Torren Martyn Loses His Sea Legs
Torren Martyn Loses His Sea Legs
After eleven months at sea, most of it spent exploring the outer islands of Sumatra, Torren Martyn and Aiyana Powell have put their boat into dry dock and returned to terra firma. They're now adjusting to nomality and reflecting on their wondrous trip.
Over breakfast, Torren chatted to Swellnet about time spent at sea on the little boat that could.
Swellnet: Hey, where are you now Torren?
Torren Martyn: Just off the north coast of Lombok. The boat's actually moored a couple of miles from here on the mainland, and we just zipped over because it was the only café open this morning.
Yeah, I saw that you've put Calypte up for sale.
Yep, she's on the market.
How does that make you feel?
Sad. Though it was always the plan. When we came, we thought we'd spend six months on it yet it's been a year now. The plan was to get it to here and sell it. But I don't know, we're throwing up the idea of sailing it back to Australia.
Unlike a bike or van - other types of transport you've used in your films - a boat is more personal. It's ostensibly your house and I imagine that creates greater attachment. Is that the case?
Yeah, absolutely. It became our home. It's like a home that you become really close with. You get to know every nook and cranny. Your life depends on it. You go through all these experiences, and grow an attachment to it. You've got to care for it, and it cares for you.
It's funny, we were on the boat for nearly a year, and we got off to have a break a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time off it and I felt this massive void.
Yeah, we've certainly grown quite close to it.
Hey look, Torren, do you mind if I take a quick sidestep with these questions? While I was waiting for you to come online, I was watching the CT competition at Sunset...
Yeah, and a few Swellnet readers wanted to ask you questions. Do you mind answering them?
No, not at all.
Well, first of all, what sort of board would you ride at wonky Sunset Beach?
Ha...that's not a wave I've surfed a lot, but I'd want something with a lot of foam. Seven-foot's a sweet spot for me, so I'd say a seven-foot triple-stringer Fiji.
You'd ride a big twin fin at Sunset?
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
OK, moving along...Kelly's not surfing too well out at Sunset today. What sort of board should Kelly Slater ride at wonky Sunset?
Are you trying to tell me to give advice to Kelly..?
Yeah, yeah, I am.
I didn't even know Sunset was on, to be honest, that's how out of the loop I am. I've got no idea.
OK. He's got to be riding a seven-foot triple-stringer Fiji.
Of course. OK, this one has nothing to do with Sunset Beach. How often do you rock up to a wave, paddle out and think, "No, that's beyond me"?
On the boat trip?
Earlier in the trip, when we had a few swells, I was so consumed by learning to sail. Plus trying not to burn out too quick, and avoiding injury or things that were going to be consequential for the trip. So in the early days, I was trying to take things easily...but then you just can't help yourself. If you're looking at a perfect tubing six-foot wave, there's no way you're not going to surf it.
We never really got any massive swells. There were a few waves that I was umming and ahhing, wondering if it was surfable. There'd be no-one else around and I'd be looking at different little sections of reef, and I didn't know if it was a wave or not. You think: "Is it worth it? Is it not?"
Thinking about it, there were a couple of times like that, where I'd taken myself a mile or two away from the boat and I thought, "Oh, it's probably not worth it."
Another question, this one relating to boards. How often do you paddle out, and think, "Ah shit, wrong board for today"?
Very, very rarely. Almost never. I don't know...boards, like waves, have their own language. You can always communicate on some level, so I guess it's just finding what it is. Finding that little sweet spot.
Sometimes I go in with a vision of how I want to surf a wave, but then I've got to adjust to the board I'm riding, or the type of wave it is. When you're surfing different waves all the time you've got to be prepared for those changes. You've got to learn to adjust to all that.
In my eyes, you're someone who likes to play with the extremes of board design. You're not going to be seen on a 6'0" Thruster. Instead you ride seven-foot twinnies, or more recently you've been riding a 5'8" twin - going really long or really short. Does that say something about your personality? That you'd rather explore the extremes than be complacent in the middle?
It's funny, I've never really looked at it like that. I don't feel like I'm exploring anything to the extreme, because those boards...I just feel like I've been gelling with them. Riding a six-foot Thruster for me would be extreme at the moment. That would really throw me off!
There's been a couple of times where I've swapped boards with a mate in the water, and it's been a Thruster, and I just cannot speak the same language at all. I can't work it out. So that's felt really extreme.
No, the board design, for me it's happened organically. Also, there's a lot of similarities within the boards, even between the 5'8" and the seven-footers. So there's a real familiarity there...
Can I just pull you up there? Granted I'm only looking at it online, but the 5'8" seems to have much more parallel rails than anything else I've seen you on.
Which board are you looking at?
5'8", orange fade spray on the deck.
Yeah. That's the most different board I've ridden in a while. But parallel rails...? In the previous few years I've been on longer boards, they've really been falling in my sweet spot, but I wanted to take the template from them, and apply it to a board that's shorter and fits tighter in the pocket. Some things have to change and that's the concept behind the shape.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Indonesia, and I have always preferred a shorter board here, because you don't need a whole lot of paddle power. Often, there's not a whole lot of water moving. Especially on my backhand, I pretty much always prefer to be riding a board below six-foot, unless it's massive.
Are you exclusively on twin fins?
Yeah, I don't have any other fin configurations on the boat.
Did you ever find them to have shortcomings in Indonesia's hollow waves?
Not at all, no. They're unreal in the tube. Second to none in my opinion. Before transitioning to twin fins, I really enjoyed quads.
When you're riding a twin fin and you're on one rail, there's still quite a lot of fin in the water. The board that I'd choose to ride in a hollow, barreling waves, would be one of my channel bottom boards in the 5'10" to six-foot range.
OK, now, about the trip. How long did you spend aboard the boat?
Eleven months. Yeah, we left mid-March in '22.
You left from Thailand, was that correct?
Yeah, we left up in the Gulf of Thailand, near Bangkok. A little port town called Pattaya - it's right in the north of the Gulf of Thailand - and we made our way down the coast of Cambodia and then down through the South China Sea.
We then made our way through the Singapore Strait and up the Malacca Strait, along Malaysia, then across the Malacca Strait to north Banda Aceh, where we checked into Indonesia. First stop was a little island called Sabang.
Did you find any waves when en route to Indonesia?
Yeah, we did. At one point early on, the engine, we'd clogged it. A plastic wrapper had clogged in the intake for the coolant of the engine, and the engine overheated. So we ended up towing the Calypte in with a tender into this little island, where we knew there was a protected anchorage, where we diagnosed the problem and fixed the boat.
Aiyana had actually taken the tender for a little cruise around the corner, while my mate George and I were troubleshooting the problem.
Aiyana came back all wide-eyed. She'd found this fun little reeling left-hand point. It was a novelty, but we surfed. And we were just tripping; we couldn't even believe it. We'd totally just stumbled across this little, dreamy left-hand point.
Would that have been borne off the nor-east monsoon?
Yeah, it was a really short period wind swell coming from up Taiwan way.
But the surf trip began in earnest up at Banda Aceh, I guess.
Yeah, that nor-west side of Sumatra does have waves, but it's really open ocean and I didn't know any anchorages there. I didn't have the experience and confidence to be searching, so our first surfing destination was the Banyaks.
Even though I'd never been to the Banyaks before, I wanted to just get there because I knew it was quite protected, and there were going to be a few anchorages that I had already marked. So I wanted to just feel it out. I'd never really anchored around waves, never sailed the surf. I knew there were going to be enough challenges as it was without putting ourselves in a precarious situation.
It would've been really cool to have spent a bit more time up there. There's so many islands and places everywhere. You could spend a lifetime looking around but we had enough waves to keep us busy. That was the real start of the surfing trip.
We'll chat about the surfing shortly, but you mentioned the challenges of sailing. Were there any close calls you can recount?
In those early days with George...he's a friend of ours, an ex-diesel mechanic who's been sailing for the last twenty years on his own boat and he turned out to be a great mentor for us. When he was onboard, when I was saying about the packet that got stuck in the intake. It basically burst the tube so all the water that was cooling the engine was actually coming into the bilge, and essentially sinking the boat. The boat was sinking itself.
George was at the helm and I checked the bilge...I looked in there and water was coming up, it was just about to swamp the engine, swamp the batteries. It was just an instant worst case scenario, like, "We're going down."
There's water coming in the boat, filling up at a rapid rate. What do we do? George kept cool and knew exactly...or didn't know exactly what the problem was, but he knew what to do in that sort of situation. So being around him was a really good experience for me. Learning how to handle any sort of situation.
So it's not simply a matter of fixing a problem, but first knowing how to respond to the problem.
Yeah. What I later learnt on the trip is that the solution to problems are often quite simple. It's just spending the time to find out where that problem is, and being calm and confident during the situation.
The other thing. When we first got to the Banyaks, we actually ran aground.
Yeah. It could've been completely catastrophic for the boat. It was in the first week, after the first full day of surfing.
There was a pretty narrow little passage onto the inside of this bay, into a more protected anchorage, and I'd tracked it in the dinghy with my plotter to make a safe passage. Then I came back and took Calypte in there, dropped the anchor, and set it into eight metres of sand. The holding was great. The sun was just about to set.
So I turned the engine off, cracked a beer. Was just buzzing after an epic day.
Then one of the local guys, one of the surf camp owners, came out, and said, "No, no, no. It's better you moor in here." I'm like, "We're fine here". I knew we were in a protected spot. I knew the anchor was holding good. We had plenty of swing room around us, and going any further was unknown. Yet they were adamant that it's better if I get it further in.
Basically, they took us into this land mine of coral heads and things - all for an extra fifty metres. And just as we were going in there, this squall hit us at about 30 knots. It was the worst feeling ever. We ended up caught aground. The squall hit us. It actually pivoted us around and I was able to edge the boat off, and head back on my same track.
I was tripping, and angry at them and angry at myself. I knew, but I didn't have the experience to really back myself.
The takeaway from it was that I needed to trust my decisions. There are a lot of decisions I had to make, and not everyone's always happy about them, but I had to back myself. That was a lesson learned. Just trust in my own decision-making and stick with it.
In the early days, we had mates come and help us on the boat, and then it was Aiyana and I, so I needed to be making my own call. Be confident. The last six or eight months it was just the two of us.
Now, let's talk about surf for a while. You mentioned before you didn't even know where some waves were, or what they were called. Did this happen often?
Absolutely, yeah. It's funny, because the trip was based around a decent anchorage. Then with the tender you could go and scout nearby waves. Sometimes we'd be around a few known waves, but then you'd end up looking around the next corner, because you can, and then surfing a bunch of waves that I don't know the names of.
I definitely wouldn't be the first person to surf them, but I'd be surfing alone at a wave that I didn't know the name of. Yeah, it was pretty cool.
I guess you had a pretty free timetable. If you came across good waves, you'd just post up there for a while?
Yeah, pretty much. We had no real schedule at all. We were more dependent on what the weather was doing, how much fuel, how much water, how much food we had. That dictated our plans and movements more than anything.
You spent most of your time off Sumatra, is that correct?
Yeah, the majority of the year was just off Sumatra, yeah.
Do you feel that you heavily explored those outer islands?
Not really. Just touched the surface. You need so many elements to come together to find waves and score waves, and then sail into waves. And adding the additional safe anchorage and good conditions for the anchorage and the wave. There's so many things that need to come together to all fall in place. So yeah, you need to spend a lifetime up there to really tap into it all, for sure.
That plays into the idea that yourself and Ishka have come up with, where you're using different vehicles on your surf trips. This one, the surfing seems to be limited to where the boat can take you, where you can moor it.
It goes back to that root of the reason why we like to travel. It connects you to surfing in a totally different way. For me and Aiyana, you grow a lot closer to your surroundings, and the people you meet, and the waves that you get. There's so much more reward there and experience.
You'd be surprised at times how little we were surfing. There'd be weeks sometimes - I think it was five weeks that Aiyana didn't surf. For me, there may be a week or a couple of weeks between surfs, but then we'd end up at a little place, get a dream run of swell and we'd be surfing three or four times a day.
Yeah, it literally just came in waves.
Ishka wasn't with you all of the time. He just came and went, was that correct?
Yeah, Ish came three times throughout the year to help document the trip. He came at the start, then in the Banyaks, and then down around the Telos. In between that, a couple of other friends came for little swells, and to help film.
Thinking back to the best sessions of your trip, were they filmed, or sometimes were you just on your own?
No, I had a heap of really memorable sessions that I was just on my own. We were fortunate to get some great swells documented, but yeah, there was certainly a handful of amazing sessions that I was sitting out there by myself. Yeah, it was pretty cool. I was loving that side of it too.
Obviously, we were trying to make the film, but when you're out there, not filming, you're soaking it in. Yeah, that was sweet, and some of my most memorable surfs were just by myself - or with Aiyana, just the two of us and the boat bobbing away in the channel.
Last trip you turned into three episodes. How are you going to present the film this time?
We've got so much freedom with the films. Needessentials has backed Ishka and I throughout all of these films. Given us so much freedom. The way it's worked so far is, we've dreamed up these trips, then thrown ourselves into them, and only after they're over have we thought about the film side.
So we're at that stage now, where we're talking about what are we going to do with it, how to present it.
At this stage, we're thinking maybe make a full feature length film. At least an hour, maybe hour and a half. Like the New Zealand film in a way.
And is it too early to ask when it may come out?
Probably mid-year. That's the goal.