12ft Desert Point. The Manimal. Deckchair Dave. Blood. Fear. and Warm Bintangs. Interested? Read on a
Myths of perfection & other reality checks From the moment we start surfing we are bombarded with images of perfection, shot after shot of flawless waves from every imaginable angle, something to dream of, something to chase. Problem is the surf media has a mucky little secret, turns out they’ve been a little selective with the facts all these years. In the haste to perpetuate the collective fantasy someone forgot to mention that these perfect waves often have something in common other than their premium barrels. Namely the fact, that more often than not, up close and personal they are very fucking scary. Of course no one mentions this, just look at the lovely pictures never mind what’s underneath all that roaring whitewater & pitching lip.
After the mayhem of Bali the thick jungle countryside of southern Lombok seems intoxicating. As we pass through small villages the local kids wave madly at the strange white boys board bags piled 3 deep on the van roof, I’m soon throwing back my first non-ironic shakas in over a decade and I’m starting to think this goofy foot plan might have been the right call.
This serene tropical day dream stops abruptly as we hit ‘the road’ to Desert’s, our driver had earlier used the “very bumpy” state of the road to justify his hefty charge and now as heads hit the roof and the sounds of grating metal fill the air the driver starts to cackle “Now you trust me yes?”. He hadn’t been lying, Indo roads aren’t short of a few potholes, but this is like driving across the surface of the moon.
Damn goofyfooters…. It starts with a photocopied map spread across the sticky soy stained lino of the warung table, the bemo driver killing time showing us our intended route to kuta lombok while we wait for our respective variations of rice and noodles. In the corner of the map an unknown hand has highlighted a place name which instantly draws the attention of the right foot forward crew, ‘Bangko-Bangko’. Home of the fabled lefts of Desert Point, anointed by those in the know as the best wave in the world Maybe plans of mutiny had been afoot amongst the goofy bastards since the ferry left Bali, but with a deep red stain in the southern Indian ocean, there’s no arguing with them, let the negotiations begin. Best poker faces are donned, various amounts of rupiah are scribbled down then pushed back and forth across the table, plates of Nasi Goreng come and go, but still heads are shaking. After almost an hour’s dealings and every bartering trick known to man he’s still demanding an ample fortune in Indo terms. We’re being stitched up a treat, but as the afternoon sun grows hotter patience is wearing thin someone finally breaks the deadlock, “Boys I spend this much in petrol driving to surf cross shore Fistral, this is fucking DESERT POINT”. Damn it he’s right and we’re soon stuffing fistfuls of rupiah into the driver’s sweaty paws, before climbing back into the van shaped oven with claims of 10 second barrels ringing in our ears.
The chassis begins to sound like it’s in it’s death throes, but just as we start to accept that we’re going to be walking the last few k’s, the thick foliage opens to reveal the Lombok strait shimmering in the late afternoon sun and the little cluster of huts that mark our final destination.
A lazy couple of feet of swell is rolling down the point as we finally rock up, nothing epic, just a few local kids in the line up, but enough to see how ridiculous the set up is. As the sun dips behind the distant mountains of Bali we secure a couple of the finest huts for the night, the sky turns a firey shade of orange and it’s backslaps all round as we soak up the spoils of the road. The lifestyle at Bangko Bangko is downright primitive, water from the well, mattress on the floor, 3 hours of electricity a day depending on how the generator is feeling, internet? medical attention? Haha you a funny guy, have another warm Bingtang and don’t worry about it. There has only been surf civilization at out at Deserts for a few years, with most opting for the boat in from Bali, but with most name spots in Indo rapidly being overrun with every imaginable western convenience it’s nice to get a little rugged.
After the warm up session and breakfast everyone is keen for more, personally I’m still feeling less than ideal after some delightful tropical virus and sit it out for a while, but after thirty minutes of watching my mates at one of the world’s best waves I knew I had to bite the bullet. After a mercifully easy dry hair paddle out, I am feeling pretty good about life, but I quickly realise that things aren’t as sweet as they appeared from the comfort of goose’s warung. The boys are throwing around phrases like “worst ever beating” and someone is already shedding some excess blood after a quick lie down on the grater like inside section, I’m starting to second guess my decision. And then the tide changes.
Daylight arrives to reveal a distinct case of morning sickness, a touch small and ragged, but with a deep groundswell making it’s way up the straits we’re sure it won’t last. As the morning wears on the swell starts to fill in, the goofy footers have seen enough and head out despite the shady winds and manage to sniff out a few reelers.
Desert point is notoriously tidal, sitting in the Lombok strait, a horrendous stretch of water featuring huge rips and whirlpools, the dropping tide can result in a massive jump in swell. I’d heard all this, but didn’t quite expect a leap from 4ft to 8-10ft in the space of 3 sets. As the horizon keeps turning a dark shade of blue and we scratch further and further from the inside ledge it’s becoming pretty clear that this is no rouge set. One by one the crew begins to abandon ship picking off in- betweeners, washing in over the ledge and then all of a sudden there are no in- betweeners left, just huge foamy square barrels that I have absolutely no desire to check out the interior of , no channel, no way in except straight through the belly of the beast. Just two of us now and Dave’s had enough of dodging bombs, the next set comes through, he selects a particularly fierce one and digs in. For a second it looks sweet as he nails the drop, hits the bottom and reaches for his rail, but then all this textbook backside tube set up is rudely interrupted by the lip blowing him apart. I paddle up the face cringing as I see a pair of feet protruding from the thundering lip, heading over the shoulder I catch a final glimpse of him disappearing up and over way back in the pit reclined like his was kicking back in a deck chair. All of a sudden I’m alone with my thoughts, I laugh, I swear, I pray, I even think about having a little cry as I ponder how I got myself into this treat of a situation.
Company arrives further up the point as a group of heavy Hawaiians decide it’s time to stop playing Uke in the warung and start charging. One of them heaves himself over the edge into a monster and screams down the point toward me slotted deep inside a huge square cave, an evil shock wave flying up the face, constantly hoping to relieve him of his board. It looks just like all those Pipe watershots I’d stared at from the pages of magazines since I was a kid, always wondering what if? Well now I know, I want nothing to do with it and I need to get the fuck out of here, sharpish. Briefly the horizon reappears and I turn toward shore paddling like there was Olympic gold at stake, constantly glancing behind me expecting the set of the day to arrive and end it all. Turns out all that praying paid off and I make it through the foamy inside section before the next set rolls in washing me over the ledge without losing anything significant to a coral head. I hit the beach and fight hard to control the impulse to give the sand a big old kiss ‘hello’, instead I compose myself, trying to look like I really enjoyed it as I walk past the crews in the warungs. While in the water I had been more than a little envious, pissed even that my mates had managed to escape before Desert’s turned on its best Pipe impression, but as I reach the hut I think maybe I didn’t do too badly. The porch is like something from a Vietnam film, blood and iodine flow freely, fat hangs out of gaping wounds and a beloved Chilli 6’1 sits in the dirt now a two piece set, turns out those in-betweeners weren’t too mellow. Any kind of official first aid is a rumour at best and at least a few hundred K away meaning it’s back to the battlefield favourites of duct tape and superglue. As I watch my friends stick each other together like some gory Blue Peter project I figure I got off pretty lightly with little more than a severely battered ego. My friend who had done “the deckchair” over the falls walks by looking pretty damn pale and really doesn’t want to talk about it.
The next day brings more brutal surf, even the Hawaiian’s are claiming it’s too sketchy, every now and again a courageous soul will paddle out looking for something makeable among the 10 footers that keep detonating along the point. No one lasts long before being swept down to the evil “grower” section where instead of petering out like any normal point, Desert’s goes round a little corner in the reef, wedges in on itself and gets even thicker and meaner, it’s not a good place to be hanging out in the impact zone. An arena like this needs a real warrior to tackle it and the rattle of a two stroke engine in the morning still announces his arrival. We’d see him before, he had a habit of appearing from time to time out on the Bukit and in the line up at Uluwatu, he always made an impression. Our first sighting was at 6am one morning when he paddled out at Racetracks wearing boardies and a pair of white sports socks, he was dribbling slightly from the corner of his toothless grin and had no doubt had a particularly solid night in Kuta. Another time he drove past me on the walk home from a surf, riding possibly the most knackered moped in all of Indo, quite some feat, but it didn’t have a single piece of body left, it was literally wheels, exhaust, cushion and handle bars, but he went screaming by on it, dreadlocks flying, grinning that toothless grin of his. Oh and we also noticed him because he absolutely ripped.
Eddie Blackwell AKA ‘The Manimal’ is one of the toughest bastards on a surfboard today, He pulls out his own teeth, rips low tide racetracks in his socks and destroys evil Desert’s for breakfast.
He appears on the reef in typical phantom style and casually struts into the line up before showing us what a bunch of half men we really are. The first wave he hooks a huge bottom turn before going vertical under the lip and tearing the top off the beast, considering everyone else had been in full survival stance all the way down the line, this causes a few raised eyebrows. By the time he pulls into a huge closeout down on the grower end section we’re on our feet. Talk starts to begin in the warung about who the hell the mystery shredder is, an aussie guy reckons it’s some lunatic from south oz, with no real idea who he is, we just call him ‘The Manimal’ and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling that in this day and age there are still world class rippers out there who don’t give two shits about sponsorship and QS points. For the next half hour we settle down while Manimal gives a comprehensive workshop on how to completely destroy out of control Desert Point. Another aussie turns up who recognizes the mystery shredder and tells us a tale of how the Manimal lost his board here last year and was sucked out to sea in the brutal rip, he spent two hours swimming about in the straits before being picked up by a local fishing boat, the guy is heavy!
The tide starts to fill in killing the surf and like that the Manimal is gone, just the faint echo of two stroke as he disappears into the hills, no doubt to devour a lunch of five whole chickens and a medium sized goat. The high tide reduces the waves to a few feet and it’s hard to believe what we just witnessed as the now relatively mellow swell ambles down the point. Slowly it turns again and suddenly it starts to pick up, but looks distinctly more user friendly than earlier, in fact it starts to look damn near perfect and slowly the line up fills, it certainly looks good enough for the boys to forget yesterday’s scare and head out for another assault. As they wax up pin tails, I check my watch it’s almost the same time as the previous day’s transformation into the terrordome, I keep this to myself and smile sweetly as they wander down the reef whilst subtly loading a fresh memory card into my camera.
Sure enough the gentle perfection doesn’t last as the dropping tide reveals the full force of the swell once again, a couple of the guys manage to lock a solid pit into the memory bank then head in quickly before the greedy Desert’s taxman comes knocking again for his pound of flesh. The last of our crew out there is “deckchair” Dave still trying to snag an elusive cave, and once again just like clockwork it hits dead low and the huge sets start piling in, we watch the horror show as he and the remaining guys in the line up scramble over some truly massive sets, jagged pieces of surfboard wash into the lagoon and an unfortunate bodyboarder floats down through the grower section and disappears round the point. Dave hits the beach body and board in one piece, but sporting the same harrowed look as yesterday “fuck this place” is all he can muster, it’s time to bail. The call is made and soon enough the man & van come bouncing down the pitiful excuse for a road. We load up, shake some hands and pile into the oven on four wheels, my head’s reeling at what’s gone down in the last two days, some of the heaviest waves and best surfing I’ve seen, a world class wave? One of the finest no doubt, the problem is no one really mentions the fact that you need to be a world class surfer to thrive out there, I don’t know maybe we just caught it in a bad mood. I turn to look out of the back window as we leave the village, through the dust and between the warungs I spot a lone surfer tearing across the bottom of 10footer, of course it’s the Manimal, a king in his kingdom, it couldn’t be a more fitting end, and then the view is gone, lost in dusty air and palms.
Postscript; A month later I’m safely back in Cornwall, Indo is but a vivid memory. One of the crew travelled on down to Oz and I get a mysterious e-mail from him with just an internet link. I click it and it takes me to the website of Australian mag Tracks and a preview of their latest issue beaming from the cover I see a familiar toothless grin, it’s only the Manimal. Turns out he’s an underground charger called Eddie Blackwell from south NSW and his trademark smile is the result of refusing to pay $800 for some urgent dentistry deciding to remove the offending teeth himself, like I said Heavy. Oh and the issue of Tracks? The Outlaw Issue, now that’s what I’m talking about.
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