Words from Richie Inskip
It doesn’t matter what narrative you believe or follow, the pandemic had an impact on all of us.
It affected us all in a different way and we each had to find our own strategies to manage what was changing daily and unfolding at an alarming rate, right in front of our eyes. The craziest part is that we all had one thing in common, nobody had ever dealt with it before. On a positive note, it was also a chance for us all to learn something, not just about ourselves but also about other people. All of a sudden, we had the opportunity to learn about what is really important to us. Through this enforced situation of mayhem, we were all offered a chance to reflect on how we value our time and what is really important. But did being a surfer somehow make it slightly different?
As a surfer, imposed travel restrictions and not being able to get to the coast was one of the worst possible outcomes. Not being able to surf or having the right to surf often questioned by others quickly became a detrimental consequence to both our mental and physical health. And, as for anyone that takes surfing seriously, our chosen past time of wave sliding is one of our more selfish endeavours. The more honest we are with ourselves the more we accept the reality of being happy to put pumping waves before most other priorities. So, with Bojo's stay at home campaigns and the lack of good surf in Bournemouth, the already selfish drive to score some epic waves started to grow much stronger.
The gauntlet was laid and the quest of finding a pandemic trip for a bunch of average south coast surfers was born. Thankfully, due to a cancelled work contract I had been left with an open-ended return ticket to Indonesia. So, in reality, all that was required was a destination in Indo and to drum up a crew of likeminded humans willing to take the risk of booking a boat trip during this time of uncertainty. Thankfully, one local surfer (and an absolute ripper on a skateboard), Spencer 'Gnar' Lee, was about to turn 50 years of age. This offered the perfect guise to appease the significant others of those who needed it before asking the all-important question; “Honey, do you mind if I book a boat trip for my friend’s 50th birthday?”
The next important set of questions, when do we book? What boat do we go on? and where do we go? It was all going to be guess work to be fair. With Indo essentially being a third world country, the travel restrictions were always going to be way sketchy. Working on the basis that the month of May, 2022, would offer a good window of eased restrictions, we settled with it. Then we started to look at destination options with the Ments first being discussed.
But with the opening of borders would the Ments be quickly crowded by overzealous surfers quick to score some empty points? Then we remembered an article about a pirate vessel that explored Northern Sumatra called The Jiwa, which is crewed by UK surf legend Eugene Tollemache, and it immediately struck us. If you are going to book a boat trip to Indo, why not book the best-looking pirate ship in the Indian Ocean and explore the real treasures that Indo has to offer, the Banyak Islands.
Eugene is as real as they come, having spent the last 20 years pioneering waves around Northern Sumatra he really knows how to deliver a surf experience of a lifetime. On top of that, you get to be a pirate for two weeks searching for your plunder of uncrowded, perfect glassy barrels (get a few Bintangs in him and you might be lucky enough to get some Morris dancing lessons as well).
So that was it, we had booked up for a two-week boat trip to the Banyaks onboard the Jiwa, to learn the lesser-known Morris dance moves of the backhand twizzler and discover the waves we had been dreaming of through the entire of lockdown. It would be this trip that would keep us going for the next 18 months, through times of desperation and despair and through times of the inevitable flat spells of living on the south coast. We were all looking forward to becoming buccaneers, from Bournemouth to the Banyaks.
Now the beauty of a boat trip is that you don’t have to be a pro surfer to do it. It just takes a bit of organising and a willingness to pull into waves that have more consequence than the waves back home. However, organising nine men to provide all the required info, arrange a schedule and be in one place at the right time isn’t quite as simple as it should be. So, with that I'd like to take an opportunity to thank Kat at Tradewinds Adventure for being such a super star and going the extra mile in helping us organise everything.
Especially during a time when nothing was ever certain. The entry requirements and visa situation for Indo seemed to be changing weekly and there were quite a few restless night’s sleep on whether we were actually going to be able to get to Indo. The closer we got the better things seem to shape up, with visa on arrival being granted the week before our planned departure.
Domestic travel turned out to be a little more difficult than imagined with some of the smaller airports in Indo yet to re-open. But these were hurdles that were in our own hands and easily overcome. It was the hurdles that we had no control over that started to cause the most stress, like avoiding the next strain of Covid and subsequent PCR fit to fly tests. We all had our own stress management strategies but shared the same desired outcome, arriving at the airport hassle free. One of our crew, who earned the endearing term of Boat Dad ensured their safe keeping by refusing entry to a family BBQ unless a negative LFT was posted through the letter box. These were the extremes we were willing to go through to ensure the last 18 months of planning came to fruition in the best possible way.
We arrived in Jakarta feeling pretty refreshed, thanks to an unplanned layover in Doha due to a missed connecting flight. The only stress laid with crew member, Dr Tapper (not the kind of doctor you want around in a medical emergency). We all enjoyed watching Dr T ensure that the bottle of whiskey that was confiscated at Doha customs (as alcohol is prohibited) found his way back into his possession before again leaving for Jakarta. Once in Indo we made our way via a two-hour flight north to Silangit, North Sumatra, before embarking on a four-hour land crossing arriving at our final destination, the port of Sibloga. It was here we got the first glance of our home for the next 11 nights, the Jiwa.
The Jiwa (meaning 'Soul') is a splendid traditional Indonesian vessel stretching over 75ft of the most beautiful finest ironwood. She is the kind of ship that would have been sailing the same archipelago as we were about to explore. With her clean lines she easily blends into the scenery of the port that she rested in. She is a true pirate ship that only adds to the charm of the water, instead of imposing on it.
Now is a good time to introduce the south coast crew, we have already heard about Boat Dad (Spencer) and Dr Tapper (Will). The other 7 buccaneers consisted of Kiwi Karl, Craig 'Delag' Sharp, Zayd 'Freddy' Neseyif, Chris 'Bomber' Chow, Sea Sick Steve (Harry Jones), Matt Nabney and Myself.
Alongside Eugene we were also joined by Luke Palmer, our photographer. Luke originally hails from Brighton and not only is an established lensman, he absolutely charges. Some of the waves Luke and Eugene have tackled on these shores are nothing short of insane!
Their stories of 15ft monsters sound elaborate, but the pictures that back them up do not do the waves they have pioneered justice. Both of these guys are a few fins short of a thruster, absolute mad men in fact. The perfect combo to bring an inspiring energy to make sure you are in the water making the most of the waves, even on the days that you feel exhausted.
We quickly climbed on board the Jiwa from the Tender, welcomed with a cold Bintang and a safety briefing as our board bags were loaded up by an eager and epic boat crew. With the few delays we had encountered time was of the essence and we were soon in open water, sailing overnight and ready to arrive at the Bay of Plenty by first light.
We all awoke pretty damn quick, ventured onto deck to be greeted with a perfect 2-3ft clean left on one side of the ship and super rippable 3-4ft right on the other
Everyone settled in to a heart-warming first meal before spending our first night in the cabin. A few of us got a decent sleep with a few suffering the ill effects of the jet lag and a bit of sea sickness. But that didn’t stop the 6am alarm clock of Eugene frothing his way into the cabin and articulating that the surf was 'PUMPING'.
We all awoke pretty damn quick, ventured onto deck to be greeted with a perfect 2-3ft clean left on one side of the ship and super rippable 3-4ft right on the other. You can see where the name the Bay of Plenty comes from, with a bigger swell there is a vast number of options here to surf, and surf we did.
Day one equated to a solid 6-8 hours in the water, finding our feet in the wax and getting used to surfing without several millimetres of rubber. Coming straight from a British winter to the warmth’s of the tropics certainly reminds you of the importance of some good zinc, something to cushion your ribs and possibly a hat if you’re follicley challenged.
We decided to drop anchor here for the night and score a few more waves in the morning to catch the last of what was a dropping swell. Now it’s no exaggeration to say Eugene knows this area better than any other surf guide in the area. The archipelago offers so many options for an array of different waves, from long barrelling points to 'A' frame swell magnets, and if Eugene doesn’t know about it then it’s not worth visiting, which is great when on the odd occasion you run into another boat.
You'd often overhear their guide / captain asking Eugene what his thoughts were or where he was heading. He was certainly respected but still didn’t mind selling a lemon here and there to get an empty wave for his crew. So after a quick morning sail on the dropping swell Eugene informed us of his plan to catch the next swell.
This was the true meaning of the word holiday. Full and total removal from the world and its perils. Zero access to the internet
Now if you want a trip where you can do the odd bit of work, maybe touch base with home or post some content on social media, this is not the place to go. This was the true meaning of the word holiday. Full and total removal from the world and its perils. Zero access to the internet. Thankfully Eugene knows this so has a full report of the weather systems and swell in his back pocket, with the satellite phone in reserve for a quick update if needed.
The dropping swell was being pursued by a new storm and we needed to get on the move. Eugene was waiting on some hook ups for both fuel and Bintang. With the end of Ramadan both of these fuels were in high demand and short on offerings, so after stocking up in a pretty hectic incoming storm, we headed back to the open sea to get some nautical miles covered before finding shelter for the night.
Incidentally this is where Harry picked up the name Sea Sick Steve. Having been suffering the ill effects of ocean induced nausea, Harry thought it best to sit up on deck through the storm. Enduring the full force of mother nature like that scene from Forest Gump, with Lt Dan up the mast being whipped by the storm. For someone who was feeling sea sick Harry certainly embraced that storm!
We found an epic spot to settle for the night and made haste before first light. Eugene had a plan and nothing was going to stop him delivering it. A couple of hours after first light we arrived to the spot we had all come to surf, Treasure Island. Treasure Island is a long right-hand point, one of the real treasures of Indonesia and one of the best right handers Indo has to offer. Although, after the Tsunami everything shifted and it stopped breaking in the manner it had been revered for.
The wave started to fall off the map for a lot of surfers, however over the last 3-5 years everything is settling back in and Eugene was stoked to tell us that Treasures was returning back to its former glory. We arrived with the swell and from a distance it looked small and slow, but as we started to get closer, we saw a set hit the indicator before rolling onto the point and reeling down the reef. Maybe a little over head high, we watched this empty freight follow its tracks down the reef offering multiple barrel sections and full top to bottom speed lines.
With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, thoughts of reaching for a bigger slab of foam started to enter the mind. We knew the swell was going to increase and the wave was already running down the reef with speed. The take-off wasn’t super critical but the speed of the wave was going to be a challenge, so getting in that little early definitely justified a bigger board.
A couple of the crew wanted to watch a few and analyse each jewel as it let loose reflections of the unspoilt jungle that formed the backdrop. Whilst a few of us were simply frothing to get in the water and get out first taste of the pirate juice we had all been craving.
After a full day of Treasures and perfect right handers we wondered what would be in-store for tomorrow, more of the same was all we could ask for. Any trip that delivered one session like what we had just experienced pays for its self. However, we didn’t expect to get three days of the most perfect conditions. Especially with the last day just being our crew, with solid over head 4-6ft perfection.
After two days on the wave the crew really started to feel comfortable, Bomber was charging some absolute clusters on his forehand and pulling into some hearty caverns. Dr Tapper was on his backhand and if anyone is going to pull in its Tapper. Pig dogging his way through sections that a lot of regular footed surfers would struggle he made every wave count.
There is a great expression that we only grow when we are uncomfortable, and it’s fair to say that these guys certainly grew on this trip, charging bombs and pulling into waves that they’d previously only dreamt about
Whether it was a slam to the bottom of Davey Jones Locker or being spat out into the roars of our stoked crew, commitment was certainly at its highest. Unfortunately, Boat Dad had been struck with a combo of heat stroke and some toiletry issues (around 14 in one night if I recall correctly), but between bum gun sessions he managed to force himself out for a couple of surfs and changed spraying out of his backside for some solid forehand buckets.
It was also great to see Sea Sick Steve (Harry) and Freddy (Zayd) pushing themselves in the bigger sets of the day. There is a great expression that we only grow when we are uncomfortable, and it’s fair to say that these guys certainly grew on this trip, charging bombs and pulling into waves that they’d previously only dreamt about.
Matt was the other goofy surfer on trip, and his backhand certainly got a working over these three days. Between the pink zinc and party shorts Matt put in more lip filler than Katie Price, smacking the lip turn after turn all the way down the line of perfect wave after perfect wave. Heat winner was the real pirate of the trip Kiwi Karl, the Bintang fuelled Buccaneer that survives purely on beer and rollies was charging. Karl is one of those that once he starts to froth, the eyes go crazy and the sight becomes tunnelled, or in Karl’s case, tubed.
Massive hacks and stand-up barrels kept that crazy Kiwi frothing non-stop. In fact, even as I am typing this article, I am still getting messages of a frothy nature from him via WhatsApp. Craig was the only one with a point of difference to the rest of us (plus his evening stories are now legendary), unbeknown to us Craig was once hooked up as a young lad, receiving boards from down the line when he lived in Kernow. In between keeping us in evening entertainment his style entertained us in the water, showing why he had previously been flowed a few boards.
Silky smooth through his forehand snaps weaving his way down the line like one of Delags hand woven Moroccan textiles. Style for days that create memories for years.
Now the trip wasn’t all about treasures, we also scored some epic lefts and some secret swell magnets that if you are lucky enough to meet Eugene aboard the Jiwa, I’m sure you will get to experience yourself. Stories of sharing line-ups with sea snakes (not just the brown ones) the acclaimed Morris dancing lessons which you know you’ve passed when Eugene proudly proclaims, "Now that’s fucking Morris dancing boys', daily slide shows and even the ship’s captain dropping in on a Frenchman and scoring one of the barrels of the day. All these stories are left to tell but some stories are better lived than they are told, whilst other stories are left to reside in the wood that kept up a float for our time on the water.
Now we were a bunch of nine average surfers from Bournemouth who went to the Banyak’s and scored the best waves you could have dreamt of. The difference between every surfer is minimal, it’s not about how much you rip, how good you are at getting barrelled or how many waves you caught. It’s about how you invest each wave you catch, each surf session you share and each trip you experience into your memory. One day, no matter how much money you have in the bank, how big your house is or what car you drive, all you will have left is your memories. When it’s time to make a withdrawal on those memories, make sure you have the ones that count in the bank!