THE REALM

Who needs heaven whne you have the Mentawai Is­lands? Fea­tur­ing: Finn McGill, Davey Cathels, Reef Hea­zle­wood, Nolan Rapoza, Seb Smart, Matt Me­ola and Shel­don Simkus.

Tracks - - Contents - LUKE KENNEDY

Like most trips to the Mentawai Is­lands ours be­gins in Padang with a jour­ney from the air­port to the ma­rina. At a glance the city serves as an un­likely gate­way to surf­ing’s Nir­vana. As you pass the open drains, the scat­tered rub­bish and the fetid wa­ter, it’s im­pos­si­ble to miss the gi­ant red let­ter­ing on the head­land, which reads ‘Padang’. If the ur­ban in­fras­truc­ture is not ex­actly first rate then cer­tainly no money has been spared on the gar­gan­tuan sign. While we move through honk­ing traf­fic, where pimped out, au­dio-thump­ing mini-vans are the most prized ve­hi­cles for lo­cals, world Ju­nior cham­pion, Finn McGill, and aerial sa­vant, Matt Me­ola, keep us en­ter­tained with Hawai­ian hunt­ing sto­ries. Finn ex­plains that when he shot his first feral pig with a cross­bow, on the North Shore, his hunt­ing part­ner forced him to drink the blood of the slayed boar as a kind of ini­ti­a­tion. Matt’s story is equally as hard to swal­low, but has a much more Dis­ney end­ing. When he and a friend shot a wild deer (also feral pests, which Matt eats) they didn’t re­alise it was preg­nant. Sens­ing that per­haps the un­born bambi was still alive they per­formed an im­promptu Ce­sarean, cut­ting the fawn from the womb with a hunt­ing knife. Over six months later Matt is still the proud owner of a pet, baby deer.

We con­tinue along a nar­row vein of bi­tu­men, which winds past the deep green waters of the har­bour. The road is flanked by street­stalls sell­ing foods both strange and fa­mil­iar. Slightly higher up on the steep es­carp­ment a con­fu­sion of makeshift cor­ru­gated-iron shacks fights a never-end­ing bat­tle with the Su­ma­tran jun­gle, which threat­ens to wrap ev­ery­thing in a tan­gle of limbs and green. “This place is pretty cool,” com­ments English surfer Seb Smart, pre­fer­ring to see Third World charm rather than ur­ban squalor. Be­fore long we are high-fiv­ing a smil­ing Su­ma­tran kid who lives in the boat-house that is our de­par­ture point; then nod­ding to a jaded look­ing soul who mans the jetty where a small boat waits to take us to the Man­galui – the sto­ried yacht which will serve as our float­ing home for the next 10 days. As the Mango’ mo­tors out of port the com­fort­able rit­ual be­gins, cold Bin­tangs are handed around and a tasty en­tree laid out on the back deck by a dili­gent In­done­sian hand. The mood is bois­ter­ous and full of an­tic­i­pa­tion, but as thoughts nat­u­rally bend to­wards the waves and good times ahead it’s hard to sup­press a twinge of guilt about the chaotic, ur­ban scene we leave be­hind in pur­suit of surf­ing plea­sures. Climb­ing on deck the fol­low­ing morn­ing, after the overnight cross­ing to the is­lands, it is as if ev­ery­thing is turned about and you have some­how wo­ken into a dream. The Man­galui skims across a bril­liant car­pet of blue and the nearby is­land is shrouded in wisps of early morn­ing fog. Ur­ban may­hem has rapidly been re­placed by trop­i­cal mys­tique. As fly­ing fish breach the sur­face and spear through the air for im­pos­si­ble dis­tances it’s hard to guess at their game, are they just hav­ing fun or on the run from less ac­ro­batic prey? Be­fore long we are round­ing a bay, ey­ing off a long left­hander that spools down the line un­rid­den, in­stantly turn­ing seven young surfers into hoot­ing kids. Reef Hea­zle­wood, Finn McGill, Davey Cathels, Nolan Rapoza, and Shel­don Simkus have been on the WQS grind. They’re fresh from a stint in Ja­pan, surf­ing tiny waves for a cru­cial con­test, in which none claimed re­sults worth cel­e­brat­ing. “We haven’t seen a wave over two feet for over a month,” laments Davey Cathels, in­stantly tak­ing the gloss off the pro surf­ing dream. Aus­tralian WQS bolter, Reef Hea­zle­wood, is soon be­low deck mov­ing through a strin­gent strength and stretch­ing rou­tine. The over­size ear­phones are plas­tered to his head as he switches on the core and works on any­thing that’s tight from fly­ing. Cour­tesy of a cou­ple of good re­sults early in the year, the 18-year-old is sit­ting within strik­ing dis­tance of the ul­ti­mate goal – a spot on the WCT. For now how­ever Reef’s at­ten­tion is at­tuned to get­ting the shot and nail­ing the clip, en­sur­ing his spon­sors have more to be happy about than mere re­sults. De­liv­er­ing a sar­to­rial stroke to the whole phys­i­cal prep’ he dons an un­but­toned, flo­ral­printed tee and is the first surfer in the wa­ter, im­me­di­ately urg­ing the filmer and pho­tog­ra­pher to cap­ture his well-re­hearsed act. As Reef hits the lineup some of the oth­ers are still in surf-movie-psy­che-up mode. Pro surfers view surf films and clips dif­fer­ently – al­most like con­tes­tants in a TV tal­ent show who watch their com­peti­tors per­form, be­fore they them­selves go on stage. Like them, the surfers are well aware that it’s their role to bet­ter what­ever they’ve just wit­nessed on screen. When Jack McCoy’s Blue Hori­zon flicks on, the boys are still in awe of Andy Irons’ raw,

surf­ing charisma. How­ever, one of them is un­apolo­get­i­cally harsh when it comes to sur­mis­ing Rasta’s craft. “I feel like this guy rips but he just rides re­ally shit boards.” Out in the lineup Reef Hea­zle­wood is soon dou­ble drag­ging his arms and bil­low­ing, open-shirt into a dreamy, lime cave. As Reef wres­tles with the foam ball, Narrabeen’s Davey Cathels pad­dles over the shoul­der and screams “tube pig” at the top of his lungs. Cathels, a for­mer CT surfer with his heart set on a re­turn to surf­ing’s top flight, has a strong sense of his iden­tity. The plucky nat­u­ral footer with a crisp at­tack grew up in Narrabeen – per­haps Aus­tralia’s most com­pet­i­tive beach – where ev­ery surf is like a heat and ev­ery en­counter on land is a bat­tle of wit and ban­ter. Be­tween waves Davey proudly in­di­cates that one of his de­scen­dants was a con­vict on the First Fleet. “Sent to Aus­tralia for steal­ing bread,” he ex­plains. “I’ve seen the ledger where it’s writ­ten,” he boasts. It’s a fit­ting per­sonal his­tory as Davey is the em­bod­i­ment of a par­tic­u­lar type of Aus­tralian Pro surfer – ruth­lessly com­pet­i­tive, lar­rikin in spirit and a firm be­liever in the virtues of belt­ing the lip. Save a brief cameo from a gung-ho, pig­dog­ging mal rider, the lineup is our ex­clu­sive play­ground for the day. Cour­tesy of a wel­come med­ley of rip­pable walls, bar­rels and air sec­tions, it’s not long be­fore our merry band starts to push the en­ve­lope. Reef Heazel­wood launches a gi­ant straight air that makes his flo­ral shirt flap like a su­per-hero cape and sends ev­ery­one just a lit­tle quiet with awe. Mean­while Matt Me­ola and Seb Smart en­gage in a re­lent­less duel to com­plete the first rodeo flip. As the light fades the crew are sit­ting in the wa­ter fac­ing di­rectly west, watch­ing the Su­ma­tran sun bleed ev­ery colour in the candy store and de­liv­er­ing per­fect clo­sure to a day that has rapidly ex­punged the mem­ory of lost heats, lan­guage bat­tles and long flights, for the seven young surfers.

FISH­ING FOR LIKES

Over break­fast, 20 year-old Nolan Rapoza sits on the back deck of the Man­galui of­fer­ing en­light­en­ment about the dig­i­tal ex­pec­ta­tions placed upon modern pros. “If you haven’t go a K (1000) fol­low­ers, spon­sors aren’t even look­ing at you,” in­sists Nolan. These days surf brands urge their spon­sored team rid­ers to keep the In­sta posts flow­ing and when it comes time to dis­cuss your con­tract the num­ber of fol­low­ers you boast on In­sta can be as im­por­tant as the last con­test re­sult or the qual­ity of your front-side carve. “If I haven’t posted some­thing on In­sta­gram in a week my par­ents get so mad at me,” laments Nolan. “Then you’re up against those guys who have their In­sta­gram posts all pre-writ­ten and sched­uled in ad­vance,” he con­tin­ues, with a wince. Ob­vi­ously some surfers are much slicker ex­po­nents of self-mar­ket­ing in an era when the phone is God.

Nolan is a flashy goofy-footer from Orange County (O.C), Cal­i­for­nia who has a tightcropped ‘fro, wears his socks high; trav­els with a deluxe box of candy and comes off as more all-Amer­i­can than re-runs of Happy Days. In fact his life sounds a lit­tle more like a string of episodes from the early 2000s se­ries, The O.C. . Nolan lets slip that cour­tesy of his O.C up­bring­ing he has hooked up with both Mi­ley Cyrus’s sis­ter, Noah, and Chris Ward’s daugh­ter, Malia. How­ever, while he may be the per­fect in­spi­ra­tion for a surf­ing soap opera, he’s a lit­tle naive when it comes to ge­og­ra­phy and the other surfers soon sense an op­por­tu­nity to pull off a grand scale prac­ti­cal joke. Led by chief lar­rikin, Davey Cathels, the boys con­vince Nolan that the Mentawai re­gion is in fact home to the no­to­ri­ous can­diru, a small fish which sup­pos­edly swims up the eye of your pe­nis and lodges it­self there with spines when you are uri­nat­ing in the wa­ter. The can­diru species is in fact found in the Ama­zon, but Nolan heard noth­ing of this while he was busy hook­ing up with Noah Cyrus back in the O.C . Need­less to say Nolan takes the bait and swears him­self off piss­ing in the wa­ter for the en­tire trip. It’s a de­ci­sion, which ul­ti­mately re­sults in sev­eral, mid-surf time-outs for Nolan and muf­fled hi­lar­ity for ev­ery­one else as they try to keep the joke go­ing. So­cial me­dia strate­gies and con­trived sto­ries about the evil can­diru fish are soon aban­doned in favour of a surf. We are now in the Play­grounds, a re­gion of the Mentawai that is home to a cache of waves that range from ter­ri­fy­ing to al­most cuddly. To­day a lack of swell means we are surf­ing one of the lat­ter, the aptly named Pussy’s. Up un­til this point we have surfed alone but to­day we are most def­i­nitely not the only crew grav­i­tat­ing to­wards the friendly, swell mag­net. Out in the wa­ter a strange kind of coun­try-club vibe pre­vails as back-slap­ping Cal­i­for­ni­ans en­thu­si­as­ti­cally call each other into the mel­low rights, be­fore pad­dling back out and loudly re­play­ing ev­ery facet of their last ride. Above the hub­bub of the lineup a ma­jes­tic ea­gle arcs grace­ful turns; forced to share the air­ways with a buzzing drone that has been com­mis­sioned to cap­ture the an­tics of the Cal­i­for­ni­ans, who have made the trip over via speed­boat from the nearby Kan­dui camp.

For our band of pro rip­pers the scene rapidly be­comes just a lit­tle too cosy and the waves are not worth the has­sle. The crowd is friendly enough and en­joy wit­ness­ing the world class surf­ing first-hand, but the pros know that if they re­ally un­leash they will come off like pi­rates, steal­ing cheap trea­sures from easy vic­tims, and thus the ses­sion is soon aban­doned.

CACKLING HYE­NAS AND FLY­ING MEERKATS

As we are en route to HTs, that fa­bled right that has come to serve as per­haps the ul­ti­mate pho­to­graphic sym­bol of the Mentawai re­gion, de­bate turns to the qual­ity of the WSL cov­er­age of surf­ing. It’s al­ways in­trigu­ing to hear what pro surfers have to say about the WSL. Any­one can be an anony­mous on­line heck­ler, but the guys on this trip are well aware that it soon could be them surf­ing in front of tens of thou­sands of we­b­cast view­ers. Pete and Ron­nie will be dis­sect­ing their rides, Strider shout­ing at them from the chan­nel and Rosy ren­der­ing them dumb­struck as she bats her eye­lids and dan­gles a mi­cro­phone be­fore them. Davey Cathels con­fi­dently in­di­cates he’d like to make his pres­ence felt on the we­b­cast. “I’d love to give it a go,” in­sists the self-as­sured Aus­tralian. “It’s just too Amer­i­can now.” The Amer­i­can surfers on board don’t take of­fence to Davey’s crit­i­cisms, but they do weigh in on the WSL de­bate. While the crew ac­knowl­edge the WSL are do­ing a good job, they long to see the vanilla wrap­ping taken off the con­test cov­er­age and re­placed with some­thing a lit­tle grit­tier. To boldly make the WSL a plat­form where the ri­val­ries on tour are am­pli­fied and the rides ap­praised more crit­i­cally. And in place of com­men­ta­tors un­der pres­sure to project in­fi­nite pos­i­tiv­ity, they’d rather have the talk­ing heads given li­cense to call it the way they re­ally see it. WSL de­bates are fast for­got­ten as the boat an­chors in the chan­nel op­po­site HT’s. It’s not pump­ing but even on an av­er­age day it is a spec­ta­cle to be­hold. The HT’s reef has a way of grab­bing any lump of swell and sculpt­ing it into an achingly en­tic­ing horse­shoe bend. Amidst the rip­pable walls, which are wrap­ping in to the hal­lowed reef, there are dreamy lit­tle bar­rels that chuck wider and higher than

seems pos­si­ble for a three-foot wave. Cathels is straight out there, crack­ing lips and carv­ing turns in a flurry; sens­ing the win­dow of fun might be short-lived as the tide drains out. Shel­don Simkus fol­lows him soon after. “If that was at home I’d be froth­ing,” sug­gests the pol­ished, Gold Coast nat­u­ral footer, putting the mo­ment in per­spec­tive. Simkus has plenty of his­tory at HT’s. Back in 2015 he got dragged across the reef here and came up look­ing like he’d been slow danc­ing with Freddy Kruger. With his back a painful col­lage of weep­ing, claw marks he could only surf for short pe­ri­ods of time dur­ing the trip. De­spite the trop­i­cal gouges in his back, Shel­don ex­tended his stay and ul­ti­mately scored one of the waves of the sea­son at HT’s. “Next to home this is prob­a­bly my favourite wave in the world,” he as­sures me. Although only 20, Shel­don has be­come some­thing of an Indo spe­cial­ist, di­alling in mul­ti­ple Mentawai so­journs over the last few years and stor­ing as much valu­able info about the re­gion and waves as pos­si­ble. On this trip he is dubbed Cap­tain Simkus be­cause of his ten­dency to of­fer his opin­ion on chang­ing con­di­tions while quizzing the boat’s ac­tual skip­per, Albe, about the weather re­quire­ments for var­i­ous breaks. Back home on the Tweed/Gold Coast Shel­don sug­gests he feels the pres­sure of ex­pec­ta­tion. With Mick Fan­ning and Joel Parkin­son now of­fi­cially re­tired, Shel­don is well aware that many are look­ing to him to pre­serve the proud tra­di­tion of surfers from the Gold Coast/Tweed Coast mak­ing a big im­pact on the WCT. It’s not an easy bur­den to shoul­der for a young man thrust upon a WQS tour where Aus­tralia’s supremacy is un­der threat from a host of na­tions. For a time, the lineup is a wind­less ver­sion of glassy and the three-foot coils keep rolling in with suf­fi­cient con­sis­tency to keep our crew, and the few who join us, more than con­tent. How­ever, it is not long be­fore the lineup is raided by a pla­toon of fre­netic lo­cal grom­mets. Waves dis­missed as too small by the pack are

now be­ing slashed and shred­ded by the posse of spindly-limbed kids. Their mot­ley equip­ment seems to be mostly com­prised of sal­vaged boards from trav­el­ling surfers, but what the lo­cal kids lack in the way of re­fined craft they more than make up for with raw en­thu­si­asm; at­tack­ing the lip reck­lessly over the per­ilously shal­low in­side reef. “Those kids are gnarly,” an­nounces Nolan with a smile. “They are launch­ing airs on dry reef.” A cou­ple of the lo­cals have de­vel­oped more so­phis­ti­cated styles and have ob­vi­ously ben­e­fited from wit­ness­ing the world’s best surfers make their reg­u­lar HT’s stop-overs. One nat­u­ral footer in par­tic­u­lar is link­ing clean carves with slickly ex­e­cuted front-side re­verses and surf­ing well enough to be a threat in a WQS heat. The younger kids have an acute sense of schaden­freude – they get a real kick out of see­ing a friend or less com­pe­tent surfer wipe­out on the shal­low reef. “They’re like a lit­tle pack of hye­nas,” com­ments Matt Me­ola in a way that makes them sound en­dear­ing. The surf is like one big game to them and it seems ev­ery­thing that tran­spires in their lineup is open for com­ment. Sens­ing he has been cast as the en­ter­tainer for the kids, Matt Me­ola, stroke his meerkat frame into a wide wedge and hucks a rodeo spin. From be­hind I see him cork-screw­ing beyond the lip, like a diver who has made his leap and taken the div­ing board with him. The squeals of laugh­ter from the HT’s grom­mets con­firm the land­ing and Matt is

au­to­mat­i­cally granted a god-like sta­tus. The mo­ment makes it ap­par­ent that surf­ing is a kind of trans­fer­able, phys­i­cal lan­guage. The grom­mets don’t un­der­stand a word of what Matt says, but they will be busy try­ing to repli­cate his rodeo for months. Matt’s mildly happy with the Rodeo com­ple­tion, but knows he needs to go much big­ger to se­cure the kind of you-tube clicks that keep his spon­sors happy. His vi­a­bil­ity as a freesurfer hinges on pulling off and doc­u­ment­ing at least a few, huge moves a year. Matt tells me he al­ways thought airs were cool as a kid but that his dad wasn’t al­ways so keen on his above the lip ten­den­cies. “When I was I kid my dad would film me surf­ing and say, ‘What are you try­ing that stuff for? You’re never go­ing to land any­thing’.” How­ever, while Matt’s dad was a naysayer, his Mum was a for­mer gym­nast, and from a young age she taught Matt the joy of spring. Thanks to Mum he’d bust out back-flips and hand­springs for fun and soon re­alised his body could dou­ble as a fly­ing ma­chine in the surf. Then there was that other fac­tor – wind. Where Matt comes from on Maui, wind is the only con­stant. Sure Honolua Bay gets big, bowly and per­fect and Jaws breaks spo­rad­i­cally, but most of the time on Maui you’re haul­ing ass into a howl­ing cross/ on­shore. The best way to have fun in those kinds of con­di­tions is to go on the punt. So along­side spar­ring part­ner, Al­bee Layer, Matt be­came one of the world’s pre­em­i­nent aerial surfers. Now wher­ever he goes, whether it be the Mal­dives or the Mentawais, his mis­sion is clearly de­fined – fly high, spin boldly, man­u­fac­ture a land­ing, and avoid get­ting hurt on the way down. When the tide gets too low we leave the HT’s grom­mets to run the gaunt­let over the shal­low reef. As we mo­tor away from the fa­bled bay we can still hear them cackling with de­light, bliss­fully un­aware that their play­ground is one of the best waves in the world.

LAW OF THE JUN­GLE

The boys have been watch­ing Game of Thrones on high ro­ta­tion through­out the trip and the en­tire Mentawai is­land chain is be­gin­ning to feel like an ex­ten­sion of the ‘Realm’ that is the

set­ting for the world’s most pop­u­lar TV se­ries. The ad­dic­tion to the pro­gram is so con­sum­ing that at one point a surfer barks to an­other, “You’re not wax­ing up down here while Game of Thrones is on are you?” For­tu­nately the line is de­liv­ered with the nec­es­sary hint of self-mock­ery. When the boat pulls up at Green­bush early in the morn­ing it’s as if we re­ally have sailed into one of the myth­i­cal set­tings from the TV se­ries. As its name im­plies, Green­bush is fringed by an im­pen­e­tra­ble wall of for­est, which spills into wa­ter that bor­rows its colour from the dense jun­gle it re­flects. As we wait for the wave to show its teeth, a low mist snakes through the jun­gle and a 100 in­de­ci­pher­able noises echo forth. “It re­ally does have a mag­i­cal qual­ity doesn’t it,” of­fers Seb Smart in his rich, Cor­nish brogue, which seems per­fectly suited to a Game of Thrones cameo as a wan­der­ing knight or sell-sword. After star­ing at the en­chant­ing lineup for a time, we watch a crin­kle of swell jack up like a jade pyra­mid, be­fore it morphs into one of the Mentawai’s most chal­leng­ing and prized tubes. The first tube is gen­er­ally make­able but the real gaunt­let run at Green­bush in­volves thread­ing the sec­ond sec­tion as it bends around the reef, of­ten pinch­ing slightly be­fore it throws wide open again. On a slow morn­ing there’s just enough to go around for our crew. I watch them race through the first bar­rel, be­fore hurl­ing valiantly into the sec­ond sec­tion; of­ten get­ting bucked off vi­o­lently like knights caught with the full force of a joust­ing pole. Still, there are a few pre­cious mo­ments and as the heavy mist slowly lifts from the jun­gle and rays of morn­ing light dart through the thick fo­liage the wave be­comes more il­lu­mi­nated and pho­to­genic. Just as the crew are start­ing to de­ci­pher the trap­door tubes, two pow­er­fully built Hawai­ians from the Big Is­land show up and make their pres­ence felt in the lineup. Per­haps sens­ing that they can’t win a bat­tle of skill against seven young pros, they de­fault to tough-guy mind games. One of them is par­tic­u­larly well built and cov­ered in

heavy tat­toos, which seem cus­tom-de­signed to in­tim­i­date. He pad­dles straight to the in­side and claims the next wave that comes through. Re­turn­ing to the lineup he adopts just the right amount of faux friend­li­ness as he makes a big deal of thank­ing them for the ride; try­ing to im­ply they had given it to him – as op­posed to him nab­bing it with a mix­ture of mus­cle and cun­ning. The tat­tooed surfer then looks around at the stick­ers on all the boards and an­nounces loudly, “All, pro surfers huh? Well, we’re both self made!” The state­ment is made with enough self-righ­teous­ness to let the boys know this guy has a firm sense of en­ti­tle­ment to what­ever waves come through. For the fi­nal act in his tough guy per­for­mance he name­drops a cou­ple of su­per-heavy Hawai­ian guys that are in­stantly recog­nis­able to young Hawai­ian, Finn McGill. No vi­o­lence is threat­ened, but enough men­ace is im­plied to kill the vibe and it’s not long be­fore our crew scram­ble aboard, re­gal­ing us with de­tails of the sim­mer­ing con­fronta­tion. The in­ci­dent reaf­firms that out here waves are the most valu­able com­mod­ity and at times the law of the jun­gle still de­cides who gets to ride them. At least Nolan looks a lit­tle re­lieved, his fear of the can­diru fish is still very real, and now he can hap­pily take a leak off the back of the boat.

LOCK STOCK

The world is bound by grey on all sides; there’s not even a nick of blue sky to be seen in the trop­ics as the rain pep­pers our faces so hard it hurts. We are now in the south­ern ex­trem­i­ties of the Mentawai realm, flap­ping around at a spot with a rep­u­ta­tion for thick, bone-splin­ter­ing bar­rels which, de­spite the prom­ise of swell, is cur­rently a limp, three-foot crum­ble. Only the skip­per, Albe, the filmer John, and my­self are in the wa­ter. The boys are be­low deck on the Man­galui, shel­ter­ing from the weather and con­tin­u­ing the Game of Thrones odyssey. In the lineup Cap­tain Albe is try­ing to be op­ti­mistic. “If the sun was out, they’d be do­ing mas­sive airs out here,” but after he says this, the rain just gets heav­ier and the clouds thicker and he pad­dles in for­lornly. I stay out a lit­tle longer with John the filmer, shar­ing messy wedges and watch­ing the low clouds drift by in a col­lage of dif­fer­ent shapes.

Just as I get ready to head in, an­tic­i­pat­ing a long day be­low deck in front of the screen with John Snow and Daen­erys Queen of Dragons, the wind flick­ers in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and the clouds be­gin to scat­ter like fluffy mice pur­sued by spears of sun­light. Sud­denly the wave be­gins to take on a form be­fit­ting its heavy rep­u­ta­tion; the shifty on­shore wedges are mor­ph­ing into boomerang coils, which rear up on a newly de­fined point and chuck thick­lipped bar­rels. Sens­ing the for­tu­itous shift in cir­cum­stances, Davey Cathels is the first to man­i­fest in the lineup. Shortly after he ar­rives on the take-off zone a big­ger set swings down the reef and cat­a­pults him into a curl­ing, tun­nel of blue. He kicks off the back of the wave, shakes his mis­chievous-look­ing head in dis­be­lief and says out loud, “It’s kind of pump­ing out here.” It doesn’t take long for the rest of the crew to es­tab­lish that the white out squalls have been re­placed with blue skies and throaty tubes. As they file out into the lineup it seems like the swell grows with ev­ery set. Soon the Foxy – the speed­boat/cam­era boat – is po­si­tioned in the skin­ni­est of chan­nels, be­tween the end of the right and a hiss­ing left slab. As the filmer and pho­tog­ra­pher train their lenses on the en­thralling ac­tion, Albe works over­time at the wheel of the Foxy; dodg­ing sets, fad­ing left and right like some kind of gi­ant mo­torised cat­tle dog, to de­liver the lens­men the best pos­si­ble an­gle. And so it is, in­stead of Game of Thrones be­low deck, it’s Lock Stock and Smok­ing Bar­rels for real. Soon I’m watch­ing Shel­don Simkus slip into a rap­tur­ous fun­nel and by the time he

back­doors the sec­ond bar­rel he is stand­ing bolt up­right be­neath a bril­liant hood of blue. “I think I just shot the cover,” blurts out Si­mon Wil­liams. It won’t be the last time he makes the claim to­day. The fre­netic, tube shoot-out is even­tu­ally in­ter­rupted by the ar­rival of an­other ves­sel. As it hap­pens it is the same boat that we had moored along­side fur­ther north, at Thun­ders. The same crew host­ing sev­eral of Davey Cathel’s North­ern Beaches friends. The same ves­sel we had am­bushed with eggs while they cel­e­brated NSW’s first win in the State of Ori­gin. Led by can­non-armed chef, Situ, who was happy to use up his full ar­se­nal of eggs, we had turned their up­per deck into a rot­ten smelling, yel­lowy mess. As re­venge they’d crept on board our boat at night and drowned sev­eral surf­boards in veg­etable oil; an act which ren­ders craft more or less un­ride­able no mat­ter what you do. As we meet again at the prodi­gious right, which is con­jur­ing up cover shots and gap­ing bar­rels, one won­ders if there will be war on the high seas? For­tu­nately the noc­tur­nal shenani­gans are taken in good spirit and a truce is bro­kered. We de­cide to let them have the wave for the lunch/af­ter­noon shift, pro­vid­ing we can en­joy it ex­clu­sively for the late. Not long after terms are agreed upon, one of their surfers grabs a rail on his back­hand and hucks un­der the lip of the most glo­ri­ous wave of the day. In front of seven, world-class surfers and a film crew he dis­ap­pears be­neath a heav­ing fold of blue and shoots out the end of the twist­ing vor­tex. As our em­bar­goed crew are hud­dled on the Foxy he pad­dles past and promptly an­nounces it as the best wave of his life. The boys re­turn to the Man­galui where chef Situ has pre­pared a de­li­cious green-cur­rychicken. The colours of the dish leap from the bowl, al­most as daz­zling as those re­fract­ing through the lips of the bar­rels just rid­den. As lunch is served Situ qui­etly ex­plains that he asked the gods to look favourably upon us

Main: Reef Hea­zle­wood hunt­ing up-drafts amidst the sway­ing palms. In­set: Reef in pro­file with a Clint East­wood gleam in his eye.

Be­low: Nolan Rapoza bury­ing a rail on a trop­i­cal slope. Op­po­site: Matt Me­ola ditches the fins and dips his wings.

Main: Davey Cathels knif­ing a text­book carve on a blue-but­ter wall. Top: Seb Smart en­joy­ing a dif­fer­ent view of The Ments. In­set: The au­thor poach­ing one from the HT’s grom­mets.

Shel­don Simkus los­ing the tail on a tight HT’s cor­ner.

Op­po­site: Seb Smart wrestling with a heavy-weight op­po­nent. Top: Nolan Rapoza buried on his back­side: In­set: Golden hour.

Main: Finn McGill tak­ing a ca­sual look un­der the hood of a V8 slab.

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