BACK FROM THE BANYAKS
I almost don’t want to write about this last couple of weeks.
You might expect a surf trip to a remote tropical paradise to be just that, paradise, and it was, but the time inside your own head also gives you many moments to reflect, but more of that later.
The Banyaks are a small group of islands tucked in just above Nias, off northern Sumatra in Indonesia. To get there from Australia you fly to Kuala Lumpur, get a linking flight to Medan on the Sumatran coast, and then a 12 seater aircraft... with 3 seats removed... 8 surfers and 24 surfboards, all in the one coffin..er... cabin, out to the island of Simeulue.
This flight was punctuated by the pilot giving us a 100 foot fly by of the breaks up the Simeulue coast. He was actually a bit of a gun, and the aircraft brand new, so the picture I paint is more due to my slightly claustrophobic reaction.. I’m just not that good in tiny planes. On landing we were met by our boat captain Marcus, and then on to the port town of Sinebang and our home for the next 12 days, the good ship Gaia.
Simeulue was hit by the tsunami of 04, not a heavy loss of life but everywhere is evidence of rebuilding. New roads, houses and infrastructure, and still evidence of buildings ruined by the quakes.
The people are friendly, curious and modest, as you would expect in a Muslim area, with some of the girls and women covering their faces as we passed.
Sinebang itself is a very poor, but bustling little town. It now has it’s own supermarket which seems to be as source of much joy, though I’m told no one knows how to use the cash registers yet. It has the feeling Bali had in the mid seventies or earlier, but with a different feeling too, as it lacks the Balinese cultural artistry, that being replaced by the mixed influences of Dutch colonial, Acehnese and the local culture. My meeting with it all was very brief, as we were on to the boat immediately.
Some of us jumped straight into the drink, to shake of the travel weariness and rest after, by then 15 hours of travel. The water up there is around 30C, so it’s a bit like jumping into thick warm air, that air occupied now by three lolling old fart surfers, and a green turtle, who decided to rise up and take a look at us. As we did so we listened to the serenade of the Call to Prayer as the mullahs proclaimed the Greatness of God. I had to agree he got the water temp pretty damn right indeed.
The next 12 days were pretty much wake up, eat, surf for 4 hours, eat, surf for 4 hours, eat, have a beer and talk, sleep. Repeat.
The waves in the area are incredible. Critically fast and hollow, glassy, and all on razor sharp coral reefs, with water depths ranging from shallow to near dry reef. It gave us all cause for pause, and tempered the exuberant attack you might apply to a similar wave on a sand bottom.
We all lost bark, to varying degrees, none too bad, with the odd stitch here and there to colour the days. Luckily two of our group were doctors. One, Hec, was a GP while Jamie (a wave magnet) was a gastro intestinal surgeon. This was of intense interest to me as a week before leaving I’d had an unexpected gallstone attack and was pretty concerned about the consequences of same out in the middle of nowhere.
“Don’t worry Mick... I have a plan”
Fortune favours the brave and Jamie’s plan, thank God, never saw the light of day.
Swell size started quite solid, nudging 6 feet, extreme quality, but inconsistent as it was a dying swell and a very long distance one too. Sometimes an hour of near flatness, followed by an intense 10 minutes or so, then another hour. Here and there it’d increase in consistency, but that, if anything, was our only frustration as we were all desperate to get our share.
A tight group of breaks, suiting a variety of wind and swell conditions, meant we had little real traveling to do, once we got there.
Three lefts, two at a place called the Bay of Plenty, and two rights made up our menu, with three breaks in particular serving up the courses that left the biggest impressions.
Cobra Logs was a flogger of a left, at times almost backless, and if you got a good one it was the ride of your life. If you got one with a tail though it could end in pain.
I had a lot of trouble with the under the lip angled take off you need at these places, at first anyway, and the mind game that accompanies this dogged me for most of the trip.
There were days and waves when it all came together, and I swear I had some of the best rides of my life.
I also took a couple of hits at another place called Whistlebird that were so hard they shook me to my core, physically and psychologically, needing sleep and a couple of neurophen to allow an aching frame to regroup for the next day. At 54 you just don’t take it as easily as at 24, and the idea of pulling in to a near dry end section tube at the end of a 200 yard high speed run, not sure you’ll make it out or get scraped across the coral, meant oftimes you’d pull out instead of going hard. it seemed the wiser choice give our remoteness, but eventually you find your moment when it looks the goods and you go.
Surfing great Miki Dora once made the observation that riding a wave can seen as a metaphor for life, the troubles of life being washed away behind you, or thrown onto the reef as you shoot along the wave, to pull out and start all over again.
My take with the tube ride, particularly the one over coral, is perhaps a little different. The light is the goal, sometimes elusive, sometimes clear and bright and other times flickering, closing, or receding, just out of reach.
So many times on this trip I found myself just not quite making it, I’d have to wash away the frustration and fear of consequence, and paddle back out, make another ridiculous takeoff, or not, race along a wall that allowed no cutbacks, no pauses in that speed to the zone where you pulled in, watched the lip fold over you, gurgling over near dry reef and sometimes, sometimes, I made it out the end, into the light.
I have to do more of that.
The pic is a spread from my daily diary. A little painting and a muse everyday. Just between surfs.