John Borth­wick dis­cov­ers the de­lights of surf­ing in Pa­pua New Guinea With no wit­nesses but the teem­ing jun­gle and a sin­gle thatched hut, we pig out on a feast of clean 1.5m waves

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Adventure Holidays -

F ev­ery­body had an ocean . . .’’ sang the Beach Boys al­most too long ago. To­day, any­one who has an ocean is fig­ur­ing a way to make their waves pay. With once un­sung shores from the In­dian to the Pa­cific oceans sprout­ing re­sorts and char­ter boats for es­capee ur­ban surfers, Pa­pua New Guinea hasn’t been slow to see that hot tubes have a sil­ver lin­ing. Main­land and is­land vil­lages, if they’re for­tu­itously sit­u­ated be­side good breaks, are plug­ging into the ever-grow­ing surf travel mar­ket and of­fer­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, tours and boat­based sur­faris.

‘‘ Wake up . . . surf check time,’’ calls Adam Smith, ex­pat Aus­tralian surfer and owner of the char­ter cata­ma­ran Tiki Tu. We’re an­chored at Kavieng, north of the PNG main­land in New Ire­land Prov­ince. We throw our boards into his run­about and cross Kavieng Har­bour to a right-hand break where lo­cal kids on bat­tered boards are romp­ing in the fun waves, along with a half-dozen ex­pats and vis­i­tors. Ev­ery­one has waves to them­selves, no drop­ping in, no has­sling.

‘‘ It rarely gets too crowded,’’ Smith ex­plains. ‘‘ There’s a limit of 20 non-lo­cals al­lowed to surf the Kavieng area at a time. Plus, we’ve got plenty of lo­cal breaks to choose from.’’

In a world first, the Surf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of Pa­pua New Guinea has de­vel­oped a surf man­age­ment plan that aims to head off the neg­a­tive ef­fects that have of­ten ac­com­pa­nied surf tourism in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Th­ese in­clude pri­vati­sa­tion of surf breaks (as in parts of Fiji), over­crowd­ing (as in some ar­eas of In­done­sia and the Mal­dives) and the con­se­quent re­ac­tive lo­cal­ism.

Visit­ing surfers at Kavieng have to reg­is­ter, usu­ally be­fore ar­rival, and pay a small daily fee that goes to fund­ing in­dige­nous surf­ing. The plan, en­dorsed by the World Bank, is be­ing adopted across the coun­try and soon may be writ­ten into na­tional law. It’s easy to see the ben­e­fits of the still con­tentious scheme. Even though to­day’s swell is noth­ing spe­cial, if there were 30 visit­ing surfers scrab­bling to get their money’s worth of th­ese clean, one-man reef waves, it would be far less fun; not to men­tion the re­ac­tions of the lo­cal crew to be­ing crowded out of their home break.

Af­ter break­fast we scoot out of the har­bour to check other reefs. As in many trop­i­cal zones, th­ese Bis­marck Sea waves de­pend on the fickle vari­ables of swell, wind and tide. We’re soon over­taken by a dory of ex­citable, hoot­ing blokes from the nearby surf re­sort, Nusa Is­land Re­treat, be­ing shut­tled out to the reefs. Sated, we will all re­turn a few hours later to epit­o­mise the surf-slobon-hol­i­day life cy­cle: morn­ing ses­sion, back to base, re­hy­drate, re­cu­per­ate, graze, nap, pad­dle back out and do it again.

Mostly in their 40s (or older), th­ese glee­ful guys, like surfers any­where with the sniff of a wave, are act­ing more like 14-year-olds. Of PNG’s 1300 an­nual for­eign surf tourists, many are older, bet­ter heeled (and padded) gen­tle­men surfers who want fun waves rather than lethal, over­head bar­rels and who can af­ford the air fare and ac­com­mo­da­tion rates.

IFoam sweet foam: At Lido, in San­daun Prov­ince, a wide flat reef and a la­goon ex­tend­ing seaward en­sure there’s enough surf break­ing for ev­ery­one

Jump­ing into a truck later that day with lo­cal surfers, Luke James and PNG ju­nior na­tional cham­pion Titima Mange, I head down the Bo­lu­min­ski High­way (named af­ter an early Ger­man colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tor).

About 35km south of town we find a reef known as Kapso pump­ing nicely a few hun­dred me­tres off­shore. Given that we’re on a sparsely pop­u­lated jun­gle shore, I’m sur­prised to find an­other surfer al­ready out there tuck­ing neatly into the bar­rels.

He is Hawaii-reared Shane Clark, a long-term PNG res­i­dent who, along with his par­ents and New Guinean wife, op­er­ates a lit­tle guest­house at Dalom, 170km from Kavieng, which also hap­pens to be our overnight des­ti­na­tion. We surf Kapso for an hour in easy waves over a coral reef, with Titima in par­tic­u­lar shred­ding it, un­til the tide be­comes too full.

The Bo­lu­min­ski High­way runs the length of nar­row New Ire­land Is­land, track­ing be­side the blue Sepik of the Pa­cific: per­fect for con­stant surf checks as we drive. Palm oil plan­ta­tions and jun­gle line the road.

Lo­cal folk trav­el­ling to their gar­dens of­ten push their gear in wheel­bar­rows, so James calls this the wheel­bar­row high­way.

Dalom is a trav­el­ling surfer’s par­adise. Sur­rounded by jun­gle, the ba­sic, six-bed­room guest­house and its bun­ga­lows sit right on the beach, with a swift lit­tle creek as its bound­ary.

We pile out of the truck to see a neat beach-break peel­ing right and left. Us­ing the creek cur­rent as a sort of chair­lift to lazily carry us out the back, we surf un­til dusk. Next morn­ing, Clark shows us a new break he has re­cently dis­cov­ered. Climb­ing down a steep hill to the beach, we pad­dle out around a coral head­land to be­hold a rip­ping lit­tle left that prob­a­bly has never been surfed by any­one but him. With no wit­nesses but the teem­ing jun­gle and a sin­gle thatched hut, we pig out on a feast of clean 11/ 2m waves.

PNG’s coasts are lit­tered with waves. Milne Bay, Rabaul, Bougainville, Madang, Muschu and We­wak re­gion all have good surf, al­though as Lou, an old-hand ex­pat, cau­tions me, ‘‘ The oper­a­tive term here is, ‘ If only . . .’ ’’ That is, if only the tide were lower (or higher), the swell from the north­west (or north­east), the wind off­shore, and so on.

It’s a vari­a­tion of the clas­sic surfer’s mantra, ‘‘ You should have been here yes­ter­day.’’

This is some­times billed as surf­ing’s last fron­tier, in which case PNG’s north­ern, equa­to­rial Ad­mi­ralty Isles are the fron­tier’s fron­tier.

I meet Lu­cas, a young Brazil­ian just back from a week’s ex­plo­ration there on MV Ka­mai, a 14m cata­ma­ran. He de­scribes how the boat would ‘‘ park’’ 40m from the surf and they would jump straight off, catch­ing bar­relling right-han­ders on the first day, then ‘‘ per­fect peak­ing lefts’’ on the sec­ond. All this in wa­ter ‘‘ so clear you could barely see the wave as you were surf­ing it’’. The lo­cal vil­lagers were pretty im­pressed, too, pad­dling out in their ca­noes to hoot at the vis­i­tors’ hottest rides.

A sleeper un­til re­cently on the world wave map, PNG has had a surf­ing com­mu­nity for 20, pos­si­bly hun­dreds of years. Surf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of Pa­pua New Guinea pres­i­dent Andy Abel be­lieves that peo­ple here have been rid­ing body­board-like sur­fcraft for gen­er­a­tions and that surf­ing here pos­si­bly pre-dates its evo­lu­tion in Poly­ne­sia. Abel, a Pa­pua New Guinean, was ed­u­cated, and learned to surf, on Queens­land’s Sun­shine Coast. In 1987, an ex­pat pilot and surfer known as ‘‘ Crazy Tas’’ told him about a clas­sic point break he’d flown over on the north­west main­land coast. To their sur­prise, they found the vil­lagers of Van­imo were al­ready surf­ing on splin­ters, body­boards carved from old dugout ca­noes.

Tas and Abel de­vel­oped mod­ern short­board surf­ing there and Abel went on to found SAPNG. The as­so­ci­a­tion and Van­imo surf­ing have since come a long way. In Novem­ber this year they will host an

Bed and board: Nusa Is­land Re­treat is the per­fect spot to en­joy the leisure and ex­er­tion of the surf-slob-on-hol­i­day lifestyle


in­ter­na­tional con­test on the World Qual­i­fy­ing Se­ries pro­fes­sional surf­ing cir­cuit.

Van­imo is a surf that you earn. You fly from Port Moresby to Van­imo, cap­i­tal of San­daun Prov­ince, take an old taxi 8km out of town to leafy Lido vil­lage, weave amid the wooden stilt houses and shade trees, and come at last to an idyllic beach.

A wide flat reef and azure la­goon ex­tend seaward, with a right-hand wave peel­ing for 100 leisurely me­tres down the west flank while a more ro­bust-look­ing left races down the other side. The right is work­ing best to­day. Leav­ing my be­long­ings with lo­cal surf lodge owner Steve Tek­wie (who has been surf­ing here ‘‘ for 10 wet sea­sons’’), I pad­dle out amid a small crew of Lido chil­dren and vis­i­tors. Ev­ery­one’s hav­ing fun, plenty of long-walled waves for all.

So why does this one plump lo­cal girl who’s wob­bling about on a long­board keep drop­ping in on me? Per­haps I should have been here yes­ter­day? Fly to Port Moresby with Air Ni­ug­ini, then to re­gional des­ti­na­tions. The air­line has dis­counted one-way flights from Bris­bane, Cairns and Syd­ney to the end of the year. Ex Bris­bane from $336, ex Cairns from $273 and ex Syd­ney from $523, all in­clud­ing taxes. More: 1300 361 380; www.airni­ug­ For de­tails of Dalom Guest­house: nip­surf@dal­; Van­imo Beach Ho­tel: + 675 857 1102 or 857 1310.­in­g­ www.png­­ven­turesin­par­­sais­­sur­

Ready for a break: Re­sort guests leav­ing Nusa Is­land on the hunt for waves

Pic­tures: John Borth­wick

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