The Awera Files #4

Suicides is painless.

If possible, it is best to read this humming the theme music from the M.A.S.H. TV series, “Suicide is Painless”…just a thought

Suicides is the right hand break that is straight out in front of the camp and is about a leisurely twenty minute paddle from the beach.  It requires a bit of swell to work as it is tucked inside the bay.  On the 2012 Awera Trip, nature was pretty chilled and only delivered a bare minimum when it came to swells travelling up across the Indian Ocean to the coastline of Indonesian Archipelago but not enough for Suicides to pump.

It was a different story in 2014.

My first memory of Suicides this trip was Blackie being caught inside and having his first encounter with the sharp coral reef. There he was standing knee high on the reef with the arse torn out his boardies, Suicides 1 Surfers 0.

Over the next two weeks, Suicides ranged in size from out of the sky hairy big (15 ft) when experienced big wave surfer, Mark Matthews took it on with the help of a jet ski to the more gentle mechanical swells rolling across the reef. I settled on the later more than the former as I know my limitations. When the swell peaked that day, the whole bay was alive with water swirling in each and every direction and defying any of my logic about how ocean swells and currents work.  This particular day, in the afternoon, Gaz and I decided to take on the peak (3-4 ft) about 50 metres off the beach and while it only took seconds to reach the peak, it took about good 20 minutes to get back in, I had paddled out as a rooster and once again I had been totally feather-dusted by Huey.

Suicides was a very popular wave that season as it is a quality right hander that breaks with the swell and wind directions we were experiencing.  Sometimes that meant that the waves at times had to be shared with too many surfers for too few waves but you take what you can when nature provides and to be honest, a few quality waves in an idyllic place shared with friends epitomizes the joy of being a surfer.  It is also offers the opportunity to meet new friends and meet the local surfers.  While the young lady with the very brief bikini who I shared a paddling tip with so she could improve her enjoyment is somewhat engraved in my brain, so was the time when a fellow surfer introduced me to the term Sea Beggar, the new moniker for knee boarders, I can relate to that and I happily resemble it.

Mickey, Wild Simon, Silverfish, Blackie, Chipper, Gaz and I were able to regularly dine on the tasty treats that Suicides provided. If it wasn’t for some of the accompanying images, it would be hard to separate the sessions as they dissolved into each other. Thanks to Chipper, Wild Simon and Captain Pete for capturing the essence of Suicides and the joy it delivers.

I mentioned that Suicides is a reef of sharp coral so cuts and slashes are common and it is pretty safe to say that we all left a bit of our DNA on the reef, not intentionally but just being part of the game.  The underwater pic shows how much or how little clearance there is between fin and coral so your skin isn’t that much further away.

Later on the trip Suicides was to claim one of my fins and as I only travel with one board I had enlisted the skills of our resident “ding fixer”, Mr. Chipper to fix the smashed fin box so I could get back in the water.  I looked on offering minimum help, my normal offering as Chipper happily worked away when three local coconut farm workers walking up the beach approached to watch him apply his craft. Chipper explained as well as he could in “his” Indonesian balanced with their limited English but smiles and gestures all work as part of language. One the workers noticed our most recent cut and slashes from the morning session and smiled/laughed, as he pulled up the leg of his trousers to show us his “Suicides Tattoos” as he called them. I can clearly remember the history of scars crisscrossing his legs, the white teeth of his broad smile as he was wearing them with pride.

My Suicides experience will never be forgotten as I continue to share my memories.




The Awera Files #3

There are always down times between surf sessions ….enter Phil aka Fingers.  I have had the pleasure of sharing four of my surfing adventures with him …always memorable.

I have to admit that travelling around Indonesia wth Fingers seems to coincide with stomach issues but not from reactions to the local food or water but from extended sessions of deep belly laughing. He keeps us in stiches regaling stories and then the rest of the time it is either just laughing with him or at him for simply him being him.  Someone once said that you don’t remember the days in your life but the events that you experience, I have numerous memories dotted through our travels where he had me in stiches…I remember them all.

30 june 2012.. 3360

The world according to Fingers, the stories of the life, some true, some not so true but always entertaining.  At times the verandah of our rustic accommodation became a stage for “Awera’s Mister Phil”, the David Letterman of Awera.  There he would sit, leaning back in the blue plastic chair sharing stories from his youth in Victoria, the life and times on the Gold Coast and everything in between in no particular order at all.   At times you felt you could have been a guest on the show being interviewed about some moment in time or event you had shared with him.

There is also a thinker in Fingers who likes to discuss the deeper philosophical issues of life.  Awera has long white sandy beaches where the only sounds are the odd screeching bird and the gentle lapping of waves crumbling on the shore, a great environment for free thinking.  I would like to state that I am sure that on some of the strolls along the beach, we probably solved the problems of the world but before we documented them for the greater good of the planet, we would get distracted by a group of hermit crabs on the beach and end up pondering what life would be like if we carried our home on our back.

There is also Fingers the Photographer.   On the 2012 Awera trip, Fingers was our David Attenborough focusing on the local insect population.  Now the cameramen working for David Attenborough has much more sophisticated equipment than our budding lens man and also take into consideration the flighty nature of the chosen subject but his determination was both intense and amusing, mainly when just as he was about the click the subject would again evade him.

Creative Fingers.  He doesn’t like to be idle and has a creative side and we were very lucky that on this trip he had decided to make a woven hat made from a palm frond.  On one of his previous trips he brought back a ceremonial woven hat from West Timor and he had always spoken about making one.   The end product was a masterpiece and a great reward for his enthusiasm and his sense of style.  I am not sure where the first Awera Ceremonial Headdress is today and whether it is being used in some formal capacity but I can say I was there when the tradition was started.

And the reason we are at Awera, there is Surfing Fingers, the natural footer from suburban Melbourne who started later than some but is still charging. Our paths first crossed around Wonthaggi, Victoria sometime in 1982 and my life has never been the same since.   Thanks Fingers for adding colour to my life and it is time to start planning for our next surf adventure!

All photos : Simon Chipper

The Awera Files #2

I have owned a surfboard for over 40 years, not all those years was I an active surfer, but maybe a surfer in mind only at times but still a surfer. Did I ever imagine that 40 years after buying my first surfboard that I would be still chasing waves with a band of friends on a desert island on the perimeter of the Indian Ocean…not this little black duck?

The tropical storm meanders off down the coast; we dry off as we introduce ourselves to our new world. So here we are some 7000 kilometres from home as the crow flies,  a bunch of surfing gypsies about to call Awera Surf Camp home for the next ten days. If I take you back to that cultural classical Australian movie, the Castle, where Michael Caton has a line something about this is not a house it is a home that changes the course of the movie, well Awera Island feels like home to me.

Imagine long sandy beaches lined with palm trees and crystal clear water, Awera certainly has all that. Awera doesn’t have a pool, bar or restaurant. It is small and it comfortably sleeps six guests with a team of four to make our time memorable. The camp is cut out of the jungle overlooking the bay and if you can imagine Gilligan’s Island but without Maryanne, Ginger and Mrs Thurston Howell but with five Gilligans, you are close to the mark.

No roads no cars and no machinery to speak of on the island but a generator for power and our boat to transport us to the waves.

What is the attraction of surfing, it’s hard to put it into words  so I won’t try as many a skilled wordsmith has attempted to “capture surfing” in words so I will leave it to 60’s Hawaiian surfer Paul Strauch, Jr. He puts it this way, “Surfing is very much like making love. It always feels good, no matter how many times you’ve done it.

Our idea of a holiday/adventure is not for everyone.  In a world where Risk Management has become a catch cry as we try to negate risk, many a dinner party conversation isn’t complete without the topic of the risks of travelling in Indonesia (sans bombing) and the dangers that can be associated with surfing this delightful archipelago. Life is a risk but some of us accommodate risks far better than others.  Risks in the western world are more in relation to inadequate medical insurance or insufficient superannuation to allow you to live a life that you are accustomed to; probably the greatest risks are driving a car or being out in public after midnight.

Back to Awera and to quote the Aussie vernacular, Shit happens.

Post storm and with fuel in our bellies we head off to crack our trip open and we load up the boat with bodies, boards and enthusiasm and make out way to Icelands.  How does a large left hand wave in the middle of the tropics get called Icelands, well I can’t give you a definitive answer but I am sure there is a story to be told but that’s for another time.

So the five Gilligans, myself, Wallaby, Fingers, Blackie and Chips arrive at Icelands with small inviting waves and within minutes we are “overboard” and paddling across the coral reefs and charging to the lineup.  Did I say shit happens some time, well, Chips took a small innocuous wave and while exhibiting the correct “bail out” procedure he teaches as a well-credentialed surf coach in Australia his left forearm comes in contact with a coral head.  No glorified graze, a deep three inch slash to his inner forearm that has blood dripping from his arm and a rather shocked man trying not to panic.  We are some 30 minutes from camp via our trusty boat and basic first aid is applied by Pete our surf guide and host at the surf camp (thanks to Steph, Blackie’s wife for the first aid kit as she is a nurse in the emergency ward on the Gold Coast). Chips is bandaged up and is back in the boat and off to the hospital at Tua Pegat (the capital of the Mentawais) as the sun begins to set.

As good hearted Australians we can only find humour in the whole event, which of course becomes funnier as the Bintangs (local beer) kick in.  Time elapses as it must and with no sight of the returning boat, the conversation begins on who gets what of his gear if he never returns.  It is quickly established that the prize is his “Chicko Roll” t-shirt that will have to go to auction.  More time elapses and more Bintangs consumed as we hear the sound of the boat returning across the bay.

Our demeanour is relaxed thanks to the Bintangs and our obnoxious humour doesn’t go unnoticed by our fallen comrade on his return; the scars of battle stitched back together, about 10 stitches to be exact. While we try our best at being compassionate to his plight he sees through the façade and trudges off to bed while we drink another Bintang to honour the return of our injured wave warrior.

To be continued….



The Awera Files #1

30 june 2012.. 3291

The Awera Files are a series of short stories or essays from my trips to the Mentawai  Islands during 2012 and 2014.

Each file will feature an insight into the minds and lives of a few intrepid adventurers who seek enjoyment and the challenge of surfing waves in a pristine environment. To begin with let’s talk geographically; the Mentawai Islands are a chain of about seventy islands and islets off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia with a population of less than 100,000 and covering approximately 6000 square kilometres.(thanks Wikipedia) The capital is Tua Pejat and is situated on Palau Sipura. The word palau means island and the Awera Island Surf Camp is situated on Palau Pototoga which is a small island (no vehicles or roads) just north of Sipura and takes about 30 minutes to travel there by charter boat from the port in Tua Pejat.

If you do want to know more about the historical and anthropological aspect of the Mentawai’s it is best to travel this route

For the last 30 years the Mentawais have been the playground for travelling surfers from all over the world. Whether travelling on large charter boats or staying in land camps, every surfer has a memory and tale to tell and these are some of mine.  There are number of political and social issues that have become prevalent in recent years with the number of charter boats and surf camps increasing and the benefits not being returned to the local communities.  I will keep that for a later date as this file is dedicated to just getting there.

I board my plane at the Gold Coast airport and roughly seven hours later I am circling above the metropolis called Kuala Lumpur or KL in our Air Asia flight. I always enjoy the first flight of any adventure as the excitement and adrenalin offer the “travelers high”.  KL is just a stopover or transit stop where I and my fellow adventurers congregate for our next trip, the short flight to Padang.

Now Padang is no Bali and for that I am eternally grateful.  The commercial overlay in the modern town of Kuta and the surrounding districts has created a tourist mecca while places like Padang have maintained their local charm and character.  In other words, tourists are the exception in Padang and not the norm.

The next stage on the journey is the overnight ferry ride from Padang to Tua Pejat. Now the ferry not only transports tourists and locals alike between the island and the mainland but also all the supplies including the chickens and general supplies.

We secured the cabins for the trip meaning we get a room and a bed while the locals will make do with a space on the deck or any other space where they can get comfortable.  I am amazed at their ability to even sleep on a motorcycle if necessary but then life in the Mentawai’s is very removed from my life in middle class Australia.

My sleep is disrupted by the drone of the engines and the occasional rocking and rolling of our vessel.  I do get some sleep but I am finally woken by the sounds of shouts of the crew as we arrive at our port and the process of unpacking starts.

It’s takes about an hour from arriving to being transferred with our gear to our surf charter boat and meeting Pete, our tour guide and we then start out last leg of the journey to our home for the next 10 days.

On my first trip in 2012, I joined Wallaby, Fingers, Chipper and Blackie. As our charter boat left the port and heads off across the channel a sudden cloudburst like I have never seen before unleashes on us. If you haven’t been in a tropical cloudburst it is hard to find suitable words to describe the feeling, wet doesn’t cover it, drenched comes closer by saturated almost wins. Initially you try to stay dry and protect your paperwork and gear. Next stage is not worrying about your gear but keeping your passport and travel documents as dry as possible. The next stage after that is totally forgetting about keeping anything dry and just taking in the experience. The sound of this transition is first of concern to keep things dry to muffled expletives. The next stage is from muffled expletives to colourful expletives cursing the weather which progresses to us being totally drowned out by our own laughter from so deep in our bellies it hurts.  Just getting there is an adventure.

To be continued…..


The Golden Glasses Project continues…

Between leaving the Umina Point General Store and driving north up Highway 1 and dropping in on friends at Valla Beach, the Golden Glasses Project had begun.

It is about “who wears” the Golden Glasses so my challenge or quest is to capture an image of the people in my life wearing the Golden Glasses.

I look forward to having the opportunity to add you to the project and now I would like to share the first 100 in no particular order