good job!".
Guess which one I went for.

After a mosquito-less night (the nets do work!), we went to check the surf. This was the brand new catch of a single household. Holy squid!

These nets must work too!

We made friends with this local guy. He wasn't too enthusiast that I took a photo of him. Then I remembered that some of them believe that taking a photo of you equals taking a bit of soul out of you... sorry brah, didn't mean to do that.

And here's our left again. This time we weren't fooled. It looks perfect in the photo, but the sections still weren't makable. Sooner or later it would close out on you. Heavily (plenty overhead).
Our explanation was that Pete had it good because of a different swell angle.

This is a panoramic view that shows the beach (to the left there's the boat harbor), the left in the middle and the right to the right. A perfect setup. That's what it would seem, but it wasn't.

We waited till 10 in the hope that a higher tide would make it have a better shape. It didn't happen. It actually got worse, because the wind picked up.
"the other waves nearby will be windy too... fuck it, let's go to the airport and get on the first plane back to Kuta! If we're lucky we can catch a sunset surf..."

Well, we weren't lucky. There were no more flights with available seats and the only available one was going to be for the day after: Thursday 23 at 1pm. Hopefully still in time for a sunset sesh at one of the Kuta reefs.
"Well, what do we do now? (it was 2pm). Nothing, let's get an hotel, some lunch and chill."
There was only one hotel in town (the one below) and all rooms were taken because of a government convention. I mean, what are the odds... maybe we should have used those praying rooms!

After a second look at the book, the hotel clerk said:"if you wait till 5pm I'll have a room for you".
"Sure, can we have lunch somwhere in the meantime?"
"Yes, upstairs".
We went upstairs and all we found was the leftovers of the government convention buffet. But it was all free for us and the vegetables were delicious as usual. We took it as a sign of a turning luck.

The countryside view of the hotel was actually very nice and relaxing (if it wasn't for the combined sounds of a loud radio and tv) and that's what I actually have in front of me, while I kill the time and write this post.

Well, we tried.
We took a chance to go to a remote place to score uncrowded waves and we didn't get lucky. But if you never try, you will never have a chance. And we enjoyed the experience anyway.
Despite the extremely poor living conditions, the people were very friendly and seemed relatively happy. We were treated a bit like celebrities or, more realistically, like novelties. Each single kid shouted "Hallo mister" to us and waved and smiled. I felt like Queen Elizabeth because of the amount of waves and smiles I gave back.
You can be happy without having anything. This trip was another confirmation of that. Two lost days of surf are a bummer, but we did get something out of the experience.
If anything, the confirmation that the "never leave waves to find waves" saying is still the wisest ever! :)
Till next time.

Wait! Can't finish a report like this wihout the three pages of the Indo Wave Finder dedicated to Sumba and Pero.

PS. I'm back in Kuta, I enjoyed airport Lefts again and I'm loving restaurants with Wi-Fi.
PPS. Bart started his amazing crossing.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The ultimate crossing

A little break from the Indo reports, because when you have a friend that is completely nuts, you want the world to know!
Here's Bart next adventure. Scary hard core. Good luck buddy!!!

PS. I'm back in Kuta and tomorrow I'll catch a flight to Sumba, where I'll spend the last week of my Indo trip. I highly doubt that there will be internet connection...
PPS. Kuta's Airport lefts is still the most fun wave I've surfed in this trip. I just surfed it for 4 hours straight. God, does this Bintang taste good or what?


The plan is to Stand up paddle from the Big Island to Kauai, about 300 miles and a little less then 500 KM. I will be using my STARBOARD Open Ocean 14'0" x 28". This crossing will be solo, non stop and unsupported. This means eating, sleeping, living and most of all paddling on the board for approximately 5 days and nights. Right now the planned start is coming Wednesday.

Now, I had quite a few people, among which Svein Rasmussen, my wife Dagmar, my mom, and a couple of other very good friends, asking me the same thing; why on earth do you want to do that?

The answer is simple.I think, sometimes it is good to do something difficult and hard in order to appreciate life, people, food and all the things around you we often take for granted. And I love to challenge myself and I love the adventure, being very close to the ocean for 5 days is an experience everybody should have once in their life. Maybe not necessarily on a 14 foot SUP this way though.
And, it is in the Hawaiian culture. Hawaiians have been using their outrigger canoes since thousand of years to reach all corners of the pacific. They used simple canoes and the sun and the stars for navigation, amazing the distance they travelled. To really understand, you have to experience yourself.

The planned route along the North ( windward ) side of all the islands. 2 years ago I paddled around Maui. A beautiful trip where I saw, everything Maui has to offer, the great sights of the coast and Haleakala, whales, sharks, dolphins and so much more. After that I knew, I wanted to do another trip like that.

This time I came up with the idea when I was going to paddle in Zambia, last November, with Connor Baxter and Margareta Engstrom. So after coming back from Africa I started preparing. Looking at the route, buying safety gear, thinking about which board and planning when would be a good time. Because of the necessary trade winds and my racing schedule, June looked like a good month.

One of the training sessions with gear and water on board.

The next post I will explain a little more about the gear I am taking.

Aloha, Bart