Words and images by Sean Jansen
We slammed to a halt in the middle of nowhere. The screeching stop woke me from my three-day travel daze, drooling on myself pressed against the window of the bus. I saw no coast, no sea, no waves. Just the maze of other buses and trucks careening down the highway like a bat out of hell.
The bus driver came walking up to me screaming in Malay. Hazily, I grabbed my backpack of camera gear, with the shoulder strap wrapped around my leg, stepped off the bus and grabbed my board bag and stood confused on the side of a Malaysian highway not having any idea where I was. Watching the bus take off leaving me in the smoke of its diesel fumes, I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
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I saw the previous week what I could only imagine being the swell of the decade to hit the South China Sea and arranged to check out this mysterious left point a friend swore to me would have incredible waves.
He knew of a local shaper to introduce me to that could put me up and show me around. All sounded good when booking the flight and bus from Kuala Lumpur, but now on the side of the road not knowing where I was, the thought of a left point break seemed bleak.
I managed to hitch a ride and tell the driver vaguely where I wanted to go. Luckily, he knew and drove me into town, only a mile or so hidden in the trees on the other side of the highway. Ran into the shaper, booked my stay for the week, and immediately eyed the sea in hopes of seeing a wave worth flying half way around the world for.
Walking out to this giant spit of sand with a forested headland, I saw nothing but brown water and dribbly little lefts peeling down the line. But looking up the point, the vision of any horny surfers wet dream appeared; a draining sand bottom with hollow doubled up barrels.
As I was catching my breathe in shock at what I was seeing, a kid went running past me with a board. A brand new, Dylan Longbottom with a Billabong sticker on it. He had to have been no older than 18, but as I watched him paddle out, it was obvious that he knew what he was doing.
I took off my backpack and put my camera together and watched this kid through my viewfinder. To my delight, my trigger finger burned my memory card at what he could do. I am unsure whether it was the fact that there was someone in the South China Sea that could actually stand up, or the fact that this kid killed it, but he surfed with style and speed. In fact, the kid had a mental layback. That is when I realised that this wave was special. But not just special, unknown. I was in a remote part of Malaysia, and was witnessing a 500-metre long wave with at least one local kid who could easily hold his own in a NSSA contest back in California.
As it turned out however, he wasn’t the only one. There were three in total that ripped. He was Yen, who continued to be the drop wallet master. Every wave, he would eye the section, pursue it with as much speed as possible, and just lay into it. He was unmistakable.
The second was Mamat, the power guy. He could throw as much spray as anyone while still having the style of Occy. Also being a jokester, he would see a friend down the line and purposely go out of the way to just spray the bits out of them while falling, giggling, knowing he got them good. Lastly was Didaqt. Didaqt was progression. Progression in that I don’t know if three months of rideable waves is enough to determine that an 18-year-old kid can do decent airs.
The next week was something I never would have expected. Everyday we had shoulder to head high waves and perfect winds with less than ten guys out. Less than ten guys at a wave that could easily give you a minute long ride. I couldn’t believe it even existed. It wasn’t even a thought on my mind a couple months ago.
We were getting fun waves and some good photos from land with the guys throwing some big maneuvers. But there was an evening where the winds switched offshore, the tide dropped and the shoulder to head high ripable point break turned into a dry, sand-sucking barrel.
I ran as fast as I could back to my room to put my housing together to get a barrel shot of these guys. It would be ridiculous to get a shot like that in the South China Sea, of an unknown kid. Nobody would believe me.
People were taking drugs and slugging beers a hundred or so kilometers from here, and I was putting my housing together and praying that a wave would go screaming past me with a local kid perfectly perched in its mouth.
While I was in my room where my cameras were, I ran into Mamat. I told him the wave was going inside out and that I was going to get my camera housing and get shots of them from the water. He turned to me and laughed and said, “You really think you are going to be able to swim out there with that current?” I paused and looked back at him almost laughing back, “Are you kidding me? Their cant be that strong a current.” He grabbed his board and continued laughing.
We got to the jump point and he paddled out and caught a wave almost instantly and got a dry barrel that vomited him out. It looked like the footage you would see of a mini Skeleton Bay. Brown water and just a mechanical barrel but one you knew if you were to fall on, you would get thrown over and land on dry sand. Coming up with it in every orifice of your body.
So I jumped out and began kicking. Kicking as hard as I could to get out past the detonation zone and in the spot. But long story short, it didn’t happen. I didn’t even come close. The current that Mamat was talking about, the current that I jokingly threw away because I thought that there was no possible way it could be that great, swept me down the point. I felt like I was in a river. I remembered trying to fight the current and kicking as hard as I could to stay where I was, only to look to the beach and realise that I was still moving down the point.
I had to get out and run up the point to try again, only to be shut down again, again, and again. There was clearly a force in the water that did not want me to capture an image of these guys. I did however manage to snap a couple of images, but nothing to the extent of the holy-grail barrel shot I had in mind.
They were telling me that there are only waves a couple months out of the year and that when there isn’t surf, they go back to their jobs working at five star hotels down the coast, saving up for the time there. Jobs working nine-months a year, and surfing for only three. The talent that they offered was beyond anything I have seen in person for such a short period of time.
These three; Mamat, Yen, and Didaqt, are going to continue this cycle until they have full sponsorship and get the opportunity to surf year round. They said that they were grateful for the three-month wave period, and wouldn’t trade it because of the lack of crowds and the quality of waves.
These guys get to surf a perfect draining left hander with hardly anyone out. Doing so alone, and sadly, unknown. The trip was better than anything I could have imagined. The waves exceeded the expectation and one day, I'd like to return to see the progression.