June 1 1988 Sydney Airport international departures:
That’d be right, trust him to stuff the whole thing up, I thought to myself. I had been waiting for eight months for this day and he doesn’t show up on time. He was my mate Mark and we were heading to Indo for our first big surf trip. Destination Lagundri Bay Nias. I think my bags had been packed for about six months and I had every possible thing you could possibly carry in one pack. Man I was stressed.
Mark shows of course and wonders why I am worried, nothing seemed to rattle him too much, but with Mum sitting next to me wondering where her boy was off to it was no wonder I was under pressure.
Any way Garuda are on time and we are off. All I know about Nias is what a mate had told me and the couple of minutes of it I had seen in some videos. The one thing I know for sure is that I am gonna get barrelled!
First touch down is Bali and transit for a flight to Jakarta. My first taste of Indo bureaucracy is at Jakarta airport where I find myself on the receiving end of some verbal justice because I stepped over the yellow line at immigration. Hmmm important note smile more at everyone. On to Medan and my first night in Indonesia. Mark and I feast on Gado Gado and cruise the streets of Medan in becaks. All very overwhelming.
Day two dawns with great anticipation of heading over to Nias. We hit the airport only learn that Smak airways, who fly out there, (anyone who has been on those planes will never forget it) office is not at the airport but in town. Scissors, paper, rock and I am on my way back to town. The becak driver has the dubious honour of being first bloke to sting me Indonesia. I get a twenty minute drive around and the office turns out to be five minutes away from the airport. Hmmm better make a note to be more wary when haggling prices. Of course at the Smak office there is no flight today for Nias so back to town and a visit to the zoo. Interesting and sad. All concrete and bars with some homesick looking kangaroos. Two days later sees us sitting on the tarmac ready to hit Nias. The captain is wearing a U.S. airforce surplus jacket and the fire marshal is standing outside with his extinguisher smoking a kretek cigarette. Hmmm more mental notes re safety.
The flight is spectacular. Mountains, volcanoes and forest. Finally the Indian Ocean!!! In the distance I can see the cloud hanging over the land. Palau Nias, home of the famous righthander and Thorton Fallanders cutback from hell.
The landing is like that scene from “lost in space” I can see out the cockpit windscreen and the ground is rushing up to meet us. Some how we finally touchdown at Gunung Sitoli airport, a ramshackle shed, and have our gear deposited on the tarmac. As we gather our boards and packs the passengers are boarding for the return flight. Smak airways taxis and leaves almost before I am in the terminal/shed. All of a sudden it is quiet and the smells of Indonesia wash over me, heat, kreteks and the ocean. I feel this moment is the point of no return, from now on I am to forever called back to Indo, it my curse.
For those who have done any long ride on a bus in Indonesia you now how this part goes, but for those who haven’t an abbreviated record goes like this. Crowded, hot, frightening and long. I loved it. The sounds of the people talking around me was like music, the sights out the window were too beautiful and strange to comprehend. Magic.
At last the driver yells back “Sorake Beach”. We look at each other and look outside, no water, and no beach. Hmmm. There are however a lot kids milling about so off we get. The kid comes up and I show him a photo of my mate with a guy from Friendlies losman. I say “Yoeman at Friendly losman”. The kids grab our bags and boards and are off. Ahggggg. Where are these guys going? One kid sees our looks of concern (more like terror that our gear is gone for good) and leads us along the road. It a bit of a blur after so long but the next bit is not. I can see a bay through the coconut trees. It is lined with deep green trees and has a strange blue green colour to the water. We emerge onto the beach and I will remember my first look at Lugundri Bay forever. The swell is not huge, four foot, but there is not a drop of water out place. It is like someone has machine made the most gorgeous wave I have ever seen. We walk from the village of Lugundri out to the point. As we walk I feel more excitement than I thought possible. The swells are smooth and even. They start to feel the reef pulling at them and in a second they stand on the reef and peel evenly from take off to flick off. The waves barrel one after the other and the surfers ride them with an unhurried ease you never see at home. Even in the small swell you can see they are riding big boards. Long lazy bottom turns, pull under the lip, get tubed maybe a cutback or just kick out. I will die with this image in my head. It is burned into my memory.
We meet Yoeman and settle into life on the point. My days are full of wonderful waves and nothing. Lazy days waiting for tide to drop or the sun to dip behind the clouds so its not to hot in the water. The nights are taken up with monopoly, cards, backgammon and drinking beers. Life on the point is good.
The waves at Lagundri are loved or maligned, depends who you talk to. But one thing I can tell you is for the short time I was there I loved it full stop. Early mornings of six foot perfect barrels without a breath of wind, late afternoons of soft offshore winds with the setting sun. The sky pink and the water like a bath. Dreamland.
Boards are packed Rick our losman owner secures our food and we a set. The dawn greets us with small waves and we are laughing. No waves in Lagundri Bay today but we will get our share elsewhere. Our fine vessel motors into the bay. From my losman I can hear Mick Jaggers voice screaming out “I cant get no, sat-is-fact-ion” Yep our much talked about radio. Hmmmmm. All aboard the Hinako’s express.
Next door there’s a bunch of guys from W.A, Clovelly, Queensland and Victoria. Over beers one night the talk turns to some islands off the coast of Nias. A plan is hatched and a negotiator is sent to Telukdalam to secure a boat. Everyone insists it must have at least a radio in case of trouble. Yep a radio for sure, everything else we will take or leave. Our man returns with news that we have a boat, our price is set and we leave in the A.M.
We motor away from Nias and the ocean is oily smooth. Once away from the bay there is swell and our excitement levels grow by the hour. Dolphins bow ride our boat and huge schools of tuna set the ocean boiling. Six hours later the first sign of surf. None of us know its name, so due to the two hundred dolphins in the water it is set. Our Dolphin Point, now I believe called Asaws. Five foot swells peel down an empty line up. The scamble to get over the side is hilarious. Eight very excited boys jockey and trash talk their way into the take off point. The wave has a shifting take off peak, we said “west peaks” but the waves were walling and barrelling from wherever you took off. The crew feasted on the waves until Tony from Newcastle bounced off the bottom and came up second best. Hmmmmmmm important. I am a long way from anything here. Everyone laughs it off. No guts no glory. We motor into the only real town on the islands for the night.
On land it is chaos, the kids are all over us. All ëhello misters’ and holding our hands. We meet the local schoolteacher, who speaks english well, and are invited to stay at his house for the night. Now I am not ungrateful but I know about malaria and I am staying on that boat at night. Four end up going and four stay. The reports back next day confirmed my caution. They have been main course for the mozzies all night. We motor off and find an increased swell, see large. The boat rolls in the swell as we head back to Dolphin Point and find the biggest waves I had come face to face with. Hmmmmm.
The swell was huge, eight to twelve foot, and unloading in perfect, massive, right handers along the reef. We all looked at it in awe until some idiot says “Go”. Next thing I know four of us a paddling away from the safety of our little boat towards these A frame peaks. I spend the next forty-five minutes dodging giant waves and trying to snag a smaller one. My seven-foot board feels a couple of feet to short for this game. We leave shaken but excited by the experience. The call is to hit the left. Bawa is perfect, eight foot and larger sets but more organised and in control. I watch for a bit and film my mate getting dragged across the reef by a six to eight wave set. I hit the water and spend three hours out there. Catching the biggest most perfect waves I had ever ridden. Some seem triple overhead as I get to the bottom and look over my shoulder, my board digging in to the power ( thanks R.E. ) and holding firm. The wind finally shifted and turned a bit onshore and when you have been spoiled like that it seems crap but if you were at home it would still have been all time.
Three more days follow of motoring around surfing un-named breaks with the swell holding at three to six foot the whole time. If you get the chance go to Hinakos its an insane place and seems to always have swell.
Back to Lagundri and my departure day seems to be racing towards me. We surf the hollow left further inside the bay at four foot and perfect and catch countless perfect waves on the point. There are to many parties and people to recall, mushies do that to you, but my six weeks was nearly up. Some of the boys were heading to Bali and although we hadn’t planned on going there that’s where we ended up. My last night in Nias is spent drinking cheap rum and beer, eating a whole tuna and general partying. If the memory of arriving is burned on my brain then the sadness of leaving haunts me. Our house boy Suwi crying, me giving what small tokens of thanks I had to give, and the genuine caring of our new friends around me. Before I know it I am on the back of a bike, riding along a narrow path and still through those deep green trees I can see the point reeling off. Then it is gone from my view. I want to stop the bike and run back but a dream like that cannot last forever. I know that I will never return. The special memory can never be replayed like some video, I want to remember Lagundri as a group of huts on beautiful bay not what it has become. Progress is good especially for the locals, and it is selfish of us visitors to want it to remain the way it was forever. I am sure that the money surfers have taken there has allowed many children to be educated and lead a life not possible without that money. Maybe I will go again one day and see what has become of the children I met and friends I made, maybe it will be better who knows? But if travel changes you the Nias made who I am now, what I am now and still I have dreams of the bay, with the deep green trees and the waves spilling down the point.
Colin De Costa