Things this morning had been going too smoothly for this part of the world. Tidak apa apa. No prrrroblem, boss.
We’d rolled through the rice paddies just as the crown of Agung was being outlined against the dawn. The swell we’d waited patiently for had finally filled in overnight, the morning was breathless and sweet, and Keramas was suddenly right there in front of us, firing, as good as most of us have ever seen it. It was barreling from up there to down there and after four laydays the decision to surf heats today was a fait accompli.
Only that the PA was on the blink. The first heat had paddled out and was ready to go, flawless surf continued to march through the break, only that there was no PA to announce scores…Third World problem meet First World problem: a three million dollar contest now paralysed by a blown fuse, a dog chewing through a power lead, or a generator placed below the high tide line. This is Indonesia, and the fact the contest hasn’t started on time once since we got here is not hitherto unexpected for anyone who has traveled the archipelago. But for every problem like this, there is an Indonesian hero barefoot in an unwashed yellow shirt with a missing tooth and a roll of tape ready to swing into action and save the day.
Adi is our sound technician, and has been sleeping in the commentary booth on a foam mattress and blanket of peanut shells to keep an eye on things around the clock—at least I think that’s why he’s sleeping in there—and to say he was a little discombobulated by his baby refusing to work at such a critical juncture was understating it. My Bahasa was better than his English, and from what he was telling me I could make out that he’d checked the PA last night and everything had been cool, but as for what exactly was the problem was now, he was f–ked if he knew.
What followed was some feverish and random plugging and unplugging of leads, Adi sticking screwdrivers into live power sockets, and at one stage even staring intently at the mixing board muttering some quasi-religious incantation to bring the thing to life.
Eventually—by luck or design Adi was not sure—the lights on the mixing board flashed to life, the PA barked, and the first wave was surfed in anger…but not before half an hour had elapsed. Adi was the butterfly in the Amazon today, and the lost half hour would prove a crucial to the fate of a certain South African title contender.
The spluttering PA wasn’t the only onsite emergency this morning. The new swell was piggybacking on a big tide, and the two-story bamboo contest tower was threatening to become an ark. The tower had been built on the beach above the safety of the high tide line, the only problem being that the high tide line this morning was about a hundred yards back in a rice paddy. The media centre on the lower level had become an aquarium, and the sets surged across the beach taking whatever flotsam or corn-rowed European backpacker it encountered with it.
“The swell had a real energy to it,” offered Parko, whose heat against Damien Hobgood—the third of the morning—wore the front edge of the pulse that was rearing up out of the depths between Keramas and Nusa Lembongan. It was well north of 6 foot, gaping, and the pair made the most of it. Their sevens became eights, their eights nines, and suddenly 10s threatened. But even with a near-perfect 9.93 Damo couldn’t get near Joel who again owned an early round.
Damo made for the beach gesticulating that the judges had crushed the scoring scale, going too high, too early. “And there wasn’t even a proper barrel in that heat! You could get barreled from there,” pointing up to the keyhole at the top of the point, “all the way down to there,” sweeping his arm to the north. With the swell still building and conditions nigh on perfect, who knew what the rest of the day held. “What happens when someone gets a proper one?” he asks rhetorically to whoever was listening at the time. The Proper Ones, however, never materialized. The wave seemed to be reinventing itself on a five-minutely basis. There seemed no point even studying the heat before yours, as between the supermoon tide, the variable wind, and the feast-or-famine swell it was bound to be a completely different beast by the time you paddled out. Mick Fanning saw everyone get the shacks of their lives this morning, only to paddle out and have the shacks stop. “I just wanted to put some pies in the oven, but I got out there and the pie shop was shut!”
By the time John John surfed against Seabass, reprising their epic first round heat, the early pulse had slowed and the perfection was a little more patchy. I’d had breakfast with Seabass yesterday morning. He was rallying from a case of Bali Belly and was tempting the gastronomic gods once again by grazing from the hotel buffet, which included several gelatinous breakfast meats of dubious origin and some goopy yellow substance that in a previous life may have been eggs. We talk about John John and their impending showdown. “It was funny, he was such a kid and I used to surf against him and I’d be like, ‘Ha! I got this kid covered!’ Then suddenly I was like, ‘Holy shit! I think he’s got me covered!’” John John had Seabass covered today, although Bass, as usual, gave his growing legion of fans plenty to cheer about.
By late morning the threat of being washed out to sea had forced everyone off the beach and into the resort swimming pool, which was looking like a cross between Spring Break and the Star Wars bar. Russian supermodels models frolicked with Aussie bogans draining Bintangs. Hollywood stars swam with kids on holiday. There was even a monkey in there at one stage swimming with Parko. It was like when every neighborhood kid invades the only swimming pool in the street on the hottest day of summer. It was a surreal and incongruent scene, the only common denominator that I didn’t see too many people getting out to piss.
As the day wore on the surf deteriorated at the hand of tide and wind, but the seeding gods had provided some unlikely and intriguing match-ups. Adriano and Wilko were a contrast of both styles and lifestyles. My associate and I ponder that by some Freaky Friday occurrence they were to wake up one morning suddenly trapped in each other’s bodies. We ponder their first reactions upon looking in the mirror that morning. Wilko getting up at 3am; Adriano getting home at 3am. Wilko skipping rope before a heat, Adriano turning up to his heat on rollerblades. The real Wilko had purchased a pair of leopard print pointed leather shoes and offered at the time that they were going to be his lucky shoes. They weren’t. He lost, and he cut a forlorn and hangdog figure walking back up the beach.
And so we arrived at the final heat of the day, the last heat of the round, Jordy Smith versus Fred Patacchia, half an hour later than originally scheduled. They’d just watched Michel Bourez take the previous heat apart, and while the waves were a little chumpy by then, they were full of juicy sections and it seemed ready-made for Jordy to continue the irresistible momentum he’s been rolling with this year. With no disrespect to Fred, on a wave like this it should have been a training run for Jordy in the form he’s been in. But today was different. The waves stopped cold in Jordy’s heat. That big caboose never got out of the station. There was no hustle, and the deeper into the heat Jordy got, the more inevitable the upset became. This was an event Jordy could—nay, should—have won, and we’ll only know at season’s end what it’s all going to mean.
Half an hour earlier, and things might have been so much different.