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South To Sian

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Harrison Roach pens his escape to seas unknown with a ’70s Landrover, a quiver of boards and a pair of bikes. Photos: Woody Gooch.

ZYE Norris and I were sitting in a Bluebird cab, wearing sweat stained t-shirts and inebriated expressions. It was 3am and the two of us had just witnessed a bule lose his two front teeth in a Balinese brawl. As with most drunken altercations, the guy on the receiving end hadn’t done much to deserve it. He was served his knuckle sandwich simply because his clothing was too ‘hip’. It didn’t take a genius to realise we would have been next if we hadn’t gotten out of there.

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Zye and I had been planning an escape from Bali in the two weeks leading up to that moment. We’d brought the surf/road trip concept, in all its sentimental glory, to Indonesia. The journey would start in Lakey Peak, where we’d surf ourselves stupid in perfect, un-crowded waves before island hopping the whole way to Lagundri Bay. For guys like us, Lagundri Bay on Nias Island is Mecca: The perfect place for us to end our long journey of self-indulgence.

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An ultimate automobile had been waiting in our villa’s driveway for such a time of flight. The weathered ‘70s Land Rover was pimped out with a tray to carry two motorbikes and a roof rack to stack a bevy of beautiful boards.

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Like Wingnut and Pat O’Connell, we were channeling Endless Summer ideas. Indonesia was where we’d find the waves of our dreams. Zye could pretend he was Robert August and I could choose between Mike Hyson and Bruce Brown, depending on my mood. Once we’d packed and bought wax, all that was left to do was inflate our ‘I can accomplish anything’ egos and get the hell out of Bali. Awesome.

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Awesome until we realised how far we had to go just to get to our starting point. Upon arrival, the waves were pumping … but why so many people? And people we knew! In The Endless Summer, neither Robert, nor Mike were ever dropped in on by someone from their hometown. Sure, Indonesia isn’t new to the surfing world. Most of its quality breaks have been found, ridden and for the sake of entrepreneurial surf capitalism, abused. But what the hell? Someone had even stolen my thongs.

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It wasn’t until we got over the fact that Lakey Peak would never live up to our film-inspired expectations that we appreciated it for what it was. In gusty offshore winds, dreamy three-meter cylinders spun along the reef. When we left after a week of waves, Zye decided the amount of time we spent in the barrel was worth a hundred pairs of thongs, at least.

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Our phone’s GPS system stopped working shortly after our departure. All of the travel stories I’d read in the lead up to this had implied that getting lost is a great part of the experience, but after ten hours of driving, the idea of misadventure had lost its charm. Our old Land Rover puttered through the mountains before reaching a gradient that had it beaten. Yep, we were stuck halfway up a hill. It was then that we realised the Land Rover didn’t perform as well as it looked.

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A few rice farmers crowded around and it was the first time of many that we paid the price for not knowing the local language. The only ‘sentence’ we could muster was “Jalan jalan ferry?” Unfortunately, ferry meant nothing to the farmers and their eagerness to please was wasted on the breeze.

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Egos now well and truly M.I.A, we retraced our steps, found the correct route and made it to the Lombok ferry a full day later than expected. Back online we found the surfing world was in its psychotic, code red mode. A huge swell was on its way and friends, friends of friends and friends we didn’t even know were all giving their own opinions of where would be best spot.

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Even with my amateur knowledge, I knew the direction was perfect for Desert Point. And it just so happened Desert Point was only a short drive from the harbour.

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We were filled with horrid excitement. It wasn’t going to be big. It was going to be huge.

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The four days of swell that followed were some of the wildest days of our lives. Only a handful of the surfers in town gave it their all and their reef cuts could have easily been misconstrued for marks left by a tiger’s claw. Desert Point was three hundred metres worth of mind-blowing intensity with no room for escape. Many an alpha male felt a curbing of enthusiasm with his back oozing blood and his board in two pieces. It was thrilling.

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Afterward we found ourselves excited about the lack of red colour on swell charts. To be fair, both of us had just had our ass handed to us more than we were willing to admit. Some time out of the water would do wonders for our deflated egos. Not to mention the tender reef cuts scattered all over our bodies.

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Next stop was a tiny town two kilometers above sea level where three active volcanoes sat waiting to erupt. We first heard of Gunung Bromo from a friend who’d said the scene was breathtaking and the surrounding area a dream for camping and motorcycle riding: our kind of heaven. He was not wrong.

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It makes sense, being over two kilometers above sea level, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t suprised at how cold it was. It felt and looked like we were in Nepal, not Indonesia, and the whole place had a sulfuric, rotten egg stench. When the volcanoes came into view it quickly faded from our minds, if not our nostrils, and we tried unsuccessfully to compose our ‘I’m not shocked by anything’ attitudes. It was breathtaking. The center volcano shot thick plumes of grey smoke into the sky, its crater enormous.

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For the next week we rode our bikes on one magic piece of terrain after another. Zye and I flew up and down volcanic sand gullies. We used each turn like a berm and each bump like a jump. Our confidence turned to cockiness (the egos having returned) and it was only a matter of time before we had a string of fantastic spills. We took on one mound at full pace, not realising the sheer stupidity of it until both bike’s wheels had left the ground … there was a ditch behind the mound. I slammed into it and onto the dirt but somehow Zye managed to come out unscathed. Curled up in the fetal position with the wind knocked out of me, I looked and wondered how he’d done it. In what became a common occurrence, Zye laughed while I struggled to breathe.

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When we tired of riding, we trekked to the volcano’s crater. The two of us sat on the edge and stared at its hissing cavern with stunned, muted expressions, before walking back down, feeling insignificant in the scheme of the world.

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And that’s about where we’re at right now, packing up a tent underneath a volcano in the middle of Java. It’s time to put the old Land Rover back into gear and hit the road. Next stop is Sumatra and then the Mentawaii islands, before moving on to our final destination and Mecca, Lagundri Bay.