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.

New Zealand Surfing - - Behind The Cover - Words: Khan But­ler Photos: Bosko

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.

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