Season on the Bukit- Part 3

Danny Carney
Swellnet Dispatch

The third in an open-ended series by Danny Carney as he lives in Bali, spending his weekends atop the limestone cliffs of Uluwatu trading stories with locals and travellers alike.

The morning had started with too many coffees and too much chatter. For the first time since I came back to Indo since May I was with friends. Not my landlord, or Wayan and Ayu who sit outside their failing warungs near my office, not Dandy and Ketut who I quiz between surfs. Old friends, our lives a series of cliquey jokes and tall stories and silences not filled with a desperate search for something to say. These kind of friendships have been sorely missed over the years spent lurking around in Indonesia.

My best mate was in town on his way back to Tasmania and we sat there on the cliffs wondering how long we would keep this caper up. We're both sentimental Tasmanians who bang on about the island and belonging a little too much. But we're always on the run somewhere else. New places, for him: India, Slovenia, Turkey, Mexico, Greece. I'm always on the way 'back to Indo', something that has become so common that it’s almost a slur levelled in my direction when the weather cools down or life gets difficult.

A bit older now though, with few assets and the most average of family names to fall back on, the once rare admissions of vulnerability have started to bookend many of our conversations. We were staring out at a big expansive sea trying to imagine what we’d make of the next 30 years; would we settle down into the foothills of a Tasmanian mountain or keep chasing windmills in warmer climes? I doubt I was the first surfer to wonder such things while scanning the horizon at Ulus.

Amidst all this laughter and pondering, I was trying to read the 6-8 foot swell and the way it was taking shape with the slowly dropping tide. Occasionally a larger one would break at the Bombie, and a wider one would arrive at Outside Corner. I knew better than to rush out to sea at the limits of my experience. This is especially true when I'm running high on conversation and caffeine. I had never quite understood why Gerry Lopez discourages talking in the line-up, but now I realise it's because he surfs bigger waves than I do. I snuck off into the empty cave to calm my thoughts.

The tide was still high enough to be lapping over those big jagged boulders in the cave. At times the sea was roaring, and I struggled to imagine myself – or anyone really - paddling through the cave on a truly big swell. A week earlier I’d been told a horror story of a surfer being wedged under the overhangs, having to turn himself over and push off the roof with his feet to avoid scalping himself on jagged limestone. As I sank into the sand I wondered; how many people have walked out through these caves out into the sea? How many came back through it a changed person? How many never came back through it at all?

Between the sets, the hollow clapping of waves against the cliff evaporated, hissing away into silence. Like when a roaring gale disappears or in the foamy aftermath of a large wave, a sudden moment of silence makes me keenly aware of the madness that had just fled and I find it quite calming. I felt there was something else going on in that cave, something that my frame of reference can only explain by praising the unspeakable majesty of natural spaces. I’m only just beginning to understand how my Balinese friends on the cliff understand and connect with it.

Entering the line-up from the cave while the tide is still high is a calculated leap of faith. From my position in waist deep water I couldn't make sense of the waves out there on the horizon. It seemed to be breaking 200m out to sea, a hazy white shape of a broken wave and the refraction of a tropical sun. The rush of water was strong and having crept past the point of no return I gave in to it. I hoped its pull wouldn't give up until I was safely in deep water.

It was a thorough working, though much like all my recent encounters, I questioned whether it was all that bad. In all these tales of being caught inside on a shallow reef that have been shared here recently, did this measure up? Or am I in for a very rude awakening when my luck finally runs out? In some ways it's enjoyable. After all the build-up, the week of anticipation, the two hour drive, the hour on the cliff mind surfing, you're finally there with a six foot wave closing in on you in four foot of water. Few things bring me so suddenly down to earth than this. When I was finally in the safety I deep water I realized I'd been washed several hundred metres down the cliff. That’s exciting enough, isn't it?

That day the sets were the biggest I'd ever seen. Big perfect walls that filled me a desirous energy that was only reined in by the occasional wave that went top-to-bottom, throwing barrels beyond my imagination, spitting and buckling down the reef and lighting up with offshore spray tens of metres into the air.

(Trevor Murphy)

Right up the top of the point sat a surfer on an 8 foot board, four inches thick, in Gath helmet and a spring suit, and the way he calmly paddled and bottom turned into the biggest waves was inspiring to watch. In fact in between catching my own waves, watching ordinary middle aged men sink their arms to their armpits and pull themself into these waves was worth it in itself.

A few months ago in preparing to uproot my life again I had decided to take a 7'4" instead of a 6'2". I felt silly at the time, imagining going through a whole season without ever building up the courage to actually use it. And so I was surprised by how calm and comfortable I felt, even when the biggest sets came in. A few hours later a solid eight foot wave caught me off guard. I duck dived half-heartedly, knowing that the outcome was immovable. My board was ripped from my hands in an instant and I tried to turn the experience into a learning experience.

Cartwheeling and rolling in a clenched fist of water I counted out the seconds: four, five, six.... And at the seventh second the tension on my leg rope suddenly vanished. My head now above the surface I could see my board fifty metres inside. A hard-charging Australian made a valiant effort to dash in and grab it, but with more waves in the set I called him away and the board disappeared atop an avalanche of white water heading towards the cliffs.

A couple hundred metres out to sea on a big day at Uluwatu without a board. How did I end up here? I floated there for a moment, evaluating my options. Right out the back the sea was largely still and in the calm between sets surrounded by capable surfers on big boards, I felt grateful for the opportunity. Have I been faking it up until now? Or do I actually enjoy this? Swimming back to the cliffs through a heaving sea ought to give me a good enough idea.

Turns out it was the latter. Even as the sweep took hold of me and the cliffs raced past. Even as I swam through the shallow inside section and my limbs bounced and scraped across limestone and coral. Even in that last moment when I was utterly exhausted and the rush of water off the reef threatened to pull me off the shelf to which I was holding and back out to sea. The whole experience made me feel alive in the most rewarding of ways. Back now in the routine of a working life in Ubud, that sinking feeling as the water drains away and a rising wall peaks up higher and higher in front of you seems sadly distant.

After a few weekends in a row of 6 foot plus surf, I have been starting to appreciate how the shape of my surfing life has changed. Over the years I have had peak moments. A golden morning in Aceh and my first barrels, surfing alone on a left until my face burned and swelled to the point my eye almost closed over. Days at home in Tasmania trading waves on a left hand point with Whishy, big flowing arcs and spirited jogs back to the tip of the point through the casuarinas and tea trees completely flabbergasted by our good luck. An oily slick afternoon with my surfing mate Max on a small beachie, where very wave was a magically transparent wall of blues and greens. Not a noteworthy surfing life from the outside, but a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable one to me.  

And now this. Through increments of fear, the limits of my surfing imagination have been stretched ever outwards. Each session, I find myself in the line-up with surfers I would never (and still don't) have considered contemporaries, having conversations about the intricacies of waves that not long ago I would never have dared to catch. After pulling off a long and roping wave that towered high over my shoulder, I feel like the points on the map are shifting. I’m sure I will still get out the 9’6” and head for the waist high points when they are on, but I’m already dreaming of an 8’ gun and weeks on Tassie’s West Coast.

I remember in winter last year sulking behind the wheel of my car as one foot sloppy waves rolled towards the beach. Having just read about Finnegan’s exploits in Hawaii, Nias, Madeira and Ocean Beach I had starting asking myself if the best surfing years of my life behind me. Seems all I needed was a bigger board and the creeping sense of lost time, because now I can’t help but think the best years are yet to come.

//DANNY CARNEY

Season on the Bukit: Part 1
Season on the Bukit: Part 2

Comments

50young's picture
50young's picture
50young commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 1:13pm

Great read Danny

rogerelastic's picture
rogerelastic's picture
rogerelastic commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 1:25pm

Thanks for sharing Danny - a lovely piece of surfing prose

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 1:40pm

Did you end up getting your board back?

heals's picture
heals's picture
heals commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 1:47pm

Whishy = Whish-Wilson?

Cant be that many surfers down there.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 1:57pm

Seriously good read , Dan.

Thanks.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 2:55pm

Thirded or fourthed, really entertaining prose and thought provoking questions Danny.

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 3:22pm

Beautifully written Danny with great play between community (talking with friends, surf trips, sharing moments with strangers) and isolation (silence on a wave, swimming through the imapct zone). Can't wait for more.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 3:32pm

Keep them coming Danny,your writing reminds me of Finnegans....pluggin away at work ive been asking myself the same question ...is it all over....and just went and ordered a bigger board....haha

simba

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 4:44pm

Always a good day when these pop up on Swellnet. Cheers Danny

Clam's picture
Clam's picture
Clam commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 6:26pm

Quote :
"I counted out the seconds: four, five, six.... And at the seventh second the tension on my leg rope suddenly vanished. My head now above the surface I could see my board fifty metres inside. A hard-charging Australian made a valiant effort to dash in and grab it, but with more waves in the set I called him away and the board disappeared atop an avalanche of white water heading towards the cliffs.
A couple hundred metres out to sea on a big day at Uluwatu without a board. How did I end up here? I floated there for a moment, evaluating my options. Right out the back the sea was largely still and in the calm between sets surrounded by capable surfers on big boards, I felt grateful for the opportunity. Have I been faking it up until now? Or do I actually enjoy this? Swimming back to the cliffs through a heaving sea ought to give me a good enough idea.
Turns out it was the latter. Even as the sweep took hold of me and the cliffs raced past. Even as I swam through the shallow inside section and my limbs bounced and scraped across limestone and coral. Even in that last moment when I was utterly exhausted and the rush of water off the reef threatened to pull me off the shelf to which I was holding and back out to sea. The whole experience made me feel alive in the most rewarding of ways."

This is not impressing me like the rest of the commenters are .
Sounds like a typical rookie experience.
I suggest instead of taking a 7"4 gun
(not a gun) surfboard & crappy legrope that are insufficient , just swim out with flippers ,mask & snorkel etc on instead .

Otherwise get good equipment, because you put not only yourself in danger , but inconvenience other people , surfers , lifeguards etc .

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 6:52pm

You're kidding , right ?

His leggie snapped - it happens.

He swam in and got a buzz from pushing his personal limits.

Sounds like a good experience for him.

Fancy a surfer putting themselves in danger.

You've never put yourself in danger whilst riding your 9'0" out at Cow bombie ?

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 8:36pm

Nice Danny.
I find myself going through those exact phases of thought...a sensation of peaks and troughs in my surfing experiences now. Is my ability waning or are my perceptions changing? Am I getting better or is my ego clouding my judgement?
It's amazing how a big swell brings clarity and brutal honesty to your thoughts...haha!
P.S. A bit of an over reaction Clam

Clam's picture
Clam's picture
Clam commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 10:48am

I've seen some funny ones crg .
One floating down the reef at g-land holding the leash and plug in hand after it pulled out a board , just staring crosseyed at the plug for 20 minutes whilst drifting down the line . (Possibly on a good acid trip ).

I Was still laughing about it for years afterwards .

boater's picture
boater's picture
boater commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 8:58pm

Great writing thanks Danny . What sort of development work do you do there? Interested as I work on agricultural projects in NTB and NTT and take a board when I can get away with it

Scott

omong-kosong's picture
omong-kosong's picture
omong-kosong commented Saturday, 16 Sep 2017 at 9:15pm

what agricultural projects do you work on?

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus commented Thursday, 14 Sep 2017 at 10:39pm

Great read Danny you had me there with you all the way

Clam's picture
Clam's picture
Clam commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 1:35am

Blowin yes im joking , so what .
Theres no mention of immediately bodysurfing after the surf board and retrieving it ?
No mention at all of the surfboard ,
what happened to it ?
Thats irresponsible to ignore immediately retrieval of the trash
(which is what it will soon become along the ulus shoreline )

quote: "Even in that last moment when I was utterly exhausted and the rush of water off the reef threatened to pull me off the shelf to which I was holding and back out to sea."

Hopefully dannys board survived too?

unreelkneel's picture
unreelkneel's picture
unreelkneel commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 8:31am

Hi Danny, agree with all the comments on your great piece. Captures the "exhilaration" of heading around the corner at Ulu's. Not that we have been back for some time, but I remember an encouraging line from a stranger in some small surf at Kuta, "a bad day in the surf still beats a good day in the office". I hope there are still enthusiastic kids retrieving lost board and Ubud remains the same? Best, Neale.

Neale WW

eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 1:13pm

Had a look round the cave at ulus the other day , first time in years that ive just hung. Lots more cracks and erosion than years ago.
Any one seen an engineers report about the buildings on cave edges (as if)

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 4:38pm

The buildings on that Ulu cliff face can to drop in the ocean any moment
As for the Temple Faark
Hi Indonesia The Uluwatu Temple Bali : Youtube
Good drone footage - around the 4.15 mark shows a large crack in the cliff face.

Clam's picture
Clam's picture
Clam commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 2:52pm

Thats a very good point #eatyourvegies

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 3:28pm
spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie commented Friday, 15 Sep 2017 at 4:31pm

Great read

easterly

mredhill's picture
mredhill's picture
mredhill commented Wednesday, 20 Sep 2017 at 9:01am

Great writing Danny...very 'Barbarian Days' feel to it. The snapped leggie way out to sea?...we've all been there. "The whole experience made me feel alive in the most rewarding of ways." Indeed....

PeteH's picture
PeteH's picture
PeteH commented Wednesday, 20 Sep 2017 at 1:30pm

Nice words and brings back some great Ulu memories. Never charged the big days there though and often wondered what a lost board might entail!

eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies commented Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 at 7:41pm

Just had a very minor, barely noticable tremor here in kuta . They're not uncommon anyway but might not want to be walking through the cave at ulus if we get a good one.

Then again i might just be trying to keep the crowds down. Lol

Clam's picture
Clam's picture
Clam commented Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 at 11:18pm

Having an expert geologist have a look at the cave to assess the danger perhaps