A lucky few have been scoring in Indo, but you still have to be ready when the swell hits.
I had been in Lakey peak for almost two months. The corona lockdown had gone as well as could be expected. Rumours swirled of a more serious outbreak up in Java, but locally there had been very few cases. People were still being actively discouraged from visiting the area, which was fine if you were a surfer. The line ups were mostly uncrowded; you knew everyone you were surfing with by name; the vibe in the water remained relaxed and friendly.
As the biggest swell of the season lit up the forecasting apps, far to the south, the Indian ocean was being torn apart by several storm fronts that were marching ominously towards Western Australia. The swell was supposed to arrive overnight and fill in through the next day. I had a restless sleep and was up just as the grey dawn came rising out of the east. Shadowed wedges of dark ocean rose up out beyond the viewing platform and exploded into dull white masses of foam. Across the channel, roping lines of swell rolled towards Lakey Pipe, pitching lips cracking as the waves slammed into the reef.
I watched on for twenty minutes. The sets were solid but they didn’t look crazy. Some of the medium-sized ones seemed approachable. Perfectly tapered walls that pitched, peeled, then spat with an almost mechanical grace. I could feel myself getting restless. The forecast looked ominous but the swells often took a while to really arrive. Sometimes you could sneak out for a couple before it got out of control.
Soon I was nervously paddling through the shallows, my eyes glued to the breaking waves out the back. I had made it out around the reef and was heading towards the takeoff zone when things started to go pear-shaped. A set of dark brooding lines appeared on the horizon. I made a quick turn and started heading way wide. The first wave blocked out half the sky when it stood up. As I was clawing my way over the top I glanced towards the inside. The peak rose majestically then buckled like half the Indian ocean was behind it. I watched on as the lip exploded onto a tortured piece of saltwater that was getting sucked below sea level. It was a scene straight from one of those tow surfing clips. Where some lunatic is getting whipped into a hideous slab before eventually ending up in hospital.
I dodged the rest of the set then sat for a moment trying to catch my breath. There was the briefest instant where I considered ducking in and trying to pick off a smaller one. But more heavy lines appeared on the horizon; I let out sigh of defeat and started heading back in. The amount of water surging back out in the channel was ridiculous, and I was soon angling across towards Lakey Pipe. It took me about fifteen minutes of solid paddling to make it across, and it was bombing over there as well. I hugged the corner of the reef trying to catch a smaller one in. Another monster set rolled through. The second wave was massive and it almost closed out the entire channel. Angry fingers of basalt and coral started to rise from the water nearby. There were parts of the reef draining dry that I had never laid eyes on before.
I let the current sweep me into deeper waters and took a few moments to consider my options. The tide was rising, but it would be at least an hour before it really started to fill the bay. Paddling down to Nungas might work, but would end in exhaustion. I put my head down and started stroking back towards shore. After some panicked duck dives and more set dodging, lady luck smiled in my direction. A smaller wave rolled through and I was able to catch the white water.
I could feel the beginnings of relief as I rolled in over the shallows. Unfortunately, trying to find my feet as the water surged over the reef proved more difficult. Another wall of white water knocked me off balance and I was soon getting a proper drag and scrape. Finally, I staggered in through the shallows covered in small reef cuts. As I trudged up the beach, a group of lads standing nearby let out a boisterous cheer. They had obviously witnessed the whole thing. I felt like a kook. But more importantly, I was a kook that was also safe on dry land.
The swell was relentless over the next few days. Mostly people were just happy to watch. It was too big for Periscopes, but a couple of us braved the paddle out at Nungas. A few bumpy set waves were caught; more often we were cleaned up by wide ones and washed right down into the bay. Conditions eased as the swell dropped, and the occasional afternoon offshore made a brief appearance. A small crowd was soon rotating between 'Peak and 'Pipe. Being completely surfed out became the biggest concern.
There was only a few brief flat days before the next swell arrived. Barely enough time to stretch tired muscles and watch a few movies on a borrowed USB. The early tide was pushing towards high, so I paddled over to 'Pipe. Morning bump made the backhand take-offs tricky. I got pinched a number of times in between threading the occasional small wonky barrel. Then I attempted a late drop on one of the bigger sets. Everything was going well until it wasn’t. I tried to throw my board last minute and pin drop through the wave face. But a brief hesitation cost me and I didn’t push deep enough. The wave got a hold of me and I was soon in the midst of a full rinse cycle, hitting my fins then the reef in the process.
The remainder of the morning was spent at the local hospital getting stitches. I was glad I wasn’t in there for something more serious. The building was run down and it appeared hygiene wasn’t a priority. I returned to my accommodation with a heavily bandaged hand and sporting some betadine war paint. Surfing was off the agenda and it was probably time to think about heading back to Bali anyway. Word on the relaxed crowd situation had obviously got out. Small groups of surfers were filtering in, and they were reporting that most of the road side checkpoints were no longer in place.
I chatted to some other long-term stayers who were also keen to head back. We spent a few days checking flight booking websites and having confusing phone calls with various airlines. Then we ended up organising a driver. Getting the COVID-19 test at the hospital in Dompu involved a lengthy process of typically confused Indonesian bureaucracy. Luckily we were all confirmed negative. The next morning at 2:30 am we strapped our boards to the roof of a minivan and the journey commenced. It was a long day. The roads were fairly quiet and the ferry crossings were easy enough to negotiate. But it was still almost midnight when we arrived at our accommodation back in Bali.
I was exhausted as I dragged my board bag inside and flopped on the bed. My bandaged hand was throbbing ominously but I could feel myself smiling. After two months surfing some of the best waves in the world I had made it home safe. The memories of rare uncrowded sessions would last a lifetime. When would I get to surf Lakey Peak by myself again? Probably never.
The writing above is an excerpt from a recently published book…
Eyes To The Horizon
One man’s psychedelic journey into dating apps and perfect waves on foreign shores
Written by Ben Simon Smith
Available on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play and with other good eBook retailers