Perfection and Regret

BBrowny
Swellnet Dispatch

This morning I shared a session with Fin-Bob the local skegspert, proud owner of the largest fin collection this side of Helsinki. In the carpark afterwards, Bob again showed me his fins, all neatly packed and stacked in FCS fold-out covers, hundreds of sets in total, and all of them, at least to my eyes, differing by just a few millimetres this way or that. 

A man’s gotta have a hobby, but can he really tell the difference?

It made me think of the time I could’ve done with Bob’s help. I’m not sure if there’s a moral to the following story, but it’s a story nonetheless and with no work and no surf, now’s a good time to share it.

In 2014 I was working my way back home after spending six years living close to the geographic centre of England, equidistant to the North Sea, Celtic Sea, and English Channel - each coastline as uninviting as the others. I found contract work at a university in Bogor, Indonesia, and made up for lost time with regular trips along the southwest coast of Java.

Four times a year the uni sent students to a camp in Nusa Tenggara and I accompanied them as chaperone/facilitator. The camp was a base for field trips, and to hold seminars and group study sessions. It was located on a sparsely populated island, and though it was surrounded by water it was a long way from the open ocean.

Any hope I had for surf was dashed on my first trip as we motored across the bay towards the camp and the ocean was not only smooth, but it was free of any undulations whatsoever - swells didn’t make it this far north. For seven days the beach front was a pond. 

On that first trip I grabbed one of the old BIC stand up paddleboards stored under the office and in the afternoons I’d paddle around the bays, at first letting my imagination run free, but later yielding to reality and just enjoying the scenery.

In mid-2015 I was running my fourth and final camp. I’d become familiar with the boat trip across to the camp, however it took on a different complexion when we arrived at the wharf. Small waves were surging up what I’d only ever seen as a flat beach. “Ombak besar,” said the arriving boatman with a smile. “Berhati-hati!”. The students gripped the gangway as it swayed between the boat and the wharf.

The boat trip was only thirty minutes and took us further out into open water before we rounded a headland and steered into the small bay where the camp was located. The bay faced north, away from the open ocean, yet small breaking waves made for a sketchy dismount. Clouds of fine yellow sand mixed with the blue water.

While the students made for their huts I borrowed a pushbike from Juf, the camp caretaker, and rode up the track behind the camp to a hill overlooking the surrounding coast. The next bay south of the camp was broader and deeper, the southeastern end ran at a shallow arc out to a low, craggy headland lined with whitewash.

As I sat on the dusty track I saw lines of swell beyond the headland pushing north through deeper water, and as they passed the crown of the point the first line bent towards me and began running down the point, then the next wave followed suit, and the third and the fourth, all of them following the whitewash line of the first wave before the shoreline squared up and the waves closed out.

It was hard to get my head around waves breaking so far from the open ocean, especially perfect waves. In the Sunda Strait and the Mentawais I’d seen swells bend 180°, but this was something else again. From the bluff I couldn’t see the camp. In fact I couldn’t see any human habitation whatever direction I looked. All I could see was brown land, blue water, and a set of perfect waves marching down the point in roughly five minute intervals.

I stood above the bay for an interminable period, marvelling at how magnificent the view was, how unexpected, till a dark cloud rained on my reverie: I didn’t have a surfboard!

My thoughts instantly ran in many directions at once, all seeking an answer to the same question, but the results when I reeled them in were all the same. I was a long way from the nearest village which was a long way from the nearest town which was a long way from the nearest beach. The nearest surfboard may as well have been back in central England for all it mattered.

The old SUPs weren’t even fibreglass but plastic popouts with seamed rails, nor were they made for waves, though they’d have to do. When I told Juf he smiled flatly and said nothing. I knew that look.

The first SUP he pulled out no longer had any fins; the result of a student beaching it on the rocks. The second SUP also had fins missing, two of them, a side fin and the rear fin. One side fin remained. There were no other SUPs.

I was sinking in quicksand, falling into despair, but just as I’d given up hope a lone foothold appeared. The wave is a right, the remaining fin is the front left - the inside fin. This might just work! Juf was delighted to find I could still use the SUP and offered to drop me around to the bay by boat. I took him up on the offer and ten minutes later we were beating into the trades, then rounding south into the next bay angling deep so the headland protected us from the wind.

Doubts filled my mind while looking at the now-flat pointbreak, the perspective was different from down here. Were they really rideable waves I saw? Yet sure enough, whitewash exploded against the furthest rocks and a wave appeared like an apparition, bending around the corner and peeling down the point towards us. I said goodbye to Juf and told him I’d walk or paddle back.

No legrope, no wax, one fin, not where it should be, but the waves were perfect. They were perfect like Cape St Francis was perfect in The Endless Summer, and coincidentally I had to ride these waves in exactly the same fashion as Robert and Mike. It was possible to turn the SUP, but it wasn’t advisable, and if I walked toward the nose the fin would release and the board would sideslip. 150 litres of foam and the sweet spot was the size of a saucer.

A nativist instinct kept luring me towards steeper sections, or tempting me to stall into the barrel behind, but I could never get there, the SUP would either spin out or the four-inch thick rail wouldn’t set an edge, so I’d have to go back to standing still and being a passive observer. I eventually got the hang of riding the one-finned SUP, which is to say I wasn’t wiping out, but I wasn’t doing much else either. 

Over a few hours I caught many waves, trying hard to enjoy them for what they were - perfectly formed three-footers breaking without section for 100 metres - but some hard truths became apparent to me. For one, perfect waves are boring if you can’t do anything on them. I was doing the opposite of involvement surfing and only the scenery kept me occupied.

Another thing is that happiness shared is happiness multiplied. I’m used to surfing alone, but this session, this ridiculous predicament I found myself in, would’ve been more enjoyable with company. It wasn’t till later I realised I hadn’t laughed or hooted all afternoon. 

Those waves have filled my thoughts a lot since then. I’d seen perfect waves before and since, but never when every wave of every set conformed. I’ve thought about professional surfers, who must get to see perfect surf often, and how they might take perfection for granted. The idea troubles me. I’m also troubled by the thought that maybe that was my lone chance at surfing truly perfect waves - and I blew it.

The session ended about an hour before sunset when I lost control of the SUP and I couldn’t regather it before it entered the rocks. I watched it bounce down the point and accepted its fate. Even from a distance I saw the remaining fin was gone.

I tried to bodysurf a few waves but could make it no further than a few metres before the lip overtook me and raced off down the line. It was frustrating but those few attempts made me grateful I at least had the one-fin SUP to ride. I gave thanks for small mercies and began the paddle home, thinking about what was and what could’ve been.

POSTSCRIPT: In 2018 I was in Bali when the largest swell of the season was due, forecast to be even larger than the aforementioned 2015 swell. With a few days notice I travelled to the camp with a friend, each of us with two boards and many fins. On the day of the swell we climbed the hill and looked down on the bay and the rocks lined with whitewash. Yet the only waves that came around the corner were foot high lines that surged onto the rocks and scree. It was unrideable and remained that way all day.

// BRAD BROWN

Comments

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 6 May 2020 at 7:11pm

awesome story BB.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Wednesday, 6 May 2020 at 8:03pm

Epic.

Cheers

Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68 commented Wednesday, 6 May 2020 at 8:33pm

Great story mate. What an amazing experience. Cheers.

Crystal Clear

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Wednesday, 6 May 2020 at 9:21pm

Ha ha, cool story. Equal parts joy and frustration.

Maybe you're the only person who's ever surfed it?

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

servant's picture
servant's picture
servant commented Wednesday, 6 May 2020 at 11:02pm

Great story BB.
Refreshing: humble and no foul language.
Pleasant reminder of the 1960s and 70s surf adventure stories when places like this were being discovered way back then.
Many thanks and God Bless you

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 7:57am

that wave is what surfers dreams are made off.

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 8:17am

Buddhist parable: 'A novice monk once went to his Master and asked, 'What is perfection?'. At the time, the Master was holding a cup of tea, he dropped it on the floor, picked up all the broken pieces and said, 'This is a perfectly broken cup'. Perception. BB surfed a perfect wave, with no one around to see it, did it really happen?
'Surfing' in Hawaiian language, means: to surf a wave; or, to watch a wave; or, the sack that a surrounds a newborn baby.
Calm the mind, happiness won't be found in craving things that aren't there. BB surfed a perfect wave and still isn't happy.
I remember seeking and finding liberation on a perfect wave, the joy only lasted a moment. Years of working full-time, missing-out on 'perfect waves', surfing crowded Gold Coast days. Boom! Set free into 8 foot kilometre-long Peruvian walls of glide, alone. Standing on the top of the wave, 'this is everything I've been seeking, hollow feeling, it's so lonely..'.
Can you imagine how the Master surf monk feels all day everyday? Kelly Slater has a tear in his eye every time a perfect wave goes un-surfed.
BB surfed a perfect wave.

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 10:02am

AA . I like what you say and seem to be implying there; in the same vein >
"Holo kaha he’e nalu" roughly translated means: “to ride inside a wave,
is to return to the womb, to be born again”
Gr* story Ben

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 10:03am

sos - Brad

Andrew Pritchard's picture
Andrew Pritchard's picture
Andrew Pritchard commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 11:38am

Amazing story.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 8:44am

Good to know there is still little spots like this out there, ive been eyeing off a few out of the way little hidy hole spots that have potential on those rare big swells, but it's a big gamble especially if not in Indo for months and chances are most likely you will just end up surfing tiny B-grade waves and wasting a swell or even getting nothing at all.

But if you found a spot like this that is no where near other waves it would be a dream, plus sometimes the search itself and he unknown is just as fun.

Please Stunet give me an ignore button for Talking Turkey, Shatners Basoon, Dale Cooper, Factotum, Pupkin, and any new fake profile he decides to create.

Bungan33's picture
Bungan33's picture
Bungan33 commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 8:43am

Love it! Great read. Very cool story.

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 9:32am

Great story! Thanks for sharing... It's the stuff of dreams and nightmares. Surfing spots that don't feel like they should have waves makes me feel like a cheeky little kid, as if I've lucked into something I wasn't supposed to and some more serious authority will find out and shut it down. But I agree, they are often best shared with someone else.

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 9:42am

Great story, which reminds me of the time two friends and I hiked into a remote wave and spent a few hours walking without not knowing what we'd find. When the surf came into view it was pumping and all three of us ran down the last hill, but my mate slipped, fell on his arse and knocked a fin out with no spares in our backpacks. The look on his face when he realised what he'd done!

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 2:33pm

Would love to back analyse the two different swells to understand the swell directions and periods to see why they were two very different waves in the bay. Care to share the dates of the 2015 and 2018 swells BB? Not after locations. Just the dates please.

BBrowny's picture
BBrowny's picture
BBrowny commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 5:46pm

Don, the first swell was the "Muzza" swell and the second one was the same swell Nias was really big and a boat went over the falls. It was forecast to be bigger than 2015 but I don't know if it eventuated that way not.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 6:02pm

Pics and vids show it being much bigger than Muzza swell..

mike.logan's picture
mike.logan's picture
mike.logan commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 5:39pm

Surfed a place in Portugal in 1974 near Figueira, there was two breaks, we surf one that was about 150-200m long with a bowl section in the middle. The other break was only about 3-400m away, broke perfect for over 100m. Looking at it you could run your finger along the lip come over all the way down the line - perfection. Was about 6-8' face. Guess what we never surfed it. The most perfect wave I have ever seen. Went back 6 mths later and it wasn't breaking, the wave we surfed was though. Six guys all to ourselves for a month.

BBrowny's picture
BBrowny's picture
BBrowny commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 5:49pm

It's up.!Thanks Swellnet and thanks to everyone who commented too. Wherever you travel on this great Earth, take a surfboard with you!

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 6:58pm

There is something special about novelty waves and surfs that you never expected. I caught some windswell waves on a SUP at Hamilton island on a no surf family holiday and it sure put a smile on my face.

Frogg

More tubes please's picture
More tubes please's picture
More tubes please commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 7:27pm

Great story, thanks for sharing.
One thing that kills me is the D grade pro ‘explorer’ eg Kepa Acero or anyone on ‘the search’ who can’t enjoy a secret or newly discovered wave without putting photos and footage all over the internet. Love the fact that there’s no photos, footage or even hints as to where this island lies. Keep it between you and your mate and don’t share with another soul.
I was lucky enough to be in Indo for the 2018 swell and geez the week before it and week after were filled with back to back 8ft swells. It was insane!
I often feel doing long stints in Indo surfing perfection for months at a time sends you a little loopy. It reminds me of Capt. Willard in Apocalypse now, headed up river searching for Kurtz. It feels equal parts a dream and also a slow descent into madness.
Really going to miss my Indo fix this year!

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 8:59pm

Great story, mate.

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 10:21pm

Terrific, Browny. There are few feelings like the one you get seeing great waves that shouldn't be. Lucky you.

evosurfer's picture
evosurfer's picture
evosurfer commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 9:37am

Donweather I was In Bali for both swells 2018 was bigger if
you spend time on youtube you can work out the dates.
Both are documented on there.

IF im not surfing im racing

Chris Buykx's picture
Chris Buykx's picture
Chris Buykx commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 11:55am

Great story. I had a similar experience on the North West Coast of Borneo a few years back. In a resort with the family prior to climbing Kinabalu and Jungle adventures.
Walk outside one morning and there is perfect 2'-3' runners peeling down the point.
I grab one of the resort SUPS and the staff tell me the are new the point is off limits because of those dangerous waves! I nod and thank them, then ignore their shouting.
Paddle over for a 2 hour solo sesh, like a Qld point break - unexpected fun is the best!

The scolding from the resort water activies guy was the best!

gibbsy's picture
gibbsy's picture
gibbsy commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 1:23pm

27-30th june 2015 muzza swell , 25th July 2018 Big swell. The 2018 one was substantially larger but only a one day peak, Muzza swell was spread over 3 days fairly evenly.

spiggy topes's picture
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spiggy topes commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 1:30pm

In 1979 I took a holiday from London to the west coast of Ireland. No one surfing when I was there then but several protected spots showed sunny but smallish perfection. A year later my mum visited and we had a great car trip in the UK and Ireland for five weeks. One evening right on dusk in Sligo we drove out to a headland to watch the sunset (and check the surf). Off the long straight point an absolutely perfect 6ft left wall unrolled towards a quiet bay. No wind, steel black sea, unknown creatures hiding in the kelp. But no board! Mum a little fractious thinking we were a long way from the next B&B. Browny's feelings are frequent enough, Bill Finnegan wrote of them on Madeira so well in Barbarian Days. When you find that spot, burn it into your mind. It will mean so much more and last forever.

scoopmaster's picture
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scoopmaster commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 4:09pm

I was on my way back from Fraser Island circa '97-98 and stopped for Mcdonalds at what I thought was Kirra but in hindsight was probably rainbow bay. I remember hollow 2-3 foot rights breaking off a headland and looking extremely fun with only a handful of guys out, but I didn't have a board with me. Alas never got a session out there with a week at Evans head '96 or '97 being my furthest north waves. That one was planned to be a fishing / spearing trip but the swell pumped and the bar was too sketchy to cross.

rogerdodger's picture
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rogerdodger commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 7:57pm

"It wasn’t till later I realised I hadn’t laughed or hooted all afternoon. "
There are no truer words spoken right there Brown Dog. I have had so many sessions by myself where I actually hooted loudly after getting barrelled etc and then felt so lonely after the session because I've had no one to recollect with and get some perspective on what just happened. You need someone to bounce things off.
One of the biggest buzz sessions was with my wife. I had ripped the hamstring off the bone surfing in September and at the the start of December had my first surf after surgery. We were in Apollo Bay, Vicco and decided to hire some SUPs to have a paddle around the bay. We got to the breakwater and low and behold a 1ft peeler was breaking for 100m to the beach. My darling and I threw the paddles away and spent the next 1.5hrs surfing these perfect little waves by ourselves, hooting and squealing like it was Desert Point at 6ft. Gold right there. Great story Browny. I'm sure most surfers can relate to it.

views from the cockpit's picture
views from the cockpit's picture
views from the ... commented Sunday, 10 May 2020 at 10:10am

2 blokes I know well, took a flight to Portugal in the late 80's and arrived to the coast to see perfect clean 1ft waves running down a few of the local points so figured the swell would have to kick in soon as it was September.
As it went from tiny to flat over the next few days they asked around and realised they had flown into the Algarve and "Albufeira" instead of into Lisbon and "Ericeira".
If you know that coastline- you know how stupid that was!