DARK FAN­TASY

Nias ex­ceeds its nat­u­ral lim­its and breaks records dur­ing the swell of the mil­len­nium.

Tracks - - Contents - KIRK OW­ERS

Since it stole the show in Asian Dreams and Storm Rid­ers, La­gun­dri Bay has lived large in the minds of roam­ing surfers. The early 80s im­agery was tan­talis­ing - the first per­fect right in a land of per­fect lefts. And, un­like G-land and Out­side Cor­ner, it looked easy. After a sweet take off the wave folds into seven sec­onds of al­mond bar­rel be­fore run­ning into a deep-wa­ter chan­nel. You could pad­dle out and ride the wave of your life with your hair still dry. The back­drop of sway­ing palms told you the wa­ter was warm and the liv­ing cheap. The word spread like wild fire and surfers were soon bump­ing down the track to south­ern Nias, hun­gry for a hit of Shangri-La. “The search was

over, the dream for real,” La­gun­dri’s co-dis­cov­erer Kevin Lovett wrote in 1975. Fast-for­ward 43 years, a bunch of con­tests, mass tourism devel­op­ment, a Coke ad, count­less mag­a­zine spreads, a ter­abyte of film clips and two mas­sive earth­quakes later and there’s more and more surfers pour­ing into south­ern Nias. La­gun­dri Bay has been trans­formed, raised and su­per-charged by the 2015 quake. Those al­mond bar­rels are rounder and pack more of a punch. The in­side reef is closer, hun­grier. After Jamie O’Brien filmed a killer se­quence here in 2010 it’s been on the radar for big bar­rel charg­ers from across the globe. So when a mega swell popped up in late July this year a hell of a crew made haste through the jun­gle. The Hawai­ians were al­ready in place. Mark Healey, Billy Kem­per, Koa Roth­man, Ian Walsh and Nathan Florence had tagged the pre­vi­ous swell and stayed on when they saw the phe­nom­e­nal fore­cast. Aus­tralians Lau­rie Towner, Marti Par­a­di­sis and Justin All­port ar­rived on the evening of July 24, join­ing a bunch of un­der­ground charg­ers (Ri­ley Lang, Toby Mos­sop, Kip Caddy, Lu­cas Sil­ve­rio among them). It was an aus­pi­cious date, Andy Irons’ birth­day, and the swell came in hard and Hawai­ian strong. South African charger Matt Brom­ley was surf­ing the evening when the beast awoke. “It went from be­ing not even bar­relling 4-foot, to a solid 8 to 10-foot, and then a 12-footer came through that dou­bled up, way too hard to pad­dle into, and sucked all the wa­ter off the reef. It was sud­denly chaos in the line-up,” he told Tracks. Else­where in In­done­sia surfers were high­tail­ing it to primo lo­ca­tions and find­ing

them maxed out or im­pos­si­ble to reach. Uluwatu’s Out­side Cor­ner held and ac­cen­tu­ated the swell. It was so big peo­ple were afraid to call it. Big­ger than 20-foot and closer to 30-foot agreed re­spected ob­servers. Thirty-foot Uluwatu! This wasn’t just an­other hyped swell-of-the-year. This was some­thing else. Some­thing re­mark­able. The Andy Irons Swell. Over on Nias, La­gun­dri was far from dreamy. The bay was brown and awash with ti­dal surges and fish­ing de­bris, while 15-foot dou­ble ups ex­ploded on the reef, many of them slam­ming shut and un­catch­able. But there were in­sane bar­rels-of-al­ife­time in the mix. And with a squadron of the world’s best big wave rid­ers in town it was al­ways go­ing to be rid­den. The Aussies were out there first. Cen­tral Coast fire­man Justin “Jug­head” All­port pad­dled to the key­hole (nor­mally you walk) and launched gamely, fol­lowed by Lau­rie Towner and Marty Par­a­di­sis. Most crew pad­dled the long way from the bay to avoid det­o­na­tion. All­port rode a 5’9” Gary Loveridge shape spe­cially de­signed for slabs, but was soon ques­tion­ing the de­ci­sion. “It was like a ti­dal surge ev­ery time a set came,” re­calls All­port. “There was so much wa­ter mov­ing in be­cause it was a 20-sec­ond pe­riod swell. The whole bay was fill­ing up with wa­ter. If you were just sit­ting in the line-up go­ing over waves you’d get cleaned up. Ev­ery time you rolled over a wave you’d get dragged in maybe 20 me­tres.” The line-up was soon busy but there were plenty of sets. The only is­sue: did you want one? Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Ryan Craig shot the swell from all an­gles and got a good feel for the swell’s hero­ics. “Lots of guys were surf­ing great and push­ing them­selves over some mas­sive ledges. Jug­head was crush­ing it on one of the small­est boards but Matt Brom­ley set the bar in the morn­ing when the swell was raw. One wave came in mid-morn­ing that was sig­nif­i­cantly taller than any­thing up un­til that point. Although it clamped him at the end, the whole line up was hoot­ing when he popped up. Mark Healey brought big­ger boards and man-han­dled his way into a few bombs at sun­set dur­ing prob­a­bly the big­gest part of the swell.” Many of the best waves started as 6 foot­ers be­fore dou­bling up into mon­strous black holes. You had to com­mit early and if you fell – and many did – there was a good chance you were los­ing skin. “It’s one of the worst bot­toms I’ve dealt with,” says All­port. “I thought it was an easy wave – a nice take off, then a bar­rel into deep wa­ter. But

the coral along the in­side is so sharp and sketchy. They’re that bad the lo­cals have made con­crete step­ping stones the whole way along to the key­hole. And it’s the same coral out the back. I cut my feet and hand, and the cuts got in­fected with staph. I saw one Brazil­ian guy with a cut on his knee that looked like an axe wound,” says All­port. In a day of hero waves and hor­ror hold downs there was one per­for­mance that re­ally stood out. You’ve seen the vi­ral footage. An un­manned 20-foot char­ter boat broke an­chor and drifted into the line-up valiantly ne­go­ti­at­ing a few eight foot­ers be­fore a big­ger set hurled it end over end like a bath toy. The hoots on the beach be­came groans as its fate be­came clear. The boat’s owner, Ti­motius Wau, later made a sin­cere apol­ogy for the dis­rup­tion and ex­pressed his hum­ble grat­i­tude that no surfers were in­jured. All up, a rad­i­cal day. One for the his­tory books. Brom­ley de­scribes it best. “When you go to In­done­sia you ex­pect blue wa­ter and clean waves, and this was brown wa­ter and black holes. It looked more like Mav­er­icks than any­thing else.” If that doesn’t sound like the fa­bled Nias you know, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that La­gun­dri used to be a hell of a lot wilder. Pho­tog­ra­pher Ted Gram­beau who also shot this swell has been to Nias 10 or 12 times through­out his globe-trot­ting ca­reer. He re­calls the first visit well. It was 1982 and the trip was cut short when a surfer suc­cumbed to malaria and Gram­beau as­sisted him on “quite a jour­ney” back to Pe­nang, Malaysia. Malaria was rife on south­ern Nias in the early 80s and more than a few surfers died chas­ing par­adise in­clud­ing one of La­gun­dri’s co-dis­cov­er­ers, John Geisel. When his travel com­pan­ion Kevin Lovett re­turned to La­gun­dri many years later he learnt just how lucky he was to walk out of the jun­gle in ‘75. The story goes that a lo­cal shaman was con­tem­plat­ing us­ing his head as a sac­ri­fice to ap­pease gods un­known. To­day malaria is rare in the re­gion and hu­man sac­ri­fice a dis­tant ru­mour. It’s the wave it­self that can switch from dream­scape to night­mare. On Thurs­day the swell dropped a few feet and by Fri­day it was back to par­adise.

Pho­tos: Chachi

Nathan Florence call­ing on all his his Nth Shore nous to ex­plore a La­gun­dri cave. In­set: Matt Brom­ley and Ian Walsh take pause as ac­cess to the lineup is de­nied.

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