THE RIGHT AT THE OPERA HOUSE
The Hoole/McCoy team had sent audiences wild with their 1975/76 release, Tubular Swells, but with Storm Riders they were aiming for even greater things – like an opening scene featuring maxing third reef Pipe set to the Doors classic, 'Riders on The Storm'. Covering the budget for tracks like that wasn’t cheap, so it comes as little surprise to find out that Dick Hoole had mortgaged the house to pay for what he wanted to become his “hero” surf film.
While Dick and Jack explored new surfing frontiers with heavyweight camera gear in hand, David Lourie was recruited to edit. By the time production begun on Storm Riders in the late 70s, Nias had long since been discovered by Peter Troy and Kevin Lovett (back in 1975) but only a dedicated few had followed the trail of whispers and rumours to Lagundri Bay on the island of Sumatra. Most surfers were content with Bali as their version of paradise. The hypnotic left reefs were still relatively uncrowded and the Hindu Balinese seemed happy to accommodate this new tribe of wandering wave zealots.
“We didn’t have much of a sense of adventure back then because Bali was our comfort zone,” remembers Dick.
However, when Surfer magazine released a 1979 issue with a dreamy Erik Aeder shot of Nias inside attitudes shifted. The geographic references in the feature were vague and the location alluded to in a semi-fictitious style, but it was enough to excite the imaginations of intrepid surfers, and filmers who were hungry for virgin footage and perfect waves.
“Erik’s shot had significant impact,” recalls Dick. “It was proof of some exotic unsurfed jewel ‘up there somewhere’.”
At the time the Nias Surfer shot was released Hoole and McCoy were still hunting cream material for the finale of their surfing epic. Further confirmation of the wave’s existence arrived via a more utilitarian source than a surf magazine cover. At that stage the only reliable place to get your film developed in Bali was The Bali Photo Centre. Not surprisingly the processing lab was an epicentre of activity for photographers and filmers who had become enchanted by Indonesia and its waves. Invariably a few standout photos would be slapped up on the wall. One in particular stood out to Dick.
“I saw this photo of a right hander that an overland photographer had taken. It made an impression because it was a right-hander and virtually everything in Bali, except for Sanur, was a left. I saw it and knew it existed, it was around about the same time as the Erik Aeder photo came out in Surfer.”
While Dick needed more footage to make StormRiders special, talented natural footer, Thornton Fallander, was eager to chase down a right no matter what the journey entailed.
“All the goofy footers were in Bali – Lopez, McCabe Terry Richardson, Dorris Eltherington, Richard Harvey and Wayne Lynch in the beginning – all being attracted to these tantalising lefthanders that seemed tropical and less crowded than Hawaii,” remembers Dick. “He (Thornton) was pissed off that he couldn’t get as much screen time. In Storm
Riders he wanted to get some right-handers.” While Thornton, who spoke good Indonesian, was confident that he and Cool Hoole could pull off the risky adventure to the wilds of Sumatra, he still had to find a way to fund the expedition. At the time the notion of a surf company paying for a free-surfing trip was pretty much unheard of. However, Thornton somehow managed to convince a much younger and less cashed-up Gordon Merchant that Billabong should back his explorative mission to a mysto Indo right.
While McCoy went to G-land to shoot McCabe and Lopez, Fallander and Hoole made their first trip to Nias in 1980. Although they had a rough idea of how to get to Lagundri, the way Dick remembers it there wasn’t exactly a paved, yellow brick road that lead you to surfing Nirvana.
ABOVE: NIAS LODGINGS CIRCA 1980. LEFT: STAR OF STORMRIDERS, THORNTON FALLANDER, ENJOYING LIFE AT LAGUNDRI. PHOTOS: HOOLE