Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Fear and Loathing in Bali - Part II

The second installment of a multi-part series, chronicling a recent surf trip to Indo. No sponsors, no pros, no boat trips. Just 5 mates, 10 days, 6 days off work, 15 boards, 1 giant swell, and enough Bintang to ensure any other numbers cited in this tale are purely estimation.

May 28th, 2004
Uluwatu, Bali
5:00 PM

The second I emerge from the giant cave I start moving, and I mean MOVING. The current has me literally paddling sideways as it sucks me north along the cliffs.

I can see Web, Beach, and Glenn...but just barely...they're just dots appearing in between waves way out on the horizon.

Keith is right behind me - I look back and he's paddling like mad - and already I'm realizing that this is a bad idea.

The sky is a dark gray, the water a light gray. I can FEEL the waves thundering on the reef way on the outside. It's so cloudy and stormy that I can't tell how low in the sky the sun is, but it has to be low. We don't have a lot of time.

My arms burn as a I fight the current, trying to straighten out and head, more or less, straight out to sea. I duck dive under a few depleted rows of white water. It's warm, quite possibly the only plus of this entire endeavor so far.

I look back over my shoulder. I've actually made some progress and my rapid descent northward has slowed a bit. Keith has managed to keep himself within 20 or so yards of me.

Then the first inside set arrives.

It's the first real wave we've seen. An insider, near the racetrack, but I think to myself, "We've drifted really far north, so we'll just paddle over the shoulder."

Obviously we're not as far north as we think, because this thing starts to rear it's head...it's getting bigger...and OH FUCK...it's starting to feather at the top. Not only are we not going to make it to the shoulder, but this thing is going to DUMP ten feet in front of me.

It feathers. Mist starts blowing off the top. It keeps rearing up. It's gone translucent. Plumes of spray are blowing off the top. The lip pitches...and there's that second or two of silence...and then CRRRRACK!

Five feet in front of me this thing explodes on the reef.

Big breathe, death grip on the rails, I rise up, push down, ass in the air, and go under...

Big hit. Dragged back.

...and then, I pop up.

Not bad. Not bad at all. Maybe the last year of surfing beachbreaks has actually done me some good. Instead of churning, swirling, chaotic white water filled with masses of air bubbles, there's actually some method to the madness of reef waves. The duck dive is successful.

I look back. Keith has not fared so well. I see his board pop amidst the foamy white water and watch as he clambers back on. But he's back in the current now, and I need to move on.

Best of luck, bro.

You see, of the five who paddled out at giant Uluwatu that evening, only two of us had ever surfed the place before.

Bad.

But that wasn't even the worst of it. Everything we could have done wrong that evening, we did. The list of missteps is long and pathetic, with the foremost factors being:

1. It was big, stormy, unpredictable, and the currents were Class 5 Rapids-esque.
2. The sun was setting and, within an hour and a half, it would be pitch black...with no moon and no stars.
3. We were tired, hungover, a bit drunk, and a whole lot jet-lagged.
4. Because the sun was setting, we were in such a hurry to assemble our gear and therefore didn't evaluate the conditions.
5. Rush wax jobs on bare boards are a bad idea, especially on new, unfamiliar equipment in heavy surf.

Our worst move though goes right back to the fact that only two of us knew the spot. At many places, that isn't a problem. You paddle out, you surf, you paddle in. But at Ulu, IT'S A PROBLEM.

See, at Uluwatu, there's only one way out and one way in...via a giant cave carved into the base of these 50 foot cliffs. Inside the cave, about 20 yards deep, is actually a little beach, with stairs that lead to the top.

Big deal, you might think. So you paddle back into the cave you paddled out of. So what?

Well, it's not that simple. Heavy currents run north along the base of the cliff. And the only way to get back in the cave is to paddle out and around (as I was currently doing) and then southward, PAST the cave. Then, when you're done surfing, you have to catch a wave that's sufficiently south of the cave, immediately straighten out, and aim for the southernmost part of the opening.

If you time it just right, and the currents aren't too strong, you'll hit the bullseye - sperm and egg style - and you're home free.

However, if you miss the cave, you can paddle all day, but you'll never beat the current. So then you gotta start ALL OVER AGAIN. That means paddling north, out and around the waves to the outside, and then paddle all the way south again past the cave, line up, and take another shot.

On a big day, like today, that can take 45 minutes.

If the current is just too heavy, there is one other option. You can let the current take you about a half mile north to the beach just south of Padang Padang. There you can wash up on the beach and then wander back up to the road and hitchhike back to Uluwatu.

So, guess which two hungover, jet-lagged dumbasses forgot to tell their friends about all this?

You got it.

While Beach and I were focusing on our own little private stress sessions, we'd completely forgotten to tell our mates the real deal on getting back in.

Poor fucking saps.

By the time I've made it outside, past the racetrack, at least 20 minutes have passed. Keith is nowhere to be seen behind me, and the rest of the crew are still just tiny dots. I keep paddling. And paddling. And paddling.

All the while these massive bumps are rolling under me. Up ahead, Outside Corners is dumping giant mushburgers. I've got one eye on my friends, who are slowly coming into focus, and the other eye on the outside, expecting massive cleanup sets any minute.

Out of the blue, I see a little red-trunked man in a white rash guard drop backside into a solid overhead beast. Big bottom turn, bigger turn off the top...the guy is flying...and then a big kick out before the inside section freight trains him to the bottom.

That's my boy, Web, charging.

For the first time since getting wet, the knot in my stomach is joined by just the tiniest twinge of stoke. It doesn't last long.

I finally arrive at the main lineup. Surprisingly, and despite how alone I feel out there, we're not the only ones out. A handful of Aussies float here and there. Then I find Beach, then Glenn...then Web makes it back out after his bomb.

We chat, talk about Web's wave, all the while keeping an eye on the horizon.

Then it starts to rain. No, it starts to pour. The wind was already blowing hard, but now it's howling. The squall has also made it even darker...the sky and the ocean. The whitewater is almost fluorescent against the backdrop of such dark gray.

In surfing, one of the most maddening things is the view. Even sitting upright on your board, you're pretty much level with the sea's surface, which means that you can never see beyond the nearest wave. That is, until that waves rolls underneath you and, for one fleeting second, you rise up and can see what else is on its way - flat water all the way to the horizon, or rows of incoming swells ("corduroy to the horizon" as they say).

Every surfer has similar tales of scrambling over the top of a wave, just a split second before it breaks, only to have their bowels liquefy as they get that first glimpse of what's behind it...a bigger, scarier waves, breaking even further out...of which they have no chance of getting over.

For a lot of surfers, the worst wipeouts of their lives have happened while paddling out or just sitting in the lineup and getting cleaned up by a rogue set. See, while you're actually up and surfing, you have momentum on your side. Except for the worst wipeouts, most of the time the speed of riding that wave enables you penetrate the surface of the water, and either get through it or deep enough under it, that the beating is relatively minor.

It's when your sitting still or simply operating on paddle power, that the power of a wave really gets to manhandle you.

My worst experiences getting caught inside both happened in Northern California. One was a rogue set wave at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz. The entire horizon just turned BLACK as this beast stretched all the way across the bay. It broke just feet in front of me, ripped the board from my hands, and drove me to the bottom. Just when I thought I was breaking free and nearing the surface, my feet touched the bottom. Unexpected and horrifying. The other was a massive day at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Only the peaky, shifting conditions and heavy currents actually saved my ass when the set of the day merely sideswiped me, instead of sending me to the depths of dark, scary, OB Hell.

It was 15 years of experiences like those that helped get me so spooked at Ulu that day.

So when THAT set inevitably rolled through I was already the furthest guy out. I scrambled for the horizon anyway. If those guys wanted to sit too far in and get cleaned up, well, fuck 'em.

After the second mini-mountain rolled underneath me, though, a third began to peak up in front of me. I was in just about the right spot. And you know what? It looked pretty good.

"Fuck it," I thought. "I came all the way to Bali to surf. I don't want to wake up tomorrow bummed that I paddled all the way out and didn't even go for it."

So I spun around on my 6'10" Aloha mini-gun that I'd never ridden, with fins I'd just attached, and a wax job I'd just applied, and paddled into this big, gray, wedging beast.

I paddled harder as the wind howled up the face, blowing me backwards. I looked to my left and saw Beach and Glenn and some Aussie paddling up the face, hooting as they crested over the top of the wave. The spray from the wind started blowing in my eyes, almost blinding me. I took two more paddles, prepared to stand, looked down the face and...um...and, um...

FUCK THAT.

The wind was blowing so hard I was just perched at the top. This sure as shit wasn't Mavericks, but I was just as hung up in the lip as what's-his-face on the Surfer cover ten years ago. I took one last look over the edge, at the dark spots of the reef down below, pulled back on my board and just got rained on for about five seconds by the water being blown off the top.

Ok. Over it. Done. Going in.

Whic brings us to a key thing (for lack of a better word) in surfing. As the grizzled old French woman told her band of equally wretched Parisian revolutionaries in History of the World Part I, "Let us end this meeting on a high note."

In surfing, you gotta finish strong. Your last wave needs to be a good one. Going in after a shitty wave is just, well, it just sucks. It's your last dance before you go home. You gotta make it a good one. That's why guys will stay out in the water for an hour after they've decided to go in. Making the decision to go in is the easy part. Scoring that elusive "last wave"...one that's worthy of being a "last wave"...well, that's the hard part.

But see, going in after a crappy "last wave" isn't even the worst thing you can do. Nope. What's worse, way worse, is going in after NO WAVE. In other words, PADDLING IN.

Not only is paddling in just a lame way to end your session, but on a day like today it's a bit like running home with your tail between your legs (if the waves are simply tiny or the ocean has gone flat, it's a different story - you may have no choice but to paddle in...at which point, manliness remains intact).

But fuck it. It was dark, it was raining, it was big, it was nasty, and all I could think about was HOW THE FUCK AM I GOING TO GET BACK INTO THAT CAVE???

That's when two Aussies made my day. One simply paddled over to the other and said:

"Oy, mate, you wanna go in?"

"I reckon...it's pretty much crap out here, mate."

"Paddle in?"

"Fucking heavy...oy, let's just go."

And they just started paddling. And guess what? I was right behind them. I mean RIGHT behind them.

Now, paddling in when it's big isn't as easy as it sounds. Imagine dodging traffic on the freeway and then deciding that you're going to get off the freeway by running down an exit ramp. Yeah, you're getting off the freeway, but there are still trucks getting off the freeway, too, and turning your back on a big Mack truck going 60 MPH ain't exactly the smartest thing to do.

So what you do it this:

Wait until a big set rumbles through. Check.

Start paddling your ass off. You want to get as much distance in between you and the impact zone before the next set shows up. Check - the three of us could've put Michael Phelps to shame.

You look back over your shoulder every few seconds to see what might be sneaking up behind you. Check. Um, wait...

Wave coming.

Now you have to evaluate. Will the wave break far enough behind me that the energy will dissipate enough before it reaches me that I can let it slam into me and simply bellyboard my way into the shore? OR, is it close enough that I have to turn around and duck dive through it?

Thanks to the winds still howling offshore, this wave took its sweet time to break and at the last second all three of us spun around and dove under.

Back up, start paddling again. The fight or flight syndrome was in full gear at this point (100% flight, thank you very much) and a certain panic was driving me shoreward.

A second wave snuck up behind us, but this time we (somehow, collectively) decided to give it a go.

One final glimpse over your shoulder right before it hits. Grab the rails of your board. Brace yourself. And then BOOM! It's like getting shot out of a cannon. Everything goes white as you're enveloped by the whitewater. Foam in your eyes. Can't see a thing. Turbulence is incredible. Don't let go. Don't pearl. Don't flip over. Don't fuck it up. This wave is your ticket in because only the power of a wave is going to beat the current and get you into that cave, which suddenly seems very fucking small.

Suddenly I can see. I'm out in front, bellyboarding. Aussie #1 is next to me. Aussie #2 is next to him. We're flying. I can see the reef racing by beneath me. And there's the cave, dead ahead. We're right on track.

But then, suddenly, just 20 feet in front of the cave, that fucking wave hits a patch of deep water and just...dies.

One minute we're speeding along, Millennium Falcon in the tractor beam, headed straight for the Death Star. Next minute Darth Vader decides he wants to cut down on the Empire's electricity bill and shuts that thing down. We're just...floating.

No, now we're drifting. The current. FUCK!

Actually it was the Aussie next to me who said it.

"Fuck, mate."

We start paddling. Quiet desperation. No one's saying a word now. We all know the consequences if we don't make it into that cave. Back out, around, back into those filthy beasts masquerading as waves...all in the dark...in Bali...with no lifeguards...no Baywatch...no Pamela Anderson with a little red floaty thing...no 911...no "Where's Tom?".

Paddle.

We're getting closer, but the cave is starting to move away as the current picks up speed.

Paddle HARDER.

Suddenly, just as I'm about to sock my board in frustration (paddling for five minutes and going NOWHERE can do that to a man), Aussie #2 hits a little jetstream and just shoots into the cave. Aussie #1 follows him, and then, American #1 does the same.

I'm a Proton Torpedo. I'm an Olympic arrow. I'm 16 at some party in Mountain View with a slutty chick from Sac. I'm bribing a bouncer in West Hollywood...

I am IN.

The water in the cave is frothing and heavy and slamming up against the sides. I don't care. We're in. We stand up. Loose sand floods into my reef booties. I don't care. We trudge up onto the little beach. I want to French kiss the sand.

I also want to look reasonably cool, so I look at the two Aussies who are already headed for the stairs. I give a little head nod to say, "Later, guys...that was a fun little session in some waves of no real consequence...have a good night."

They respond with the same and disappear up the precarious stone steps.

That's when I realize I'm the only one on the beach. It's almost completely dark now. I can hear the waves thundering on the outside reef. It's raining steadily now. The water is heaving in and out of the cave, smashing on the rock.

Four of my bros are out there, and only one knows how to get back in. And I have absolutely no idea what to do.

For five minutes I just stand there, staring out the cave, listening to the water dripping down the sides, listening to the sound of the waves, and straining to see the outline of a figure paddling in.

Nothing.

So I walk up the stairs and over to the edge of the cliff. Again, nothing. It's pitch black now. The clouds have completely obscured the moon. I can hear monkeys, but mostly I can just hear waves.

I walk back down into the cave and do what I was doing before - standing there on the sand, staring into the darkness, looking for my friends, listening to the rain and the wind and waves.

Wait...there! It's a figure...but it's not paddling in...it's...what the fuck??? It's walking along the inside wall of the cave. Waves are smashing up alongside him. Is this guy fucking nuts? Wait a second...he's waving...it's Beach. Fucking Beach.

"Bro," he tells me. "Missed the cave by about ten feet. Climbed up on the base of the cliff and just walked back around into the cave. Pretty hairy."

"You see the other guys?" I ask.

"I think I saw Glenn, " he says. "But he was even further North...walking along the cliff as well...he was hurting, bro."

That's when we hear whistling up above.

Back up the stairs and back to the edge of the cliff. There we meet a young Balinese guy who, apparently, has been watching this whole thing unfold.

"Your friend," he says. "He walking on the cliff. Veddy bad."

"Glenn," Beach says.

Now I'm starting to freak a bit. Glenn is my sister's boyfriend. My sister's boyfriend is now scaling the base of a very huge cliff, getting pummeled by very huge waves, in complete darkness. He doesn't know where he is and he doesn't know where he's going. Tomorrow I'm going to have to get on the phone and call home and tell my sister that, "Um, we're having a great time in Bali but, oh, we lost your boyfriend and haven't seen him since he was GETTING SMASHED INTO A CLIFF BY LARGE STORM WAVES. Oh and by the way, how are the Giants doing?"

So, what do we do? Well, the three of us do exactly what I was doing by myself down in the goddamn cave. We stand there and stare into the darkness.

Finally we decide to go back into the cave. At least then maybe we can walk along the inside and yell for those guys. What else can we do?

We start walking back when a figure pops up from the stairs. Web...no, Glenn! Wait, Web, too...right behind him! I can't believe it. We run up. Both of them look exhausted. Turns out they both missed the cave and ended up walking along the cliff. Their feet are shredded by the sharp reef rock. Glenn's board is dinged and battered from taking a few spills on the way.

I don't care. I'm just stoked I can call home in a few days with nothing more on my mind than Giants scores.

Wait a second...1...2...3...4...who's missi...ah fuck...

Where's Keith?

"Guys," I say. "Where the fuck is Keith?"

"Never even saw him."

Then the four of us proceed to do what I've now coined, "The Lost at Sea Shuffle". Stand, look, stare, squint, listen, shuffle feet. Repeat.

Somehow it worked the other two times, but this time, no Keith. Another round of the "Shuffle" and, still, no Keith.

"Guys, we can't just stand here. Any ideas?"

"The only other way in is Padang...half a mile down."

"Then let's get the fuck back to the hotel, hire a car, and get the fuck down there."

So we hustle back to our little faux resort - wet, fatigued, scraped-up, and not just a little freaked out. Our friend is probably in deep shit and we need to just hope he decided on finding a port in the storm - i.e. a safe beach landing - as opposed to making a go of it along the cliffs.

We get to the lights of the Uluwatu Resort.

"Guys," I say. "Go drop our shit off...I'll get us a car."

Glenn grabs my board and heads back to the rooms. I grab the nearest hotel staff member, standing around, smiling and looking fairly confused, as they tend to do in Bali.

"Hey," I say. "Did our friend come back? Big guy? Trunks a bit too tight?"

"Oh, no...no, you the first ones to come back."

"Okay, we need a car. Can you get us a car right now?"

"Car?"

"Transport. We need fucking transport. Our friend, he's lost...out to sea...and we need a fucking car to go fucking find him. Okay?"

"Maybe this your friend," he says, smiling and referring to a set of headlights approaching the hotel up a skinny, winding driveway.

I swear to God, a nuclear bomb could be exploding overhead and most Balinese would just smile and say, "Transport?"

"No, that's not my fucking friend. Okay? Listen to me. My friend, he's in the ocean...he's lost...and we need to drive down to Padang and fucking look for him, okay???"

"I think maybe this your friend."

Just as I'm about to beat this guy to death with a large rock, I hear, just over the din of the approaching motorcycle:

"Whooooooooooooo!"

No way. No fucking way.

There, on one of those dime-a-dozen Honda motorcycles that every guy in Asia rides around on (with his unhelmeted chick riding sidesaddle, of course), is a young Balinese guy. However, behind him, with one arm around a surfboard and the other arm clutching a Bintang beer, smiling and hooting like a high-school kid on Friday night, is Keith.

Safe, sound, soaking wet, fresh from the beach at Padang, without a scratch on him, and with yet another beer in him.

We've been here for FOUR HOURS.

Welcome to Bali.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Local, The Legend, & The Little Brats Who Rip

Part II of Fear and Loathing in Bali is actually almost finished, but I thought I should post some recent random ramblings before the memories fade like the tan on my feet every Fall.

Today a decent swell finally rolled in. By the time I left the beach at about sunset, there were some solid head-high, almost overhead sets rolling in. Wind wasn't bad either. Second day in a row we've had an almost evening glassoff.

The amazing thing though was the after-work crowd. When I paddled out at 5 PM it was fairly uncrowded - maybe 5-10 guys per 50 feet. By the time I paddled in, it was wall-to-wall. I mean it was PACKED. And as I unlocked my bike, with the sun setting, there must have been 15-20 guys on the beach about to paddle out.

Here's to making your own schedule.

Saturday afternoon I had what might have been the most dangerous surf of my life. It was sunny, warm, not too windy, low tide, and the waves were about knee to waist high. Oh, and there were about fifty million people playing in the water.

See, the waves were breaking in about waist to chest-high water and, thanks to the low tide, about 20 feet from the beach.

So on every wave, you were literally doing a slalom through teenage girls (all squealing and huddling in little groups) and groups of 19 year-old boys (also squealing and huddling in little groups, although mostly in an attempt to tackle one another and shotgun footballs and each other's foreheads).

Toss in heaps of fat Mexican children, fat American children, and, hell, just pods of fat people in general, all bathing in the not-so-mellow impact zone, and you have one recipe for disaster (hey fat people, "recipe" is just a metaphor...I'm not actually cooking anything, so go away).

I actually lost count of the number of people I almost hit. On only one wave though did I lose my board - my 6'2" HIC fish, with no leash - and it landed on some teenage kid's head. He thought it was really funny though, laughing as he stood in the water with my board perched on his head like some kind of hat. Then it fell off and got washed all the way in and he thought that was even funnier.

Punk. Sorry about the noggin though.

Sunday though was probably the worst day of surf I've had in a while, and yet it probably had the most interesting moment.

7 PM or so. Starting to get dark. It's tiny and high tide and there's just very little going on out in the water. Painful wait between sets. It gets so bad that I did what I almost never do in the summer, and that's paddle over to the pier.

The only notable locals in the water at the time were the John Whitmore lookalike and two obnoxious high school kids who rip, weigh about 95 pounds, whistle at everyone in the water when they paddle for a wave, have no fear of anyone, and are the main reason I don't surf the pier.

So I'm sitting there, and the John Whitmore lookalike (remember him? the South African guy with the goatee from the Endless Summer?) just, out the blue, goes, "Yeah, PT!"

I look behind me and there's PT...also known as Peter Townend, first ever modern World Champ, longtime surf commentator on TV, and current president of Surfing America, the governing body of competitive surfing in the US (to which ASP North America, the NSSA, the ESA, and others all report into).

He's also an HB local, but this is the first time I've ever seen him in the water. To me he's just a legend. And right now he's a legend in pink trunks, on a pink board, sitting in oily green water, scrapping for mushy, knee-high crap waves with me, the two brats, and John Whitmore, who surfs the pier, like, every fucking day, all day.

Disability, unemployed, trust fund (doubtful)...all I know is that I don't think I've ever paddled out anywhere near the pier, in 13 months, and not seen him.

So he goes, "Yeah, PT!"

PT smiles and goes, "What's going on?"

Old man Whitmore replies, "Not a thing, man...not a thing."

Okay, so I'm thinking the local has made his verbal connection with the legend and hopefully I don't have to listen to some awkward conversation on top of being cold and waiting for a set that seems unlikely to ever arrive, and even if it does arrive I'm going to get whistled at by the two brats.

So please, no awkward conversation. No local guy trying to make everyone think he knows the legend. And no legend humoring waterlogged old local with forced smiles and lots of, "Right on, man" middle-aged bro-isms.

No such luck.

Local (trying to call himself out as key local figure): So, uh, PT...you, uh, ever need any help with, uh, those contests you're putting on...give me a call.

Legend (clearly doesn't know this local and isn't going to let him ramble on with nonsensical offers to help, Da Hui style): Uh, what contests are those?

Local: You know, those contests and stuff you put on, like, for the kids and stuff. We usually handle all that stuff and, so, uh, let me know and we'll, uh, help out and stuff.

Legend (calling local's bluff and clearly not interested): I'm not sure what you're talking about. I don't really do that anymore.

Local (bluff officially called): Well, you just say the word and we'll be there.

Legend: Where?

Local: Wherever you need us, man...wherever you need us.

I actually cringed, and then started laughing right there in the water. I laughed into my hands and hopefully John Whitmore didn't see or hear me. PT will be off on another surf adventure and I'll still be stuck in HB slop with this guy.

Just then a set...if you can call it that...came through. I paddled into the little peak right by the pier, and got whistled at by the smaller of the two brats - the one who looks exactly like the little brother in Growing Pains. He didn't make the section and I ended up taking the next wave, a mushy, crappy little left.

Ben Seaver - 1
Me - 0

Still though, the whistling brats were easily worth the price of admission to overhear that conversation between the local and the legend in pink trunks.

Local - o
Legend - 1

The Colonel says, "At ease."


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Fear and Loathing in Bali - Part I

The first installment of a multi-part series, chronicling a recent surf trip to Indo. No sponsors, no pros, no boat trips. Just 5 mates, 10 days, 6 days off work, 15 boards, 1 giant swell, and enough Bintang to ensure any other numbers cited in this tale are purely estimation.

May 26th, 2004
Huntington Beach

So, the trip is looming and the news is big.

BIG.

A rather huge swell is plowing through the Indian Ocean and is expected to UNLOAD on Bali the day we arrive.

Fuck.

The waves in Indo already make me nervous...now I gotta deal with double overhead ("up to 18 feet" says Surfline) Uluwatu??? Fuck me.

I WAS planning on bringing two 6'6"s...a skinnier one with lots of rocker, and a thicker, fatter, wider one (for thicker, fatter, wider surfers, like me). But now it's the day before the trip and I'm panicked. Do I go out and buy a mini-gun? Do I buy a 3 board bag on top of that? Will I charge big Ulu even if I have the board?

So, Glenn shows up the night we're supposed to leave and, of course, I need his trained eyes to evaluate any potential purchase, so I drag him to 5 surf shops, including the Frog House, Chuck Dent, and every surf emporium in HB. I end up at Jack's, buying a 6'10" Aloha rounded-pin mini-gun, as well as the 3 board bag coffin on wheels.

Six hundo and I haven't even left the country yet. As added insult to injury, the cool/tough/tatted-up guy behind the counter tosses in a free bar of wax.

ONE BAR.

Either Jack's doesn't have to play that game, or I just got ranked on the Cool Guy Ladder somewhere between Wilbur Kookmeyer and that Arabic guy in the water last week wearing the orange spring suit and booties.

Of note, Keith reminds me that I specifically told him NOT to buy a board bag on wheels because "board bags on wheels are fucking gay" (I don't remember saying that, but Keith learns a valuable lesson that day which is - don't ever take surf gear advice from a guy who thinks the solution to dings is to buy new boards).

Maybe I didn't even deserve that one bar of wax.

Anyhow, we've got a red eye out of LAX at about 1 AM, so at around 10:30 we pile into Glenn's Toyota truck, which is the only vehicle that can hold all the boards. This is actually quite funny because my wife is driving us, and the idea of her behind the wheel of a beat-up black Toyota truck - with a stick shift - is a bit like envisioning a tatted-up skinhead HB tweaker behind the wheel of a white Mercedes convertible.

Which, come to think of it, I do occasionally see.

Luckily we got to really enjoy this odd pairing, with her at the airport curb trying to drive away after dropping us off. She keeps stalling and this cop is yelling at her to get moving. The more he yells, the more she panics. Finally he pulls out his ticket book and is pretending to write her a ticket as she's hiccuping away from the curb, Glenn's truck dry-heaving back and forth.

Bye, honey.

May 27th, 2004
LAX

If you've ever been to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX then you know that once you step foot inside, you've basically gotten a head start on your overseas vacationing. It's pretty much total chaos...and 3rd world-esque chaos at that. You've got entire families from Mexico wandering around, sketchy looking dudes from the Philippines with piles of television sized cardboard boxes, all taped up with complicated looking addresses in Manila scrawled on them in that slightly foreign handwriting style. You've got smelly Euro kids looking stoned and bored, sitting indian style in some corner, reading paperbacks and listening to their Discman players.

The only thing missing is the fog of cigarette smoke that fills most buildings outside of the US, creating its own damp, hazy, mini-atmosphere. Politeness, as well as the American definition of "personal space", also gets replaced with pushiness and large-scale huddling. Heaps of huddling, which is a bitch when you're wheeling around an 8 foot long bag on two tiny wheels.

Speaking of which, few quick thoughts on the triple board bags with wheels...

- You still have to "carry" a large percentage of the weight when pulling.
- Has a tendency to tip over.
- Very difficult to navigate in tight areas or crowded places.

Bottom line: Great idea but needs more work.

So, in the amount of time it takes me to drive to John Wayne, go through security, get a coffee, and fly to San Francisco, catch the shuttle and pick up my Buick Rendezvous rental, we manage to check in, get our bags scanned and checked for explosives, Anthrax and orange springsuits, and make it upstairs for a few beers.

After that, as anyone who regularly travels internationally can attest to, it's all a blur.

Getting on the plane. Falling asleep. Drifting in and out of consciousness. Restless leg syndrome. Half-hearted picking at oddball meals only China Airlines could dream up. Fading in and out of forgettable movies...I think there were 5 or 6 on this flight. Waking up partially strangled by the headphones. More weird food.

(This is actually more than I usually remember. The last time I flew to Asia, I was so doped up on Valium that the only thing I recall is waking up over the Pacific with the plane practically being shaken to bits. I looked around at the white-knuckled people across the row, rubbing rosary beads and looking terrified, and simply smiled at my equally doped-up wife snoozing next to me and passed back out.)

May 28th, 2004
Taiwan

So, 12...13...14 hours later...we land in Taiwan. It's about 6 AM, local time.

And there, at one of the little cafeteria style restaurants, are Keith, Web and Beach...already on Kirin round 2. They'd flown concurrently from SFO and arrived only 15 minutes before us.

Turns out they'd already visited every other eatery in the terminal and had just settled down in some empty chairs when the folding security doors peeled back for its 6 AM opening and a tiny woman asked if they'd care for something to eat.

"3 beers, please."

Granted, the drunken text messages I'd received from Keith & co. while still at LAX should have been a solid indication of things to come, but this was definitely the official kickoff.

Too confused and stiff to even be jet-lagged yet, I sat down with my mates, thousands of miles from home, on a 10 day hall pass, and, at 6 AM, celebrated the moment as we usually do when unleashed upon each other.

We ordered 12 rounds of beers.

By the time we all boarded the flight to Denpasar together, we were officially ugly Americans. The video cameras came unsheathed, the iPods came out, as did the singing.

The hippie 20-something backpacker couples looked annoyed and huddled in their seats, stewing in patchouli and North Face rain gear. The honeymooners on the other hand seemed inspired and we caught a bunch of them following suit and ordering beers. The Asians mostly ignored us.

The China Airlines stewardesses were, as always, unflappable, and brought us round after round with perfect smiles and request after request to "Prease enjoy."

We did. We "prease enjoyed" all the way to Bali.

May 28th, 2004
Denpasar, Bali

One of the cool things about Bali is that the airport runways are on these jetties that stick out into the ocean. So when you land or take off, you're seeing waves breaking on both sides of the plane - the aptly named "Airport Rights" and "Airport Lefts".

Strangely enough, as we landed we noticed the clouds and drizzle, but not much seemed to be breaking. A few waves feathering up at Airport Lefts, but certainly not the giant swells we'd been anticipating.

We made it through customs more or less intact. Our bro, Beach was bringing, of all things, a 10 pound sack of pinto beans to his friend, Robert who runs a Mexican restaurant near Bingin (plenty more on Robert later).

Anyhow, the Balinese officials see a lot of stuff every day, but I guess 10 pound sacks of pinto beans ain't one of 'em. They hassled him for close to half an hour, muttering stuff about "vegetation" and "taxes" and whatever else Balinese customs officials mutter when confronted with bags of pinto beans stuffed in surfboard bags.

Finally, in a move that was eerily reminiscent of our hundred or so forays into Mexico over the past 15 years, Beach slipped them a twomp and we were on our way.

"Import tax," he said.

"Expensive fucking pinto beans," we all said.

Web got hassled a bit for not having his paperwork filled out and then blew a gasket when a half dozen or so of the official "porters" carried his board bag 10 feet from one end of the customs counter to the other, and then demanded a half dozen tips. He slipped them what, in his jet-lagged, hungover, and unaccustomed state must have looked like a lot of dough - $1,000 Rupies - which is actually like 10 cents. They heckled him and, before he started throwing blows, we helped him grab his stuff and escorted him out the curb where the rest of the crew had been standing for 20 minutes.

Funny, no matter how many times you go to the 3rd world Tropics, it's always a bit of a shock when you step out of the airport. The heat, the humidity, the smells of exhaust, spices, and animals, and the sight of throngs of people milling about, trying to get in on the tourist action.

"Transport?"

"You need transport?"

"Come with me, I will take you to hotel."

"Let me help you with bags."

"You need change? You change with me...give you good rate."

It's always overwhelming...and yet kind of exhilarating. It's just so NOT home.

Already sweating, I find our driver amongst the crowd, and we pile the boards into the back of what looks like an old ice cream truck, painted completely black. The young guy, Wayan (not that it matters, they're all named either Wayan or Made) is going to drive the gear, while our main man, Made', is going to pile us into the air-conditioned van and drive the human cargo to the Uluwatu Resort.

"Big waves today," he tell us. "Veddy big."

Turns out he's right, and either what we saw at Airport Lefts was in between sets, or the swell was sheltered right there. Regardless, Ulu is pumping...that's the word we get on the way there.

Arriving at the "resort" we find that it's partially under construction (as is most of Bali...very similar to Baja). But it's literally right above Uluwatu, with stairs straight from the resort to the cave. The rooms are nice, with ocean views, and, well, we're still drunk and they've brought us tasty pineapple drinks and are already siphoning the money from our wallets.

Not that we care.

We're too busy standing on the cliff's edge watching dark gray mountains rumble landward, heavy offshore winds blowing huge plumes of spray as they unload on the reef. Only a handful of surfers dot the various lineups that make up Uluwatu.

Outside Corners looks huge and mushy and there's no one out. Temples is walled and closed out. Racetrack is, well, racing. All in all it's hard to tell how big it is, but now it's starting to rain and the sun is starting to set.

We're hungover, jet-lagged, still a bit drunk, tired, confused, and have a pile of bags full of unwaxed boards, unleashed, and un-skegged.

And we're just standing there, on the edge of the cliff, awkwardly clutching little pineapple cocktails with little umbrellas, staring at giant storm surf like squirrels on the side of the highway evaluating approaching 18 wheelers.

"Um, well, we better get out there before the sun sets."

Not even sure who said it. Does it even matter? It might have been Beach. It might have been Web. Hell, it might have been me.

Regardless, it was the dumbest thing said on the entire trip. And, of course, it's exactly what we did.

Right about then a double overhead set cracked the reef and the little dude who had come to fetch our little pineapple cocktail glasses said, "Veddy heavy waves."

Veddy, veddy fucking heavy.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Kelly Slater, Dirtbag

A few posts back I mentioned how the surf media doesn't even come close to being an institution of real journalism, and that it's essentially just a stoke factory supporting the surf industry.

As an example I asked just how much you know about Kelly Slater, 6 time World Champ, media darling since the mid-80's, and all-time American surf hero.

My response to my own question is this: I've been following his career for years and that all I know is that he grew up in Florida, has a brother, is a shitty actor, and once dated Pamela Anderson (and the last two I gleaned from the non-surf media).

The surf media simply portrays him as the model of professionalism and a nice, clean-cut young man worthy of all our admiration and support.

"Buy our Kelly Slater model boardshorts because he rips and, on top of it all, little grom with a crisp twomp in your pocket, he's a swell bloke to boot."

Guess what? He ain't.

Sports Illustrated and the LA Times, two very different publications, but two of the best sources for great journalism you'll find anywhere, both scored interviews with our beloved hero last month. And, surprise, surprise, in a tiny quarter-page article in the LA Times, I learned more about Mr. Slater in 30 lines of copy than I've learned in almost 20 years of surf media fluff.

Amongst other things I learned that:

1. His father was a drunk who left him and his brother and his mom when he was very young.
2. He got married when he was in his early 20's.
3. He got divorced not long thereafter.
4. He has a daughter whom he once went 3 years without contacting.

Huh? Say that again...

4. He has a daughter whom he once went 3 years without contacting.

Are you fucking kidding me? 3 YEARS??? Think about that for a minute. This wasn't some high school girl he knocked up when he was 14 and her parents whisked her away to an undisclosed location in Mormon Reformist territory in Northern Utah. This is a girl he MARRIED when he was in his 20's, AFTER he became a wealthy surf star, and whom he CHOSE to have kids with.

3 YEARS.

I don't have the exact quote with me, but I'll paraphrase with a certain amount of spirited accuracy here:

"Um, yeah, I haven't exactly been the best father over the years...I'm trying to do better...I once went 3 years without contacting my daughter."

I'm just going to get this out in the open, right now, right here...

Kelly Slater, you are a FUCKING DIRTBAG. You are WHITE TRASH from Cocoa Beach. I don't care if you're the best competitive surfer EVER. I think every kid who buys boardshorts or a wetsuit because of you should know that IF YOU WERE HIS DAD, YOU WOULDN'T FUCKING CALL HIM FOR 3 FUCKING YEARS.

Dirtbag.

There. I feel a little better. I'll feel a lot better with a few surfs under my belt this weekend. This past week didn't work out so hot. Surfed super fun HB on Monday - shoulder high, sunny, peaky, warm - and then work reared its ugly head and everything went to hell.

Tuesday spent the day doing all the travel stuff I need to do every few months - restocking my little dorky leather travel bag with grooming essentials, getting a decent haircut from a cute girl with tattoos who massages my scalp and causes me to pass out sitting up in the middle of the day, and ironing some clothes that never get ironed because ironing sucks and the dry cleaners are even worse because all my shirts come back looking like drywall with giant collars.

Anyhow, you'd be amazed at how long doing that crap takes and, well, there went Tuesday.

Wednesday and Thursday I spent up in SF, which wasn't a total waste because on Thursday I got to play hooky and go to the Giants game. Which was great at first. Wearing my throwback 1982 Jack "The Ripper" Clark jersey (black, not orange), sitting with 3 good bros, drinking beer, eating Polish dogs, soaking up the sun and watching an excellent outing by Woody as a 2 run game against the Reds stretched into the 7th inning.

Then, the Giants bullpen does what it always does, and fell the fuck apart.

Scott Eyre, Matt Herges, and some new kid from AA named Valdez. These 3 saps gave up 10 runs in the 8th inning.

Yup, you heard right.

Kelly Slater didn't call his kid for 3 YEARS, and the Giants bullpen gave up 10 RUNS in ONE INNING.

Needless to say the Giants didn't win and, of course, the Dodgers did, so we've now sunk to 7 1/2 behind. So afterwards I caught a late flight home and, with every intention of surfing today, I wound up on 8 zillion conference calls, spinning a half dozen plates of creative, and later on, accompanying a cute, babbling tow-head to the mall to look at the fountains.

So Tuesday through Friday, no surf.

Maybe now I understand a little bit about Slater's predicament. You take your kid to Fashion Island to look at the fountains, and you don't get to surf that day. You don't surf that day and you don't become world champ. Then you don't sign a million dollar contract with Quiksilver, you don't make an ass of yourself on national television, and you don't get to tune into Tokyo on a pair of giant, extremely famous bolt-on's.

You just wind up a bloke in HB, holding hands with a toddler while he laughs and stares at the fountain for 20 minutes while you stare at him, staring at the fountain, amazed by the way his eyes follow the water up and down, over and over again, and the way he claps his hands when the little water dance is over, and realizing that the sound of him laughing and the sight of him clapping his soft hands with the little knuckle dimples is the greatest thing in your life.

Slates charges 'Chopes, hobnobs with celebrities, does cakewalk interviews with a media designed solely to promote him, and sells heaps of surf stuff with his balding head plastered all over them. A real All-American surf hero.

An All-American surf hero who didn't so much as pick up a phone or send his daughter a postcard from Tahiti or Bolsa Chica for 3 whole years.

A dirtbag.

The Colonel says, "At ease."

Monday, August 02, 2004

US Open, Now Closed

So the US Open has come and gone. Taj Burrow took home the cup. The beach area is covered in trash. And last night Duke's was handing out wristbands and serving drinks in plastic cups.

Pure class. That's HB, brah.

The low point of the event, I think most people would agree, had to be the announcing. Pure cheese. The kind of cheese you hear when your local "zoo crew" decides to broadcast live from some lame bar or restaurant.

"Yeah, we're here broadcasting live from CHILI'S in Santa Ana and it's CRAZY here!! So come on down for dollar appetizers until 6! Listen to this wild crowd...

(smattering of applause and a few hoots)

"...that's right, this crowd is just going NUTS here at CHILI'S and we're having a WILD time, so come on down! YOU GUYS HAVING A GOOD TIME????"

(couple more hoots, two busboys clap)

That was basically the gist of the US Open announcers. The crowning of Taj was particularly painful. Especially since, as you probably know, Burrow isn't exactly a wild man. Certainly no Mick Fanning.

Hang on - quick digression for a classic Mick Fanning story:

Surfer Poll Awards from 2 or 3 years ago. Mick is completely shitfaced and bordering on being out of control. He's up on stage just being a jackass, but a pretty funny jackass. Kelly Slater is at the podium and trying to be the diplomatic, well behaved surf star while giving out another award. Mick is yelling something from the side. Kelly looks at him and then says into the mic, "Mick, what do you think would happen if I went to Australia and acted like this?"

Without missing a beat, Mick runs up to the mic and yells, "Mate, you'd get LAID!!!"

Crowd goes ballistic.

Anyhow, like I said, Taj is no Mick. So the wannabe zoo crew up on stage interviewing the champ was pretty painful. Think Jimmy Fallon doing his morning DJ skit on SNL.

"So, Taj, you gonna PARTY tonight or what???"

"Um, yeah."

"You've got fifteen GRAND in your pocket, so YOU GONNA PARTY TONIGHT?"

"Yeah."

"I think our champ's gonna be getting CRAZY in HB tonight! But wait, Taj, we've got something else for you..." (presents Taj with giant teddy bear sporting Bank of the West logo...arguably the most ass thing ever given to a contest winner)

"Um, thanks."

(to the crowd) "And YOU GUYS have been absolutely CRAZY for a week now, let's hear it for TAJ BURROW!!

(smattering of applause, some Chimayo's busboys hoot)

So, we actually had a decent little swell running this weekend. And, if you avoided the pier and headed north for a few blocks, the lineup was pretty empty.

Friday was fun, Saturday was a bit smaller and messier, but then yesterday the swell popped back up with a few shoulder to head high sets sneaking in every 20 minutes or so.

And actually, what little crowd there was down by the Apartments was fairly entertaining.

First, there was the guy who paddled out with his chick. He'd sit out in the lineup with her, barking instructions. She'd nod her head and pretend to understand. Then a wave would come through and he'd say, "Okay, now watch me!"

Then he'd paddle, barely make it to his feet, eat shit when the wave closed out, and then paddle out with a triumphant grin of someone who not only just scored the wave of the decade (and killed it), but of someone who had also just impressed the hell out of a very lovely lady and was pretty much guaranteed some summer lovin' that evening.

Gotta love his enthusiasm.

On one particularly closed out wave, I'm paddling out and he's paddling into it, weaving back and forth and looking every bit like he should be wearing a bike helmet. I'm whistling and hooting at him, trying to let him know that:

1. He's heading right for me.
2. He's got about a 1 in 10 chance of making this drop.
3. This wave is going to close out and even if he makes the drop he's still going to crash into me.

My plan backfires, however, as this guys thinks I'm hooting him INTO the wave. He stumbles to his feet, elevator drops, misses me by about 6 inches, and as he goes crashing past, gives me a huge smile and a thumbs up.

Dangerous, but like I said, gotta love his enthusiasm.

Other sightings yesterday included the timely arrival of a old geezer on a Freeline Designs kneeboard (coinciding perfectly with a discussion I was having with a friend about a summer sojourn up to Santa Cruz). This guy had the pink and black wetsuit, the beard and the Doc's Pro-Plugs and looked like he'd just time warped from 1983 Pleasure Point.

Oh, and there was the Middle Eastern gent in the brand new spring suit and booties. And no, these weren't even reef booties. There were the full on calf-high booties.

EPIC look.

And you'd think a guy with a such a ridiculous ensemble would be, at the bare minimum, somewhat mellow. But no. This guy was also throwing vibes, making hand gestures, and screaming in Arabic every time he missed a wave or got dropped in on by his buddy on a boogie board.

Spring suit. Booties. Screaming in Arabic. Then he started fiddling with his feet and someone made a joke about the US Open and a shoe bomb. Terrible, I know, but it was REALLY funny at the time.

He finally paddled south, towards the contest, which made us laugh even harder. Once the dirty bomb jokes started we were thankful there was no one else around. Gotta admit though, the laughter is therapeutic.

So there you have it, another US Open come and gone. No riots. No drunken, obnoxious Aussies (on stage anyway). Just some good surfing, some terrible announcing, 4 million flyers dumped on the beach, about 8 million white Paris Hilton mini-skirt things (with only about 7 chicks with bodies truly worthy of such trashy couture), one airplane banner announcing the return of Hootie and the Blowfish (whew!) and one dude in a springer and booties.

BTW, I'm not sure those last two were a coincidence.

The Colonel says, "At ease."