The Muzzaswell was an awesome swell. The coast of the Bukit was pounded with clean, albeit inconsistent, solid wave sets for three days straight. Calling it “The Swell of the Century” is, however, great marketing. This is really how the swell played out on the Bukit, Bali. Read from the surfers that lived it
THE SWELL OF THE CENTURY – NOT
They called it the swell of the century. And you thought (and we thought), “I have to surf that”. Or at least you said to yourself (and we said to ourselves), “I have to see that.” I mean, the greatest swell of the past 100 years! That’s surfing history in the making! But maybe you got tricked (or maybe you didn’t), because the swell of the century may also refer to the swell of the 21st century, which in reality means, then, the swell of the past 15 years. That’s right.
But hey, the swell of the past 15 years. You also want to surf that. You also want to witness that.
And you did, and if you did and you have surfed Bali for many years then you know it wasn’t the swell of the century.
If you don’t know but you really want to know, don fret, we got it covered for you. We took our time and we talked to the people that know. The people that witness surf history happening in Bali. The people that live it. The people whose own history is part of Bali’s surf history.
Jim Banks, at Ulu’s: “It was bigger three years ago, and it’s probably bigger at least once a year. It was big and there were some nice waves but we didn’t have the low tide for Outside Corner’s. It didn’t really wall up properly. There were a couple of big sets. Saturday at 11 and Sunday at 10, four times over head but that’s not that big for The Bombie.”
Johnny Uluwatu, at Padang Padang: “I’ve seen it a lot bigger and better. Three or four years ago it was much better and two years ago the beach at Padang was closing out.”
Rizal, at Padang: “Maybe somewhere else, but not here. Not too big. Very inconsistent.”
Mick, at Impossibles: “Not in terms of size, but it lasted for 3 days so I think that makes a difference. To call it the swell of the century is great marketing. It could make sense because it lasted for so long. But it was very inconsistent, not many sets. I would put it between the best 5 swells of this century.”
They called it the swell of the century. And we wish it had been. Oh how we wish it! But it wasn’t. So to honor truth, we won’t call it that. We can’t call it that.
To honor Bali resident and big wave charger, Muz, we’d rather: “The Muzzaswell”
THE MUZZASWELL – BIG YES BIG
Marty a.k.a. Muz was a Bali resident and big Ulu’s charger. Always fit and healthy. But like all of us, his time on Earth was scheduled. Like some of us, he found out his schedule in advance. He had been given 3 or 4 months to live. He passed away just two days before the swell hit the coast of Bali. His friends and surf mates paid him tribute by calling the swell The Muzzaswell. As Jim Banks put it: Good call.
We were puzzled. The swell was indeed a great swell but it was not what we were made to believe it was going to be. How could that be? Were we being lied to? Was somebody trying to deceive us? Why? Or was it just a mistake from meteorologists and swell chart analyzers? I mean, what happened? Why was this swell so misleadingly hyped?
If you were wondering about the same thing, don’t fret, we got it covered for you too.
We talked to Asfeb.
ANONYMOUS SURFER FROM EAST BUKIT (Asfeb)
We got word that one of the surfers to talk to in Bali was ASFEB. Asfeb calls himself an amateur hobbyist. He is being humble. Honestly humble. He has been reading weather maps and analyzing MSLP (Mean Sea Level Pressure) charts since the age of 15 when he would get his hand on every chart feeding out of weather faxes whenever he had the chance. He belonged to a yachting community and would listen to radio weather and swell forecasts. He is now 58. He is a surfer. But he is also a spear fisherman, a diver and a kite surfer. Asfeb has made the east of the Bukit his home for over 20 years. He checks his home break from his house window every day. For over 20 years he has had the chance to compare information and predictions from meteorologists and forecasters to how the actual waves were breaking in front of him. For over twenty years he has been able to hone in his Bali forecasting expertise. He was one of the first to regularly surf Impossibles when it was good. Nowadays, he hardly ever leaves the east side of the bukit. But for this swell, he did. He came to the west side.
All those years of studying and analyzing weather and swell charts taught him a thing or two. The a thing is this: “I don’t think anybody is perfect at forecasting. In the end, Mother Nature has the upper hand and she does whatever she wants to do.”
The two thing is this: “Usually we get the biggest swells in Indonesia around the beginning of the season (April-May) or towards the end (September-October). And there is a reason for that. This last swell was at the end of June, that’s the middle of the Antarctic winter. That means the ice cap is fairly extended as opposed to April-May, September-October when the ice cap is not as big. That means that if the low pressure is located too south, the eye of the storm will generate on top of the ice cap. So no matter how strong the winds are, they will hit the ice and not liquid water (you need the winds to hit liquid ocean water to create wakes that will in turn combine and generate waves). This was the case with this last swell. Part of the storm was hitting solid water thus not contributing to generating swell.
Another factor to take into consideration is that if the swell’s origin is too south, then it needs to travel a larger distance to make it to the tropics and part of the energy will be used for traveling. For Indonesia, it’s actually better when the storm originates not that far from the archipelago.
Another thing that I noticed was that throughout the development of the swell, there was this high pressure positioned right in front of the storm that would not break down. So the low-pressure system had to either fight against it as it pushed north or move from west to east where there was no opposition. And that’s exactly what it did. It traveled fast from west to east without losing as much of its power while at the same time pushing north albeit losing more force in going in that direction. Western Australia’s coast was closer and open to receiving the swell. So it got it full force. Indonesia was farther and somewhat protected by the high pressure. The storm was a good one though, so in the end it did break the opposing high pressure down sending a good big swell to Bali and the other islands.”
ABOUT THE HYPE:
In his opinion, the media is getting more and more hyped-up. And he explains that the hype is consequence of two main factors. “Firstly, radar satellite imagery was readily available on many websites around the world, particularly swell forecasting websites, and people started sharing those images that read 60-foot waves at the center of the storm. But most forget that you need to take into account all other factors (see above) to have a better understanding of how the swell may play out once it hits the shore. Another factor is that a lot of surfing-related websites sell or advertise for surfing-related products. The more viewers they get, the more advertising they can sell. To generate business they need to capitalize on that [the hype].”
“Sensationalizing surfing for profit”, as Asfeb calls it, is part of their (our?) strategy to bring surfers to those sites.
“And it’s not just for surfers”, he adds, “surfing is so mainstream now, that anybody is a potential customer for surfing-related products.”
Asfeb came out of his east bukit shell this past swell. He got some good ones at Impossibles and then took his family to long-time-no-see Uluwatu to enjoy the show and watch his friend who flew in from Western Australia just for this swell. “There were all these people, I couldn’t believe it! And the shocking part was that they were oblivious to what was going on! The guys in the water were charging some gnarly bombs and it was like nobody was really paying attention to the real spectacle! There was even a guy that came to me to try to sell me some drugs. And this is at Ulu’s!”
Jim Banks (Jim Banks Surfboards) followed and surfed the swell at Ulu’s. His Facebook reporting kept us all in the loop on how The Muzzaswell was playing out at the thickest, rawest and most powerful wave on the Bukit. Not coincidentally, there was only a maximum of 10 guys out at any one time, mostly local bules. Only 3 when Jim was out.
He has been surfing Ulu’s since he first paddled out in 1977. He knows the spot. “When I first paddled out, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I paddled out at Outside Corner’s and the tide was too high. There was too much water. It was Saturday and the swell was still rising. When you expect 35 foot sets it makes you skitzy. With a forecast like that you also play it safe, you are not keen on getting caught by a forty-foot set wave. I paddled on to The Bombie, but I still wasn’t feeling too at ease. Some guys were getting some awesome bombs getting barreled and all.”
“I wasn’t up to speed,” he concedes, “I haven’t surfed it big in many years. Some guys got caught at The Bombie by a set and called it a day thinking it was going to get bigger and bigger. You know, the whole thing going on the back of your mind about the 35 foot swell coming…”
The hype played a bit of a trick on Jim who only at the end of the session started feeling more comfortable. Jim captained a surf charter around the Indonesian archipelago for 7 years. “As far as I can recall [throughout those 7 years] most big swells were forecasted for 4 meters and this one they were calling 20 to 25 feet with 35-foot sets. As a matter of fact, it produced 25-foot faces… maybe some random sets did something bigger. And the thing is that the swell was very close and they were still predicting 35-foot waves. I bet we will get a bigger one later in the year.”
So do Indonesians surfUlu’s big?
“Indonesians don’t surf it. They don’t really like it here when it’s big. Or they just don’t have the boards. You know, you need a bigger board to surf Ulu’s big. A lot of people paddled out 3 years ago including about 5 Indonesians. We were like, “ok… this is the beginning of the end…”, but after a few sets on the head they all disappeared.”
The Muzzaswell, however, may also be really “the beginning of the end”. Have a look at this:
Same wave, from the water. Imagine you on a shaky 6’6″ and that speed train coming after you. #Muzzaswell
THE CRAZY, BALLSY INDONESIAN
That’s Corox. He doesn’t have a big board. That is a big board for him and it’s not even his board. It’s a 6’6’’ he borrowed from his boss who took him out on a boat and told him “Go, go. Go and kill yourself”, Corox says his mouth bursting in a wide open laughter. It was his first time at Ulu’s big. Corox caught ten waves but rode only a couple all the way down the line. “I felt good on the line-up. Not many people out and good vibe between us. But it was difficult to find the wave. My board was too small, no speed, shaking too much. That one (see picture above) was a monster wave. I saw it coming and I thought it was a good one, so I paddled, then started dropping in on my friend and then next thing I was in the blender and then in the washing machine for like two minutes. And then I took the rest of the set with like 5 more waves on the head, so then I felt scared. But I still wanted more.”
Corox surfed Padang on Saturday, Ulu’s on Sunday (biggest day of the swell) and Deserts on Monday. He works as a surf guide and hopes a picture like this and his performance will give a push to his professional career. But mostly, he is proud of himself. And the boys are proud of him too.
Would he come to Ulu’s again when it’s big? “For sure! I want more!”
On the same size board? “No, maybe Johnny would lend me a bigger one.”
Johnny is sitting next to us, sipping on a Bintang. “Maybe” he says with an almost unnoticeable smile.
Same wave, from the water. Imagine you on a shaky 6’6″ and that speed train coming after you. #Muzzaswell
PADANG PADANG – LOCALISM AND THE CRAZY BULE CROWD
Johnny Uluwatu is from Australia and has been living in Bali since 1979. He doesn’t own a business here. His only business is surfing. He has a don’t-fuck-with-me demeanor that is, yet, at the same time calm and welcoming. He hangs out with the local boys and surfs with the local boys. This is how he explains Padang and its crowd: “There was good vibe in the water, but it’s hard for bules. Only a couple get a few. Usually the bules that spend time with the boys. We do. We even had a bit of a ceremony at sunset at the parking lot. I took a bottle of arak and we drank it with all the boys.”
So the crowd?
“I stopped counting people after seventy. Probably only ten of us were catching good Padang waves. I used to aim for 4 waves per session on days like this. I dropped it down to 2. By the time the next set arrives all the boys are back to the line-up. [Pro-surfer] Julian Wilson couldn’t get a wave on Sunday.
There is a pecking order, you know. Mustafa, Rizal… and the Bingin boys Mega and Agus. Young 12-year old Tenshi was charging too. And Mike Rommelse among the bules. But if you are not part of the pecking order you will get dropped in or you will just catch the scraps along the length of Padang.”
Internationally renowned Indonesian surfer Rizal agrees, “Only locals get best waves. Everywhere in the world is the same, so you cannot complain. Sit where your sitting position is. There is first row, second row and third row. No way you’re going to sit on the front seat if you don’t know anybody. I got my share. Bali is open to the tourists and people share but if you act like an idiot you will get slapped.”
Do Balinese locals from different spots share with one another?
“Between us we are tight. Between all of us.” Rizal says.
Blacky, local Padma Boy had a lot of fun at Padang and agrees too, “So crowded, probably 70 people out, but as long as you know all the boys, we all share. It’s all about sharing with all the boys. I got some waves.”
Blacky had some fun at Padang. #Muzzaswell
Sandy, 22, also Padma Boy sees it similarly. “We are friendly with the Bingin boys. They come here and we surf together, or we go to Bingin and they are friendly with us so we share. If Bules respect us, we respect back. We share too. Padang is more difficult [to share] because it’s crowded with what we call zombies.”, he says laughing.
Petro, who is getting his charter boat ready (balinesiasurftrips.com) resides in Bali, and has surfed Padang, his favorite wave in Bali, for 12 years. He has a good relationship with the locals. But when they are in the water, “the waves are all for them” says Petro. “They were all waiting for this swell. It’s the first big swell of the season, so there were like over 20 Indonesians and the truth is that there weren’t even enough waves for all of them. There was a lot of tension in the water. It looked like those pictures of Pipeline where you see the guy taking off deep and dodging surfers as he drops. I got two waves on Saturday and two on Sunday. I got dropped in, or took off on close-outs. This swell was a swell for the locals [at Padang]. He sounds frustrated but Petro is from the Canary Islands where localism is heavier and more aggressive, “Honestly, we do the same in the Canaries, we even chase people out of the water. So I understand. They know me but they still drop in on me. [For a bule] it’s better to not even go in the water when the locals are all there. I should have gone somewhere to other islands.”
Sometimes the scraps are also fun. #Muzzaswell
BULE BALI RESIDENT BENSON HAS THE SOLUTION
Benson surfed at an un-crowded spot somewhere in Bali and is passionate about how he sees the crowd situation at Padang.
“We all saw the swell coming a week ahead of time so we all had time to map out where we could get good and un-crowded waves… to places that break 10 times longer than Padang anyway, where you can score the wave of your life. Padang is the local’s stadium, their gladiators’ pit and if you are serious about Padang and make it the focal point of your life, you will fit in with them. But if you are just cruising on your holidays, no matter if you are a good surfer; you will get dropped in on. So why would you set yourself up for that?”
Benson is adamant about it. For him, it is all clear as water and it is as if you didn’t see it the same, it’s because you just want to muddle things up. He speaks loud and confidently.
“You see we all are creatures of comfort. We like our Caesar’s salads, our cold beers and our clean hotel rooms. But there are still tons of spots where there is nothing available in the middle of nowhere with big waves. So people want big, gnarly waves in the ocean, but soft living conditions on land.” he says
“And the Indo boys want to get their shots at Padang. If you want to stay alive with the surfing, with the magazines, with the sponsors, you gotta be in the vortex of it all, and Padang is the vortex. If you are a soul surfer and want to just charge big, you don’t need to go to Padang.
There were other spots with long, big ride-able waves with not many people out. Long periods, so if you got throttled, you had time to make it to the line-up.
You can’t expect to show up at Padang and think you’re gonna catch a wave just like you wouldn’t show up at any of the famous surf breaks in the world and do that. It just doesn’t work that way.
That’s how I look at it. There has to be a positive angle to everything. Go and surf other awesome spots.” he tones down in concluding.
So close and so away from the crowds. Unnamed spot on the Bukit. #Muzzaswell
“Impossibles, when small is a much lesser wave [compared to other waves on the bukit]. When the swell is big Outside Corners is bigger and thicker and more rawer and much more technical and difficult to read the ocean and hold position. Impossibles is being groomed as it comes down the reef, therefore you get more of a perfect wave but much softer too. A lot of guys that surf Outside Corners, on its day, come down to Impossibles.”
Mick from Mick’s Place has been in Bali for 22 years. He used to surf Padang and Ulu’s. But as those waves got crowded, “you know that feeling, I couldn’t relax.” he started realizing Impossibles potential. In the year 2000 he started surfing it more and more and now he is first in class at it. He expresses himself just like the way he surfs: relaxed, confident, and with flow.
Mick at his place. View from Mick’s Place. #muzzaswell
What about the locals?
“Locals don’t surf it.”, says Mick. “They don’t have bigger boards. It’s less of a performance wave, it’s far from shore and it has less exposure. It’s out of the limelight. They prefer the challenge of a more performance wave like Bingin.”
Poor little-and-not-so-little-perfect-barrel-machine Bingin was bound to be left alone and get no love. Big swells usually play fat at the reef, with only a steep but short shoulder drop with no wall to surf on. Monster swells just wash over it and it becomes a big close-out over the otherwise calm and safe channel. So with a 35-foot swell on the way… why bother?
Well, don’t ask the not-so-smart beginner who had only surfed five times in his life and tried to try his luck at Bingin. He quickly realized his mistake when he left half of his back’s skin feeding whatever sea creature was brave enough to crawl on the reef being pounded by the sets.
But ask the handful of smarter than smart experienced bule surfers that were having a barrel feast while the locals were at Padang.
You see, what happened was that the swell or rather the big sets were very inconsistent. When those sets would come, monster waves would wash over Bingin. So the guys were constantly on the lookout for the big sets and when they saw them coming, they would paddle hard and frantically to get out as quickly as possible from the impact zone, making it to the shoulder or duck-diving the big wall. But once the set was gone, they would make it back to the line-up and catch the consistent in-between-set waves that were pulsing almost non-stop in the day-long nib tides. They feasted well.
So The Muzzaswell was not the swell of the century at any of the spots in Bali. Waves were huge but not that huge, spots were inconsistent at times, winds were strong for almost the first two days and nib tides didn’t help to make it shine on spots that needed lower tides. It was still, though, a crazy good swell by any standards. Surfers went down juicy thick walls and pulled into big scary barrels. Some made it out, some wish they did. Surfers also got smaller or faster or kinder barrels and some got some long rip-able walls. Surfers had the chance to challenge and prove to themselves they still had the balls, the skills, the will and the fitness to go for it. Some got worked, and got worked heavy. Some got frustrated too. Some learnt a lesson or two, and some others taught a lesson or two. Guns were dusted off and boards of all sizes were ridden. Many were broken. Leashes snapped and surfers rushed to shore hoping for the best to then rush to get another leash and rush back out again. It was a swell to experience on top of a board while going down the line or to enjoy while sipping a cold beer going down the throat. Whichever it was, you had to experience it. Thanks to the hype most surfers and non-surfers alike did.
So all is good.
When asked about what he thought when he saw what people were calling this swell and how in his opinion it was going to really play out, Asfeb answers, “My friend from Western Australia always flies in to surf The Bombie whenever there is a good big swell. So just to make sure he asked me what I thought about it and I said, “It looks good but I don’t see it being huge”. He did fly in on Thursday night and flew out on Monday night. “
So was it worth it for him?
“Oh yeah”, Asfeb says, “He got some great waves.”
So forget the hype and the crass misnomer, remember “The Muzzaswell”.