Robby Naish goes Indonesian
Late August to September is the time to grab your passport and buy a ticket to Indonesia for some great kitesurfing and Stand Up Paddling (SUP) tripping on the island of Sumbawa. Robby Naish did just that along with some of his team riders and myself to shoot photos of their adventures. The plan was to bring all the equipment they could possibly need and see if they could ride every piece of it.
If there is a place on this earth that was made for enjoying the water world we live on, it is the archipelago state of Indonesia. With its long coastline made up of numerous islands, exposed to the receiving end of swell generated across the Indian Ocean, it is a playground for wave riders of many forms. Upon arriving in Indonesia it becomes immediately apparent that you are in one of the most exotic places you’ve probably ever been. Its sights, sounds and smells are not to be found in the western world. It grabs you by all your senses when you enter the airport on Bali and doesn’t let go. Of all the places I’ve traveled in the last 35 years, Indonesia continues to be my favorite. The Hindus of Bali seem to have found a way to let the entire world come and visit their Shangri-La without losing the core of their culture. Western influence is pervasive, the techno blaring, motorcycle infested Kuta Beach was developed for tourists but if you drive into the country of Bali it is life as usual for the people there.
The surf is what we’re here for and with several breaks out front of the Lakey “village” it’s a smorgasbord. The premier break is the famous Lakey Peak, in front of a patch of reef the size of a football field with a two story wooden tower on it for shooting or viewing from.
The break attracts pros and novices alike with nearly precision barrels going both ways from a classic A frame when the size and conditions are correct. The take-off spot is tight and wave priority is earned by reputation or example of your skills.
Robby and Michi Schwaiger, his teammate, were after a wave that would be right for the newest of water sports, Stand Up Paddle Surfing, and they found it in each direction from the peak. To the left is Lakey Pipe and it is a come-from-behind and set-up-for-the-pipe hollow section. This is the wave that kite surfers have found to be one of the best at certain times of the year for getting barreled when the wind is up. To the right about a quarter mile up the reef is Nungas, a long, less threatening wave that offers more playful moves.
Robby and Michi have a great view of the sea life while standing on their SUPs and tell me about small sea snakes a couple of times which try to crawl up onto Robbie’s board. Later that day I’m swimming at the same spot watching out for ripples in the water with a snake-like pattern. The reef here is covered with sea life from plants to sponges and anemones as well as various types of sea urchins, short and long- spined. Sharks, eels and other predators don’t seem to be common but, no doubt, are there. Sea lice and blue bottle jellyfish are around but also don’t seem to be excessive. With a tidal difference of up to three meters on a full moon the edge of the ocean can change dramatically along with the waves breaking on it. The water temperature is perfect, not too equatorially hot and not chilled.
The swell is about four to seven feet on the face on our first day and the SUPs are put to their test. Naish’s new short but wider boards are perfect for catching and then riding the hollow waves with Robby tucking into barrel after barrel. The second day the predicted larger swell arrives and the peak out front is full of hungry surfers searching for satisfaction.
Robby and Michi take on some solid waves at the Pipe with the lower tide when other surfers have gone in. Late take-offs behind the peak prove no problem for the new boards and they have a field day. Toward the end of the session, a hollow lip lands behind the tail of Robbie’s board and compresses his knee, straining his mcl ligament. We go in to see what the damage is and later that day Fred from Reunion Island can feel the pain in the knee and performs some Ryke-like massage on it that he says is more like magic, helping to draw the injury out. Robby, being the athlete he is, doesn’t quit, borrows a knee brace from a visiting surfer, and in the next days finds ways to work with it creating a new tube stance not to damage the knee further.
When the wind finally fills in, Robby is more than ready to get some kiting under his belt. He is rigged faster than you can say “go” and on the water working his way upwind to the break at Lakey Pipe. The waves are small but hollow and in an hour he does about fifty slashing off the lips. His knee does not seem to be bothering him any more. He goes around in circles with his team, trading waves and jokes while wearing a big grin for the feeling of getting so much water time in one week.
Eight days passed much too fast and it became time for us to leave.
If you want to explore the few hidden places left on the face of the world, grab a map and do your research. If you’re willing to tough it a bit maybe you will find a hidden gem of a break, just don’t put photos of it in the magazines or it could change faster than you think.
For this autumn of 2009, here’s how it stands for now in Sumbawa.
The price of living here you can easily get used to, this beautiful playground, like most of Asia, is just downright cheap compared to so many destinations. Oh, you can stay at the Hyatt or another luxury chain hotel and pay half of what you might normally, or you can research a little and pay $30 for a clean room for two with AC, TV and a swimming pool. Hire a car for thirty-five dollars a day that comes with a driver, who knows which side of the road to drive on, is a tour guide, acts like a guard for your valuables in the car while you tour the sights, is an interpreter and can ask in case you want to do something stupid if it will get you right into a local police car.
With some further research there are many restaurants that offer great food and many hotel rooms come with free packets of medicine for the infamous Bali belly. Just check if the ice is made with bottled water and the salad is washed with the same. One thing to be aware of in paradise is the not so paradise-like diseases you can come across. Tropical Malaria, dengue fever, cholera and hepatitis are all a possibility and Malaria is common in some areas. So get prepared by contacting your local Tropical institute for information on vaccinations and first aid medication.
A fan is a must, air conditioning is a growing commodity but beware of moldy ACs that can give you a cough. Hot water may be inconsistent and communications can be limited in some areas. Not to scare you off, many of the established surf areas are growing with infrastructure as well as crowds, so if you want solitude in the waves you will have to become a minimalist.
It’s hard enough to afford a vacation let alone just the airfare to get anywhere. But if you’re up to spending money, you might as well pick the Bali area as one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen!
Photos and story courtesy of Redbull Photofiles