The Bono is Open For Business

Just a few full moons back, the Bono tidal bore, in Eastern Sumatra, represented the most exciting surf discovery to date. The forbidding jungle and opaque water were a far cry from the crystalline tubes shots that are usually beamed out of Indo, and the idea of a 18 mile ripable wall titillated the imaginations of wave riders across the globe.

There have been some newcomers since the first tentative explorations. As with every spot that garners international attention, it wasn't long before tour guides, local surfers and groups of visitors were joining the crocodiles for some lunar powered fun.

French bore fanatic, Antony "Yep" Colas, was one of the pioneers of the wave, making his first trip up the Kampar River over three years ago. He now runs surfing tours on the Bono for small groups eager to sample one of the most unique experiences in wave riding. We got in contact with Antony to hear some of his highlights and horror stories, three seasons in.

Three years in, how has the scene changed?

You know what, not much, really. There are a dozen local riders now on the last section before Teluk Meranti village on resin boards, which have been given by the Kerinci Province, and another dozen riders on local wooden boards at Teluk Binjai, after the main village. Other than that, the zone is vast and empty. We're the only operator there, so the 30 km with 2hours of breaking waves is still virgin. Ok, there is a festival, Nov 17-20, this year, the Bekudo Bono, where lots of boats come, cruise the lineup and make the place look like a circus. But there are still lots of empty moments on the 80-90 days where Bono delivers the goods.

What problems have you faced setting up the tours?

There are 2 sources of problems. One is human, we work with two Indo pilots; Eddie is from Teluk Meranti, while Rio comes from Padang. They speak a bit of English, but they're not great entertainers or colourful surf guides. They know what they have to do in terms of safety procedures, rescue techniques and boat maintenance, but their briefing abilities are still pretty poor. So, most of the our guests deal with that, because they understand what to do. Guests looking for coaching and literate guides feel ill at ease. Most of our guests are either experienced surfers willing to have a taste at a different wave, or tidal bore addicts who want a tropical bore with adequate boat organization, which is only in Brazil or Indonesia at this stage. Actually, our next trip (Sept 19-22) will involve the experts from Pororoca in Brazil: Sergio Laus and Everaldo "Pato" Teixeira. We had trouble last year after I capsized one boat, (see further).

Have you had any dangerous moments?

To tell you the truth, not really. On Jan 2012, I tried to jump from behind the boat to the head of the wave, which we call "British take-off" since the Severn addicts have been mastering that technique. And I messed up, the boat driver messed up and the boat fell on me, and capsized. Not a big deal, no one hurt, but it took 8 hours to make the engine/carburettor work again for the next day. That was the first and last time one of our boats capsized.

As surfers, we've been stuck on dry land, in front of the bore, when you hit the shallows. Eddie calls one corner "Donkey Bay" because you don't want to follow the bore all the way, because you get dragged in ankle-high waters, trying to avoid whatever comes at you. Nothing like death, but stressful, and easy to snap a fin! Bono eats fins, we actually break quite a few, bring an extra set!

There has been a huge emphasis on crocs but I've been there 6 times, around 35 days riding and I've never seen any! I am not saying there are no crocs but the chance of seeing one is very slim, and to have one swimming in turbulent waters and get you, feels like being struck by lightning twice, or something like that.

It's always a breathtaking rush to see the first whitewater wall of the day coming at you, because there is so much water behind and there has been so much anticipation prior than that. But it's like a love meeting, when you wait for a date, your heart is racing because you know something intense will come. It's not really fear. Once your start riding the wave, it's game on, and the fear disappears like it never happened.

Can you foresee crowds becoming a problem?

So far, no. Local guys have no boats because of the costs, and when they do use a local boat as a backup, no way the local speedboat can impact the wave like our RIB's are doing to rescue the surfers. Locals are riding 2 sections out of 10, hey that's their land, right! And those 2 sections, are the end of the line, so you're happy to finally share with some guys.

If there were other operators, that'd be a problem because riding space is actually not unlimited and boats would create wakes and be dangerous for some riders. Boat drivers usually look behind at the Bono, not at the other guests if they jump in the front. We've met the government and told them Bono is not Mentawaii. Surfers, or waveriders bring the show. If they want crowds, which they do, those crowds have to sit on the bank.

If they come on boats, they will alter the pleasure of riders, and become dangers, and expose themselves. During the Bekudo Bono Carnival, some local boats have capsized and guys can't even swim. So trouble may happen on this side.
But so far, the circus is only once a year, the overwhelming majority of the good Bono days are totally empty!

What are your highlights from surfing the bore?

Lengths of rides! Brits Steve King and Nathan Maurice rode for 1h 04 (20.5km) last february (waiting for the record to be official by Guinness). Riding a 20 minute wave is not uncommon, which means heaps of roundhouse cutbacks, and good fun riding a liquid moving mountain. It's liquid snowboard! My unofficial record is one hour, 33 min up and 27min down, to be split in 6 different sections. You have your own moments, then you meet with the other riders, sometimes you get frustrated because you fall, make wrong choices.

Do you have any big plans for the future?

No big plans, just plans to make it even. We're a bunch of friends, called the Bonoboyz, who put a bit of money on the table to run those operations. No one wants to grow it as a real business because we don't live there and we have no plans to do so. So, we just need want the dice to keep rolling, knowing it's not a huge recreation area for big numbers. We're trying to set up some "rodeo Bono " for the non-surfers to have a taste at this amazing natural phenomenon, because we need some money to keep up our operations with good standards. But we have no plans to build a hotel, "a Bono lodge", get a handful of boats or things like that. It may happen in the long run from other sides, or because of pressure, but not in the coming years. Time to come to check it out before the circus comes to town!

Photos courtesy of BonoSurf.

Struan Gray

Writer and Content Manager