LOST IN SUMATRA.
Kehu Butler takes on the best groms in the world deep in the jungle of Sumatra accompanied by his old boy Khan who takes up the story of the 2017 King of The Groms World Final.
It was four years ago when Quiksilver ran its last King of the Groms in the old format where the best U18 surfers from all regions of the world got to compete for this coveted title; the likes of which are on the WCT right now in Leo Fioravanti and Kanoa Igarashi to name a few. Back then a little 13 yr old Maori boy from the small suburb of Arataki in Mount Maunganui, Kehu Butler, had made the cut thanks to a lot of your online votes. At that time, he was the youngest there to compete and got the chance to rub shoulders alongside his heroes on the pro tour, meeting Slater, Wilson, and many more. Since then it has been a dream of Kehu’s to be on tour and four years down the track he got a chance to go back to the Quiksilver King of the groms final again thanks to many of your votes but under a new format of an exciting and expressive nature. Coming fresh off a 9th finish in the Vans Huntington Pro Junior in California Kehu was again heading to a now familiar scene of multiple airports, cramped yoga position seat sleeping and painful zombie like transferring from country to country. After a 10 hr to Tokyo, 8 hr to Jakarta and a short attempt at a sleep over in the airport hotel we finally met up with the majority of the crew and like young boys bragging about their dads they each compared how little sleep they got over the last 48 hrs, of course stretching truths. Being somewhat of veteran travellers now days we learn that the short domestic flights only have limited weight allowances so Kehu and I, knowing full well that our board bags are way over limit, we do the old distract and toe lift. When checking in and weighing bags I distract by telling them in Indonesian that I am learning their language and ask how to say a few words while Kehu's lifting the overhang edge of the board bag with a preciously positioned dorsiflexed foot. Weights go from 30kgs to 20kgs instantly and we are off to Sumatra under the limit. The Western big city feel gives way to what some would call the true Indonesia or Indo of old as we embark on our 6-hour bus journey to the other side of the island. The scenery goes from brick buildings to old drift wood looking homes nestled in tropical thick jungle and rice paddies. Time seems to have stood still here and not one kid you see has their face buried in a device or iPhone. Instead they are running around outside climbing trees, chasing each other, playing with sticks or swimming in rivers with one common theme…. they are all smiling and really happy. After what seemed an age in the bus and a torturous heavy rotation of Celine Dion and Kenny G on loop, which just about drove our fellow Aussie heavy metal lovers to suicide, we finally get a glimpse at the coastline and our camp. Tall coconut trees litter the coastline and add a picturesque foreground to perfect reef breaks and beachies everywhere. We truly have arrived in heaven so it seems. It wasn’t long before the lack of sleep over the last 72 hrs gave way to a pulse of adrenaline as the groms, barely unpacked, went straight to their surfboards and headed straight out in front of the campsite to a playful left point break, fourfoot peeling down the reef. The few surf camps around had people settling into some Bintang's in the evening light watching in awe at how the best U18 surfers in the world surgically dissected every sec- tion with precision and flow. As I come in from my last wave I hear a “kia ora” from one of the camps and it’s a bunch of Piha locals watching from their deck, they ask about the guys ripping out there in particular one boy going upside down on his backhand and they give out a big hoot as I told them that that was Kehu Butler. That night we are given an overview on how the ten days would run. It is a competition but the main focus is really getting the boys the best exposure and building their profiles with the best photographers and media team in the world. Throughout the trip the crew known affectionately as the G.O.B’s or Good Old Boys would shoot multiple angles both on land and in the water all day then compile, edit, write out press releases to Stab, airdrop content to the surfers and edit stuff for Instagram all night. All with a binny in hand and a smile on their faces. Mad respect to the GOB’s. With probably the best sleep everyone had in days the boys were ready to try other surf spots. First on the list was a beach break that resembled our own beloved Matakana Island; perfect 3 to 4 ft peaks barrelled on a light offshore breeze with 2 people out. The boys got barrels, hacks and punts sometimes all on the same wave. Froth levels were high and the boys took to the sky when the winds started coming across the face of the waves. Ramps were everywhere and the boys were sending it to the skies which later became the call of the trip “just send it”. As if that wasn’t enough to start the juices flowing we get told about a wave that was known as the Sumatran pipeline. It had to
be big out in front of the camp before it can break and sure enough while watching the evening session, the waves got bigger and bigger until there were wash throughs closing out the bay right on dark. Comp director Troy Brooks took one look that night and rubbed his hands together in excitement. 6 am after omelettes and banana pancakes we were on the bus and straight down the road to Way Jambu. Buses can't fit down the small village roads so we all walk through an old village with livestock, cheerful kids waving out from their wooden planked shacks that look like they’ve been there for centuries and dodging horse and carts. It’s not long before we get to an alley or patch of grass that leads us to an opening of the most perfect set up you’ll ever see. Immaculate golf course green grass manicured only by the odd Sapi (Indo cow). The grass then gives way to beautiful white sand shaded by majestically tall coconut trees. Beyond that the most perfect left point break line up in a secluded bay where sea turtles frolic and play. We are greeted with corrugated iron sets rolling over a heavy pipeline section that spits its guts out but then carries on peeling down the line for some bangable sections and if you’re lucky another barrel section. Right there with the best view of it all is a million-dollar shack, purely on location, that looks like its been built with whatever wood washed up on the shore. It is the type of set up that you draw in the back of your maths book instead of listening to the teacher. The shack has that Robinson Crusoe feel about it and the boys are just shaking their heads and pinching themselves in disbelief. The boys are all beaten out there by the squeaky voiced 40 kg light weight from Puerto Rico who looks like he’ll get killed out in that stuff but boy did he prove us wrong, charging the biggest and deepest beasts in every surf. He got the throatiest barrels and wasn’t long before the rest would follow suit. Kehu raises his level as well by getting upside down on some monster sections, all those years of flat Mount swells forcing us over to Rags paid off.
A few days in a row with that spot firing, it was hard to leave and find other spots especially when the set up was like Big Zs own secret bay in the movie Surfs up. Anyway, search we did and with Troy an hour ahead of us on our way up the coast, we were able to get instant messages on which places were firing. The destination was about an hour away with multiple spots to check on the way. 20 mins of jungle had the boys sleeping as we were getting up at 5:30am to catch the best conditions but it wasn’t long before every eye was open when we here a loud hoot of “check out that right” followed by “how’s that left”. It was our first look at the coastline as the bus weaves through bends and turns that move like an angulating snake through grass, accept we are hugging a coastline with multiple bays moving through coconut trees that tease our view every now and then of perfect waves and set ups. The photographers are clicking away as we pass all these magic spots that have foreground and backdrop settings to die for. The funny thing is we are nowhere near the best spot yet. Finally, after we pass through the last little village that could barely fit our buses through we get to an opening where we are greeted with another perfect set up with no wind and no one around. This time it is a reef that has a perfect right hander running down one side of it and a gnarly looking left hander running down the other side. The water is like an oil slick but we do see the darkened change of colour in the water indicating sets. As we watch, a wave seems to pop out of nowhere on the lefthander and we see that it is at least 6 foot and the Indian ocean is just unloading all its fury on that one part of the reef barreling for a short intense time and spitting its guts out. It’s not long before the crazy goofy-footed Puerto Rican is at it again and leads the way slipping into the biggest caverns. Everyone screws their balls on tight and charges some crazy death waves until the fiery Aussie ranga, Sandy Whittaker, suffers a two wave hold down and gets grated over the reef. He pops up with some fire coral tattoos which later ends up staying with him inflicting pain and blisters for the rest of the trip. Meanwhile everyone tries their hand on the right hander which looks playful at first glance but we soon see shallower razor blade reef ready to greet any doubtful surfer. The boys put on an air show with hard rail turns to boot. Kehu is in rhythm and displays some Zeke Lau power with Tom Curren finesse. Egged on by his fellow free surfers he goes for a power layback jam in the heartiest part of the wave ……. nek minute …… the lip he attacks turns into a cross between a Shipsterns double up and a Teahupoo “no back” lip that explodes him onto the reef. He floats down the line up in agony for the next 5 to 10 minutes and when he finally clambers up the rocks we see blood and white flesh everywhere. The limes quickly come out and he is forced to the sidelines for the rest of the session watching his mates go hammer and tong on the best right hander we end up scoring on the trip. Ironically while Kehu is all patched up looking like a rugby player who should have hung up the boots ages ago, covered in bandages and strapping tape, they decide to run the comp the next day. To the relief of a lot of the kids the comp is held at a right-hand point break that resembles a reverse Raglan with playful carve and hit sections and also some heavy barrel and end punt sections for the fearless or clinically insane. The crazy punters that land them in the flats get rewarded well where Kehu racks up his points with power carves and snaps in the critical pockets, he even combos it up with a barrel on the end section. The rest of the boys earn great points too and it’s not long before fellow judge and legend Matt Hoy pulls the pin and says that’s enough I’m out there, proceeding to show all the boys how a real man hack is done on his first wave. Unlike any other comp the kids get expression session times and they need to go ham on rail turns, combos and airs. In each segment, they get scored on each aspect in multiple heats over the next three days in all types of conditions. The numbers are tallied up and the top four surf it off in one final.
With everyone knackered from the early morning heats and a prevailing onshore trickling in, it is decided that it was time to “give back” to the local Tangata whenua or people of the land. A quick stop into the local village saw our bus mobbed by a local primary school with eager little Sumatran eyes waiting to see the visiting outsiders. This was pre-planned as Troy Brooks pulls out a whole bunch of soccer balls and other school sporting goods and stationary ready to donate to the kids. It was great to see the kids mobbing the surfers like they were super stars and it wasn’t long before phones were out for selfies. The school performs their school song and then awkwardly await a reply from the multicultural visitors. I’m instantly thinking “common Kehu let's haka them out” but a two-man haka and a reluctant shy looking Maori boy giving me the shake of the head saw it get replaced with a duet of Ba Ba Black Sheep from the two Aussie boys which later earned them a $1000 spot prize at the end of the trip for taking one for the team. It was a great way to end the day. The next lot of heats saw us back at the beachy but this time it was bigger with glassy conditions and peaky barrels everywhere. The boys didn’t take long to get slotted and lay down some big turns. There were two people out there but before you knew it they were in watching and more people from the camp sights all filtered into the beach watching the best young surfers in the world go toe to toe out there. The froth levels were high in the heats and you could tell the newbies who just went out and surfed whatever was in front of them missed opportunities to get some of the air criteria down but still racked up the points in other areas. With that session done it was time to break out the inflatables to see who would win the next $1000 spot prize. The gnarliest drop on their inflatables wins the prize. Everyone chose their blowup toys that looked the best and more streamlined but it was Kehu on the “Hello Kitty” (last choice toy) that took the biggest drop and managed to stick the landing. Coming up to the final days we see one massive swell on its way so its ping pong and pool table time waiting for the swell to hit and the planets to align. A few quirky little games and photoshoots get done in the meantime, including some fun with water balloons and food colouring. The slow mo footage looks awesome and the boys have a blast smashing each other with water balloons. Finally the swell hits and it’s a solid 5 ft with some gnarly 6 ft plus sets rolling down the Same Sumatran Pipeline left hander we surfed earlier that week. Not as big as predicted but still not for the faint of heart at this location. The drone is getting ready and the cameras are coming out of the cases. Nek minute we see a puff of smoke and its Dwight Pastrana again our Puerto Rican fire cracker half way out all ready and before the cameras are even set up he gets the biggest throatiest barrel of the trip. Late take off to speed wiping bottom turn to stand up stance in a giant cavern that spits half the Indian ocean onto his scrawny little back; how he manages to stay on his board after the intensity of that spit I do not know. Hollas from the beach turn into instant froth and before Troy can get the heats barely organised they were all out there ready to charge. Barrels are going down, heavy backside and forehand tracks are getting carved into the big walls of this epic wave like a hot knife through butter. All the boys are ripping and each putting their own flavour to their turns and pushing the limits. Kehu manages to squeeze in a freight train double barrel on one wave then backs it up with the most inverted upside down backhand turns you’ll ever see and
he does three of them on one wave which sends the water photographers into a frenzy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an air, rail or combo and doesn’t get the score he needs to make the final four, narrowly missing out by 0.5. No hard feelings though as he knows he surfed his best and possibly needed a better air in the beachy session but at least he is up there turning heads with the best in the world. Finals day arrives and we expect the swell to hold in or drop slightly but when we walk through that clearing again we were met with thundering code red cloudbreak conditions. Second reef is white capping even breaking way out on the bigger sets and the four finalists are sitting there on the beach with the judges sheepishly watching a longer version of pipeline smashing onto the reef, you could almost feel the ground shaking on each set. Again, old mate despacito was already paddling out even though he wasn’t even in the final and it wasn’t long before Kehu finned up his big board ready to charge like a bull out of the gate after his narrow loss the day before. His first wave is a speed harnessing bottom turn to face blaster but then tries to go too big on the second turn and gets smoked by tonnes of white wash. The beach goes ooooo and aaaaargh and then they spot Kehu's board floating in and towards the channel. He’s waving at the beach and I’m pretending not to see as it means I’m going to have to paddle out in that and give him another board. Reluctantly I paddle out on the only board I have, a 5’8” Mount groveller and a spare leggy for him but watching him and his Puerto Rican mate take on some heavy 6 to 8 ft plus monsters from the water angle was super impressive. Kehu continued getting upside down and Dwight forever hunting massive barrels, it was a show that went on for quite a while before the finalists finally paddled out. Apparently, there was talk of taking the final to a smaller surf spot which might be more user friendly. I’m glad they decided to stay as it was an impressive final which eventually went to the one that charged the biggest waves and went critical in the pocket. That was to be Sammy Pupos day, even though he probably has one of the best air games out of the group he won it on fair and square old school power turns and charging. Hoyo paddles out through the biggest shore break as the bay is getting closed out on with the $10 000 big cheque, he gets smashed on a Waimea shore break lookalike and breaks the cheque but still manages to paddle over and hand the remains to an elated Sammy and a round of applause in the water for the 2017 young guns champ after 4 years of trying. Sammy tries to catch the biggest shore break wave in and snaps his board for good measure and like the true humble Kiwi that Kehu is he puts him on his shoulders and carries him up the beach for the official prize giving. Spot prizes are given out for best barrel (Dwight Pastrana), best moment (Sandon and Kyuss for ba ba black sheep) and inflatables (Kehu for Hello Kitty drop) Also to our runner up Kael Walsh who was ripping the whole event and eventual champ Sammy Pupo. And just like that we take one more look at the empty line up of epic 8 footers rolling through the secluded Way Jambu bay and head back to our buses murmuring on the way how epic the last couple of weeks have been. As the sun sets on the bay and the loan sea turtle popping up its head in the calm waters as if to say see ya next time, a Bruce Brown “Endless Summer ” moment comes over us as the setting sun gently portrays silhouettes of our frames walking into the distance. We truly have experienced an endless summer in this place and happy to be lost in Sumatra.