No matter how much or how long you’ve surfed, the desire to find good waves never fades. Maybe “real life” responsibilities slows you down a little, but the dream doesn’t diminish. It was a year ago that I found myself recently single, with a little money in my pocket, and no real obligations holding me back. I wanted to surf and was willing to travel the world to find it. I booked two trips with my friends who own, Pulse Surf Charters. You can read about my first trip to the Maluku Islands here. For my second trip, I wanted to go back to the Banyak Islands in Northern Sumatra. I had been twice before and was familiar with the waves. I knew what to expect and hoped this would relax me enough to just focus on my surfing and have a good time. My friends Nate Saso and Greg Goulet signed up to go with me and we booked our trip for June 1st.
The swell report for the whole trip looked good and it held true. The waves only dropped below head high on the very last day. By that time, we were all surfed out and ready to come home. The biggest days were roughly double over-head and the winds and weather were great the majority of the trip. This was a classic Indo surf trip! It took all of us a couple days to adjust to the faster and hollower waves, but we started to gain confidence and everybody began to catch some great waves.
The boat provides a photographer who takes both pictures and videos of you while you surf. On this trip his name was Alex and he is actually a 3 time Olympic Swimming Champion from Puerto Rico. Now in his mid 30’s, he and his wife have been traveling the world for the past year or so. He takes photos on the side to earn a little money for expenses while she stays in Bali and trains in Yoga. They are living the good life for sure! I was excited to see pictures of myself surfing and if my style has improved. I had several sessions were Alex wasn’t filming but felt like I was surfing well. I was making good bottom turns and trying to hit the lip with everything I had. I was attempting round-house cut backs, learning to slide my tail, and even did a couple fins free turns. I felt like I was Mick Fanning! No wait, more like Kelly Slater. In my mind I was riding perfect waves and “ripping the bag out of it” as our Aussie boat mates would say.
So I was ready when Alex started shooting the next day. The waves were good and I surfed well. I couldn’t wait to see the footage later that night during dinner. I ate my meal and sat there with great anticipation of seeing myself on film. The build-up was killing me. The slide show started and wait, who is that? Who is this guy wearing my boardshorts? That certainly isn’t me! He has sketchy style and is riding the smaller waves of the sets. He lacks total understanding of where to be on a wave and how to ride it. His face looks like mine and has the facial expressions of a man who is killing it, but he certainly isn’t. His skills look more like a novice middle aged man rather than 11 time World Champion….
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I was in shock. I went to my cabin and laid there in the dark trying to access what just happened. How can my surfing feel so good but look so average. How can it feel like I am making a turn that looks just like the ones I see in the magazines and movies, but in reality isn’t even close. This feeling sorry for myself only lasted a few minutes. I quickly realized I was the only one who cared what I looked like. With surfing, there is no score card. There are no touchdowns or points to count. There are no teammates or coaches, no spectators or judges to impress. What other sport can you participate in, on the very best stage it has to offer, and nobody wins or loses? The only thing that matters is how you feel inside. It’s the same “stoke” you feel when you catch your very first wave, and is the same all the way till you win that 11th World Title. It all feels good and that’s the beauty of surfing. Sure, we all want to look good doing it, but does it really matter? We’ve all heard it before, “the best surfer is the one having the most fun” and it is so true.
I fell asleep thinking that I am going to paddle out tomorrow and just have fun. Regardless of the waves or if Alex was filming, I was going to enjoy myself. The second wave of the morning session peaked up right in front of me and I turned to catch it. I dropped in and came off the bottom to make a fun top turn. The wave then stood up and I raced down the line just as it curled over my head. Through the perfectly shaped barrel I could see our boat anchored in the distance. The rising sun’s golden light shimmered off the falling lip. I exited the barrel without a drop of water hitting my head. It was perfect. I kicked off the back of the wave to notice Alex was out of position to capture it on film. He had missed the whole wave. I smiled to myself and was thankful that he hadn’t filmed it. Everything about that moment felt perfect. And in surfing, that’s all that really matters!