A Tribe United
Peeling the skin back from my eyes in a state of muscle reflex panic, my mouth and throat had stopped producing saliva and I was drowning. I quickly realised that I had partially consumed my $3 mosquito net sometime during my dream-washed sleep. I retracted the net from my oesophagus, much like the sword swallower at the Easter Show circa 1974, and realised I was in Sorake, a small village on the equator. Fumbling in pre dawn darkness for a bottle of water, I recalled my first surf here following a torturous journey to this jungle paradise.
Not having the luxury of tracking a swell then impulsively travelling, the Milkman and I had been organising this trip for the best part of a year. Then, for an entire 24 hours we caught a plane, waited, caught another plane, waited, sat, paced, changed money, and waited some more.
Upon boarding the final air leg we looked at each other and laughed nervously. The entire fuselage was enshrouded in a mist, like the Blue Mountains in the dead of winter. I had nearly reached the place I had been dreaming of for a lifetime and was damned if a smoking fuselage was going to stop me. I was informed this phenomenon was merely a reaction from the air conditioning but as I turned to offer the explanation to my travel partner, he had already closed his eyes and slept the rest of the flight.
Touch down at Gunungsitoli International airport. After the usual bustling and side stepping numerous serial pests, our Indonesian negotiating had us bundled into a van by our chosen driver. As surfers, we were still a novelty in this place, as well as a potential meal ticket.
We picked up a fellow journeyman to share the transport. Halleluiah was travelling on his own, hailing from the Mecca of surfing: the Hawaiian Islands. This guy was so friendly, talkative, happy and amped. For the whole drive he was psyching me out. He just went on and on about how the big swell had arrived and how heavy and fun it would be. All I could think about was whether I was going to drown this day or the next.
When we finally pulled up to our lodgings at Rafael’s, bellowing out our pre-pubescent nicknames was Marshall. He was standing on the balcony like King Kong gripping the Empire state building, welcoming us. Milko, Marshall and I had known each other for a lifetime, surfing for the love of it, mates from our home beach. Alongside Marshall was his son, Habu, a mini version of the senior. A warm and comforting feeling abounded as we hugged, laughed and joked.
”It’s pumping. Get out there!” they ordered, giving us no time to contemplate the dangers. “Just get your shit together and go.”
Fumbling through my boards, fins, fin keys, board shorts and wax, I saw Milko casually gearing up his everyday board, despite the waves being monstrous. He turned as if knowing what I was thinking and smiled, “Go with what you know”.
Walking out to the reef, Marshall was giving Milko and I the pep talk, explaining the set up and the keyhole entry point to the line up. I thought I had it sorted until my leg rope got caught on a submerged coral head and before I knew it I was stuck. The full swell surge pushed me towards the craggy reef edge, bumping me around like an epileptic in a china shop. After finally releasing myself from my uncoordinated induction with only a couple minor scratches, it was time to focus on the job at hand.
Across to the line up, I watched offshore plumes of spray as behemoth sets reeled down the reef. My haste saw me take the first wave that arrived. I rode the beast to dry reef, then tried to digest what I had just survived. As I gained confidence I tried different tactics and approaches. Some paid off, others got me seriously belted, but it was worth taking the punt in order to ride waves that were once dreams pasted to the inside page of my Year 6 school exercise book.
As I consumed a liberal mouthful of water I lay back in my bed and re-arranged my nemesis: the offending mosquito net. I wearily realised that I had not only endured the rigorous journey, but tribal instincts had allowed me to survive the greatest waves of my life thus far.