And talk to Mister David, one of the most interesting characters I've ever come across
. Originally from Australia, he came to Indonesia in 1973 and has lived here ever since, mostly in Sumba. He has some crazy stories, possibly peppered with exaggeration, but fascinating nonetheless. Very few foreigners live in Sumba today, but in the 70's he was the only one. When he first arrived, there were no roads, people still headhunted, and refusing your host's offer of betel nut was a declaration of war. He was a surf bum, constantly seeking out new breaks, but he also became a catalogue of information on traditional Sumba culture and subsequent change.
For the past twenty years, he's run this remote surf camp. It's a stunning place. The camp is surrounded by palms and other vegetation, but when you walk through the palms you're on an incredible stretch of beach. Surf pounds against a nearby reef, and mountains wrap around the western horizon. It's the kind of beauty that stops your train of thought, because all you can do is absorb it. But the most amazing thing is that you're utterly alone. In the three days we spent there, we saw only a handful of people pass by. For two of the three, we were the only guests at the surf camp. So we had one of the most beautiful places we've ever seen all to ourselves. We called it our honeymoon within a honeymoon.
We went surfing every day, and I was reminded of how tenacious Shen is
. He will be utterly exhausted, paddling at phantom waves, and frankly miserable, but if there's any chance conditions will improve (and even if there isn't), he'll stay out there. I, on the other hand, really just want someone to push me into the waves. Not this time, though - the reef break demanded that I hold my own. For the first two days, I caught nothing. There was a strong current, so I spent most of my energy just staying in one place. But I didn't really mind - it was a good excuse to watch the amazing sunsets while bobbing around in the sea. On the third day I considered skipping it - my arms were tired, and it was chilly and cloudy. But surfing is what Mister David's is all about, so I made myself go. And, hallelujah! I caught some waves. I caught seven or eight, and stood solidly on four of them.
Then a crazy thing happened on that unpredictable ocean. A massive set rolled in. Where moments before I had been splashing around on three-footers, I suddenly found myself in the troughs of monsters. I turned around to watch them roll into shore, and they totally obscured the palm trees lining the beach. It was time for me to go in. I started paddling, using the momentum of each wave to get a little closer to shore. They were breaking well past me. But here's the thing: I'm not very good at timing my paddling. Usually this means I miss the wave because I've started too early or too late
. This time, it meant the opposite. With the help of my big and buoyant board, and to my complete shock and horror, I accidentally caught one of the giants. That is a moment I will not soon forget. When I felt it grab me, I popped up and found myself starting down the face, petrified and unsure of what to do. I knew I needed to drop onto the wave face, but this is a foreign concept to me, since you don't really "drop" when you're riding two-foot waves! So instead I yelled "Holy shit!" three times and then bailed off the back of the wave. I went through an extended spin cycle before recovering my board and my composure.
Shen didn't see the incident, but he saw the set roll in. He estimates them at ten feet, which I'm glad I didn't know at the time! He's not prone to overestimation, but even if he's off by a few feet, that's nothing I need to be involved with. My short ride had put me directly in the impact zone, so it took awhile to get back to shore. The sudden shift from relatively calm seas to rearing giants was frightening, but that brief moment on the wave had me smiling ear-to-ear.
That night, the waves crashing outside my bungalow didn't lull me to sleep like usual. I stared at the ceiling, feeling an echo of the fear I had felt as the waves pounded around me that afternoon. Part of staying safe is knowing when to be scared, and though it was thrilling, I was scared! I guess I'm not going to be a big-wave surfer anytime soon.
We bounced along Sumba's southbound road for four hours before reaching the surf outpost called simply, "Mister David's." We walked in with the disconcerted look of new arrivals, but within minutes we were as relaxed as pudding. It's that kind of place, where you check the rest of your life at the door and nothing exists but the sand and sea in front of you. The rustic simplicity adds to it's appeal: thatch bungalows, bucket baths, a few hours of electricity in the evenings. The environs have been left totally natural - no landscaping here, save a sandy path from the bungalow to the open-air dining area. Three top-notch meals per day are provided, cooked by Mister David himself (whose delicious cooking reflects his ten years as a vegetarian). Throw in unlimited use of the surfboards, and there is literally nothing to worry about. Eat...sleep...surf. Eat...sleep...surf.