Riding High On The Wave Of A Lifetime

10 February 2015

I saw it pushing the horizon out of the way, more imposing than the ones that had preceded it.

A big wave. The biggest wave. I’d been waiting for this wave all day. In fact all my life. I had been dreaming for years of surfing a wave this big.

The others were going to get caught in the wave’s power, likely to be held under water until their lungs screamed. There was nothing they could do about it because the huge wall of water was coming in too fast for them to get out of the way.

I was further out. I could climb over the beast and glide safely off its back, or I could seize the moment and go for it.

But it had taken years of daydreaming, four flights and two boat trips to arrive at this spot. I wasn’t going to die wondering. Perhaps die trying, but never again to wonder “what if?”.

 The calm before the beasts (credit: Getty)

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Chased By An Avalanche Of Water

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I paddled out to meet the wave, then turned and prepared for take-off. It picked me up and I paddled hard, feeling its power underneath me. When I was sure I was now part of the wave’s rampage towards the reef, I leapt to my feet.

It’s hard to describe the exhilaration of riding a big wave to people who don’t surf. It’s not like snow skiing, because the mountain is inert whereas every moving wall of water is a unique environment with a life of its own. Surfing is more like rodeo buck-jumping.

The initial drop is an incomparable rush, a near-vertical spearing enhanced by the joy of still being upright and now in a position to have some control over your destiny.

 The water thunders as it chases you down (credit: Getty)

You sense being chased by an avalanche of water as the wave collapses behind you, and you must plot a path along the steepening face in front of you to stay out of its clutches.

On this occasion that also meant finding a way to exit the wave before it crashed into the coral, both the stuff you could see underneath the surfboard in the crystal-clear water and the exposed reef edge looming ahead. It’s like flying a plane – the takeoffs and landings are when most of the accidents happen.

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Peer Acknowledgement Is A Bonus

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Somehow I survived the takeoff, the drop, the ride and the dismount, and paddled back to where my mates were, cloaked in a feeling of elation I’ll never forget. They nodded their heads in that understated way men do when they want to acknowledge a job well done without being too effusive. Peer acknowledgement is a bonus.

 Riding THAT wave (credit: Rory Gibson)

My friends and I aren’t great surfers. Very average indeed. We can’t compete with the grommets and the guns at the popular surf breaks in Australia. A big wave like the one I just described would have had a Mick Fanning wannabe carving it up long before I had made up my mind to go for it.

We are just ordinary blokes, all dads, all too busy to surf regularly. So we bide our time and once a year go on a surfari to Sumatra, specifically to Resort Latitude Zero in the Telo islands.

This brilliant purpose-built “surf camp” was built and is run by Matt Cruden, an Aussie who is one of the pioneers of operating live-aboard surfing trips on boats through the remote Telo and Mentawai island groups.

Having a young family motivated him to build Latitude Zero (named after its location on the Equator), and it’s a first-class facility which offers modern amenities unusual in a region whose population lives as they always have by surviving on whatever the ocean provides.


Check out Bali's top surf spots. Top 7 Places To Surf In Bali

More Indonesian island adventures. Living The Gili Island Life, Sunshine Dreamer Style


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A Week Will Improve You As A Surfer

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And the ocean here provides amazing surfing locations with beautiful backdrops of sand beaches and leaning palm trees, and the only other people in the water with you are local villagers in dugout canoes offering fresh coconuts. You surf until you are exhausted, every day.

Getting to Latitude Zero is an adventure in itself. You fly from Australia to Jakarta, sometimes having to change planes in Denpasar first.  From Jakarta you fly to Sumatra’s main city, Padang, where you must stay overnight. The next morning you catch a small inter-island charter plane out to the Telo Islands, and from there it’s an hour by speedboat to the lodge.

 Latitude Zero keeps you close to the waves (credit: Resort Latitude Zero)

Of course there are other destination options for the travelling surfer looking for more waves and fewer people. Bali is an old favourite, Fiji has some hot spots, the Maldives have people flocking to it, and even PNG has some decent waves.

Despite what it looks like in the surfing magazines, the surfing is safe if you work within your limits. You’ll be a much better surfer by the end of the week than when you started because of the sheer volume of waves you’ll get the chance to catch.

But even if nature plays dirty and refuses to send you any waves for the time you are there, you can console yourself by having a conventional tropical island holiday going snorkelling, fishing, lying around having massages, eating too much delicious food, reading, napping, visiting the local villages or ... you’ll think of something.

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Rory Gibson

Rory Gibson somehow makes a modest living writing columns for newspapers and magazines on the subjects of beer, travel and dating advice for his three sons, and roams the world looking for material to fill them.