The chooks are more dependable than clockwork in this outer realm of Indonesia, up bright and chirpy, cuckooing their way through the dawn. Fortunately this is a Christian island so there’s no need to contemplate suffocating yourself to death beneath a sweaty pillow as Mohammed lovers chant their Islamic little hearts out before the sun rises. Their 4am mass services would preferably go unnoticed to ignorant, surf-tourist infidels, but some Moslem enthusiast in essentially every Indonesian outpost always seems to think it’s fair and reasonable to blast the chants through mega-speakers that belong in an AC/DC concert. The excited chooks of Roti Island running round the yard outside the door are a welcome change to all the pre-dawn chanting nonsense that prevails in most parts of Indonesia. Bless you, Jesus.
Dad hops up first to take a proper look at the waves, “bad news, dumb kid, it’s looking perfect again.” I hop up from bed and scoot out from underneath the mosquito net. I haven’t seen too many mozzies, but the very real fear of malaria has kept me disciplined enough to keep popping the doxycycline pills each day. Apparently this antibiotic keeps the little pricks at bay, but the side effects of horrifying nightmares and heightened sensitivity to sunburn are not ideal in this part of the world. That’s completely irrelevant now though. I join Dad standing at our cabin door and look across the lagoon and to the outer reef beyond. The longest left-hander in Indonesia is rifling with 4-6 foot waves pounding through nonstop in the first rays of daylight.
We dab on sunscreen, grab boards and booties and get moving. The tide is mid and dropping, allowing us to walk most of the way in waist deep water to the outer reef. The booties are essential once you reach the actual reef, plenty of sharp nasties there ready to slice, dice and infect, but even the booties can’t save you from occasionally walking straight through some poor local’s seaweed plot and receiving a gritty timber post whack straight into the shin. Dad is cursing the Agar Agar seaweed cultivators whose subsistence plots are submerged perfectly along the path to Nusa Tenggara’s surfing nirvana. The persistent hits to the shin continue and the sun’s rays heat our backs as we get closer and closer.
We climb up to the now dry reef, about 2km out to sea, a stacked lineup of waves the length of the reef breaking with ruler edged precision make the shredded shins all worth it. This place truly is heaven sent. We wait for a lull and make our way out. There are three defined sections to the break: The Point, The Pyramid and The Mountain. Fortunately, the point is the most easily recognizable part of the wave, and lures in the lion’s share of surfing nomads who let their greed for waves override the patience needed to properly assess a surf spot. There’s already a pack of frothers hassling for anything breaking there. Let ‘em have it.
The next spot down the reef is The Pyramid. To be honest, this really is only a take off spot when the waves are over 10 foot and absolutely pumping. It’s odd, but as soon as waves reach that sort of size, my shrapnel injuries from wartime heroics flair up and I’m left nursing heartilage tears that are best treated by watching from the shelter of a channel or carpark. The bloody war…
And then finally, the place that Dad and I have begun to call home, The Mountain. A fickle spot, essentially in no man’s land 2km out to sea and a few hundred metres across from the Point. If your attention span happens to be the usual dose of 21st century ADHD, you would completely miss it. But, for the patient Father-Son combo, every quarter hour or so, when the swell generated from somewhere between Gnarloo, Mauritius and Antarctica lines up just right, freight train kegs and sculpted walls of Indian Ocean Manna arrive in sets of two or three.
We learned very quickly to mute any hooting when every cell in you wanted to scream anytime you were lucky enough to see a wave form up at the Mountain. Sounds of joy could alert the Fomo sheep at the Point that they would be better placed to sit down here with us. Fuck that. And this morning, for some undeserved reason, Mother Nature is breathing up each wave face with the lightest imaginable offshore puff. She’s a good bird that one. Jealousy boils as we watch blokes having a bash at gorgeous waves up the Point, but hold firm, knowing the Mountain will turn on any second. At least half hour passes of watching the horizon before the first wave arrives.
Dad gives me the nod, “all yours, dumb kid.”
I smile back and start paddling, “there’ll be a better one behind.”
I get moving, paddling into the wave with the rising sun’s rays casting the perfect golden path directly up the face. I get to my feet, my world now nothing but crystal blue, a barrel starting to throw and the view of a distant shore of endless palm trees narrows into one blissful tube of sunlight and fluid curtain. I glide out of the barrel, give it the Kelly Slater with hair, male module, forehead rub, and draw out a bottom turn that feels as though it lasts for miles before I drift back up the face and gouge out more barrel time. The wave drifts into the channel, my moment with Mother Nature in the slipstream coming to an end as I see Super Dad flying across a Mountain wall sent straight from the Cape of Good Hope.
Dad’s the one who pushed me into my first ever wave at Bilgola on Sydney’s northern beaches. When he was a lad, he fell in love with longboarding, taking to Australia’s coastline the first chance he could in his teens, setting off in any car he could get a ride in and chasing swells from Noosa to Cactus with nothing but a smile and a flawless grace as he managed to carve across waves with effortless style. Looking every part the most stoked 50 year old grom ever as he tears across this wave, I decide fuck it, and let fly with a hoot from the depths of my lungs. The salty legend deserves it.
For three more hours we are left all alone with the Mountain turning on a show that only Dad and I are privileged enough to be a part of. As the offshore puff gives way to a howling offshore wind, we start the walk back to shore. Moving slower now, the stoke overload numbing every Agar Agar post pang on the walk, Dad stops a moment, looks me in the eye.
“You know what mate, I’ve got friends who would kill to have spent the last few hours surfing perfect waves with their son and now be strolling back for banana pancakes in tropical paradise. I reckon this may well be the happiest moment of my life.”
I simply nod and smile back, “mine too, Dad.” Fuck Dad’s a good bloke. And he’s right. If I could be stuck in time, this would be it right here. We continue the walk. Some nutcase who’d been hassling at the Point steams past, “farrken pommy drop in cunts out there.”
We don’t really have a chance to acknowledge old mate. He’s a stroppy bloke from the NSW south coast and feels that his ginormous three-stringer, 10ft board deserves a few more accolades than most round here are prepared to give. With his session update complete, he’s already well ahead of us, shaking his head and cursing at any local seaweed farmer unlucky enough to be on his path.
Dad waits till he’s out of earshot, “God save the Queen.”
Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story set in Southeast Asia about capitalism on steroids, it makes the world of Gordon Gecko look positively gentlemanly, and Sweet Dreams of Fanta, a nostalgic romp in time back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, seven year old Fanta addict and devoted Balmain Tigers lover.