M E At LAND Gunkholing with Sharks and Roasted Pigs in Story by M ichael Kew | Photos by B illy Watts
>> Pat Millin, in the Tongan wilderness.
9:46 a.m. Fua’amotu International Airport
First thing: cannibalism. “Naked houris—cannibal banquets—groves of cocoa-nut—coral reefs— tattooed chiefs…carved canoes dancing on the flashing blue waters— savage woodlands guarded by horrible idols—heathenish rites and human sacrifices.”
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" S u r f o n t h eM ab yrbi ge hat b e a c h ! Y e wl! a b L e’t' s ? reef? A s do this!” " . board. Now he wants one
r surfed an asymmetrical
>> Daniel Jones had neve
Page four of Typee. Ink brilliance amid airport drone. But I can’t quote Herman Melville on a photograph for this article — the Marquesas Islands are 4,000 kilometers northeast. We’re not going there. I’d like to. During the past two days of flight from L.A., I was inspired by Melville’s pen. By 1842, when he wrote Typee, Tonga had been pierced by Captain Cook and forever soiled by Western traders and missionaries. The Marquesas were big and culturally wild, unlike the slow, homogeneous vibe in Tonga’s biggest airport where we sit on big blue benches near the luggage carousel, awaiting our big surfboard bags to get burped from the big plane that flew us from a big Fijian isle. But Tonga’s airport isn’t actually big. Besides the local humans and humpback whales, nothing here seems to be. Except the many Mormon churches we saw on the descent.
>> Where playful lefts lie, Daniel Jones is like a pig in shit.
d to impress our drunken
>> Millin’s disco fling faile
>> Dry-mouthed and stick
. (Kew) h cared not at trail’s end
y with spider webs, Burc
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Patrick Millin removes his big black headphones and looks up. His head is bald. He’s 24 and sports a mustache. His green eyes are jet-lagged. “Do you think our boardbags are gonna be too big to get into our next plane?” he asks me quietly. “Why wouldn’t they make it?” “Check it.” He points to the small Chatham Pacific aircraft on the tarmac, a Convair 580 twinprop seating 50. It’s our domestic mule to a possibly unsurfed haven. Back home, with Google Earth, we’d mapped out some left reef passes. A goofyfoot, Millin likes left reef passes. So do goofyfooters Ryan Burch and Daniel Jones. Motionless, they sit on Millin’s right. A tall Tongan man carrying a suitcase trips over Burch’s foot.
“No sweat,” I tell Millin. “They’ll fit. Chatham Pacific never carries surfboards, so we won’t get hosed. They don’t know how to screw surfers.” He shrugs and resumes iPodding to techno beats. I reach into my dirty red backpack and trade Typee for The Happy Isles of Oceania. In chapters 14 and 15, author Paul Theroux describes his experience in Tonga, to where he traveled in 1990, first to the main island of Tongatapu. There he visited the Royal Palace and yakked with 375-pound King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. (Tonga is the Pacific’s dinosaur of constitutional monarchism. The king was a sedentary fat-ass with unlimited power.) Then Theroux flew up to the jellyfish-shaped Vava’u Group, where he rowed his collapsible kayak and tent-camped, solo, mostly in the rain.
“and many of them were desert islands, utterly inhabited but pristine — dream islands, each one like a little world.” His chapter details dog-eating, annoying mosquitoes, downpours (“It was though I were paddling beneath a waterfall…”), wildlife, local residents, and chatty Caucasian yachties in the Port of Refuge, a fine anchorage. Hence, we will be going nowhere near it. But I like something else Theroux wrote about Vava’u at the bottom of page 318: “Each was just what you imagined a tropical island to be — palms, woods, surf on the bright beach, limpid green lagoons.” I stop and tap my finger on the sentence. “Millin. Look.”
“It was said that these islands were among the most beautiful in the Pacific,” Theroux writes,
He leans over and reads aloud: “’Surf on the
WELCOME TO MEATLAND ¤ SLIDE ¤ 21
bright beach.’” He grins calmly and repeats. “Surf on the bright beach! Yew! Maybe a reef? A slab? Let’s do this!” He high-fives me. It’s a loud slap. Burch and Jones flash sleepy thumbs-ups. “Barrels,” Burch says. “Wait,” Jones says. “Is that where we’re going?” I don’t know. 7:32 a.m. South Pacific Ocean, 40 fathoms Our boat driver is drunk. Sateki’s glazed, red eyes focus on nothing. He didn’t sleep last night and was in a messy quarrel with his wife until dawn. Something about not drinking on Sundays. Today is Monday. Still Sateki drinks. His forearms are gray with faded tattoos. In the chest pocket of his dirty
black shirt is a small glass bottle of whiskey (“Jack Daniel’s! Don’ tell nobody.”). With a fat brown hand gripping the wheel, he pounds us through the blue wind chop over two-meter swells and a deep, dark sea outside a small island’s barrier reef. Its drop-off is sheer. The boat ride is loud and blustery and spine-jolting, and we are soaked in salt spray. Low and green, this island looks deserted. But, viewing the abundance of baitballs and splashes, an angler here would have it made. Tonga is known for rich fisheries. And we’re really not far from the Tonga Trench, which, at its deepest, drops to 35,702 feet — nearly seven miles. “One time here I see tiger shark longer than dis boat!” Sateki yells, slurring a bit but nodding slowly as he sways. He wipes sweat from his face. “Come right up to da side and sit, waiting for us to bring fish up on da line. Hoo-wee!”
>> Burch, too, is a pig in shit, especially if he’s shredding one of his beloved self-shaped asymmetricals.
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“How big’s this boat?” I yell back. “Six, eight meter? I dunno!” He laughs and picks his nose. Armed with printouts of Google Earth grabs, I pinpoint our location. Amid the bounce, I almost lose a few precious sheets of paper to the wind. But it’s a good wind. It’s offshore. We need it. These swells are not clean. Ryan Burch steadies and stands. His eyes gape when he spots a gap in the reef. “Ahoy!” he yells. “Is this the spot?” It’s one I’d marked with a red pen arrow, a coffee cup stain two inches away. Tongan coffee is particularly good, akin to French roast. “Sateki, will you please steer us into that channel?” I show the map to him. We’ve reached the end of the reef at the end of the
island. In the distance are several more, like steppingstones, and nothing but soaring birds, spindrift, and bouncy blue water. Lifting and lowering our little boat, the swells are from the southwest, the wind from the east, and, as Sateki motors us around the reef and into the pass, it becomes joyously clear that Google Earth is indeed our best friend.
ound r a s u s r o t o m i k e t a S s A s, s a p e h t o t n i d n a f e e r the r i t b e c o m e s gjl oe y oEuas rl ty hc li se ai n d e e d that Goo riend. our best f
“Yes!” Millin shouts, clenching a fist. “We love Google Earth!” This morning, it’s led us to a hollow, slightly overhead left that rises from deep water and trips at the top of the reef, where the wind hits it sideways. The wave then bends 90 degrees ’round the reef and faces the wind, trimming some size but tidying the place up. It looks like a fun spot for a goofyfooter who isn’t afraid of falling onto urchins and sharp, shallow, living coral. And it’s much better than the wave we’d surfed during the last two days. We were being lazy.
>> For Millin, bodysurfing
was a great alternative
s + Daniel Jones = eternal
>> South Pacific left tube
when the swell died. (Kew
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score. W e a r e g o i nw eg k tnoo w, A s f a r a s n a m e d a ntd h i s w a v e i s u n. . . T h e s u n i s unsurfed. we’ d r o p p i n g -— ' v e g o t t i m e for tubes. >> Tonga’s waters are full
“Are we out there?” Jones asks, waxing his little singlefin. Pensive now, slouched on the transom, Sateki takes a swig from his whiskey bottle. His sight is askew. He pushes the bottle at me, and, since I love whiskey, I have a drink. This pleases him. “Dis where I saw the big tiger shark,” Sateki says calmly, as if disclosing a great secret. “Dis channel. Right here.” “Right here?” I ask. “Yes! Right here!” Suddenly he seems defensive and glowers at me, like I doubt him. “You don’t believe me? What! What you gonna do?” Tongans are known for orneriness. I recall a Theroux quote from The Happy Isles of Oceania: “Many of the Tongans I met were unreliable, and some outright liars. This could be tiresome
>> Burch, bottom-turn
er plate in a few hours flat.
>> From pig-pen to pap
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in a hot climate. My solution was to take my boat to a part of Tonga where there were no Tongans.” We couldn’t do that. We needed a boat and a human to drive it. We could drive a boat ourselves, but we didn’t know the area and no one would loan or rent one to us. Certainly Sateki is the only Tongan near us, and, since he’s a large, drunk man and owns the boat we’re sitting in, I smile and say, “Of course I believe you, my friend. There are many tiger sharks around here.” “How you know this?” he asks. “You have never been here before!”
mediator. “It’s cool. Can you toss the anchor in over there? Like, inside, facing the wave? We’d like to surf here.”
A three-wave set stacks over the reef.
“Why I anchor if you guys are like fools? Dis guy call me liar.”
“Are we out there, or what?” Jones says, about to leap overboard.
“Sateki, I never called you a liar,” I say. “All I said was I was surprised by how big tiger sharks can get here. That’s impressive. And the fact that you were right there next to a huge one? That’s really cool.”
“I am,” Burch says as he hops off the gunwale with a short, self-shaped asymmetrical board underarm. He brought four of them to Tonga. The splash from his jump douses Sateki’s fat face.
“No!” He points a stubby finger at me. “You don’ believe. I see big tiger shark here, and you don’ believe. You call me a liar.” He sways and takes a quick pull of whiskey. He’s very drunk now. “Why you do this? What!”
“Because you just told me.” “I didn’t call you anything, man. Relax.” “You don’t believe me!” “Hey, man, we believe you,” says Millin the
sharks around here. Why wouldn’t there be?”
“Yeah,” Millin says, “Mike didn’t call you anything. It’s cool. Of course there are lots of huge tiger
3:04 p.m. Remote cove on another isle Bushwhacking through tall weeds and sticky spider webs makes us dirty and sweaty. Two spiders hide in Burch’s hair. Jones inhales a wisp of silk. Our clothing has unwittingly transported many small arachnids from their fragile airborne homes to the beach, though this isn’t really a beach. It’s a notch of ragged
>> Pat Millin, wishing Seaside Reef got like this.
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>>“Mr. Smooth,” on the right path. on a tiny, does, your first wave hard as Daniel Jones swinging fun. >> When you rip as for pe reci a is rd rical surfboa borrowed, asymmet
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>>Scarecrow style. Justin Quintal. WELCOME TO MEATLAND 造 SLIDE 造 31 27
volcanic rock, sharp as broken glass, dug into the low bluff that we’re standing on. “Check one!” Burch says, pointing at the hollow, bluey-green left 300 yards offshore. The wave spits. “What?!” Jones, too, is enthused. We are going to score. As far as we know, this wave is unnamed and unsurfed. Both surfers leave their shirts and sandals with me and crab down the bluff. I’m going to video them. The sun is dropping — we’ve got time for tubes. Peeling around an elbow of coral, the waves are slightly overhead, fast and clean, with humpback whales cruising beyond, spouting water as they surface to exhale. Tonga is a breeding ground for these massive cetaceans, which migrate from Antarctica each June, reversing in November, 12,000 kilometers roundtrip. A major tourist draw, Tongan whalewatching is superb, especially in Vava’u.
>> Way out there. (Kew)
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To cap the scene, Millin and lensman Billy Watts migrate to the lineup in the aluminum skiff. Sateki, its driver, is not drunk — but today is Friday and tomorrow will likely be painful for him. It’s a sensitive portrait of a deep Polynesian ilk poisoned by the ills of the West. Pre-contact, his creed was avidly cannibalistic, sexually gleeful, unstained by Spam or Marlboro or Diet Coke. Tongans have always had kava, but kava is not and will never match Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. Tongans have and will always have sun and surf on their side. 5:18 p.m. Small grassy yard behind a palm-thatch hut
tough to look good when a big metal pole has been shoved into your ass, through your body, and out your mouth. You’re being roasted clockwise over a pit of coals. You’ve been eviscerated. Your eyeballs have evaporated. Your legs and skinny tail are stiff. Your long tongue is sticking out. You actually appear to be laughing. You’ve got a gaping red hole in your belly, where your organs once were, now being wolfed by a big brown dog in a corner of the yard. Your neck features another red hole with boiling blood bubbling from it, trickling around your shiny, pink corpse. “And then what kind of meat do you get off of it?” Burch asks the man turning the pig. “Ham?” “Yeah, ham,” the man says.
Theroux, page 294: “I could just imagine a sick Tongan’s sense of doom when he or she looked out the hut window and saw the family pig being fattened.” Rigor mortis doesn’t make you pretty, but it’s
“Is it nice ham?” “It’s like pulled pork,” Watts says. “But I can honestly say I’ve never had a pig like this.”
A fat woman in a bright orange dress sits on dirt near the pig. She’s using aluminum foil to wrap onions and pieces of taro and breadfruit to be set in the umu (“earth oven”) to be cooked by hot rocks. Tonight we will feast Tongan style to celebrate the first birthday of the daughter of the guy who’s cooking the pig. His wife is the one doing the umu stuff. Neither has a problem with roasting the family pet.
t I t l o o k s l i fk yef oa o tf eu nr ws ph oo f o r a g o oi d o f f a l l i n g n' t a f r a s a n d s h a r p, is’ o n t o u r c h i ni v i n g c o r a l . shallow, l metrical surfing. (Kew)
uss the finer points of asym
>> Jones and Burch disc
“Many more where this came from,” the man says. “Not sure if I got a pig on a spit when I turned one year old,” Daniel Jones says. But it’s possible, since he’s Hawaiian and they do this sort of thing there and throughout Polynesia. I guessed that umu was a far healthier and wholesome alternative to the usual modern Polynesian diet of Pacific Brand corned beef and other imported junk. But dog is modern fare, too. All meat is fair game (no pun intended), and Tongans have
>> Jones is adept at all
forms of surfing, from full-
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>> ....to scoring the cave of the trip.
92 30 38 造 SLIDE 造 WELCOME TO MEATLAND
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gan T o n i g h t wc ee l we bi lrla tf ee atshte Tf oi rns t style to ughter of the
b i r t h d a y o f otkhi en gd a t h e p i g . H i s w i f e s co g u y w h o' ’ u stuff. i s t h e o n e d oai npgr otbhlee mu mw i t h Neither has e family pet. roasting th les.
>> Millin waves to the wha
been eating Fido for millenia. Back in the day, dog was a delicacy, far tastier than pork, and both species were raised domestically. To sweeten their flesh, dogs were fed only vegetables and, in 1774, when Captain James Cook landed in Tonga, he likened the meat to English lamb. But ol’ Jimmy was weird, since his colleagues thought that barbecuing household pets was terrible. I glance across the yard to the dog chewing pig intestines. “Are you guys going to eat that mutt?” I ask the pig-roasting man. “Yeah. But not tonight.” With his teeth, he removes the cap from a green bottle of beer. Back home I was told that, since Tonga is home to thousands of Mormons, drinking was bad. But this man was Mormon and visibly buzzed whilst swilling from his >> Burch. Schwing!
>> Tongan Explorers.
ent with the migrating
>> Burch and a cute mom
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bottle of Mata Maka, the weak so-called “Tongan” lager that’s only available in Tonga but is actually brewed in and imported from New Zealand, 2,000 kilometers away. “This beer sucks,” Watts says to me. He’s just finished his second; I’m on my fifth of the afternoon. Watts and I are the drinkers of this trip. Burch and Jones rarely booze. Millin has been voluntarily dry for six months. Mata Maka is also the name of a low hill on Nomuka Island in Tonga’s Ha’apai Group, clamped between Vava’u and Tongatapu, an archipelago my guidebook described as being a “sleepy, seductive place.” Nobody really surfs Ha’apai, but I know of at least one excellent left. Nomuka and its surrounding reefs might have good waves, too. So might nearby Mango, Kelefesia, and Tonumeia, green stars on a galaxy of blue. There are dozens more — Ha’apai has many secrets. A boat is required. Viewed from space, the group looks like two
big atolls with no western sides, which would be clean and offshore most of the year. Yet another cruelty for surfers, since east swells are painfully rare. Our boat is small, so we won’t visit Ha’apai this week.
I’m drunk by nightfall. Finally, with equally drunk Tongans, we eat the pig. The white meat is leatherlike, unchewable. Under my chair, I feed most of mine to the big, gut-eating dog. He’s happy. He’s not on the menu — yet.
Starting with Ha’apai, Captain Cook spent three months in Tonga. He commanded the HMS Resolution while his colleague manned the HMS Discovery. When the two ships landed on the isle of Lifuka, a lively food festival was underway. Cook and his men were so gaily greeted that he dubbed Tonga “the Friendly Islands,” a motto still used by the Tonga Visitors Bureau. Cook didn’t know the warm welcome was actually bullshit and that Lifuka’s opportunistic chiefs planned to kill and eat him and all his men, then loot the two ships. But the nobles couldn’t agree on a plan, so they shined the whole thing.
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