The Isle Crew Spent 2 Weeks Cruising the outer Islands of Northern Sumatra aboard the 126 ft good ship ILIKE.
Below is Part 1 of my daily journal over the 2 week journey – Enjoy!
Journal Day 1
Indonesia is the mecca for world class surf especially during the peak season running May – August. The Indian ocean heats up and sends endless swell hurtling towards countless islands spread across the thousands of miles. Its a surfer and paddlers dream but the secret is out and most of the well known breaks have been flooded along the shores of Bali and several other larger islands.
Another way to view the islands is by charter boat. It can be expensive and the classic breaks still crowded with other charter boats but with so many breaks and islands stretched across the indian ocean hidden secrets are waiting for those willing to search a little further.
I had taken a trip to the same area back in 2008 and scored but it was a late season trip and luck was on our side. Late season is always a roll of the dice and you could end up fishin most of the time or drunk and thrown overboard every night due to the delirious boredom that can come from floating around at sea for weeks searching for waves that never come.
The Decision to Bring the Paddle Boards
But this time was different! Not only did we plan the trip during the start of peak swell season but we also planned to bring a fleet our newest paddle boards , The New 2014 Isle Phantom Series consisting of the 9’8 Diamond Tail, The 10’6 Classic and the 11’6 Touring. A perfect trip to test them all out and get some amazing shots for the site. On my last trip back in ’08 paddle boarding hadn’t even become popular so now with the sups on board, surf or no surf we would be in the water exploring one of the most beautiful places on earth. Only one small hang up, getting giant paddle boards across the globe is no easy or inexpensive task but after much planning we were able to land a fleet of our 2014 models at the harbor prior to boat departure. The boards would be shipped to Bali by air, then make a 4 day trip by truck from Bali to Sumartra all the way to the harbor city Padang.
After lots of nail biting we finally caught word just a week before departure they had arrived safely and the only causality was a single broken paddle! It was a miracle! With the paddle boards landed and just days till liftoff all that was left was to organize the mountain of gear from surfboards, cameras, drones, extra paddles, leashes, etc. etc. for the trip of a lifetime. Never fun lugging so much so far but worth the hassle.
We breezed through LA traffic from San Diego loaded down with gear and took our sweet ol time, we reached the ticket counter and were greeted with friendly smiles of the ticket agent, almost too friendly, and already weary from dragging the gear drag from the car 100 ft to the ticket counter something was amiss. The first words from the agents mouth are “the flight has been oversold and we can’t get you on”. We purchased full fair tickets but from time to time this happens with airlines and the fact we arrived very late didn’t help matters. With a tight schedule to keep to make the boats departure in 2 days in Padang we had not a minute to spare. They offered us $1300 each to sit the flight out, along with a hotel in LAX for the night to catch at the same flight the next day. The excitement of the trip quickly faded and with a mountain of gear in tow, and a boat to catch being a day late was not an option and would require a $2000 speedboat to reach the already departed boat. After explaining this to the agent and the manager they began to whisper nervously amongst themselves and asked us to sit in some chairs laid out near the counter. With time ticking for the flight it didn’t look good. After a lot of walkie talkie shuffling it appeared they offered the $1300 to already boarded passengers and a few took the bait and de boarded the flight. So with minutes to spare they quickly checked all the gear and hustled us to the plane and had no time to charge us for all the excess gear fees. Lady luck was on our side and we breathed a sigh of relief to finally be on our way!
After boarding the 380 airbus and settling into the first of many flights the attractive Singapore Air attendants handed us a piping hot towel. A refreshing start to a global journey over 48 hours long and across 3 countries on 4 separate flights. Across Tokyo , SIngapore, Jakarta and Finally Padang. Followed by a 24 hour overnight crossing by boat over one of the worlds deepest trenches to reach our final destination of the outer Islands.
Journal Day 2 & 3
After reaching the final destination of Padang nearly 35 hours after liftoff you being to feel somewhat like a zombie and immediately notice you are in a land far away and far different from the good ol US of A. Padang and the island of Sumatra is predominately Muslim and after touchdown in Jakarta headed to Padang you notice all the women are covered head to toe with long sleeve clothing the the traditional jilbab ( a scarf women wear around their heads and neck to cover up), Upon arrival in Padang driving towards the harbor we pass several mosques. They are always easy to spot with the towering 4 corner pillars and center dome. The domes are always covered in shiny glimmering sliver or gold. You can even hear the faint sounds of the prayer music blasting from the mosque speakers. The air is thick with humidity and the land is surrounded with thick rain forest as motorcycles zoom around cars on narrow highways.
Assemble the Crew in Padang
The entire crew which had all traveled from different parts of California and Colorado had managed to make it. We shared a few beers and high fives and boarded the good ship ILIKE late in the evening under stormy weather to make the overnight crossing. The vessel is run by “Scuzz” Chris Scurrah, the owner of Sumatran Surfaris , a legendary Aussie who pioneered the area back in the early 90′s and turned his passion into a thriving surf charter business. He is great surfer, boat captain and all around cool cat full of great stories and is just as eager to surf and find great waves as the crew. And he has one mean front side and back side hack along with a deep knowledge of tube riding in waves of all sizes.
Stormy Seas Ahead
Scuzz warned us of a pending storm as we boarded and explained the crossing that evening could be quite rough. Everyone was still rattled from the long journey and looked a little shaken about the potential for high bumpy seas and seasickness. The dramamine pills were passed around just before we left port and motored into into the rainy stormy night. Within an hour the boat was powering over 10-15 ft stormy seas causing things to be tossed about the galley and bellies to start rumbling. You know it was a big wave as the boat had a large bell high up on the kookoos nest and it would make a loud “ding” every time we passed over a big wave causing the bow to rise up high into the air and come crashing down. With the curry chicken from earlier that evening bubbling i figured it best to retreat to the bunks down below and hunker down for the night.
An hour or so in i was being tossed around like a rag doll as i clinged to my pillow and a barf seemed inevitable. Then suddenly sleeping pills and dramamine kicked and i dozed off into lala land only to awake to smooth seas hours later. It turns out the ocean had become so rough they had to turn around and seek the shelter of a bay as it just wasn’t worth the thrashing the crew and boat was enduring in the rough seas. The overnight stop to avoid the weather set us back nearly 10 hours and the chance of finding surf the next evening was slim but gave us an opportunity to catch up on some much needed shut eye.
Journal Day 4
The good ship ILIKE would become our home for the next two weeks. At 126 ft in length and Constructed mostly of teak hardwood her joints would lightly creak and groan as she rocked in the moving ocean. The gentle noise only added to her authentic aura and the stained teak throughout seemed to sooth the fading jet lag. Composed of 3 levels ,the galley and main sitting area were adorned with intricate Indonesian carvings out of solid hard wood. Manned with a crew of 8 Indonesian along with our captain Scuzz who would accompany our crew of 7. The original plan and design of the boat was to handle 10 guests but 3 had dropped out of the mission in the final weeks leading up to the trip. Needless to say the boat is enormous and with 15 aboard you would hardly notice. We had plenty of space to frolick about the boat and with so little people everyone had their own room on double bunk state room on board. The crew quarters resided in the back on the boat near the engine room and Scuzz the Capitan too the master suite at the head of the bow. THe ILIKE pulled 2 small tin dingys towed along by 50ft long ropes. The top deck was probably one of my favorite features and was covered in hand made teak lounge chairs making for the perfect viewing platform to access the surrounding waves along with having the coldest beer fridges on board. The top deck was also equipped with a jacuzzi tub that remained empty but could be filled up at a moments notice. The boat had 6 double bunks in the bow with 1 large master suite at the head . All bunk rooms held a sweet aroma of wood and indonesian air freshener hanging on the ac units along with signature sheets inscribed with the word ILIKE . The crew offered up 3 freshly cooked square meals a day, allotted beers, snacks and a delicious light breakfast. A comfortable cruiser and no better way to search for surf amongst the thousands on islands across the Telos archipelago.
Rules of the ILIKE
The boat had several rules as stated by the Captain and violation of these rules would result in 10 pushups.
Rule # 1 Prior to the Opening of any beer the phrase “Paradise” must be uttered to the surrounding ears. Variations of the phrase were accepted “Paradiso”, “Club Paradise” etc etc.
Rule #2 Any time the phrase “Work” was uttered
Seems easy enough being on vacation away from “work” in “paradise”. But easy it was not and the push ups began to flow much to the delight of the crew and passengers.
Bad Lands Island Anchorage
As we pulled in to our Tsunami safe anchorage for the first evening on board the captain brought to my attention the Island we tossed anchor had a long history from years past of head hunting cannibals who would attack and plunder the boats who ventured near its shores. Many moons had past since the old days but sitting under the milky way counting the stars and watching the moonlit jungle silhouette with endless blackness in all directions you get a sense you are a long long way from home and are happy headhunting in no longer popular.
(*I actually looked this up after getting back to the states and these Islands are in fact famous for head hunting Cannibals in days past with the last documented instances as recent as 1998!)
Journal Day 5
Pyramids First Surf
We rose early just before sunset and headed to a beach break called Pyramids around the corner from our overnight anchorage. With no one around and the back of faint peaks barley visible against a jungle backdrop of tall hardwoods and palms the crew rushed into the waves eager to ride a few and break in the trip. Looking to stretch the muscles and break in one of the paddle boards i jumped on the Phantom Touring and paddled from the ILIKE across a stretch of crystal clear water. The visibility was close to 50 ft and you could sea tropical fish gliding across the sandy bottom. When i reached the palm lined shores the crew was enjoying fun little shoulder to head high offshore peaks in crystal clear transparent water with no one around. After a few laps and waves i figured it best to go and grab the shorter board. As the sun peaked higher in the sky the scorching humid heat beat down with great intensity making sunblock and hats a must to continue the surf until later in the morning without serious sunburn.
After everyone had their fill it was time for a few “Paradises” and to head around the backside of the Island to a long right-hander called lighthouse. The wave looked soft from a distance and not all that big but upon closer inspection it was nearly a few feet overhead and peeling for several hundred yards. A bit slow in some sections but punchy enough to provide plenty of fun for the surf hungry crew. Some opted for the short board i again opted for the 9’8 Phantom paddle board. As i approached the outside lineup a single narrow lighthouse shot up nearly 50 feet above the tallest canopy tree creating an interesting backdrop. Everyone had their fill of waves as the sun began to set on our first evening at the islands. I paddled further and further out the back and finally picked off a set and rode it for nearly a 2 hundred yards connecting section after section after section all the way back to the boat. A perfect end to our first day at sea.
Journal Day 6 & 7
Another early rise the swell had jumped up a bit, the boat pulled anchor just before sunset and moved us to a series of lefts peeling around the tip of another island. Looking quite a bit over head the crew frothed to head out. Feeling very sore from all the paddling and surfing the day before i opted to sit it out and watch. For nearly 2 hours the crew picked off left after left peeling around a very sketchy finger of reef. Everyone came in stoked and safe and with the tide dropping fast and wind switching direction the captain offered up a small peeling left bowl called Hooters. A quick motor across several bays with picturesque backdrops and tiny rocks islands covered in palms we eventually reached the wave. A perfect head high short left with a little barrel and 2 sections before it spilled onto practically dry reef. Just completing my yoga i was ready to give it a go. The waves peeled into a serene little bay and looked if a few feet bigger could get really really good. We traded off waves for hours until i could hardly paddle. Not quite big enough for the gaping barrel but a couple pocket rides could be found. I took one a little to far in and paid a visit to the shallow reef slicing my finger and washing across the razor sharp corals only to finally be spit out into a lagoon by the fast moving current. Happy to escape with only a cut and with my wave count high it was time to board the vessel for lunch.
After everyone was good and stuffed it was time to check out Burn Point. A long shifty right hand point break. As the point slowly came into view you could tell it was lightly groomed offshore and peeling along a long protruding shelf. The shore was lined with huge palms making for an amazing backdrop to the wave and a few small huts in between the palm forest. As we came closer it was bigger than we previously thought and easily a few feet overhead on the sets. I was ready to give the Phantom Diamond Tail 9’8 a go and the captain opted to hit it first on his shorty and show us how its done. As i prepared for the sesh i could see the captain shredding wave after wave and it appeared bigger than i first thought with some waves approaching double overhead on the sets. He picked off wave after wave and even a few clean barrels as i made my way out the back. The wave was shifty with roll in sections and then it could pick up steam and offer up the occasional barrel section. After picking off a handful of waves i was ready to chase down a tube section on the sweep. Finally a large set powered out the back and i rolled into it early setting up for the tube. Just as the wave barreled i couldn’t hold my line and got squeezed into the flats barley holding on to my paddle and could hear the faint hoots of the crew who had taken up anchor close by in the channel on the dingy to watch and shoot a few photos.
After the session i grabbed the Phantom Touring to head in and explore the cool looking beach. I noticed two small kids holding machetes chilling on the shoreline waving me to come ashore so i cruised in to have a closer look. They approached happy and giggling speaking to me in their native tongue. Unable to make out anything i snapped off some photos and played around with their machetes before heading back to the boat.
Jason was definitely a standout of the session and a regular foot along with our captain. As i goofed around with the kids he proceeded to get wave after wave doing long arching cutbacks and slashes and finding the occasional pocket ride. After several hours it was time to head in for lunch and venture to one of the areas most famous waves later that afternoon, Rolandos Right.
Rolandos is a sucking right-hander situated in a picturesque bay. As you enter the bay the first thing you notice is large vertical cliffs shooting straight out of the ocean. The cliffs are covered in rock formations and jungle and the arriving swell smashes into the vertical walls from deepwater. As you head deeper into the shallow bay you approach Rolandos.
So the story goes when the wave was first discovered many years ago they had a guy on the boat named Roland. He was a broken man coming into the boat trip. Life had gotten the better of him, newly divorced, burnt out with a dead end job, depression, and overall just a down and out. A man of few words he looked to be not the best crew member on the two week voyage. He even brought along a guitar but never played. As they pulled into the bay and stumbled across the world class right hander they couldn’t believe their eyes. Everyone on board surfed their brains out during the swell that week including Roland and the captain couldn’t believe the transformation he watched unfold after a week of scoring perfect waves. Roland completely came out of his shell, his frown turned into a smile, he had become talkative, was shredding tunes on his guitar and was a brand new person. A changed man for the better the captain decided to name the wave after him and coined it Rolands Right.
As we pulled up the wave sucks dry on a shelf offering up a perfect barrel you can back door right from the take off. The wave then ropes down the reef offering several hit sections until it reaches another section called “Maybes” for maybe you make it, or maybe you don’t . The wave again goes top to bottom and sets up another screaming tube. If you don’t make this part of the wave you end up on dry reef so proceed with caution here. The waves by this time had roped close to 100 yards or more. Its a world class wave and can hold a lot of size and only barrels more and more as it gets bigger and lower tide. The whole crew enjoyed swapping waves for the afternoon and into the next morning getting screamer after screamer until our arms could paddle no more. The main outside barrel section had a few but nothing like the full potential of what the wave could do. Only left us wondering what if and just how insanely long and perfect of a barrel this wave could be with more size. We headed back to the boat with all smiles ready for dinner and a cold bingtang to cap off the day of endless waves.
In between sessions
Later the next day i took out the Phantom Touring to get a closer look at the vertical cliffs up the point and was surprised to find even a few small corners of surf able sections breaking off the rock outcroppings a few hundred meters up from the main wave of Rolandos. With clear water and breathtaking scenery offered by the high cliffs it was one of the more memorable flat water paddles of the trip.
Scuzz Surf History Lesson
Later that evening our Captian pulled out a newly released documentary for our Surf History Lesson. The movie is called Sea of Darkness and chronicles the first surfers to discover the fabled waves off sumartra, java and bali along with the outer islands back in the early 70′s and 80′ and opened up the door to surf exploration and surf culture in the area. Although everyone could barley hold open their eyes after so much surf it held our interest all the way to the end. A tale of adventure, free love, discovery, freedom and the dark side of drug smuggling and drug abuse interwoven into the surf culture at that time. A must see movie and history lesson for any surfer and before I spoil it any more just go out and watch it. Rumor has it the rights to the movie where purchased by Martin Daly, one of the main characters in the movie and they are looking to sell it to a hollywood production company. It would make an amazing feature film and hopefully its remade for the box office sometime in the future
Journal Day 8
Carnage at Coronas Right
With the swell on the rise Scuzz mentioned the night before we were headed to a very ledgy right-hand barrel. With a few surfs under our belt and the jet lag nearly gone the crew was excited to finally get some juicy tubes. We pulled in at sunrise and dropped anchor in an idyllic channel just 100 yards off from the wave. The sets would pass by the boat and roll towards the reef unloading on the slab and grinding across a nearly dry shelf unloading spit into the channel. I opted to take a closer look with the paddle boards and a couple of the crew waxed up and headed out. The wave had a small local crew of aussie x pats who run a local camp on the island and they have the wave wired.
As i rocked up the ocean was calm with the heads scattered across the small point. I noticed a large protruding rock dead center of the line up and it looked as if any serious mistake in the outside barrel could end you up across the rock. Finally some hoots and hollers from the boat and a set was approaching. The waves of the set stood up and went square top to bottom right off the drop and the locals would backdoor the first main section and come flying out, the next section coined “bus stops” nearly over dry reef connects and throws out again and then the waves spits out into the channel. It was an amazing wave but any big mistakes could end u up on the big rock or across the shallow reef, not for the faint of heart.
After taking notes and watching the locals get spit out of wave after wave it was time to paddle out later in the day as we waited to let the crowds subside. A squall moved in over the area and the wind had switched offshore and everyone except for us had left. We had it all to ourselves only the tide was even lower meaning a mistake was near suicide.
As the troops assembled to do battle the results would be ugly. The first of our crew “El Cameron” as we like to call him took it head on threading and almost making near sucking dry barrels and somehow not hitting the reef. He put it all on the line and finally he was rewarded with a screaming tube all the way from the outside across the bus stop and into the channel hooting and hollering. Managing to survive the session with only a few foot cuts for all his hard charging over dry reef. The others would not be so lucky…
Mr. Wright took spill after spill and just couldn’t find a rhythm and was dragged across the bottom on several occasions and then took a steep drop and copped a board rail to the eardrum causing him to lose hearing in his right ear. He however did not give up and was determined to not let the wave get the best of him. With tiger scratches across his back and sore deaf right ear he finally snuck into a gem and came flyout out into the channel with the spit getting the barrel of his life. His determination had paid off and he would again take another trip to the bottom for yet another battle scar across his back. The wave had not been kind to him but his smile from ear to ear showed the pain was worth the gain of that magical barrel he had picked off.
Jason the seasoned regular foot of the crew took to the wave like a bee to honey getting barrel after barrel coming out with both hands up each time like he was in the pipe maters in 1989. He helped himself to three large slices of shakleberry pie and was the star of the afternoon and then a missed negotiation in the barrel caused him to lose his footing and reinjure his bad knee putting him out possibly for the rest of the trip. A total bummer but no better streak than to go out after his run of flawless glassy epic dry barrels across the shelf.
After watching the carnage i though it best to get my share. Opting to try a bit bigger board i jumped in and much like Mr.Wright I could not find a rhythm at all. The conditions by this time had cleaned up to perfect 4-6 ft screaming glassy shacks across a nearly dry shelf. No room for mistakes and i soon paid a quick visit to the bottom hitting feet first and scraping up my toes on both feet. Determined to get a solid tubo i pulled into a near dry set and although i could see the light at the end of the tunnel it was not to be and I went straight to the bottom hitting my hip on a coral head and scratching my side. Frustrated and eager to get one, the head aussie tube trolls appeared out of the jungle just as the sun broke though the clouds and paddled back out and proceeded to put on a clinique making nearly wave and flying out with spit at the end. Finally the head local motioned for me to take the set and caught me off guard as i thought he would surely go and i scrambled to make it into the the doubling up slab. I free fell to the bottom totally out of control and rather than pull up in side i got caught right in the worst possible spot and took the entire force of the lip to the top of the head sending me again straight to the bottom looking for starfish. Drug across the bottom again and Much to the delight of the onlookers from our crew watching in the channel. Beaten, Battered and without a solid barrel I limped back to the boat with cuts and a sore hip head down but glad i got away with only the bumps and bruises i did.
As the equatorial sun set on the horizon a few beers later and some advil I was all smiles. Not too mention the chef had a fresh sushi dinner form the Mahi-Mahi caught the previous night waiting on the table. The whole crew shared battle stories and we invited the local aussie tube trolls on the vessel to share some cold ones with the crew. As the sun dipped below the horizon we would pull anchor and head to surf a new left the next day.
Our local aussie mates just finished construction on a surf lodge just down from the epic wave of Coronas. A quick shout out to Luke and the boys of Coronas for sharing the waves and for booking in the area you can visit them at www.telosurfvilla.com
Watch out for Part 2 of this epic journey coming soon!
About the Author - Marc Miller is the founding partner of Isle Surf & SUP an online retailer of paddle boards & surfboards. He has been involved in board manufacturing, product development and website management for Isle since its inception in 2004. He also writes the Isle Surf & SUP Blog. An avid surfer and paddler for the past 2 decades when hes not in the office he can be found on foreign shores searching for waves and fun.