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