It’s not so much the waves or the vessel that matters, but the company you keep.
Having been part of the pioneer generation in Bali in the early ‘70s, I don’t know why
I was a relatively late adopter when surf charters came on stream 20 years later, but I was. Maybe life and work and babies got in the way.
Whatever it was, I had a lot of catching up to do when the opportunity finally presented itself in 1998 to bust my Mentawais virginity with a trip on the original Indies Trader. Hadn’t seen The Hole, never heard of Taylor Steele, was more acquainted with the Pepsi Generation than the Momentum Generation. But I knew enough to be excited as I lugged a board bag containing a mal (okay, keep it nice up the back) and a mid-range Dave Parmenter gunny thing up to Kuala Lumpur, where I was working at the Commonwealth Games to cover the cost of the boat trip. After two long weeks of writing scripts for the young and somewhat petulant Eddie McGuire, and dodging lady-boys in the hotel lifts, I was almost trembling in anticipation as I hopped the Silk Air Express to meet the boys in Padang.
I’d had decades of surf trips before this, of course, in many parts of the world. I’d travelled overland to G-Land and surfed Supertubos in Portugal before it had a name. But the bespoke surf charter where you and a few mates and a knowledgeable skipper plotted the course from one mysto reef pass to the next, that was kind of a new ball game for me. And part of the mystique was the skipper himself, the already famous Martin Daly, the ebullient Aussie who had surfed the island reefs alone in a boiler suit for years before sharing the secret.
Jeff Hakman had organized the trip, and it included some interesting characters, among them a few of Jeff’s old surf buddies from California and Australia, Keala Kennelly’s real estate guru dad Brian, and an entertainment lawyer from Malibu who had represented Joe Frazier and Hulk Hogan. But for me the real fascination was with Captain Daly, who had moved on from boiler suits but still presented as a larger- than-life Grizzly Adams character as he welcomed us aboard with a cold Bintang. I was to become friends with Daly and share quite a few adventures with him on the Quiksilver Crossing, but I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten over those awestruck beginnings, when skipper and boat seemed hewn from the same tough timber and steel.
Owning the wheelhouse with his size and his commanding presence, he was smart, informative and funny, but in those days heaven help you if you tried to sneak a look at his marked up navigation maps. Maybe it’s still the same. It’s been too long since I chatted with him at the wheel.
I’ve also thought about how two quintessential surfing experiences a quarter of a century apart really compare – was climbing down the rope ladder and pushing your board out of the cave backwash and into the Ulu unknown really that much more exciting than rounding a point and dropping anchor in front of perfect empty lines? I’m going to say it was, but only just, and memory plays strange tricks.
Since that first voyage on the Trader 1, there have been many more, including being chased back down the Thames from Tower Bridge by London water cops, and tying up around the corner from Mundaka in time to celebrate Andy Irons’ win at the Billabong Pro. And then there were the luxe trips on the subsequent Traders, sipping good wine in the elegant stateroom of what is now the Ratu Motu between sessions.
But the Sumatran surf charter I remember most fondly from more recent times involved nights spent huddled in corners of the bunk room of the Mangalui Ndulu and days spent trying to keep up with the precocious talents of child prodigies soon to become longboard world champions. Simon “Swilly” Williams organized that trip and a diverse cast of the old and the new from all over, but the undoubted star in the water was the late great Wayne Deane, then in his mid-50s.
In surf that ranged from waist-high to double overhead and a bit, Deaney would prowl the unknown lineups until he found the sweet spot, then give us all a lesson in precision timing and smooth carving. I was pleased to see that after his recent passing, several of the motley crew from the Mango who have gone on to bigger things, paid tribute to lessons learnt from the great man on that wonderful voyage.
Never one to beat his own drum, Deaney consented to a rare interview, and we spent several evenings watching the sunset from a quiet spot on the bow while we chatted. Then my ancient MP3 recorder blew up and I could never retrieve the files.
Wayne shrugged it off: “It was probably mostly bullshit anyway.” No mate, it wasn’t. It was a rare insight into a keen surfing mind and a life philosophy that took him from struggle street to a zen-like appreciation of friends, family and all of life’s blessings. Now that we don’t have him, I wish I had that tape, but I still have the memory of that magical trip.