Sunday, April 30, 2017

4 30 17 morning call

Sorry about the late calls, I'm struggling getting back into my circadian rhythm. Which, together with this picture of the heavy rain water coming down the Pali on the Maui Watch Facebook page, is also the reason why I didn't surf yesterday.

The WSL big wave awards were assigned yesterday and the Maui surfers once again dominated. Congratulations to Billy Kemper for the ride of the year award, Francisco Porcella for the biggest wave award and Paige Alms for the women's best overall performance award. I found out those results on this page. Here's Francisco's monster tow in wave at Nazare.

5am significant buoy readings
South shore

2.4ft @ 14s from 198° (SSW)
South swell down in period, there's still waves but the webcam doesn't look too impressive. Here's a chest high set that I had to wait quite a bit for. Nobody out (yet) and wind from the north. Probably the water is dirty too.

Pat Caldwell put a long period reinforcement for today in his table, but I don't see it at any of the buoys, so it's probably going to arrive tomorrow.

North shore
12.4ft @ 10s from 351° (N)

5.9ft @ 9s from 350° (N)

6.4ft @ 9s from 340° (NNW)

The waves did come up in the afternoon on the north shore, but the onshore wind made them look very ugly. Unfortunately, today should be even worse, as some moderate to strong onshore are predicted to blow all day (stronger in the afternoon). 21(17-26)mph from 339, already at the Hookipa sensor at 6.50am.

I really hope to have the MC2km maps back at one point, this closeups on Windity just don't have enough resolution. This is the Euro model at 1pm.

Current wind map shows:
1) a small/distant/not well oriented NW fetch
2) a southerly fetch in the right spot east of New Zealand. Not a big one, but we should get a little something out of it in a week.
I forgot to circle the windswell fetch, you guys see it, right?

It's all about the rain these days, here's the 5am satellite picture.

6.25am rain radar

I've never seen such high numbers in the rain forecast row on Windguru. 59mm/3h this afternoon is a bit scary, but it might be a bit exaggerated. The other models at the bottom of the page "only" indicate 16 and 32... we shall see. I did a laundry on Thursday afternoon that is still hanging on the wire...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

7.30am hookipa has chest to shoulder high windswell waves with light kona.

4 19 17 morning call

Just one surf session in Lahaina is all my jet legged body allowed me to do yesterday, but it sure was fun.
If you thought you saw a t-rex surfing yesterday at Grandma's, I've got good news for you: you did not go insane, there really was one.

5am significant buoy readings
South shore

2.9ft @ 17s from 197° (SSW)
1.9ft @ 13s from 198° (SSW)
As forecasted, the south swell picked up a notch, but as forecasted, the wind is from the south this morning and it's quite blown out over there. Check the webcam to see yourself.

North shore
8.8ft @ 9s from 346° (NNW)
8.3ft @ 9s from 320° (NW)

5.9ft @ 8s from 329° (NW)           
3.5ft @ 6s from 342° (NNW)
2.3ft @ 4s from 346° (NNW)
4.1ft @ 9s from 62° (ENE)

Short period NW energy at all buoys but Pauwela. I explain that with the position of the very close front that is generating that energy. As you can see from the current wind map below, the associated fetch is just west of us and it's main energy is missing us to the west. As the westernmost island of the chain, Hanalei is consequently getting the biggest readings, with Waimea right behind.
Surfline calls for an increase locally in the afternoon (6f 8s), but the low pressure is not modeled to move any east, so I kind of question that a bit. And even if it happens, it's gonna be onshore.
In fact, even if at the moment (6.30am) the wind is blowing from the south, later on today it will be blowing from the north. The closeup wind map below is a 2pm and there might actually be quite a long transition time in which the wind will unfortunately be onshore both on the south and north shore. Tough to find clean waves today.
The MC2km maps would help a lot in that task, but they are stuck at March 31. Please let me know if any of you guys has found the reason (sometimes they just change the url).
Current wind map shows the fetch I just talked about and a windswell one. The elongated south one has pretty marginal winds.

The local low is fabricating plenty clouds (the animation is pretty cool, link n.6).

Which will bring plenty rain.

Friday, April 28, 2017

9.30am lahaina side coming in at waist to head high and clean. Sketchy low tide. Hookipa looked chest high.

4 28 17 morning call

I got back on Maui yesterday afternoon and, despite a nice south swell, didn't manage to go surf, so I don't have a photo of the day. Here's one from Macaroni's, but the whole report is just below this call, if you want to have a read.

6am significant buoy readings
North shore
6.7ft @ 7s from 351° (N)           
4.6ft @ 10s from 341° (NNW)
3.7ft @ 11s from 294° (WNW)
3.2ft @ 8s from 80° (E)           
2.3ft @ 11s from 330° (NW)
Small readings at Pauwela, but probably very clean conditions with the Hookipa sensor reading 6 (4-8)mph from SSE at 7am. Probably chest to occasionally head high I might go have a look and post a beach report before heading south. Slightly bigger numbers at the NW buoy, it should make for a possible increase tomorrow.

South shore
2.3ft @ 13s from 196° (SSW)
2.1ft @ 18s from 200° (SSW)
Lovely long period readings at the Lanai buoy, as the graph below shows there's two components at 13 and 18 seconds respectively. The long period one picked up yesterday afternoon (how's my timing?).
Didn't have to wait at all to catch this head high set at the webcam in the Lahaina. Check it yourself to see the consistency.
And it will be pumping for at least the next three days, as the Surfline forecast below shows. That's link n.14 og GP's list (click on the offshore swell tab).
That will make for great conditions for the State Championships that start today at the Ala Moana bowls in Oahu. Heat draws are below, plenty Maui kids in them.

Here's a nice set at the Ala Moana webcam on Surfline.

Current wind map shows:
1) a moderate but close by N fetch that is responsible for the 4.6ft @ 10s from 341° (NNW) reading at the NW buoy. This swell should pick up during the weekend.
2) windswell fetch
3) a small southerly fetch

Some clouds associated with the tail of the weak front that brought yesterday's rain.

I know it's been windy while I was away, but the Windguru table shows a lovely lack of wind for the next 10 days that will make for some great surfing conditions. Notice the heavy rain on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 Mentawai trip part 1: Macaroni's

Among the many little things I do in order to sustain my surfing life style, there's also a bit of bookings of accommodation in Maui (hit me up if you're planning a trip!).

In this particular case, I was contacted by an old windsurfing acquaintance for a three weeks stay in the middle of April. Since this month has slowly become one of my least favorite ones in Maui (representing the transition from the wave filled winter to the wind filled spring and reflecting the shift of my passion from windsurfing towards surfing), I combined business with pleasure and offered him to stay at my place and use my car. That meant I had to go somewhere!

Obviously, I couldn't choose the period based on the forecast, like I would have preferred to do (I even plan liver flushes on that, imagine a surf trip!), but I had to stick to his dates instead. In this case I was quite happy to blindly book a ticket to Bali from April 4 to 27 though.

As bad as a forecast for that region can be, there's always waves to ride over there, plus I have a quiver of boards stored at a friend's house and that makes for easy travelling. Inside that "imposed" period instead, I could choose to move around wherever and whenever I wanted, and so I did.

This was my nineth trip to Indonesia in the last seven years. Thanks to the wonderful archive/diary nature of blogs, here's the links to the reports of all of them (also accessible through the labels section): trip 1, 2, 3, 4 (the least documented, only some photos of an epic swell at this end of that post), 5, 6, 7 and 8

On Voyage 9, it was finally time for me to visit a place that is (or should be) on every surfer's must-do-trip list: the Mentawais. As many of you probably know, they are a remote archipelago of islands offshore Sumatra.

Due to the their ideal position across the equator (which usually means very light winds) and exposure to the prevalent direction of the Indian Ocean swells (S to SW), the number of world class waves to be found in the area is impressive. The region is quite vast, remote and undeveloped and a very popular option to explore and surf a good number of spots is a boat trip.

As a consequence, there's more than 50 charters that operate in the area and most of them offer trips between 9-11 days for 10-12 surfers. Most of the prices range from $200 to $300 a day, with some exceptions of both cheaper boats (also knows as "ghetto boats",slow, noisy and often with one bathroom only) to super expensive luxury yachts like the Indies Trader 3 and similar.

I was in touch with a couple of the medium priced ones and got an interesting last minute offer from the Moon Palikir of $2750 for their April 6 to 18 trip. Even though it was tempting ($230/day for a really nice boat), here's the list of reasons why I decided to pass:

1) the first days of the trip (up until the 12th) had a very poor forecast, both in terms of marginal wave size and bad winds
2) I was afraid that the moderate (10-15 knots) w-nw winds forecasted for those days, not only would blow out most of the name spots, but would also make most of the trip a bit rough
3) I'm a very independent kind of person and I love to do my plans on my own and enjoy my solitary moments between surfs. That would have been challenging, if not impossible, on a boat: the amount of space is limited, you have to share cabins, I didn't know the rest of the guests and their surfing preferences, and so on
4) $230/day is still a hell lot of money for me, specially considering how much cheaper it would have been to just remain in Bali for example (where I can easily pull it off at $30/day with room, meals and bike).

The main advantage of a boat trip though, is that if the surf guide is good, you can possibly score good uncrowded waves. This is becoming more and more difficult nowadays, but it's still not impossible. That was confirmed by a Maui resident blog reader that I randomly met in one of the lineups. He recognized me and addressed me like this: "hey, no Italian windsurfers from Paia in the lineup please!".
To which I replied, after recognizing him and seeing a friendly teasing smile on his face:"well first of all, you can barely call me a windsurfer these days. Plus I'm not even Italian anymore (on the papers, at least). The only thing you got right is that I'm from Paia... but that's only because Kuau doesn't have its own zip code!"

He was in the middle of a boat trip and he also confirmed that point n.1 was absolutely correct while n.2 wasn't too big of a deal (for the roughness point of view at least... the westerly wind did ruin most of the waves, but more than that, the problem was the lack of swell).

So I chose to wait out those first six small days in Bali. Thanks to the local knowledge I developed in the previous trips, I actually managed to score some very fun sessions nonetheless, the last one of which even in the epic category at my favorite Uluwatu break: head high, as clean as it gets, five people and pretty consistent (not the one in the photo below).

I also utilized the time by shopping around to enrich my board quiver. Thanks to this lovely Bali surfboards buy and sell Facebook page, in fact, I scored an old Lost Whiplash 6.3 at $75 (!) that fit right in between my 6.6 stepup and 6.0 shortboard that I already have permanently stashed over there.

When the right time came, on April 11th I flew to Padang and started a two weeks Mentawai trip with the intention of hopping between surf camps. The planning of which was much more difficult that you can imagine, seen the relatively poor ferry connections between islands and the lack of information about them on the internet. One thing I knew: I wanted to surf Macaroni's.

Here's the Wave Finder description of it: if photos of this place don't cause saliva to drip from your lips, you need to see a shrink. Macca's, the most famous wave in the Mentawais, is the perfect left in the perfect setting. A typical take-off will be straight into a fine-lipped, feathering barrel that tempts you to stall and make the moment linger. The idea is to then come out of the tube onto an endless clean wall, with room to turn and throw spray. Sort of 2 experiences for the price of one. It gets horrendously busy for the above reasons, but worth it. 3-8 plus, 4-5 is often best, with middle tides. Low tide is pretty shallow. Sits in a protected bay thus requires sold swell to fire, preferably of the south-southwest variety. Experienced surfers, but intermediates will get waves on most days. An hour's cruise south can yield less crowded options.

That was my first stop and the only one that I actually had to book in advance. Unless you're really ready to rough it up and either stay at the Silabu village for cheap and walk an hour in the muddy slums to reach the spot, or camp in the jungle right in front of it, there's only two ways to surf what is often described as "the funnest wave on Earth". And that's by being on one of those boat trips that I just described above (and hoping that the captain will agree on taking you there) or by staying at the very expensive Macaroni's resort. Below is a night portrait of the pool area.

The cost of one night there is $390 AUD which translates into $300 US and that, despite three meals, a non stop boat service to the break (a 2 minutes commute across the bay) and a nice private a/c room, still constituted an excruciatingly high amount of money for me. The map below shows the resort location.

Btw, while still pondering if to pull the trigger or not, I randomly received a photo of some freshly oven cooked macaroni from my dad, who was completely unaware of the name of the spot and of my desire to surf it. He's just an Italian parent, that's what they do.. they send pictures of pasta to their kids, even - and specially - at age 86.

The book I was reading when that happened ("Lifting the veil of duality" by Andreas Moritz) that states that nothing is a coincidence, so I interpreted it as a signal from above and, despite my proverbial parsimony, went for it. I just didn't want to die without having surfed it, really.

Let me anticipate the two bottom line outcomes, before I dig into a more detailed description of them:
1) was the wave really up to its fame? Absolutely.
2) was it worth 300 bucks a night? Absolutely not.

As far as the first point goes, you can google tons of descriptions, reviews, photos and videos of Macca's, so I'm just gonna quickly point out a few reasons why I considered it, from the very first moment, an incredibly fun wave:

- even though it's definitely an advanced wave, it's not a particularly difficult one. I gave it a 6 out of 10 from that point of view. G-Land for me was a 9 for example and I can often rank the drop at Lanes on a overhead 15s+ swell a 7, just to give you a reference.

- it's one of the very few reef barrels that is not particularly dangerous. From that point of view, I gave it another 6, while Desert Point was a 10. Nonetheless and obviously, if you wipe out you can still get some serious cuts from the reef, especially at low tide. I got a few tattoos myself, but not too bad thanks to my shoes and a 1.5mm wetsuit top (in which I was often steaming hot, which I didn't mind)

- unless there's bad wind on it (and the first couple of days there was some), the quality of the wave is ridiculously and consistently high. The percentage of excellent waves coming in the lineup in the good glassy days was easily over 80%

- it works at all tides (no down time during the day like many other Indo spots), my favorite one being high.

So what the hell am I bitching about? Am I that hopelessly cheap?
Despite the claim on the resort's website that the rule they negotiated with the local tourism authorities is for maximum two charter boats at the time moored by the break, when I arrived the number of boats was actually four.

And even when two of them left (like in the photo above), the number of people in the lineup never-ever went under 15 (not even at lunch time) and, more often than not, was actually up in the thirties. And if that might seem not that bad, for an average surfer like me it unfortunately was, because:
- the take off area is quite confined. The wave is pretty mechanical and almost always breaks in the same spot, so those 15-30 surfers were all sitting elbow to elbow, which is the same reason why I almost never surf Pavillions at Hookipa, for example.
- the level in the water was ridiculously high and my chances of competing with such a pack were extremely slim.

The private webcam in the room and in the restaurant area was very convenient to check the conditions and the crowd. I counted 15 heads in this picture. It means it was at least 25.

Like at Honolua when is big, beautiful and crowded, my best sessions were when I sat at the very end of the lineup, waiting for the occasional guy that got shut down in the barrel. In that way, I could actually bank a decent wave count, but, even though the end of the wave was still very fun, I pretty much only watched the others riding the best and barreling first part of the wave.
As usual, I'm far from complaining, I'm just objectively reporting. I'm definitely very happy to have made the experience, but I'm not going back. Unless I become 10 times better and/or I win the lottery.

The resort experience per se was great. The guests were a nice mix of nationalities, skill levels and ages and that made for a nice atmosphere. The two photographers worked really hard to make sure they took videos of everyone at every time of the day. The 7pm projection before dinner was always a hoot. The loudness of the cheerings was proportional to the amount of Bintangs flowing down the throats. The fact that half of the guests were really good ripping surfers obviously helped the enjoyment of the show. At times, it was like watching a WSL contest, really. Fortunately I declared right away that I wasn't interested in buying their photo/video packages, so there wasn't much action of me. But they occasionally still managed to film a few waves of mine (like the one below) and that was a bit of a temporary buzz killer.

And after this torrent of words, let me try to let some photos speak, starting with this Gopro one showing absolute perfection.

My turn now.

A little piece of coral managed to get stuck underneath my nail. Pulling it off with small seizers and the left hand made for a full hour of fun.

To shoot the stupid finger photo above, I left the zoom setting on "macro" and that's why these four shots below are not exactly sharp. Too bad, it was a killer evening session that I photographed from the boat.

Sunset shots came out allright.

Believe it or not, there's also a beginner wave with sandy bottom.

The photos below are from a nice kid called Travis van Niekerk.

This was the best surfer of the bunch, IMO.
And here's the worse one with his recognizable surfing hat. Good thing that in surfing, how good you are has nothing to do with how much fun you have.

One feature of the resort that I absolutely loved, was the fact that it had a few old SUP boards which you could use to explore the forest of mangroves in the lagoon. Plenty peace and personal space there, as this little video will hopefully show.   

Here's some photos of the lagoon. Definitely not as crowded as the wave lineup.

There are some sea snakes, but this turned out to be the longest sea cucumber ever.

This concludes the report of part 1 of my 2017 Mentawai trip. This is the link to part 2.