Everyone deserves a ‘happy place’. For some that may be beside a crackling campfire with your pals. For others, it may be in the bosom of a plus-sized school matron. Al Hudson finds his in the thumping waves of Lombok.
‘It’s a steep drop-off and shallow as hell, but once you’re tucked in there the ride is unreal. No real exit point, just jump and hope for the best.’
I nod, hoping my face looks calm, almost bored, whereas inside the brain is on defcon four and people are running around in panic, trying to load children into escape rafts or crying maniacally in the corner. In these cases I am aware in the rational part of my mind that these aforementioned barrels are objectively a good thing, but I am equally aware that it probably spells catastrophe for me.
That’s the reality – I just don’t get to surf often enough to develop beyond a level of flat competency, but I’ll usually only admit it in a quiet bar after a couple of beers, whilst angrily wiping away a tear and furtively looking around for real surfers who might hear and subsequently make comments calculated to expose me for the charlatan I am.
It’s always been a dream to live in a place where I can roll out of bed and into the whitewater, but for now I have to make do with a twice-yearly dosage and put on a brave face whenever I’m staring down 8-foot walls. My countenance appears relaxed, yet there’s often a thin, weaselly squeal of noxious gas emanating from my boardshorts as I anticipate stacking the first of the set and taking the remaining five on the head.
Keeping my thorough mendacity in mind, Lombok has always been a great place to surf – and particularly Gerupuk Bay – a lagoon in the south of the island that sports six or seven lovely breaks which work in different ways on almost any swell.
The village of Gerupuk is run by a conglomerate of feral chickens who have grudgingly allowed some humans to inhabit the place – but the population imbalance is such that the chickens will always remain dominant and the place currently maintains an uneasy truce which feels at risk of breaking down into savage conflict at any moment.
“My countenance appears relaxed, yet there’s often a thin, weaselly squeal of noxious gas emanating from my boardshorts as I anticipate stacking the first of the set and taking the remaining five on the head.”
A typical day in Gerupuk proceeds thus:
Regardless of your own illusions of free will and self-determination, the chickens gather around your chosen abode at 5am each morning and assert their dominance through launching an unholy cacophony of clucking and squawking until you lurch, sobbing, out of bed.
You come-to on a small wooden launch – the sky is dark, the morning air cold, and in a couple of minutes you’ll be pushed off the side of the boat with only a surfboard to keep you alive through a relentless barrage of perfect, peeling left and right-handers.
For half an hour, a relentless symphony of empty, glassily majestic waves plays out, before the sun rises and you have to actually share with other people.
You might see one or two other people out as well, usually heavily gnarled Aussies who have presumably been surfing that spot since man developed opposable thumbs – they’re always good for a quick hello as you paddle past, before your boat captain yells over that you’re lining up in completely the wrong place and will be taken to pieces in the approaching set.
The sun begins to rise over the sea, and swell rolls in from the mouth of the bay, breaking on each spot in succession, forming waves perfect for a surfer at any stage of their game.
If you’re out with a local from the village, they can read this stuff as easily as you can read a facebook update: The swell hits Outsides first of all, throwing heavy barrels onto a shallow reef next to the cliff walls of the Bay’s entrance.
Based on what’s observed out there, almost a kilometre away, they reposition with the kind of accuracy that would make a brain surgeon blush – waiting around 40 seconds for the same swell to hit the inside breaks of Don Dons, Kid’s Point and the ingeniously named ‘Insides’, where it delivers the kind of waves that make you want to drop to your knees and thank God you were born a quasi-amphibious carbon-based sentient lifeform.
Is it morphing into an unhappy place?
After breakfast and a quick nap, the afternoon session awaits and this is where it tends to get a little more touch-and-go. Gerupuk Bay is an absolute winner if, like me, you’re just not seasoned enough to head off to Desert Point with the big kids.
It’s got it all, for every level, but the infrastructure is such that it’s still way more empty than it should be – and long may this continue. But, the thing is, it won’t. Surf companies have increasingly made the Bay a stop on their tours, meaning that for a couple of days you’ll have to compete with swathes of Koreans who, all wearing the same rash guards, will drop in on you with such maddening relentlessness that within minutes you’ll be reduced to a twitching, gibbering shell of your former self.
What’s more, most of the land around Gerupuk has been bought up for development into resorts and golf clubs. This transformation is underway, and the majority of the jungle and grassland within kilometres of the village has been cleared into barren development sites – even the villagers themselves concede that within five years they’re not going to be able to live in the place that’s been theirs for the past two hundred.
However, all is not lost – there are some great people doing remarkable work to help slow the insidious creep of modernisation on this surf paradise.
The Lombok Surf Club, for example, not only employs a large number of the young men from the village, but also provides free language tutoring and education programs to the children who live there, so that when the inevitable march of ‘progress’ reaches their village, they will at least have some of the skills to cope and make the best of it.
But it feels kind of sad, that there seems to be no plausible resistance to the gradual homogenisation of the world and the experiences available in it – especially when money is involved.
The only practical response seems to be to prepare to meet the new world on its own terms. A new world where it doesn’t matter one bit if you can spear a fish, set a lobster trap or repair a fishing net. Where keeping a 50-year old boat engine running without spare parts doesn’t matter because the only way to pay for the cable TV subscription you didn’t know you needed is to clock in an extra 20 hours overtime at the newly-opened golf resort down the beach.
This is all in the mail, but it’s not landed yet – so if Gerupuk sounds like your scene then now’s definitely the time. If you’re anything like me, then there aren’t many places in the world where you can get a robust wave count in conditions like these, three times daily, without hanging off the shoulder like an unwelcome dinner party guest and eating the table scraps.
Finishing the day with eight hours of waves under your belt, sharing a cold, sunset beer with some of the reliably unusual people one tends to come across in places like this, and casually embellishing stories of the rides you caught – it just doesn’t get much better than that.
I don’t know much, but I do know that if you don’t know, now you know. Over and out.