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Copyright © 2004 by Matthew Ellks.
Touchdown at Bima Airport and as we stepped onto the tarmac the heat hit us like a sauna. Accompanied by my Bondi mate Brendan we were greeted, and then harassed, by the normal flurry of bemo drivers jockeying for our fare. I was surprised to see four girls heading to the Lakey camp without surfboards and assumed they were pushing the boundaries in search of their surfing Adonis. A jar of Vaseline and a copy of an old FHM mag was the usual surf camp romance. One could only live in hope that in time something more difficult than winning lotto was going to eventuate. We tried in vain to catch the same bemo but unfortunately it was full. We had to settle for a ride with a slick looking cabbie named Muta. He gave us a good discount because I lied to him that we had been to “Lakey’s” a million times. Dropping my mates name, Boonga, got him really excited and helped clinch the deal. Boonga was a legend to the locals at “Lakey Peak” as he had been spending time there each winter for over 10 years. He had adopted a young kid from the local village named Joey Barrell and become part of the community.
Muta drove like a man possessed and had us clutching our seats hoping we were going to make it to our destination. He had his heavy techno cranking the whole way which was complimented by his machine gun sounding horn that he wasn’t shy in using. I didn’t think he was beeping to the hard beats but then again he could have been a Sumbawan DJ scratching in disguise! We passed a bus with no windshield and a caved-in roof, propped up with staffs of bamboo. I suppose as long as the wheels are turning and the engines running it’s worthy in this part of the world.
We pulled up at Fatmah’s losmen where Boonga was residing and slotted straight into a couple of rooms. I didn’t want to share with my mate Brendan because I knew he snored like a camel and I needed to practice my mantra daily. We found Boonga relaxing in Fatmah’s restaurant checking the surf. I hadn’t seen him for 10 years so the reunion was one of emotion and surprise as he didn’t know I was coming. I introduced Brendan and we caught up on some gossip whilst watching set waves peel off down the reef. Guys were getting stand up barrels every wave and even though it was lunchtime I brushed the feed to get out there in the lineup. Brendan opted to wait and watch as the crowd factor was slightly critical. The waves were around the 3-4ft and the wind was arm wrestling between onshore and offshore. The wind didn’t really seem to matter too much. The tide was lower and the majority of waves were throwing out far enough that you could fit a small car inside them. As Boonga and I paddled through the lagoon towards the exposed inside of the reef he informed me that as the tide was getting higher the right-hander should start firing. Like anywhere in Indo revolving your surf around the right tides is essential to gain optimum conditions. Being the pro he was, Boonga always kept his “Rip Curl” tide chart handy. As we walked over the last part of the reef he introduced me to resident Kiwi photographer, Craig Sherriff. Craig was strategically placed for the ideal shot. Armed with his tripod and zoom lens he had captured many a visiting surfer’s classic shot. In the evenings, with the aid of his laptop, he would sell his photos for less than $10. The tall, well built fellow also owned a zodiac. A highly sought after piece of equipment for surfing the other breaks around “Lakeys”, including ‘Periscopes’. It saved a lot of paddling or walking. For this reason and the fact he was an ex Kiwi rugby player, most surfers kept on the good side of Craig.
The lineup that day was an international affair. Stark evidence of how popular this surf camp had become all over the world. Boonga introduced me to just about everyone in the lineup. To be a good mate of his was automatic acceptance. I was truly privileged and shared a heap of good waves with the crew. One of Boonga’s W.A. mates, Nicco, was a large framed goofy footer who always went left. As soon as I figured that one out I religiously stroked into the peak next to him knowing the right-hand backdoor was vacant. My first session with all the crew was epic, spending more time behind the curtain than exposed to the scorching midday sun.
That arvo we watched the glorious sunset over the mountains on the other side of the bay. Sitting in the popular Fatmah’s diner we threw down a few cold Bintangs which was to be an adopted custom for the rest of the trip. That evening I learnt that Boonga had used his W.A. coaching skills to teach the locals how to surf. Working at Fatmah’s were three local surfers that Boonga had nicknamed, “Mr. Onkyluppo”, “Geri Lopez” and just plain “Grommet”. They were helpful, smiling natives who all surfed well on whatever craft they could find. Guys were always showing their appreciation by leaving them old or snapped boards which they’d fix and put to good use. “Lakey’s” had become a fertile surfing ground for Indo boys thanks to Boonga’s spawning tactics. He had groomed their styles with the aid of his video camera and organized an annual “Lakey Peak” comp. The locals were so encouraged by his involvement they had erected a judging tower on the reef which is now a permanent fixture of the “Lakey” lineup. Taking it one step further he had visited local schools to raise awareness of beach safety and also taught the kids basic surfing fundamentals. One of the main points he highlighted was to throw rocks at anyone with a body board. The diagram he drew on the blackboard made sure they fully understood.
Later that evening most of the crew in the water that day turned up for a feed. As the beers flowed so did the conversation. It was about that time I had the pleasure of meeting Boonga’s adopted local boy, Joey Barrell. From the initial hello I had a feeling there was something special about this grommet. His small, skinny 5 foot frame was all muscle, shaped by hours in the water, village life and a Nasi Goreng diet. His dyed blonde hair under his truckin’ cap was an indication he was as hip as an Indo ever was. Sharpened by two stints in W.A. under Boonga’s wing his English and wit had way transcended his Sumbawan culture. It was like he was an Aussie grommet trapped inside an Indo lad’s body. Obviously he had been showed all the right ropes and it was hard for anyone not to like him.
Over the next few days the wave conditions varied as did the crowds so timing was of the up most importance. Getting to know the local crew made it so much easier to find my pecking order in the lineup. The hardened “Lakey Peak” locals were still village boys at heart, competent at survival skills. To get on the wrong side of them meant you may as well cut your surfing holiday short. They certainly helped in keeping the Brazil nuts in check. It was over these first few days I witnessed the surfing skills of young Joey. His forte of steep drops followed by deep tube rides was unsurpassed by anyone in the water. His surfing was no less than captivating. He had the soulness of a “Pipe” guru combined with the vigor of the new international breed that he was already a part of. Being a goofy and small in stature it was easy for him to find barrels on any sized wave. Stalling in the ‘eye of the storm’ came natural to him. When requiring speed he would pump his board from rail to rail until he was generally spat out of the pit. He’d quip that because he was spat out so many times his back hurt and he required some benadine. His precise timing in the barrel was a standout on every occasion he paddled out.
A week into the holiday and the swell dropped to about 2 feet. This meant the high tide surf at “Lakey Pipe” was on. Situated just across the channel from the “Peak” it was the perfect shallow pit for when the swell got small. On surfing the “Pipe” less experienced surfers were getting scraped from its sharp coral bottom. Occasionally even the best were returning to camp with battle wounds inflicted by pushing the envelope and sitting too far inside. Again Joey was the standout, consistently disappearing and exiting time and time again. His naivety was shown on a recent trip to W.A. when he featured on the back of a “Rip Curl” tide chart. Whilst travelling he was stopped on numerous occasions by young fans who recognized him and wanted him to sign his picture. He asked Boonga, “Why do these people want me to write my name on my photo?” Boonga had to educate him that what he was doing was signing an autograph.
The trip turned a bit sour one day when Craig brought over an eagle that had been shot out of the sky with a high powered BB gun. The bullet had passed through the back of its neck and once flightless the young local culprits had been flicking its head with a towel. It was a sad moment watching such a wonderful bird in so much pain. The eagle’s eyes were swollen shut and it was in total shock. With the help of Mr. Lopez we took the bird out the back to Abdul who was a master at handling feathered friends. He was your birdman of Lakey’s and he asked me to bring what medicines I had from my room. I grabbed some tea tree, paw paw and eyedrops then hastily returned. We then cleaned the grit and sand out of its eyes and face with the disinfectant. With Abdul holding its head I then applied the paw paw to its swollen lumps above its eyes. After that we administered the eyedrops. Abdul opened its beak and Geri force fed it chunks of fresh fish from the kitchen. The feed was followed by some mouthfuls of aqua then Abdul put it inside one of his chicken’s cages for the night to protect it. We then all prayed for the bird’s speedy recovery.
Next morning from the inside of my protective mosquito net I was awoken by Boonga’s taps on the window. The tide was filling up and it was a perfect time to head out for the early. Whilst negotiating the tricky rocks on the shoreline I was fed up stepping over the vast amounts of plastic that littered the reef. It was evident that there was no recycling in effect on the island so I mentioned to Boonga that we should have a clean up that arvo. He agreed so we went about telling all those in the water that at 4pm there would be a concerted effort to clean up the beach and surrounding reef. A desire to make a difference saw 30 to 40 surfers and their girlfriends turn up to participate. With Joey and a few other local boys joining in we all cleared a 1.5 km stretch of the beach within two hours. Unfortunately the plastic had to be burnt in a huge sandpit after collection but those are the breaks in remote Indo where recycling factories don’t exist. The response to the small project had been overwhelming. Surfers from all over the world including Japan, the U.K, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the Canary Islands, and the U.S, had collectively helped in saving the “Lakey” environment. After all what goes into the water at “Lakey Peak” can end up around the world at anyone’s beach.
That night everyone feasted at Fatmah’s as a celebration. It was also a farewell to our Jap mate Yundi Irons. Yes, Yundi was the third Irons brother or so his email site Yundi_Irons@ would have you believe. It was your normal rowdy affair with Bintangs being consumed at the rate of knots. Brendan had become such an alcoholic on the beverage we had nicknamed him “Brentang”. As Yundi drank longneck after longneck his eyes started to squint and his usual conservative appearance took on a lighter shade of pale. Egged on by all present he started sculling beers bought by the vocal crowd. With Ministry of Sound beats pounding out of the speakers he decided to entertain the crew by jumping up on tables and getting down with his own Japanese styled dance moves. These moves were regularly interrupted by his need to run to the dunny and spew. Like a Japanese soldier he wouldn’t give up, returning to the scene of the crime for another go. As each Bintang was passed to him he’d wipe the remaining spew off his face before trying his luck again. At one stage he pulled his t-shirt up over his head and tried drinking but that didn’t quite work so he sprayed everyone else with the remnants. His finale involved chucking a brown eye on top of a table and then falling arse first into Boonga’s lap. As he was pushed aside there was a trail of skid marks down Boonga’s t-shirt showing the route he had taken. Pandemonium rocked the joint and Yundi was elevated to legend status.
Next day there wasn’t too many crew out for the early. It was solid three foot so the crew was spread between the “Pipe” and the “Peak”. Joey being the focused grommet he is was onto it. Again he was living up to his name and threading through barrel after barrel. He was at home deep inside the throat of any pit. You could tell it was where he wanted to be. So relaxed one could sense it came naturally to him. It then dawned on me that this young kid who showed such incredible surfing talent had experienced a lot of special things to take him this far. Because of this he was a special kid already. He was making the most of the chance to get out of his village. It was an opportunity beyond most village boy’s wildest dreams and he was making every post a winner. Joey’s rising is just in it’s infancy and when he does come of age everyone in the surfing world is going to sit up and take notice.
As the adventure drew to a close it was easy to reflect on it with a big smile on my face. The waves had been consistent and the camp had been friendly. There had been a lot of friendships forged with a lot of great people from all over the globe. “Lakey’s” beach was the cleanest it had been for years and the locals now had some understanding of what all the litter was doing to their environment. The eagle was on the mend after the birdmen had worked their magic and was destined for the blue skies that it had been shot out of. As I sat in Fatmah’s that final day watching “Lakey Peak” do it’s thing I knew that the place and everything about it did have something special to it. That something special is the reason why surfers travel in search of adventure and good waves. That something special is the reason why I will always remember the good times I experienced on that wonderful trip to “Lakey Peak”.