Archive for August, 2013

WP_20130822_047The immodestly titled Heaven on the Planet sits high on the hillside above the Inside Ekas Break. I came here hoping to take advantage of the lights which have been installed over the break to facilitate some night surfing over the reef, but sadly there was not enough swell during my time here to warrant switching them on.

However regardless of that it is a majestic spot which has some stunning views of Mount Rinjani, the highest point on the island, peeking through the clouds across the bay in the distance.

WP_20130822_012All my meals are included in the package provided for me here, which leaves me only wondering about having enough beer tokens to cover my bar bill.

The flat spell through most of my stay means that I spend a significant amount of my time hanging out in the communal area which you see here hoping for a swell to arrive. It is sunny all day, everyday and you are grateful for the breeze which builds in the afternoon.

The Nine Wise MenThere are loads of great people here who I get to know well, including several couples, but I spend most of my time in and out of the water with The Nine Wise Men of Merimbula, who have centuries of surf experience between them. Merimbula Bar was one of the breaks I had checked out but been unable to get a wave whilst there on my journey from Victoria in Australia back towards Sydney.

I am offered loads of useful advice from them all about places to surf on my travels and some helpful guidance on what I should do next after my trip is over. They are a great bunch of guys and I am jealous of them having such a circle of friends to surf with for so long. I will leave to them to describe just how bad the rendition of Under the Boardwalk by The Drifters was that I was pushed into doing on my own to the whole bar the night that a local band came and played to us. It felt painful to me and I suspect was not easy on anybody’s ears!

MacaqsThe other new ‘friends’ I made and I use the term loosely are the local macaq monkeys which are all over the place. I have loads of pictures of them but none did them justice so I have borrowed this one from the net to better illustrate them.

They may look cuddly but it is getting towards the end of the dry season and they are desperate for food and particularly water. Most tend to run off whenever you approach but a few are quite aggressive running at you baring their sizeable fangs, and are only scared off by this particular ape doing the same in return.

WP_20130823_001This is my place set high in the tree tops, which was really quiet for most of my stay apart from the last two nights, when I got to share more of my new human neighbours mating rituals than I would have liked.

The local animals were quite keen on my place too. I was too slow to get the picture of two of the monkeys sitting on my surfboard one afternoon and sadly they discovered the water cooler in my bathroom, throwing it to the floor smashing it so they could get a drink. One came back the following day leaping into the bathroom looking for more, which would have been fine other than the fact that I was sat on the toilet with my trousers around my ankles at the moment he chose to do so. After some of the afore mentioned aggression shown by both sides, it wasn’t immediately obvious who would throw faeces at the other first! Thankfully a mutual retreat negated the need.

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Lombok MapAfter an eighteen minute flight from Bali I am on the island of Lombok, where I will be for the next week. I will be based on the south of the island hoping to score some of the epic waves regularly seen there.

I am collected at the airport by the driver arranged for me and transferred to the place where I am staying, which is modestly called Heaven on the Planet. It was dark for most of the journey and because I didn’t want to look at what was happening on the road in front of me once more I don’t have a great deal to report here.

 

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BaliI have landed in Bali which is another location for one of the events on the ASP’s world tour. However the first thing I noticed here was the standard of Indonesian driving. It is a serious contender for Guatemala’s current crown of being the worst in the world.

Whilst being ferried from the airport to hotels I actually decided it was probably best not to look. Given how well documented my own lead feet are, that is certainly saying something.

klaten-templeIndonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, but unlike most of its parent nation Bali almost entirely adheres to Balinese Hinduism, and you can see that impact in the architecture everywhere on the island

I think after all the good press I had heard I was expecting too much here, but have to admit to being quite disappointed by my first impression. Kuta, where I am staying overnight before going on to Lombok, is awful. There are hawkers everywhere, massive shiny new hotels that don’t appear at all bothered about the broken streets and pavements in front of them, grotty shops and more ink work on display than at a motorcycle exhibition. Maybe I have got too used to the western trappings of Australia.

On that by the way I have a new phone number once more. Ring or text me on +62-821-4746-4858 if you need me urgently.

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FlagIndonesia has a population of more than 250 million people, who are spread across more than 17,000 islands.

A visit here on my travels was mandatory because since I started surfing people have been telling me to get myself to ‘Indo’ because I would love it.

Warm water, great waves and friendly locals. What more can you ask for?

detailed map

There are truly epic waves that break along a significant part of the archipelago’s coastline.

I will be doing everything I can to add plenty of breaks to my tally here.

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Great White SharkIt is time to move on again so I have packed my bags once more.

There were certainly loads more waves I could have chased in this part of the world, however I can’t say I will be too upset to be moving on from the feeding ground of Great White Sharks.

At least for a short while!

Wave RockThere are loads of other things I haven’t had the time to do either.

I am a bit disappointed not to have been able to visit the geographic feature known as Wave Rock whilst here, but I guess that will have to wait for another time.

Time to head off to the airport once more.

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VinyardsI decide to try and squeeze one more break in before returning to Perth and drive another 50 kilometres south to the Margaret River area. It is another of the world’s great great wine growing areas and there are vineyards everywhere but all this is once more wasted on myself.

However I guess I can be very pretentious at dinner parties upon returning home, waxing lyrical on the geography of all the regions I have seen on this trip.

Surfer's Point_021As usual I am more interested in the surf opportunities and head straight for the mouth of the river, and the break there known as Surfers Point which is legendary in surfing circles.

I am gutted to discover that the road is closed upon arrival so they can beautify the car park and its approach, so there is no chance of me even seeing the break.

Gnarabup_019I drive on to the next beach called Gnarabup, but as I feared the swell has all but died and what little there is left is being ruined by the westerly winds which have picked up again.

Whilst there I have a chat with a local lady called Mim, who tells me more about some of the local Great White population. A short while back the beach you see here was full of tourists swimming and kids playing in the shallows. That was until somebody gave a warning that a shark was in the water causing an understandably rapid exit for everybody! 

Great White Shark MouthThe 5 metre long shark which would have a mouth the size of a kitchen table then swam along the length of the bay, rolling onto its side so it could have a good look at everybody on the shore as it went. Not satisfied with that it then swam back the other way doing exactly the same thing.

If they had tongues you could imagine the thing licking its lips!

Given I don’t want this to be the last thing I ever see, I am all of a sudden not at all unhappy about being unable to get any more waves in this part of the world!

Gath_036From there I drive into the town of Margaret River, which is the home of Gath who manufacture helmets which you can wear whilst surfing.

I have a bit of a grail quest finding their operation which is on a business park right on the edge of town. It is where all the helmets shipped worldwide are manufactured and as a consequence I decide it will be the best place to buy one.

TadpoleIn more ways than one I have a big head, and have been unable to find one anywhere on my travels that is large enough for me. Even in their workshop there is only one in stock that fits comfortably so I snap it up.

Thus far I have several bouncings off boulders on my travels and that my face and teeth are largely the same as when I left the UK is arguably more by luck than judgement. I am flying to Indonesia the following day and think that making some effort to protect myself whilst surfing all the reef breaks there will be a sound investment.

It is a worrying sign however, because with tangible levels of self preservation and common sense creeping into my psyche I must be getting old! 

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Yallingup_031Yallingup Reef is a serious wave and the home break of Taj Burrow who is a regular contender on the world tour. The wave breaks from the left of this shot over the edge of the rock reef which runs all the way out from the shore under the flat water you can see on the right.

You wade and paddle across that until the edge of the reef and then try to time launching yourself into the white water in a spell when not many waves are coming through. On that score I didn’t do so well and had a real battle paddling out into the waves which were well over head high. Each one hitting you sends you back a bit towards the rocks behind you so there is no choice but to dig deep and paddle like a man possessed until you get clear of the white water and are able to catch your breath out back.

DCIM104GOPROThe consensus opinion when catching the waves is to then surf rightwards back towards the edge of the shelf because it will be less of a paddle back out after your ride, as opposed to battling through about thirty waves having gone left.

However once clear of the white water there are all kinds of shadows beneath you due to the rocks, and because there is so much swell you can’t tell if anything is moving or not. Knowing what is in the water here I have to say I didn’t enjoy myself a great deal and I think this photo says more about that than I can.

To make matters worse all the wax on my board started flaking off making it very slippy and I then got stung by something all the way up both my forearms.

DCIM105GOPROI did catch a few rides though, but not knowing the break more than once found myself having to violently swerve around rocks breaking the surface just in front of me.

Not really my cup of tea this sort of thing so I got out before too long managing to muddle my way back up on to the reef having ridden a wave to the edge of it and bailing off at the last minute to stop my board hitting the rocks.

Yallingup_034

I dried off and got changed before going back to watch some of the locals who were really charging.

This fantastic statue has been erected next to the car park to celebrate the surf pioneers from Perth who first came down this way decades ago searching for more challenging waves.

I had another chat about the angry fish with somebody whilst there who sincerely believed that my life was under more threat from the local kangaroos population jumping out in front of my car.

I can’t say I am convinced by this argument.

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Caveman SurferHaving driven three hours south of Perth I am loathe to just drive all the way back there after my session at Smiths Beach, so I try to see if there is anywhere local that I can stay cheaply which would allow a few more sessions in the area before returning.

Almost everything is way beyond what I wanted to spend especially because I have already paid for a bed at the Billabong Backpacker Resort back in the city, and it means I will be doubling up which is extravagant even by this trip’s standard.

Finally I decide that there is no choice but investigate sleeping in caves.

Caves House_002Before you think I have regressed further towards my Neanderthal genes I should explain that Caves House is about as far removed from a drafty hole in the rocks as you might imagine, and the service there is rather better than that too.

It is a magnificent building in Yallingup set in manicured grounds at the top of the hill above the famous break in the town.

Caves House_040I arrive late in the day and manage to haggle the room rate down to something I can live with, and after discovering I would have a proper double bed to myself (with an electric blanket), my own TV and a wholesome breakfast in the morning I shake hands on the deal and settle in for the night.

I spend most of the evening in the Long Bar enjoying a Sunday Roast, followed by cheese and biscuits with a couple of pints of James Squire’s One Fifty Lashes, which I have been enjoying all over Oz.

There is surf memorabilia all over the bar and I have a good chat with the barman James who surfs the local breaks. The conversation inevitably turns to the angry fish in the neighbourhood and comments like, “we’ve had a bad run recently” and “some of the local ones can be as big as 6 metres in length” don’t do much to ensure a good nights sleep!

Flame Tree_007I wake up early though and walk through the grounds which have a number of these beautiful Flame trees along the path down to the beach.

It has dropped a bit since the day before but is still massive so after ambling back I decide to enjoy a hearty breakfast before checking out and driving down to the break.

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Smiths Beach_039I drove three hours south of Perth and after checking out a couple of breaks opted to get in the water at Smiths Beach where there are a good number of others are already in the water.

Whilst being no guarantee of not being attacked being part of a crowd obviously improves your chances of not being the chosen meal! You would have to be staggeringly unlucky to get attacked but this article should give you some idea about why I am concerned so much in this part of the world.

DCIM102GOPROAll the people in the water are really friendly and the sea is so clear you could see all the way to the sandy bottom, which settles me down because you would at least see anything coming you way.

This is a great picture of me having second thoughts about taking the drop on one of the head high waves because it it about to thump down right across the bay.

DCIM102GOPROI did manage to make a few drops though and even a handful of turns on one wave before the broken section would catch up with me.

It is hard to tell whether I am surfing the wave or it was surfing me in this shot, but I managed to stay upright a while longer. It was quite a heavy wave breaking over the sand here and more than once I surfaced after wiping out wondering if my board would be in two pieces.

DCIM103GOPROIt was late in the afternoon when I arrived and there really wasn’t much daylight left by the time I caught this ride in at the end of my session.

The number of surfers in the water was thinning out and I didn’t want to be the only thing on the menu!

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Wes gets readyTen years ago myself and some other surfers from London raised loads of money for MIND, the mental health charity, by swimming across the English Channel from the UK to France. It was done as a relay with each swimmer getting in and swimming as hard as they could in rotation.

We all did a stint in the dark or half light, in the middle of the shipping lanes and as we approached the French coast until the distance was covered taking 12 hours to get there. Wes, who you see here about to do a dance to Queens of The Stone Age that was immediately followed by a comedy fall off the back of the boat, has since returned back to his native Australia and I arranged to meet up with him for a surf whilst I am in the area.

Freemantle_001He lives on the coast near Freemantle which is only half an hour from where I am staying so we arrange to meet up at first light because the wind was predicted to drop for a few hours.

Checking out a few breaks we were both particular pleased about our early start because whilst at Cottesloe Beach a particularly attractive young woman ran past us laughing and throwing her clothes off before running naked into the water. This meant we got to see a full moon as well as enjoying this sunrise at the same time.

DCIM100GOPRORottnest Island located just off the coast here gets in the way of most of the swell, so even though there should be good waves on offer here it was all a bit disappointing apart from the streaker. However it seems the whole of Western Australia is aware that the wind has dropped and it is packed in the water anyway at the break called Isolators where we decide to paddle out.

This takes us through a huge patch of seaweed which I get completely tangled up in, and knowing how I feel about what else is in the water you can imagine how it brushing up my legs does to my nervous system.

DCIM100GOPROWes and I find a little peak to enjoy surfing over the rock reef off the side of the main crowd, but in all honesty spend most of our time in the water catching up rather than bagging loads of waves.

Wes, who I discover has entered the dirty business of politics since I last saw him, is giving you a wave from behind me in this shot.

DCIM101GOPROWe do catch a few little rides though of which this was the best picture.

After a fun session with an old friend, we decide to go into Freemantle for breakfast and continue our catch up. Whilst there Wes convinces me that I must drive south to where the waves aren’t sheltered by the Island.

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