Trading Tubes with Mikala Jones & Marlon Gerber by Kevin Huang

INDONESIA

I came to as the overhead bins were being ransacked by all of the passengers rushing to get off the plane.  I was so tired I hadn’t even felt the plane hit the runway.  What should have been a quick trip to the airport and a 2 hour plane ride from Padang had somehow ballooned into an hour long drive in traffic, a 2 and a half hour wait at the airport, and another two hour flight to the island.  I still had a 3 hour + drive to get to my destination.  Still, this wasn’t too bad for Indo.   There are always delays here, the question is always just, “how long?”

Years before I had ever been to Indo, I had read an article by Lewis Samuels, a legendary surf journalist, about the endless perils and sheer amount of waiting that one has to endure when exploring the further reaches of the Indonesian archipelago.  Every time I was stuck in some dirty airport wondering why 10 planes had already departed for Jakarta and our tiny propeller plane had still not yet even begun to board 2 hours past our scheduled departure time, I would think of that article.  At least we had a plane.  Times had changed, the waiting had not. 

I grabbed my things, walked straight out of the airport, negotiated a car and within 5 minutes was already on my way. 

The reason for my trip to ****, was that I was chasing a swell. It was triple overhead+ on the biggest ones the previous time, this swell was forecast to be even bigger.

The reason for my trip to ****, was that I was chasing a swell.  As luck would have it, right when my Visa was set to expire a swell was due to hit.  There were two waves (no pun intended) of swell due.  The first pulse was smaller, would last a couple of days, die down, and then a second, much bigger pulse would hit later in the week.  I had already been on the island for a month, and we had only gotten one similar sized swell during that time – and the waves had been huge.  It was triple overhead+ on the biggest ones the previous time, this swell was forecast to be even bigger. 

The first swell... Homie and local charger Jose on this bomb

I left the island a day before the first pulse hit, rushed to get my paperwork to Immigration, and then hopped on the first plane back to the island the next morning. The second pulse was due to hit the following day.  You never really know what you’re going to get with a swell, or even when exactly it’s going to hit, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.  I needed to be there that night.

After about 8 hours total transit time I made it back.  I nearly ran to the beach when I got out of the car so that I could check the swell.  The waves were playful, but it definitely didn’t look big.  Patience. 

I grabbed dinner and was about to go to bed, exhausted, when I ran into a friend of mine who was staying in one of the other rooms in the Losmen.  We shared a couple of Sampoernas and he told me there were rumors that a couple of pros had just gotten in this evening as well.   One Hawaiian and one guy from Bali.  Interesting.  I hadn’t seen anyone else on the plane who looked like a surfer.  With that little bit of information in the back of my head I passed out.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of thunder.  I stumbled out of my room and was blasted by sunlight.  When my eyes finally adjusted to the light I could see huge mountains of swell entering the bay, rolling through and unloading into perfectly peeling right handers with a wide open barrel big enough to fit a car through.  As the wave would unload the reef would rumble and I could feel the ground shake from where I was standing about a hundred meters from the keyhole – I realized this was no thunder.  The swell had arrived.   Without any further need for encouragement I went back into my room, grabbed my camera gear and my fins, and made the swim out to the lineup. 

What I woke up to....

  Normally, the water was a beautiful crystal blue color.  On smaller days, the barrel was a beautiful aqua blue or sometimes a sapphire color, but today, there was so much swell that it had kicked up a bunch of sediment and the water was a murky, emerald green color.  The tide was still high, and it seemed like the swell was still filling in, but on the sets, the wave would form, grow to an impossible size, and when it finally threw, the barrel was so big and deep that it was dark inside.  Light couldn’t make it through the murky green water. 

Heavy

Marlon Gerber deep in the shade...

I had only ever seen footage of **** this big once.  It was a grainy video of half crazed Hawaiian charger Jamie O’Brien pulling into some monsters on YouTube who knows how many years ago.  What had struck me about the footage was just how dark it was inside the barrel.  And here I was, seeing the beast heave and explode in front of me for the first time – with the very real possibility of taking one on the head. 

After a while, when the wave started to grow larger and become more hollow with the tide, a few more surfers paddled out. I recognized one of them, Justin, as one of the local surfers and photographers in the area but the other two weren’t immediately recognizable.  However, as the unknown surfers paddled closer to where I was sitting in the channel, my memory flashed back to a time a few months prior when I was in Hawaii.  The waves were massive then too, and I had seen one of the two surfers paddling back from an unknown outer reef wave.  It was then that the name popped into my head - Mikala Jones – tube fiend and hunter of waves in the most remote parts of Indo.  This guy was one of the reasons I had come to Indo to begin with.  Stories of his discoveries of pristine, picture perfect waves and clips of the same had occupied my day dreams for years.  When I realized the caliber of surfer I was in the water with, the other unknown surfer’s name also came to memory.  Marlon Gerber, another Indo legend and another surfer whose clips I had spent countless hours watching on the internet.  I remember one of the groms telling me that living in **** was like witnessing a real live surf movie every day.  He was right. 

What happened over the next few hours is almost indescribable.  Over time the crowd thinned.  The waves somehow got even bigger.  Waves that didn’t even seem makeable were somehow ridden.  I can count on my fingers the number of times I have ever witnessed a session like what went down that day.  The footage from that swell ended up on Redbull’s surfing site but of course it doesn’t do it any justice.  A lot of people paid the price of admission.  Mikala himself, one of the world’s best tube riders, ended up smashing his face on the reef and had to end his trip early.  I heard that he had a marble sized chunk of reef removed from his face a week later.   

I actually ended up meeting Mikala and Marlon a couple of days after the big swell on the pretense that I had photos of them (which was true!).  We chatted for a bit, and I was able to pass them the photos I took of them.  It was a surreal moment.  I had grown up watching the clips they had put out, and now I was giving them photos I had taken of them, in the place I had always dreamed of visiting, all because they had inspired me to come.  The life of a surf photographer.  I had come full circle. 

When I had first heard of Indo when I was a frothing grom it had always seemed like some sort of dreamland.  The waves just seemed too impossibly perfect, the backdrops were just too exotic, the stories were too crazy, and the surfers just seemed like they were on such another level.  The reality of it is, all of these things are true.  Everything I had dreamed about I had seen with my own two eyes on my first trip to ****.  Thinking back on it all, it all just seems so surreal.  But sometimes, the truth is often stranger than fiction. 

 

Welcome to dreamland.  Welcome to Indo.

Kevin Huang

 

 

 

 

 

Life on the Gold Coast Pt. VII by Kevin Huang

Part VII.

Epilogue:

Time is Up

Gold Coast clouds

As epic as that previous week was, it was the beginning of the end. 

We got a couple more swells, and I spent more than a handful of days doing nothing but inhaling food, sleeping, and surfing.  But deep down, I knew something was changing.  After a two week run of perfection, things started to slow down again. 

Eventually, a hurricane hit in late March, flooding parts of Queensland and NSW.  With it came the cold.  The ocean became yellow and brown due to the runoff from the hurricane and water visibility dropped to nothing.  The water got so cold I had to take my wetsuit out again. 

During this time, I also saw my girlfriend for the last time.  Surfing had allowed me to distract myself from the reality of the situation, but as the swell dropped and the cold hit, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t ever going to see her again. 

Indo teasers.  Basically this was blowing up my Insta feed during my last weeks in Oz.  I ended up taking this photo a month later in Indo.  A little preview of what was to come...

During the last few weeks I had begun to see pictures surfacing from around various locations in Indo, teasing my Instagram feed with shots of perfect, empty waves.  The early season swells had begun to hit, and the crowds hadn’t caught on yet.  With the Superbank firing on all cylinders, my lust for waves was kept in check, but as the swell and the water temps dropped, the call to leave Oz for Indo became inescapable.  My Visa was running out as well, and I was going to have to leave the country to renew my Visa anyway, so the call to leave for Indo became unavoidable.  When two of my Slovenian roommates moved out of the house, I knew beyond a doubt that the time had come. 

 

The Indo quiver.  From left to right:   [The all arounder/pointbreak machine.  The fish.  The step-up/gun.  The go-to shortboard.] 

The Indo quiver.  From left to right:  [The all arounder/pointbreak machine.  The fish.  The step-up/gun.  The go-to shortboard.] 

And so with a heavy heart, I packed my bags, sent off one last message to my now ex, and hopped on a plane bound for Kuala Lumpur, the first leg on my journey to Indo, – alone. 

 

To this day, I still can’t really put my finger on why we broke up.  As usual, I spent a lot of time trying to work out why.  I kept going over all of our conversations and texts with a fine toothed comb trying to find some shred of a clue, but the more I thought about it, the more complicated things became.  There were many possible answers, all valid, but the more I thought about it, the simple answer which she had given me when we last spoke was more than enough.  She just felt like she needed to be alone.  

The more and more that I think about it, the more and more that I respect her for it.   

Prepped for Indo.  This lasted me about 3 weeks. 

 

I can’t really say much except that the woman who I had reconnected with on the Gold Coast was not the same woman I had met in the jungle.  Deep down, she was still in there somewhere, but her return to “the real world” had brought up some ghosts of her past, and she was in a place where she needed to take care of them on her own.  As much as I wished I could help her, I had been in her shoes once, and I knew that introspection is something that at times, needs to be undertaken alone. 

Thinking back on the whole situation though, I couldn’t even fault her for anything.  I’ve had messy breakups in the past, but this time, she stayed true to her word and we both peacefully went our separate ways.  I can’t thank her enough for that.   She was undoubtedly a special little human.  Without a doubt I will love that woman till the day that I die. 

And with that final loose end taken care of and nothing holding me back, I hopped on a plane and took off to Indo.  The adventure I had waited my whole life for was about to begin...  

And that concludes the Gold Coast chapter. If you're itching to find out what happens next, don't worry.... I don't know when I'll drop it, but you can look forward to the Indo chapters sometime in the near future. Until then, if you want a little sneak preview into what happened during my time in Indo, check this article .

Thanks for reading guys!  I really do appreciate the love and support.  Stay tuned for more soon!

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Life on the Gold Coast Pt. VI by Kevin Huang

Part. VI

The Beast Awakens

As soon as I got a look at the ocean I knew the swell had arrived.

The beach which for the last month had looked no different than the side of a lake was now delivering line after line of ruler edged perfection.  For an entire mile I rode my bike along the beach towards the head of Snapper rocks, and for an entire mile I saw waves stacked to the horizon.  If I had not seen it with my own two eyes I would have never believed it.  Where there were once no waves, there were now waves that seemingly defied the laws of physics.  People were getting barreled for over 100 yards.  It didn’t seem real. 

Julian Wilson

For a few minutes all I could do was stare and hoot as I saw chargers pull into perfect azure caverns.  My mouth grew dryer with every passing second as each successive wave that broke in front of me crushed my sense of reality.  I had been surfing for nearly a decade and I had never seen anything like this.   These were without a doubt some of the best waves I had ever seen in my entire life.

Eventually, my eagerness overcame my awe and I quickly locked my bike up, grabbed my surfboard and made my way out into the lineup.  Just as I was about to reach the lineup a set came and broke right in front of me.  The last thing I saw before a perfect double overhead screamer crashed down on top of me was Jack Freestone pulling into a giant tube.  His wetsuit jacket was unzipped and it fluttered in the wind as he flew down the face of the wave.  Yup, it was on.

Gabriel Medina

That set thwarted my first attempt to paddle out and washed me down the beach, causing me to miss the entry point.  The current was ripping super hard.  In about 5 minutes I had gone from Snapper all the way to Coolangatta.  I decided to cut my losses, get out, and do another lap to the top of Snapper.  On this second attempt, I made it out. 

John John Florence

Owen Wright

Sitting in the lineup was sort of like going to a Hollywood movie premiere for the first time.  The lineup was filled with people who I clearly recognized but had never met in person.  Pro surfers on tour, freesurfers, and random surf industry people who I had seen on the internet were all around me in the lineup.   I spent half the time out in the water just staring in awe at pros making waves that didn’t seem possible.   Guys were taking off behind the groin at Snapper – a feat which surely would have killed a mere mortal - and not only making the wave but getting insanely barreled.   I ended up sitting further down the line, and when my turn finally came, I whipped it, paddled, dropped in, and was engulfed in a full on tube before (of course) someone dropped in on me and the wave closed out.  But it was a start.  For the next 6 hours I proceeded to pull into waves I had only dreamed of.  The crowd and the tide came, and went, and then came again, and I was still there.  The waves were just too good.  I don’t even remember how many laps I did from Kirra back to Snapper.  I must have spent almost as much time walking back up the point than actually surfing it.   

Never in my life had I ever seen anything like it.  Each wave I caught was longer than any other wave I had ever surfed – point breaks included.  The wave looked like a point, but surfed like a beachie.  It was the weirdest feeling.  It was like the best of both worlds.  The length and never ending ride of a point mixed with the speed, and power of a beach break.  

For three days the swell continued.  Funnily enough, even though I’m a surf photographer, I didn’t take any pictures until the third day.  The waves were so good I couldn’t bring myself to stop surfing long enough to even grab my camera.  While the pictures I snagged from this swell are good, conditions were nowhere near as good as the first two days.  But then again, there was already plenty of coverage from the horde of surf photographers there.  There was no need for me to document anything.  Besides, I was on vacation.      

The swell came just in time, as the Quicksilver pro ended up being the following week.  Because of this, every pro was in the water at some point during that swell getting ready for the contest to come.  I spent one afternoon just taking pictures at Snapper.  That session was a goldmine.  Roughly half of the guys I grew up watching in surf movies were shredding right in front of me in the space of a single afternoon.  It was one of the trippiest experiences of my life.  

The following week, for the contest, we got another round of swell, slightly smaller but just as epic.  The waves were smaller, but the conditions were arguably better, and the crowd lightened up (since everyone was at the contest).  Ironically, I didn’t even watch a single heat of the Quickie pro.  The waves were so good I ended up surfing another spot and getting tubed the entire time.   There was one session in particular - the water was perfect, silver reflective glass, like ichor, and barrel after barrel was coming through with only a handful of guys out.  The only sound was the pitter patter of light rain hitting the water, the spray of offshore wind, and the loudspeaker from the Quickie pro announcing heat results far off in the distance.

Took this  after  the swell dropped.

Took this after the swell dropped.

I heard some guys complaining that they should have run the contest the previous week since the waves were better.  One of their friends overhead and interjected- if they had, the locals wouldn’t have gotten a chance to surf it.  He was right.  Sometimes, things work out exactly as they should. 

[to be continued...]