It’s 10 pm in Hawai`i and rumor of a black and purple swell blob is spreading throughout the surfing worlds media feeds. I do my research and check out what’s in store for this monster of swell and where its aimed to make itself noticed . I scour through a few trusty weather sites and make a few phone calls to make sure I’m not fashioning something out of a wild dream as I keep pinching myself to see if I’m still in reality. I go into attack mode, book my flights, and set up accommodations. It’s now 2am, my head and heart are both pumping to a beat I can’t fall asleep too. My flight is in eight hours and counting; bags are semi-packed and I’m heading into Indonesia’s biggest swell in over 12 years. Back to the place that once almost took my life but I know I’m coming with a different mentality and dealing with a whole new monster. I’m throwing myself into the fire with some of the world’s best big wave surfers as we head into Indonesia for a strike mission to Nias.
The hype around the swell can’t get any more real when calls and direct messages flow into my phone, draining my battery for a good cause. Where are you going? When are you coming? What’re your plans? These questions are on repeat like the automatic software update on my computer. I flow through them to get a hold of who is surfing where, a common practice as everyone is heading to the same place I have in mind.
Watching the swell charts through hours of layovers, the thought of missing the brunt of the swell and arriving a day late plagues my mind. I waited too long to make a move and missing the day is creeping close to the front of my mind. The majority of the surfers are already at the spot but their own version of bad luck has crept up on them: Koa Rothman, Nathan Florence, Eli Olson, and Billy Kemper are sitting, watching the swell build but with no boards in hand. It would take a good part of the day for them to get their traveling quiver under their feet. The lucky ones were Ola Eleogram who arrived a day later with bags in tow and Ezra Sitt who did some Indonesian deals to make sure his board bags got their with him. What seemed like luck or a bad omen, waves arrived and so has the bad weather. Howling 30 mph winds onshore winds with rain funnelling in sideways. Was this historical swell what we were waiting for?
What had been thought of as a write-off for the swell, waves dropped but the conditions were improving. Watching the forecast to get a hold of what’s coming, the big swell was upgraded but moved back to a day later. The morning of the first big day we awoke to waves breaking against our camp wall and flowing into the yard. We knew it was big but how big it would get was still a question mark as we gazed at the ocean in the early morning darkness. You could feel the energy swarming in and out with every set and the boys were getting the mental game in check to be ready for what the Indian Ocean had to throw at them. When the light appeared we had a solid feel for what were getting ourselves into.
The rides that went down on Day One were nothing but mind blowing. Paddling for a wave was intense in and of itself because the amount of water behind these behemoths were backless and straight vertical on the drops. The bigger the waves the more intense the whole issue would get. Only a select few surfers were in the right mindset to paddle for a four foot wave that would grow into a 12-15 ft. backless monster whose only want was to pull into the dark caves of Nias – a feat that almost took Koa Smith’s life on the first swell when he pulled into a big backhand barrel, got sucked up the face, and cheese-grated his back and got a small concussion while underwater during the wipeout. It may not have been the biggest wave – though one of the thickest maybe – ridden by Koa but was up there as one of the most violent beatings he’s gone through.
Kauai charger and cover boy Keale Chung, along with Kauai native Jesse Johnson, charged the peak of the swell in the middle of the day with only the two of them out. Unfortunately, on the way in Keale got a reef facial, dressing his face with a coat of red after the charged session. He’s okay, with the best spirits on tap. The boys had a fair share of trade-offs into some of these monsters with views groomed for their eyes only. I can only imagine what they looking out from the barrel; to feel the spit shoot out as hard as a commercial size power washer. To add to the chaos of the day, a boat that was anchored safely away from the break was dislodged by the nonstop march of 12 ft. sets throughout the day. The boat drifted close to the lineup, clearing surfers from the proper take-off spot before getting consumed by a midsized “triple double” wave.
The waves stayed around for two days which was long enough, through strong currents, wipeouts, and pure anxiety from the energy of the swell, surfers were greatly relieved to have a down day. Not to mention, I was glad myself to have a rest from those two days of intense action to heal my open-fin blisters from over-swimming and long days on the boat. It was a great time to reflect and plan the next move to see what was left for the Indian Ocean.
The last time Indonesia got to this size with such powerful waves was in 2004 after the deadly tsunami hit the archipelago. This historical swell made itself known to Western Australia by being too big to surf, according to some locals from the area. Continuing to march through Indonesia, Uluwatu was a tow-in wave with famous Padang Padang Beach connecting to Impossibles, continuing through Bingin, Dreamworld, and around the corner at Balangan Beach. Kuta Beach was swept away, with beach chairs and umbrellas getting consumed by the Indian Ocean’s power. Nias wasn’t a tsunami like they have experienced but it was close enough to be a historical swell for the Indian Ocean.