What it's really like to stare down a Tsunami.
Damn the science for now. This is what it was like.
December 22, 2018. Javanese Surfer Diki Zulfikar had his wife nestled under his arm as a soft night breeze blew in off the ocean at Carita Beach, North Java. He and his friends were celebrating the closing ceremonies of the Carita Beach Surfing Festival.
Within thirty seconds he would be running for his life.
“When we all saw the first wave coming, which was a little crazy at night, we thought it was the new swell coming and we all cheered”, says Diki, “But then the wave did not stop and it got bigger, 4 meters, more, and then we knew and all of us wished we had our surfboards but we did not bring them to the party”.
So they ran. And Surfers and villagers alike got mowed down by a warm, dark, angry sea.
“Surfers were lucky, we can swim, and we are strong enough to climb trees but the others…it was sad to see ”. Like giant deadly pinballs, bikes, cars and motorcycles were streaming by as Diki saw the second wave coming. With his non-swimming wife frozen to the spot in fear he knew he had to stand his ground.
“I watched it come and I don’t know why, but I smiled at it, the wave, like I smile at many waves for me, but hoping this one would leave me and my wife alone”.
It didn’t. Swept into the torrent he and his wife were headed for a gutted cottage that was still standing.
“I swam strong with my wife and grabbed the stairs and dragged us up the top. And that was when I saw the third wave and maybe I knew my luck was gone”.
Running to the back of the cottage, Diki pulled his wife up into the top of a bunkbed and waited for the end.
“Out the window I saw many people wash by, and the wave came into the house but did not reach us. Later, the river nearby seemed to be helping drain the water go away and we survived. But so many people being pulled out to sea. So many. Thanks God my friends and me can surf”.
For local surfers in North Java and South Sumatra, many felt the same way as Diki. Thanking their lucky stars that Saturday’s Sunda Strait Tsunami hit at night and that they knew how to swim. Because one, observing local customs, they don’t night surf like alot of westerners do and two, with swimming skills extremely rare in Indonesia, the local surfers would have a distinct advantage when it comes to survival. This last point is why the death tolls of Indonesian Tsunami’s are so high. Swimming is not a priority of the coastal cultures throughout the archipelago due to mythology and spiritual beliefs. Which is a shame considering they live in the cross-hairs of the most active seismic roilings on the planet. And with over 17,500 islands Indonesia has myriad bays that act as catcher’s mitts for these seismic waves. Although an Australian marine scientist, who chose to remain unnamed for this article for fear of government reprisal and grant cancellation, told me that the ability to swim would not be that heavy a factor in a Tsunami survival situation. Of course, the guy doesn’t surf and unlike myself, this scientist has not been half drowned in giant waves or witnessed two separate Tsunamis first hand. So I am here to say that being able to swim would probably be a good thing to know around here. Especially around Christmas time when these Tsunamis seem to hit hardest.
Just like in Boxing Day, 2004.
Alright, to the science.
Anak Krakatau, the “child” of the main volcanic island of 1883 eruption fame, has been blowing its stack lately and on December 22nd, it had had enough. The devastating Tsunami is suspected to be caused by a sub-ocean landslide on the volcano’s eastern and southern slopes. The displacement of water would have been a force unimaginable to mortals and impossible to detect. Hence absolutely no warning. And the fact that the Volcano is a feature on the near horizon to most of the affected areas means there would be virtually no time to prepare. Not to the party people on the beach or those peacefully sleeping under a tropical moon. The first thing that came to mind to most of us in Bali to the south east was concern for our friends that might have been camped at Panaitan Island in the Sunda Strait waiting for the suicide waves of the surf break “Apocalypse” to happen. “Apocalypse wave should be blocked by the other islands” says Indonesian Champion Dede Suryana in nearby Cimaja, Java, “But we are still waiting for my friends to call from there”.
The morning after at Cerita Beach, surfer Naufel Angrenni was picking through the wreckage with rescuers when he paused and looked out to sea. “Krakatau called me and I looked. She was telling me she will do it again. No one is strong enough to stop her. No one. Not even surfers”.