(As told by Scuzz many years ago…)
It all began when I met an old fisherman, Eddie Om, in the waters off Pulau Bawa, west Nias. The paint job and design of his boat AFRIKA was different from all the other boats I’d seen in Nias and Achenese waters. We struck up a very primitive conversation from which I fathomed he’d be in the port of Lagundri in about a week and I should meet him there again and we could have another “talk.”
Later on in Lagundri we happened to meet again and did have that chat. We agreed to a date of departure and the price of a 25-day trip out of Padang into the Mentawai islands. We shook hands and went our separate ways for 17 days. During the next few days in Lagundri I found a hardcore Japanese surfer Aki and two Kiwi surfers, Jason and Bouty. They were all amped for a trip and so we agreed to meet in a hotel in Padang in a couple of weeks. My visa had expired so I went to Thailand for a Visa run.
So it was one night in July when myself, Aki, Jason, Bouty and their mate Snorkel set off aboard AFRIKA. We lay under a big tarp as we passed the harbour master and water police as it is illegal to take tourists on a fishing boat. We didn’t really know what it meant besides getting great waves. That night was a fairly good crossing but it rained, so we got wet, so did all our gear. This was something we were to learn about the old fishing boat: when it rained you could have a wash and wash your clothes, but you couldn’t all keep dry and if it kept raining there was no way to dry anything. The crew did a great job of building a frame above the fish hold, which we draped the big tarp over, giving us some shelter from the elements. Sleeping was on board bags and it wasn’t uncommon to wake with a leg over you or somebody dribbling on your foot.
We hooked up a hammock and we were off searching through the island chain for those “waves with holes in them” old Eddie Om had told us about. He had fished these waters for a long time and had seen his share of big swells and heavy waves, so he was all about showing us what he thought were waves and waves they were.
The left seen in the 2001 OP Pro and a super heavy right nearby were his favourites as these had the biggest holes, so we were thrown into these empty line-ups by this mad fisherman who would scream us into the sets from the channel. We’d float around the ocean, learning to live like the Indo fisherman and learning the language, the water movements, swells and wind variations from Om. Om ran away from home at 9, 45 years ago and has lived off the Sumatran seas ever since. He speaks Mentawai, Nias, Achenese, Indonesian and Padang languages and reads the weather off 7 different star constellations and how close they fall to the moon on its orbital path. From this he can read where the ocean currents will come from, how the fishing will be, the winds and the weather. He is at least 80% right.
He has also often called how many sets there will be in a cycle, also knowing which sets will be the largest and which the smallest. We scored great waves, saw beautiful sunsets and were truly in paradise. Om knew some great waves but now looking back I realize he did not know much about where would be good on certain conditions, and as it turned out we were really lucky to get so many good waves as we did.
We got our initiation into the politics of the surf charter world, which was standing at about 8 or 9 boats. While anchored in Silabu, Maccas, a strong squall came thru, followed by squall after squall, so we pulled anchor and move to the more protected northern waters of the small bay. Upon sunrise we woke to find the catamaran we had been sharing the bay with high and dry on the reef. The captain came over asking for help and we find out that the electrics were out, the batteries were dead, there was no spare anchor and there was no more ice. On top of this there were 7 very unhappy Brazilians spitting chips and scared.
Throughout the day we towed the cat free, gave them our spare anchor, worked on the electrics and charged their batteries. We also gave them some ice and a fish. The Brazos were stoked to say the least and gave us a big bottle of tequila and much good vibes. That night was big for us as we were used to rice, fish and the odd beer. We woke groggy to the Brazos begging us to find a charter with communications to Padang, as they wanted another boat sent out to pick them up. We unenthusiastically agreed and headed off on a 6-hour journey in very rough seas. Upon reaching Katiet and finding a charter we passed on the news and the charter relayed the info. The water police are then called on us. One month later we got back our anchor and a thank you.
We came across a fishing boat which recently had its roof blown off by lightning and some of its crew had been burned. We learned how to pull in fish the Indo way. We learned how to eat chilli and how to read stars. Having no electricity and a very small boat to share with 7 other guys’ breeds’ madness and learning.
We heard the story of our deck hand Johnny and how he lost a finger when the boat he was on went down in a storm, and how he spent 24 hours drifting at sea, some of those spent kicking away sharks. We heard Om’s story of being hit by a waterspout at night, his crew drowning and his boat sinking. He drifted 3 days and 3 nights at sea on a plank of wood while fish ate the skin off his feet and legs. He survived by eating 2 birds that landed on his shoulder. We surfed more great waves, saw more beautiful sunsets and ate many delicious fresh fish.
We arrived back in port changed, clear, salty, fit and tanned. We spent the next 2 weeks in Padang getting unclear, unfit and crazy. Our next mission was planned: this time it was to the equator and north. We all bought pillows, and a sheet for our board bag beds. This time it was AFRIKA 2, a newer version of AFRIKA, but still a fishing boat with very little besides a big ice and fish hold, which we slept on and had to all get up off and open every time we wanted to cook, eat, store fish or get our luggage.
We scored a great swell and stumbled onto some unknown waves at Nias. One in particular was special, and we spent a whole day out in twice overhead sheet glass stand up barrels without a soul to be seen, just jungle. Om during a strange sickness fell overboard while pissing and nearly drowned. He jumped ship and headed back to Padang to sacrifice a chicken. The curse of AFRIKA 2 had begun. We scored more epic waves but had engine problems and decided to jump ship and stay in a local village while the boat went in for parts. We lived on noodles, beer and left-handers for four days.
AFRIKA 2 returned and we were off south as the engine was dodgy. One evening while heading south from the Hinakos a large storm front chased our smoke spewing boat. At about sunset the engine completely died. Twenty minutes later it was pitch black, raining horizontally and we were rocking and rolling. We threw both anchors off the bow in an attempt to keep nose in to the swell, but with a southwest swell, a north-to-south current and a northwest wind we couldn’t really win. It was too deep for the anchor to hit bottom, but it did help a little.
We were still rocking and rolling, but fewer waves were coming over the side. Wherever possible we’d wedge ourselves in for the ride. We got drenched and the wind howled. We spotted a distant light on Nias, probably 10-12 km away. It was a long way off, but it looked like our best hope if things got much worse. The crew was constantly on the bilge pump, which worked by hand. Everyone dealt with the situation well by keeping calm and throwing out the odd joke or two. It was a long, long night but the weather slowly calmed and we must have all fallen asleep towards dawn, because we woke to calm seas about 4 km off the Southwest tip of Nias. Having drifted about 30km, we were stoked, alive, safe. A couple guys lost some skin off their butts from sliding around so much, but we all enjoyed the best tasting coffee of our lives. Half an hour later we started waving at the other fishing boats we saw in the distance. We waved clothes, then boards, then burned clothes, then burned a board, then the offshores picked up and we started drifting out to sea.
We were on the edge of the straight between Nias and the Telos, and we could’ve be blown or swept away quickly. Jason and Snorkel decided to paddle to shore and do the walk around to Lagundri where they could raise help. They jumped overboard to the sounds of us yelling the Jaws theme. About 4 hours later a fishing boat finally saw us and came over to help and towed us into Lagundri. We were emotionally and physically exhausted, but still buzzed with the experience. We paddled to shore to search out Jason and Snorkel, who we found sitting in a bar drinking beer. They were so stoked to make it, they didn’t tell anyone and they didn’t have any money for the beer. We spent a few days in Lagundri and partied hard…
That was how it all started.
There are far too many great stories from the more than 15 years that have passed since then to fit on one webpage. But the genesis of this whole thing was just a handful of crazy surfers and an equally crazy Indo coming together to make it all happen. These days we”re a little more refined, but no less surf crazy.
We’ll always go further and look around that extra corner for the next adventure. Keep checking back on our News page as we try to document more adventures as they happen in the future.