There is nothing like it in the entire surfing world.
The hope and excitement when, as a surfer, you step off the plane at the Padang airport and into the madness that is Indonesia. The colors, the impossible crowds, the sights, the smells, the sounds, assaulting the senses, heightening the adventure. Then it’s an insane half hour ride by honking, swerving taxi to the epicenter of the Padang surf scene, the world renowned Batang Arau Hotel, a converted Dutch bank forgotten by history, but remembered by surfers from all corners of the planet. The crossroads of the surfing world. Through her doors walk the greatest surfers on earth, and the craziest and, today at least, the happiest. Peals of laughter rise from the patio as groups of excited surfers, fresh from the airport, sit crowded at the tables waiting for the high tide.
Just beyond them, the boats await too. Wildly colored, generators rattling, eager looking. Chris Scurrah, the man who runs the Batang Arau, a legendary captain in these waters, chats with guests, assuring them the swell is on the way and that all will be as expected and more. Across the river a small boy flies a kite, the fishermen, brown and strong as corded rope, load ice blocks and prepare for the night’s haul. Above them, a riotous jungle climbs the steep walls of the “Sleeping Dragon Hill”, the large headland that rises rampart above the whole scene. In that jungle are cobras the size of plumbing, exotic birds worth millions and it is rumored, a small rare Sumatran Tiger. Her roar only heard but a few times a year. That surfers co-exist here with this exotica is no real surprise.
It is a pirate town after all.
The last few days have been spent outfitting the D’bora, our vessel for our two week academic adventure. We set sail on Midnight of the 17th for the Mentawai islands on a very different voyage in these waters. Eight university students have been carefully selected from around the nation to participate in this ground breaking project. On board, these students will not only be surfing perfect waves, but will be engaged in an accredited academic surf journalism course earning 3 units toward their college degrees.
This intensive, six hour-a-day course will be taught by the most experienced journalists and photographers on SURFER magazine’s staff. Also on this voyage, these students will be participating in humanitarian work on shore which will include delivery of school supplies, the building of a school at the Italian mission and a new mangrove eco-project that will serve as a model for future land reclamation projects. Each day the student’s blogs will be featured on Surfermag.com, Lastmileoperations.org and Lastmileexpeditions.com. The final assignment for the students will be to write an actual feature length article on their experience here, the best of which will be published in Surfer Magazine. All in all, an opportunity for surfers to bring the best within themselves to this place. To seek academic excellence, humanitarianism compassion and to enjoy perfect uncrowded waves.
DISPATCH JULY 13 2008
It is 4:00pm here. Tin roofs begin to rattle across the entire city. A deluge of rain has just begun to fall as it falls every afternoon, cleansing the air, washing the streets and feeding the jungle, feeding the imagination. The D’bora sits dockside, her busy crew preparing for the adventure ahead. The khaki colored river runs slowly around her and out to sea as it has for millennia. Across the Padang Strait lay the magic islands with her magic waves and magic dreams.
And soon enough, 8 lucky students will become part of this magic energy.