Monday, November 27, 2006

About fifteen years ago I saw a news report on the famine that hit Eritrea in north east Africa. That night I had a very vivid dream that I just had to commit to a very short story. For the sake of getting something online this week, I thought I'd share it. It's kinda raw, and I'll probably regret putting it up, but here goes anyway.


She was the most beautiful woman in the world, although she didn’t know it.

I first saw her when I was working in the Horn of the Continent. She lived in a small village, with her new family (a baby son and a husband) trying with some success to live and be happy. Her husband was a herdsman, as most husbands were, and farmed a little, as most husbands did, and she, God bless her, did her best to be a good wife, by pounding the grain, or baking the bread or looking after the joy of her young life.

She was sixteen years old and early into the second year of her marriage.

Her name was Ichka.

I didn’t see her for some months and I’m sure she didn’t miss me, as she didn’t really know me. I was just another white man working for the local Red Cross. We’d never spoken and it was unlikely we would.

You see, it was not as though I’d fallen in love, or even lust, which would have been forgivable given the rather chaste circumstances of an aide worker in the aptly named Horn of the Continent. More, I simply fell deeply in admiration for the pure grace of her life.

The troubles came quickly.

The cause seems irrelevant now. The leaders of two countries that didn’t really feature in the greater scheme of things began to feel they needed to show some muscle. The superpowers, always ready to capitalise on an opportunity to gain territory or to score points, were quickly into the fray, supporting opposite sides and letting another witless pair of dictators begin to starve their people into oblivion.

There was no drought, it was a wet year and the crops should have been good. There was plenty of fodder and for the first time in some long years there was an opportunity for this lean race of people to grow fat, and so it should have been. But, the war came, forcing them away in their thousands to try to keep themselves and their beloved children alive.

They have a strange way of burial in this part of the world.

The soil is hard, and wood scarce, but they painstakingly fashion a coffin of the finest timber available. This out of respect for the deceased. Its shape is like a barrel cut diagonally across its axis to form a base and a lid. The body is placed in a sitting position, the higher side of the diagonal cut acting as a backrest, to keep the body upright for the necessary viewing by relatives at the funeral. The grave itself is like a large posthole, and about a foot deeper than the coffin is high. A gravestone is positioned after the funeral and a memento of the deceased is often attached. Funny little graves, if graves were ever funny.

I’d been away for a couple of months, trying to organise supply lines around the war. I wasn’t the only one and I know I wasn’t the best. My manner was never the most diplomatic and when it came to dealing with a petty official who was enjoying having some hundreds of thousands of lives hanging on the stroke of his pen, well, my manner was even worse. Thankfully there were others more suited to shaking such people out of their complacency, and due to the efforts of them we were about, we hoped, to receive shipments of rice, or wheat to relieve the famine.

Approaching the camp, my first impression was “where is it?” because all I could see was a few tents flapping in the wind, surrounded by regularly spaced boulders rising out of the dust that covered an area of about 40 acres. A few figures could be seen staggering around but for where there were supposed to be some 10,000 people there were not enough.

Not nearly enough.

And then I realised the boulders were bodies, most still alive, others just dead and awaiting the attentions of relatives to prepare them for burial.
A few of the stronger were making the strange little coffins that they used, only now the coffins were not made of the finest timber. They were made of the only timber, being sticks and twigs, and as these became scarcer the coffins got worse.

The remaining women were, with the aide workers, respectfully cleaning the bodies.

Then I saw her.

One of the two ‘boulders’ close to me moved and I realised it was Ichka, lying next to the body of her baby. She was nearly dead herself and there was nothing I could do to save her as the shock of food, if there was any, would probably have killed her anyway.

What happened next was like a dream.

The little one was gently lifted for cleaning, and so was Ichka. They had begun to wash the near dead as well. As the dust was sponged away you could still see the beauty, and somehow the suffering had made it even greater.

Her happiness was placed in a coffin, and she was placed in the one next to it. She wanted to be.

How it got there I don’t know but suddenly I heard the click-whirr of a polaroid camera and turned to see Ichka with a smile like the opening of heaven, sitting in her funny little coffin, laughing at the bloody stupid futility of her life.

Then she died.

People gasped at the polaroid nailed to the post on her pathetic little grave. They were the people who finally arrived with the food and medicine that would have saved them. They gasped at the polaroid and so they should have.

She was the most beautiful woman in the world, but she never knew it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


They've been a bit thin on the ground lately, as we're moving house soon and there are just so many demands on my time.

Did an early morning run with my mate Rich down to Woolamai on Phillip Island. Bit of a bump in the swell but found a very quick righthander at Magiclands, just under the headland in the shot.

It's not called Magics for nothing, such a lovely spot. Unfortunately the crowd was decidedly unmagic, and it got a little tense, but by then I'd managed to get some good ones. A few nice turns, and in I went. I'm too old for all that testosterone fueled stuff.

I was all set for a second surf when the sea breeze hit.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I know I seem to focus a little on the past, but that's where a lot of good stories seem to dwell.
In 1980, after a couple of stabs at getting it on over a few years, I managed to score Mundaka, in northern Spain, bigtime. Here's me, and I'm told I made it. I can't remember as to me every wave out there was a case of white line fever.
Six or seven guys out tops, a hundred or so watching at one stage (there was a festival on) and it did it all again a couple of days later. Sometimes it pays to be twenty six, twenty six years ago.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


When I go for a surf, or at least, when I leave the water, and wander back to the car, I keep my eye out for sea drift. The stuff our lives commit to the sea, for the sea to cast back to us, days, weeks, years later.

My shed is filling with this stuff, waiting for an idea to present itself and for me to attempt a little bit of, in this case, whimsy.

The wood from the frame, I found at a place called Cape Schanck, and carried the 6 foot long beam, along with my board and wetty, up a 200ft plus cliff. Great couple of lefts at the Schanck, always worth the effort.

The heart shaped rock and kelp thing comes from the beach in front of a great righthander called Boneyards, not far from Apollo Bay, in south western Victoria. The name says it all, and close to being my favourite wave.

The blue sandal sole, from a place called Clifton, not far from the Twelve Apostles.
That's all I can tell you about Clifton.

The broom head comes from Rivernook, a secret spot way down south that is one of Wayne Lynch's favourite waves. Or at least it was. He reckon's he's over it as it's getting too crowded. Last time I surfed it there were 4 guys out and it was one of the best surfs I've ever had. Indo like screaming barrels at 4-6ft, sunny, offshore, bliss.

Behind it all is a car's oil pan, found in the carpark at Gunnamatta. Great beachbreaks, deadly beach if you're a tourist unfamiliar with the sea. About four years back a family turned up, 4 kids ran over the dune while Mum and Dad unpacked the car and 3 had drowned by the time the parents had walked the 50metres to the beach.

A sign went up not long after telling people the lifesavers were 100 metres down the beach.

And the abalone, they're from everywhere, and maybe one is from a beach near you.

The title, well, I had my wife in mind when I named it.


Saturday, November 11, 2006


Every surfer has an epic surf story or three. As you get older they gather in the backwaters of your memory and sit, waiting to be trotted out at the odd dinner party.

This blog thing is my opportunity to dig the occasional one out, without the excuse of one too many glasses of red, and today, I'll tell you a story about Hec.

As you've gathered from my earlier post, a couple of years ago I enjoyed a boat trip to the waters off northern Sumatra. One of my shipmates was Hec, and welcome he was, as Hec in his other life is the local GP in the town of Denmark, sitting deep in the southwest corner of Western Australia.

We were all very pleased to hear he was coming on the trip, and amazed at the sight of the major hospital cunningly disguised as a first aid kit he brought with him. How the hell it got through Indonesian and Singaporean customs I'll never know, but it did, and as we ventured out on our little holiday we all secretly hoped it would not be needed.

For the first few days the only time it was opened was to bring out the Betadine, for the odd scrape from the reef, but on, I think day five, I was the first recipient of his ministrations when I had a fight with my fins during a wipeout at that little break called Rockstars. One caught me in the head, just above my right eye, and Hec dutifully gave me 6 of his best stitches. I was back in the water the next morning, albeit with a healthy smearing of antibiotic ointment and a silicon swim hat under my helmet, just to keep everything in place.

A couple of days later, Hec dragged the bag out again to sew up Neil, another of our number, after his fins decided to attack his leg. Not so bad this time, just 3 stitches, and Neil back in the line up, again the next day.

Then, again a couple of days later, we're all sitting in the lineup at a pumping lefthander called Asu, when one of the other boat captains comes into the lineup in a skiff and yells, "Which one of you guys is a doctor?

I was sitting close enough to see Hec roll his eyes as he dutifully put his hand up, and he was whisked away to God knows what.

As it turned out, a young guy surfing the inside section called the Nuke zone (now no longer existent, as the earthquake that occurred a couple of months later caused it to rise 3ft out of the water) had been hit in the leg by a passing surfer exiting the tube as the aforementioned young guy was attempting to duck dive the oncoming wave,

Now this was a cut, and, given that Asu is about 300 miles from the nearest hospital, the kid had just won the lottery to have Hec within yelling distance.

God knows how many sutures later, both internal and external, and we had a very happy camper. His trip was due to end the next day, and the last thing we heard was he was off to enjoy the delights of the Octoberfest in Munich, with a gammy leg.

Now, you might say this is a kinda cool story, but a bit so what. But really the story is about Hec and how hard core he is when it comes to getting a surf.

Earlier this year, unlike the rest of us, he managed to wangle another boat trip, this time to the Maldives.

Day one, and Hec rides a longboard (he's 50) , he wipes out and receives a rather heavy knock to the leg. Hurts a bit but no big deal, and it's the end of the day.

Day two, and after another wipeout and a bit of a drag from the legrope (Hec's a natural, and the leggie is on his right leg, the one that was hit)... and Hec feels an odd sort of clicking going on. Hmmm... the diagnostic brain switches on, he's not liking what he's thinking but on with the show.

Day three, and another wipeout confirms his suspicions... he's busted his fibula, the smaller of the two bones in his lower leg, and not to put a too fine a point on it... the trip's looking fucked.

Not to be deterred, Hec, back on board, gathers together the boats two week supply of sun cure resin and fibreglass, builds himself a cast and surfs out the remaining 8 days, just 2 hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, as he didn't want to overdo it.

The sequence, courtesy of one of his shipmates via our mutual Sumatran shipmate Marky, is of Hec, nicely slotted, on his 50th birthday trip.

Go Hec... you're a bloody legend.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

When I turned fifty my present to myself, and perhaps to my family (ie: they got rid of me for a couple of weeks) was a surfing trip to the islands off northern Sumatra.

I kidded myself that I would partly finance this with a spot of travel journalism, and on my return promptly penned this little story for the travel section of The Age, the main Melbourne broadsheet. It was accepted, but unhappily the section in which it was to be included was canned shortly before it was to be published.

Now that I control my own publishing destiny, here 'tis. If you recognize the young man it features, please share it with me. I'd love to know more of his story.


“Micko, when we’re 50 we’ve gotta come out of a big barrel”
So said one of my surfing buddies in a Kombi in France way back in 1978. It seemed a lifetime away then. The thought of a geriatric fifty year-old even getting out in the water was to us, at twenty-three, bordering on science fiction. Still, it was something to aim for and as the years flew by, the barriers to achieving dreams such as this came, and were happily embraced. Marriage, two beautiful boys and a feisty but understanding wife who allowed me my passion for the sea.

What was once surfing all weekend became 3 hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning. I grew immune to the 3-hour round trip for three hours in the water. Seasons were irrelevant, but the round trip remained. I stayed fit by running, or staring at the bottom of a swimming pool, the black line drifting by, 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week.

Suddenly, I was nearing fifty.

The dream started looking like it might come true, but to make sure, I needed to go somewhere where there were consistent, big (so I didn’t have to stoop) barrels. A barrel is the hollow formed by a breaking wave. Otherwise known as the tube, it holds a special place in all surfer’s hearts. There are quite a few spots where these “ big barrels” might be found.

Bali was an obvious choice, but it lacked the uncharted territory feel that surfing in France had all those years ago. Hawaii has the size, and places like Tahiti’s Teeahupoo certainly have the goods when the search is for sheer, mind-numbing power, but I wanted to come back alive.

Indonesia, however, is still, and probably will always remain, the home of the world’s best surfing, if perfect waves are the measure of such things. In the northwest, off the Sumatran coast, lie the Mentawais, an island chain home to some of the world’s great waves, and nearby the island of Nias, and it’s legendary wave at Lagundri.
I put out the word to a few of my friends, all a little younger but all sharing the same passion. To get to these places, the preferred access is the ‘boat trip’, a chartered vessel island hopping perfect wave after perfect wave.

Some friends dropped out, citing fear of sea sickness, timing or lack of funds, but we finally assembled our seven, and courtesy of Chris Scurrah and Sumatran Surfariis, we departed the old Sumatran Dutch Colonial port of Padang, aboard the Southern Cross.

Chris, or Scuzz as he puzzlingly prefers to be called, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the waters and reefs of the island chain. He decided we needed to head north, bypassing the Mentawais (too many boats) and heading to a less well-known group of islands for our first taste of surf. This was the beginning of surfing perfect or near perfect waves, 7 hours a day for 13 days. Aches and pains appeared. Others we’d had for years disappeared. That desk in front of you causes more grief to the body than any coral reef I’ve been dragged across.

We began naming breaks after prominent Indonesian politicians. We loved Megawatis, we survived Bam Bams and at General Wiranto’s, we lost a bit of skin. Every night we looked at the video of the day’s action, and I slipped momentarily into a deep depression. Surely I don’t surf THAT bad. It’s amazing the difference between sensory and visual feedback if you don’t have a constant point of reference. Then, I reverted to, well... not too bad, for fifty.
It made it that much easier.

The highlight of the trip? Strangely, it had little to do with the surf.

One of the best waves we surfed was near a village on a small island. Surfers call the break Rockstars, a wave comparable, some say, to the more famous waves in the Mentawais. It named itself when the first surfers to surf there were greeted like rockstars when they came ashore. The villagers had never seen surfing, but had heard of it, and were overjoyed to have a good surfing spot in their village.

A young American, named Tim, from San Diego, visited one day in August 2002 . He returned again the next day and by then the villagers would have come to know him, and greeted him with the same warmth and friendliness they greeted us.

Tim’s surf that day ended abruptly when he was stabbed in the femoral artery by a fin of his board.

Tim bled to death in the village as his friends and the villagers frantically tried to help.
I visited the village in early September 2004. As we entered the village from the ocean we encountered a near completed memorial. The top half was shrouded in sackcloth, screening it before it’s official unveiling. We were aware of the story of Tim, and asked if we could see it. The villagers agreed, and the kids crowded about, saying it’s for “Mr Tim, Mr Tim”.

On one side of the memorial is a clipping from the Los Angeles Times, telling of Tim’s death. On the other side is a picture above the initials, TM. Tim looks full of life, holding aloft a mackerel he’s just caught. Flanking the picture are two children’s ceramic pieces that had been sent to the village by Tim’s family. One was a child’s handprint. The other had a tiny surfer inscribed in the blue glazed clay, and the name Michael.

When I saw this I had to walk away.

I laughed with the kids, had tea with the locals and had to pass on a plate of sate dog. When I left, a couple of hours later, I looked back at the village and the memorial, thinking of the American family who will never forget a lost son and brother. And of the little village on an island off the coast of Sumatra, where there will always be a place for a young man named Tim.


Both a test and an introduction, this entry welcomes you to a journey through my view of the world. I hope you get something out of my contributions and if you don't, no harm done. One click and you're out.