Steamers in the tropics…September 20th, 2012
The swell of the season was hitting Panaitan Island, West Java when we left Sydney. We would be sure to catch the tail end of it, but the main pulse was set to arrive while we were still in transit. When I read the reports I was a little disappointed that we would be missing some of the action. As it turns out, in West Java you have to be careful what you wish for.
Getting to Panaitan Island is a relatively simple affair; fly to Jakarta, get a ride down to the coast then steam overnight to the waves. When it comes to the boat you go on there are only two real options. The yacht ‘Just Dreaming’ which has been converted to serve specifically as a surf charter vessel, or what are referred to as ‘Feral’ boats. These local Indonesian fishing vessels have found a side income in taking the intrepid out to the islands to seek waves. You have to be willing to rough it, really rough it; we are talking no real facilities at all, bring your own everything or go without.
We went with Just Dreaming. An experienced surf guide and crew, awesome chef, comfortable bunk and everything else you could want for, just seemed a little more comfortable for 10 nights at sea.
When we reached the coast from the airport it was pretty late into the night. The crew greeted us and we loaded our gear onto the boat. Our surf guide, Ollie, was nowhere to be seen. Ollie had taken the opportunity to travel out ahead of the charter and catch the peak of the swell before we arrived. The chance to surf One Palm Point in all its glory was simply something he could not miss.
The overnight steam from mainland Java to Panaitan Island was smooth as far as Indonesian island crossings go. Our team all had a good night’s sleep and we woke in the morning as we were arriving at the famed One Palm Point.
There were three people in the lineup when we arrived, Ollie and two others who had taken the feral boat option and their chances with the swell. They were all wearing full wetsuits, booties and helmets and it wasn’t because it was cold!
The waves in this area will produce some of the best barrels of your life. Steaming freight trains with several sections to punch through and get spat out of. The only catch is, if you fall it’s pretty much a guaranteed trip across the reef, a sharp reef, with gnarly holes, just waiting to eat surfboards and skin. Around these parts, for every bit of pleasure, you can expect an equal part of pain.
Ok, my last comment may be a little over the top. There are actually plenty of waves for the less kamikaze surfer. A break called ‘Pussies’ is just a short boat ride away. But seriously, are you going to ever live with yourself if you turn down the opportunity of getting pitted at one of the best, most hollow and least crowded waves on the planet to surf a break called Pussies? I didn’t think so. So I will let you in on a little secret, reef cuts and grazes are not that bad. Sure they sting a little at the time, they sting a lot when the chef rubs lime juice in them to halt any chance of infection and they get a little itchy a few days later. But, given the chance to claim your share of the glory, it seems well worth a little lost bark to the reef. So if you are thinking of a trip to West Java, make sure you have your barrel riding game sorted before you get there and be willing to step up and have a good go.
My advice is come prepared, pack that old steamer that is full of holes and wear it when surfing the shallower reefs. You will need booties and bring a helmet. I didn’t see anyone get pitched over the falls during our trip but if you do, the last thing you want is to hit your head, so pack a helmet and accept the fact that you will be surfing in it whether you like it or not.
The photos that accompany this article speak volumes more than I can write about them. Have another look and see for yourself what kind of waves this area has to offer. It’s the real deal, I promise you that.
No one ever gets bored of getting barreled and as long as the waves keep up in this part of the world, you are sure to be keeping yourself busy picking off the best sets of the day. Crowds are not an issue here given the island is completely uninhabited. There is only one charter boat and a handful of feral boats. If, however, the swell does back off you can keep yourself entertained on some of the most pristine beaches I have seen in Indonesia, do a little trek through the jungle and look for some wildlife (in fact you don’t have to look too far, there are often deer and monkeys on the beach) or you can take a steam over to the very active volcano, Krakatoa.
It was on the last day of our trip that the swell faded right back to two foot, there were still surfable options but we all agreed that we could surf two foot waves at home and that a visit to an active volcano was something we would probably never do again. So we made the decision, weighed anchor and headed towards a mountain that rises out of the sea and, as recently as a few days earlier, had been launching basketball size rocks out its steaming crater. I asked myself on the way there, what could possibly go wrong?
As it turned out we were able to, quite safely, hike to the first ridge of the volcano. Sure the hot ash underfoot got a little toasty, given we were only wearing thongs, and the thick clouds of volcanic ash took its toll on my camera gear, but other than that it was safe. Compared to some of the surfing we had done, it seemed safe anyway!
Saltmotion and The Perfect Wave have formed a pretty solid partnership over the last two years. When Charlie who works at TPW rang me up and mentioned he had a last minute spot on the boat for this trip I jumped at it. It is no secret that if you want to be on the best boat in the best locations at the right time you need a man like Charlie in your corner – thanks for having me along for the ride mate.
Enjoy your day,