Nearly a week passed between our last jaunt in Sumba and this one. In that time Jody returned from Bali after a successful immigration run complaining of feeling sick. On the morning the trip was scheduled to begin we thought there was a decent chance she had malaria so I took her to the nearest hospital. 3rd world hospitals are never on anyone’s hit list of safe things to be doing with your time, but in this case we had no other choice. The hospital was chaotic and we attracted an immediate clinging crowd, but thankfully it was pretty clean and seemed well-run. Jody was pretty oblivious to everything but pain. As she regularly suffers from serious migraines I took her complaints seriously. This was considerably worse.
An Indonesian medic who spoke nearly fluent english arrived, did a quick exam and promptly announced a diagnosis. Malaria was unlikely and he thought she probably had Typhoid. A blood sample was taken and sent to the lab and an hour later his diagnosis proved correct. Jody was put on porridge for 5 days and antibiotics and told she would suffer quite severely, especially at night for the week. This also turned out to be true. By day she would improve, feeling exhausted but was mostly without pain. Then around dinner time her head would begin to throb and by 9 p.m. she’d be on the floor curled up in a ball suffering from a severe headache and horrible nausea. As we still had Discovery anchored near a big wave break her suffering was compounded by sea sickness and we decided to move her ashore where she could at least suffer without movement.
Meanwhile the winds and waves were solid and the swell of the year, or maybe even decade was making its way up from the Southern Ocean. It was all the buzz on the boat, as well as on shore. These are the swells we all chase and hope to ride- or at least witness. Getting a solid giant swell is one part dream, one part nightmare. As it rolls closer questions and visions fill your head make it nearly impossible to sleep. How big will it be? If it does turn out to be massive, will I have the skills to ride it and not die? We had two people on board who no doubt would be impressive to watch, pro riders Ben Wilson and Daniel Bevin (aka “Beaver”). Owner Scott Wisenbaker and our friend Brien Mastriana would no doubt go for it as well and seemed as eager as the pros to have a go. Nashara, Scott’s fiancee had already nicknamed the boat the Indonesian Alcatraz as the arrival of the swell meant she would have no way to get to shore and back to the boat. The shore break would be way too gnarly to risk landing the dinghy.
Really this entire trip revolved around this singular event. Every few hours we’d get a new update. 17 second period, 12-18 feet. Then 18 second period, 13-19 feet. Even if it came in 30% less than the forecast this baby was going to be scary big. The locals on shore warned me that we couldn’t even anchor where we were and would have to move around inside the bay. No less than 5 professional photographers and 10 or probably more pro riders and another few dozen amateurs were on pins and needles.
It’s arrival was so anticipated that the days leading up to Saturday, the first day it was supposed to get huge (Sunday would be another 5 feet larger) went by in a bit of a blur. I recall some incredible riding, plenty of wind, fantastic waves and an ever-improving Jody, but little else. With some luck her torment would end just in time to get back to the business of shooting photos. It’s rare to have such a combination of conditions as well as riders to shoot and it was killing her to miss the action.
By Friday evening there was a very noticeable surge in size. Some of the sets were double overhead, with long leisurely periods between the peaks. A very good sign of things to come.
We woke up Saturday to no wind and waves that resembled small mountains. Lakey Peak and Pipe were simply suicidal and unsurfable without being towed in. The few surfers daring enough to try to catch a wave had to paddle over an hour just to get from the shore into the lineup at Nungas, where we were anchored as the current was beastly. There was so much water moving around I felt like we were in a pool the size of a large city occupied by giants heaving boulders around for fun. It was a maelstrom. The power was awesome.
Scott and Ben had a go at a surf and Scott quickly joined the growing numbers of guys with broken boards without even catching a wave. Mistakes out there had consequences like a broken board at best. Serious injury or death were not remote possibilities.
By 10 am the wind came up and the kites came out. We moved Discovery up to Lakey Pipe so Jody could shoot from the mast and I hunkered down for the scariest driving of my life. For two hours I jockeyed our 60 foot catamaran “Discovery” around between two reputed Indonesian point breaks. A torrent of water flushed through between the two reefs out of the lagoon creating 6 foot standing waves while double to triple overhead giants pounded down on either side of us. I put the engines and my heart through a serious work out and unfortunately the spray coming off the waves made the images only marginally worth the risk, but witnessing the best in the world ride that kind of size is something I will never forget.
That evening, with the swell still building we decided to play it safe and moved Discovery around the corner down into the bay for more shelter. Scott, Brien, Ben, Beaver and I had ridden some of the largest waves of our lives and to say we were animated that evening is an understatement. When the adrenaline finally subsided we all passed out, finally getting sleep after days of restless anticipation.
Sunday was simply ridiculous. I never even contemplated getting in the water. Looking over the backs of waves pound into the shore looked like major explosive detonations. I saw one of our friends, Bill Kraft go down in a wave that must have had over a 30 foot face, if not considerably more. His kite, which flies 22 meters above his head barely cleared the top of the wave. When he got taken out he lost his board, kite, had his rash guard ripped off his body and had to dive down to the reef and hold on to escape the next few waves to avoid getting pummeled unmercifully. He emerged winded and disorientated but thankfully intact.
Jody, Beaver and I returned to Lakey Pipe with the dinghy to try to get some shots of Ben and some of the other pros. There was no way to get Discovery into the pass as it was actually closing out between Peak and Pipe- a pass that is more than 200 meters from side to side and is typically little more than uncomfortable on the biggest of days. Ben kited up to us on our arrival and blurted out that he’d almost died in his first go and that it was “F&^$#@!!# Massive.” I need to put this statement in perspective. Ben is one of those guys who can surf and kite anything but is absolutely humble and absurdly likeable. He is arguably the best wave rider in the world and from what I can tell, completely fearless. We witnessed him kite for nearly 3 hours with an awkward 7 kilo camera and housing in one hand (a kite is typically steered with both hands) the day before- when it was HUGE. Most guys were just trying to survive and he was as deep as you can get…willingly handicapped. Ridiculous! I’d been feeling quite pleased with my progress over the last month; kiting, surfing, and riding the Stand Up Board nearly every day; until I saw the show that day. It was as humbling as it was awesome.
We had over a week remaining on the trip after the swell passed but like the days before the days that followed are similarly hazy. Bobby churned out one insane culinary treat after another. Nashara finally got to get off Alcatraz to enjoy running on the shore and some internet. We all got many more hours of play in the water that were incredible but no doubt tarnished by the memories and adrenaline of those big days. Some said it was the largest swell they had ever seen here. Claims of 30 foot faces and more were verified by photos. For those of us who got to witness the spectacle, they were simply the days of Riding Giants.
To Change One’s Life:
- Start immediately
- Do it flamboyantly
- No Exceptions