“There is nothing new under the sun.” Legend has it that the wisest man in the world said that, and in this era of online information overload it often seems to be true. But there are a few people out there who refuse to accept that everything has already been done—who are looking for more than just a good time.
They want to do something original, to go somewhere that no one has gone, see things that have never been seen, perhaps ride a wave that has never been surfed.
A few decades ago, this wasn’t so difficult to do. But today, with daily flights to every corner of the globe, and Google Earth beaming down satellite images of every nook and cranny on every coast, it takes a lot to actually discover a wave—and even more to discover a good one.
The only uncharted stretches of coastline left are those that are dangerous or dirty or lacking access, so the would-be explorer has to be pretty damned committed. They have to be willing to sacrifice comfort and safety, but more than that, they also have to be willing to sacrifice a sure thing. And these days, that is asking a lot.
We had waited three years for the right swell to light up a specific sandbar
Our little crew was willing to make that sacrifice. We had waited three years for the right swell to light up a specific sandbar, spent hours reviewing historic forecasts for the area and exchanging dozens of emails with MSW head forecaster Ben Freeston in an attempt to figure out what size and direction swell we needed.
And suddenly that swell was on the radar, chugging straight at our spit, just begging to be discovered. All we had to do was pull the trigger....
I can vividly recall the moment I first saw footage of Skeleton Bay. I remember feeling two nearly opposite emotions at the same time. On the one hand, I was mesmerised, and overwhelmingly stoked that a wave like this existed. But at the same time, I knew that there could surely only be one of these anomalies in the world—and it was a left. A fricking left. For a regularfoot, that was like discovering sex exists, a day after being castrated.
I spent the next 10 years dreaming about a right-hand version of Skeleton Bay—and despairing at the fact that there would likely never be one. But then, 18-months-ago, Mick Fanning revealed The Snake. And suddenly everything changed. From the footage, this appeared to be what I’d been waiting for—an endless, dredging right-hand sand bar.
Like a lot of other people, I started searching—scouring Google Earth, picking through the edit frame by frame, looking for hints, throwing myself completely into the process of sniffing out this setup.
Eight months later, Natxo Gonzalez dropped an edit, and suddenly there were two stretches of sand for regular-foots to froth over. And so the search became even more frantic—and in the process, a handful of us found a handful of spits on Google Earth that had the potential to do what Mick’s and Natxo’s and Namibia’s had already proven was possible—to produce the best, longest barrel in the world.
One of those sand bars finally got the swell it was waiting for—the kind of swell that comes around once every few decades, if at all—and rather than making a pilgrimage to the obvious spots with the rest of the chasers and chargers and media hounds, a few of us went looking for something different. And we did so without telling each other, of course—because when you are looking for the world’s best wave, you don’t tell anyone else what you are doing or where you are going. And yet, inevitably, you still end up running into the same small crew wherever you go, no matter how far off the beaten track you might be. Which is all part of the fun.
The sand bar we flocked too had remained unsurfed for a number of reasons. The first was obvious—it needed a particular swell event that no one had ever seen before. But that wasn’t the only thing that had kept it virgin. It was also located in a region that had little to no experience with tourists, which meant that logistics were a nightmare.
The sand bar we flocked too had remained unsurfed for a number of reasons
Finding someone who spoke a few words of English was difficult enough—explaining to them why and when and where we needed to be taken was virtually impossible. And that was before the authorities got involved and dragged a crew of four away to the police station, where they were interrogated and then told they couldn’t visit the stretch of coastline in question without official “permissions”—permissions that were never granted, of course.
It took two days of wandering the sea port and two hours of bribery before a group of local fishermen finally agreed to take us where we wanted to go. They followed a circuitous route—hiding up rivers and behind rocks, dodging the police, running out of diesel and calling their friends to bring more so that we could finally make it to the bottom of an endless point.
It was a desolate, dirty strip of brown, full of all sorts of things that would make you not want to camp there—cows and crabs, trash and shit, mosquitoes and flies that descended upon you like a plague and drew blood with every bite. Unfortunately, half of us decided that sleeping in the sand was the only way to avoid arrest—and suffered about as bad of a night as you could dream up. The rest snuck back to a nearby village to sleep, with plans to come back out for a second look at the wave long before sunrise, when the cops were less likely to be patrolling.
Unfortunately, half of us decided that sleeping in the sand was the only way to avoid arrest
The next morning, as the swell filled in, we got a glimpse at the wave’s full potential, and it was virtually identical to Mick’s—sandy and heavy and hollow and long. There was only one difference: It was faster than it should have been. Inexplicably and frustratingly fast. Three of the world’s best sandbar surfers were there, yet the barrels that were successfully ridden over two days could be counted on one hand, and no one could explain why that was.
The wave we came to call “Permissions” had all of the ingredients of Mick’s and Natxo’s and Namibia’s—the right swell direction, the right bathymetry, the right everything—but it ran at a relentless rate that couldn’t be matched.
The wave was a mirage, a glorified skunk, a sacrifice for all of the times we have scored in the past, and all the times we will hopefully score in the future. But it was a sacrifice we had to make, because if we hadn’t come, we wouldn’t have known—and that’s far worse than getting left behind by an endless tube.
It was virtually identical to Mick’s—sandy and heavy and hollow and long. There was only one difference: It was faster than it should have been
The wave could have been just a touch slower, and just a touch bigger, and just a touch more makeable. It could have been perfect. Maybe the next one will be.