Story and images by Rachel Harris
Sumbawa, Indonesia. The last time we were here was almost exactly ten years ago when we happened to arrive for the swell of the decade. While we didn’t have behemoth sets with 30ft faces this time around, we did luck into some solid swell and nearly flawless conditions.
We were stoked to once-again host Patagonia surfers and activists Liz Clark, Moona Whyte, and Belinda Baggs, and filmmakers Sachi Cunningham and Scott Soens on board Discovery for 10 days of film-making, wave riding, kitesurfing and deep, moving discussions on how we can collectively help solve the Earth’s environmental crisis. These girls (& Scott) are absolute chargers and it’s incredible to watch them work.
As is often the case, the adventure actually started before everyone even arrived. Liz Clarks’ journey to Discovery started rough and then just got more and more outrageous. First she missed her initial flight from Tahiti and after arriving a couple days late she then had to fend off her taxi driver who tried to kiss her mid-ride and then proceeded to fall asleep at the wheel and crash into a pile of shrubbery! Luckily no one was hurt and Liz ended up driving the taxi herself the rest of the hour ride from Bima to Lakey Peak!
And the weird didn’t stop there. Local legend has it that the wind switches offshore when the puppies at the beach start chasing each other in counterclockwise circles. I’m not saying we believe in superstitions…but sure enough two days in, we woke up to puppies running counterclockwise and the first bout of offshore wind swept over the island! The girls went out on dawn patrol and scored some empty, glassy waves right off the bow. They were stoked just to have had that session, but the day was far from over. In another rare turn of events the wind stayed offshore and switched to the northeast. Moona had a plan. Wind out of the northeast meant the break behind the boat would be a perfect, offshore, barreling right with just the right amount of swell. The girls nearly skipped breakfast, completely skipped lunch (besides the tupperware of macaroni we shoved onto the dinghy) and surfed for 6 hours straight with only one other guy in the “lineup”:)
If the trip ended there and we would have been satisfied, but the swell kept pumping, the conditions kept aligning and the team’s itch to keep exploring only grew. After our daily routine of gathering around the table oohing and aahing over Scott and Sachi’s insane footage, we geared up for our next adventure. We decided to sail through the night, each taking night watch shifts while deliriously laughing over a bowl of delicious vegan bean soup and naming the constellations, and arrived at another series of breaks just before dawn. When the big sets rolled in, you could feel your entire body shake from the impact on the reef (and maybe a bit of excited nerves!). The girls suited up, fearless as usual, and had the session of a lifetime as the sun rose above the mountains surrounding us. Glassy, massive sets rolled in one after another and Moona, Liz and Belinda (Bindi) took full advantage, as did Scott and Sachi shooting from the water for hours in the kind of light that make photographers giddy.
This trip was more than perfect wind and bombing sets; it was about something bigger, something way more profound than finding an untouched wave in flawless conditions. This trip was about the urgency of our warming Earth and supporting the women who are willing to devote not only their careers, but their entire lives to making a difference.
While the technical purpose of their stay was to make a short film for the new release of Patagonia’s bathing suits- their intentions were to shed light on two very important issues: the climate crisis as well as female empowerment in the surf world. It was such an inspiration to meet people who walk the talk. From the basket full of reef-safe sunscreen; to the choice to be vegan; to Liz diving off the boat mid-sail to snatch a floating ramen container; to the discussion of whether or not it’s environmentally responsible to reproduce; to the question of whether coming on the trip was worth the carbon emissions; it was clear that when they say “I want to save the planet”, they really mean it.
To us, surfing and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. The perfect wave cannot exist if it’s full of trash or the Ocean is choked with pesticides and toxins. Each one of these women has taken a stand to protect the place we call home and it shows through their every action. Scientists predict there will be more plastic in the Ocean by pound than fish by 2050! The Ocean creates 70% of the oxygen on Earth, and 80% of the fish stocks around the world are in catastrophic decline. We are currently living through the Earths 6th mass extinction but this is the first one that is being caused by human impact.
Liz Clarke said it best when reflecting on the trip: “I had major climate crisis qualms about traveling to surf in Indonesia with Patagonia last week. Surf travel feels so luxurious while the Amazon & Arctic are ablaze, and temps worldwide continue to be the highest ever recorded. My heart aches as Mother Earth speaks loud & clear that we must act now. But the week of sailing to surf on the Cabrinha Quest with incredibly inspiring women, pushing myself into big surf, the tingle of experiencing new places & cultures, mouthwatering plant-based meals by Kitya, deep conversations with the ladies for the film Sachi is making- all of it recharged my eco-warrior batteries and reminded me that we need breaks to stay effective and inspired. Travel is such an integral part of surf culture- but more than ever it feels necessary to take responsibility for our footprints if we choose to get on a plane. Sea Trees project by Sustain Surf gives options according to your flight time for sequestering the CO2 released- I decided to go above and beyond carbon neutral for this trip by supporting their mangrove restoration project on Biak Island in Indonesia that sequesters carbon, provides local jobs & restores the coastal ecosystem!”
We wrapped the trip with a sail to Lombok where we anchored right in front of a tiny left perfect for party waves. We shared one last family dinner, listening to another one of Alex’s funky playlists, and before we knew it these amazing people that became such close friends were leaving. Luckily they left us with not only some sweet Patagonia gear, but a lifetime of knowledge about filmmaking, surfing, environmental stewardship and honestly just how to be more grateful for the abundance that is present in our lives.
Thank you Liz, Moona, Belinda, Scott and Sachi for inspiring us and constantly giving us new ideas for how we can decrease our carbon footprint day by day. If this trip taught us anything- it’s that one person CAN make a difference because their morals and actions are contagious. These people are true environmental warriors and just so happen to also be some of the most graceful dancers on the water we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.