Surfing Indonesia

While I didn’t mind the volcano hike, what I truly wanted to do on Lombok was surf.  In Darwin, I did a little research and found out that Lombok had decent surfing, including for beginner and intermediate levels.  Cobin and I bought boogie boards in Tahiti but still haven’t been able to use them.  It turns out that places that make nice anchorages (calm, without rolling waves, etc) don’t usually make good surf beaches.  We had a great time surfing on Isabella Island in the Galapagos and wanted to do it again.

When we first arrived, Joe and I talked about what we could do in our limited time in Lombok and we agreed that doing the volcano and a surf trip would make it difficult to prepare the boat, provision, and get caught up on rest for the next leg.  So, we compromised.  I took Cobin down to the south coast and Joe and the girls stayed at Medana Marina and did the bulk of the provisioning and boat preparation.  Tyler and Larissa came with us and we booked a hotel at a beach called Selong Belanak that was supposedly an ideal beach for beginners.  And it was!  We arrived just before lunch, rented boards from the hotel, and got in the water.  After some initial flailing, we mostly got the hang of it.  But then I found that I was still flailing, always putting the board’s nose underwater, or purling.  Cobin was having the same issue.  I decided to take the lesson the hotel staff had been urging on me.

Past the grounds of our posh resort (it’s amazing what you can afford in Lombok!), there was a row of surf shacks.  In the water, there was a mirrored row of new surfers, each with his/her own instructor holding the tip of the board and giving a push at the right time.  Having done some surfing before, I was reluctant to join the herd.  But I was also tired of purling.  I met Young and he sized me up and pulled down a board.  He told me that he wanted to see if I could jump up.  Inwardly I groaned as I thought, “I’m going to spend my whole time learning the basics again when I just want to stop purling.”  Young, in his quirky English (“Up your hands, up your hands!”) made some adjustments to my technique and, about two minutes later, we were heading to the water.

I decided he might be the right instructor for me after all.  Sure enough, within minutes, I was catching a wave with better technique and having far more fun than I have ever had on a surfboard.  The biggest difference, apart from having someone adjust my technique, was the size of the board.  It was about two feet shorter than the boards we had rented at the hotel.  It made a huge difference!  I didn’t purl once in the course of my lesson.  By the end of it, I told Young that I was bringing Cobin back (he had gone to take a break in the hotel room) for a lesson and hoped that he would be around the next morning to teach us and potentially Tyler and Larissa as well. 

We had to leave by 12:30 pm the next day to get back to Medana Bay in time to clear out so we could depart the next day so I asked Young to be there at 8 am.  Tyler and Larissa didn’t have such a strict timetable so they opted to sleep in.  Cobin and I went out with Young and caught a few waves and he asked about when we were leaving.  He had mentioned the previous day that he thought we were ready to move up to a more advanced set of waves but I told him we would just be happy with what we had since we were short on time.  He said something like, “Too bad because there’s a great spot where you can ride a wave for three minutes instead of here where they only last for 10 seconds.”  After a little bit of group problem solving, we came up with a plan.  Cobin and I would hustle back to our room, pack and get checked out of the room.  Young would get his friend to drive us to the other beach and I would arrange for our driver to pick us up there instead of at our hotel.  On top of that, I would try to get the driver to swing by the marina to grab some laundry of Tyler’s that wasn’t ready on time and drop it off to Tyler and Larissa before they left the hotel.

Somehow, through the miracles of WhatsApp and really decent and cheap internet in Lombok, we made all of this happen.  Cobin and I walked with Young to meet his friend and jump in their bosses’ car.  The boss was in Germany for a week so they had the use of the car.  We drove about 20 minutes through Kuta to Tanjung Aan Beach.  On the way, we kept stopping to adjust the tie-downs for the surfboards on top of the car.  The come-along was slipping and the guys were retying a back-up knot every 5- 7 minutes.  After the second stop, I was able to use some sailing knowledge to help out.  Joe often ties an overhand knot to act as a loop and then passes a line around whatever you’re tying and through the loop, then brings the line back against itself which allows you to tie things very tightly.  It sounds more complicated than it is.  I showed Young’s friend my idea, which just bypassed the ratchet on the strap and he immediately got it and did the same on the other.  Woohoo – sailing knowledge helping out in the real world!

When we got to Tanjung Aan, there was no one there and there was also no obvious place to surf.  This (the emptiness part) was a welcome changre from Selong Belanak where there were 50 people sharing one tiny wave.  As for the surf location – Young told us to grab our boards and we took them out to a waiting outrigger fishing boat who installed a small motor on the stern and drove us out to the waves.  We jumped off the boat, onto our boards, and paddled out to a gorgeous blue sea, completely devoid of people.  Cobin and I were both nervous about surfing over coral but Young told us not to jump feet first off the board – just to kind of roll off – and we would be fine.  It looked to be about 4-5 feet under the surface so I thought we could manage it.  Within minutes, Young was saying “Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle – stand up, stand up, stand up!!”  and I was surfing on a long, gorgeous wave with just the right amount of strength to move me forward without being overpowering.  I rolled off the board and had no coral contact.  I paddled back and reassured Cobin that it was well within his realm of ability.

It was such a delightful place to surf.  Joe and I did a surf trip to Costa Rica when Cobin was about 1.5 years old.  The waves there were enormous.  We survived it but it was a bit intimidating – for a long time, I thought that if you wanted to surf, that’s what the waves were like.  Now I know that surf breaks come in all different sizes and I don’t have to surf giant waves to have fun.  Young was amazing – always focused on the next wave and getting us up and improving each time.  Within about 20 minutes, our alone-time on the waves was over and several more groups showed up with their instructors.  By that time, Cobin and I were starting to feel the effort of paddling back so we didn’t mind sharing the waves.  Unfortunately, the farther you surf, the farther you have to paddle back.  And the bigger waves took a bigger toll on our strength.  Thankfully we had a time limit built into our day or Young might have had to tow us back to shore.  Cobin caught a beautiful wave that he rode for at least two minutes, maybe three.  After about 15 more minutes, I was ready to go in as well. The wave I caught fizzled out about a third of the way in and I didn’t have enough pizzazz in my arms to paddle fast enough to catch the others as they chased us in so I basically dragged myself in. 

Cobin and I had a cold Sprite each at a little café/shack on the beach (Young and his friend wouldn’t let me buy them anything) and paid the man a few dollars to use his outdoor shower and changing room and then we loaded up our boards and headed for our rendez-vous site.  Young told us about his life on the way there.  He talked about how at his beach (Selong Belanak), there are no Indonesian kids selling bracelets like on the other beaches.  Instead, they go to school.  He said he never got to go to school. 

From what I gathered from his tale, his father worked construction near the site of the Jakarta bombing and was killed when it was bombed.  He never knew his mother so he went to live with his grandmother but she was too old to work.  The economy wasn’t very good so he tried to go to Malaysia (maybe around the age of 16-17?).  He was too young to travel on his own but somehow made it into Malaysia where he met a man from California who found out that Young surfed.  One thing led to another and they may have gone surfing together and then the man asked if Young needed a job and he did so the man put Young to work in some sort of factory that he owned.  Young did very well there and the Californian was kind to him (Yay Americans!) and he eventually made enough money to return home and buy some land.  I’m not entirely clear how he transitioned to teaching at a surf school but it doesn’t matter. He got there and Cobin and I found him and we had an amazing experience. 

We made it back to Medana Bay in time to meet our new crew member, Carl, tidy up the boat a bit, ride on the back of a scooter to a market to buy some last-minute supplies, and get some sleep before leaving at 9 the next morning for Christmas Island. 

My legs were still ridiculously sore from the volcano hike and I now had additional bumps, bruises and chafing from the surfboard as well as a scrape or two from vigorous kicks into coral.  It felt good to be so physically exhausted, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for the next five days.  We had a fabulous time in Indonesia, marred only by several valuable clothing items (Joe’s Musto coat and two Coolibar long-sleeve shirts) that have gone missing from the laundry we sent off.  Hopefully these will show up in another boat’s laundry in Christmas Island but I’m not too confident that they will.

NOTE: Just two days before Christmas, we received our bag of missing laundry from Lombok. They had mislabelled the bag and it didn’t make it to us. Soraya (marina manager) very kindly mailed it to us in Cape Town at their expense! Nice to have warm clothes again as it is unseasonably cool here.

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