Nick Joeckel laughed, sort of, in telling how customs agents shook him down for two brand-new pairs of sunglasses in the Jakarta airport on the way back from a 10-day odyssey during which he surfed some of the best waves on the planet with 10 friends who had dreamed of surfing Indonesia together since they were kids.
They returned on June 22 bruised and cut from bouncing off the reefs of the Mentawai chain of islands, but with surfing batteries fully charged.
Except for Java Bailey from Southampton, Matt Clark, a well-known surf photographer, and Joe Mata, a rep for Oakley sunglasses — the company that puts Joeckel in the category of sponsored surfer — the trip was made up of friends, now in their mid-20s, who caught the surf bug at Atlantic Terrace, Ditch Plain, Turtle Cove, and their other hometown Montauk breaks.
Joeckel, his brother, Jesse (who owns the Whalebone Creative shop on Fort Pond Bay), Tyler Maguire, Charlie Weimar, Patrick Havlik, Kevin Becker, Jason Hewitt, John Wade, Bailey, and Mata are experienced surfers who, for years, had traveled beyond their hometown spots to juicier waves in the Caribbean and Hawaii. Nick Joeckel, Weimar, and Bailey had surfed Indonesia before.
This time, Joeckel, Maguire, Havlik, Wade, and Becker flew to Bali two weeks before the boat trip. Wade is still in Bali, “gone rogue,” Joeckel said. Wade is a commercial fisherman out of Montauk by trade, as are Joeckel and Weimar.
“As a group, we all talked about a boat trip to Indo,” Joeckel said, referring to the preferred way to taste the wide variety of waves offered by the reefs located over 50 miles off the coast of Sumatra. Beginning in the 1970s, the area was pioneered by Australian surfers who risked malaria and worse to experience wave perfection.
The Mentawais are a vast tropical paradise with Indian Ocean temperatures in the mid-80s, equatorial sun, and, other than a few island villagers paddling dugout canoes, little else but natural beauty. A surfari to the islands has become a pilgrimage of sorts for very good surfers, but the islands are in the middle of proverbial nowhere. A serious injury is serious indeed. These days a few resorts that cater to surfers have sprouted up, but boats, some with first-class accommodations, Indonesian crews, excellent food, and bottomless supplies of Bintang beer for apres-surf sunsets, are the way to go.
“Our boat was the Meleleuca, a 70-foot Indo yacht, first-class with an Australian guide,” Joeckel said. “Yogurt and fruit before our first session, then eggs, then a second session, and lunch, then surf again in the afternoon. Three sessions per day.”
He said the Meleleuca first called at the area known as Playgrounds, named for the number and variety of waves in close proximity, including Rifles, so-called for the cracking sound a wave makes when its perfectly formed lip hits the reef. Not far away, they caught the wave known as Bank Vaults — “double overhead barrels, a loomy peak,” Joeckel said.
The boat stayed at Playgrounds for the first three days, then headed south to the infamous wave known as Macaroni’s, perhaps because of the way a surfer can get twisted there. The Montaukers were taken to Greenbush, a wave that’s been surfed for only a few years.
“Heavy reef-break barrels. You come out of a barrel practically onto dry reef. We had it by ourselves for two days, a big, dredging, spitting barrel. No room for errors, no turns, just go. It’s more of a wedge.”
Joeckel said that Montauk alone could not prepare a surfer for Indonesia and its particular Indian Ocean long-period pulse. “It’s mellow for a half-hour, and then the pulse” — a big set of waves generated by storms raging near the Antarctic.
Surfing “front-side” can be a great advantage when waves are steep and barreling, as they are in the most iconic of Indonesian surf spots. The boat visited both lefts and rights, waves that break left-to-right and give goofy-footed surfers (standing with right foot forward and facing the wave) the front-side advantage, and right-to-left breaking waves more comfortable for surfers with the opposite stance. There were seven regular foots, and only three goofys.
“The name spots like Macaroni’s were crowded, maybe 35 guys in the water, but you still get so many waves. Everyone wanted to surf Lance’s Right, but the winds didn’t agree. Inside, farther into a cove from Lance’s Left, is a spot called Bintangs [after the beer], a novelty wave, a draining right-hand barrel. We had it all to ourselves, every wave a barrel, not giant, real fun. It was at the end of the trip.”
The heavy waves and sharp coral reefs took their toll, but there were no serious injuries. Wade got his “back ripped like tiger claws on his back,” Joeckel said. “Charlie Weimar hit the reef hard on the second-to-last day at Macaroni’s. We had a first-aid kit on the boat. We went through three bottles of Chinese iodine.”
The trip to the surf almost exactly on the other side of the world is a two-day affair: New York to Singapore via Frankfurt, Germany, then from Singapore to Jakarta, and finally Jakarta to Padang, Sumatra. Joeckel was the trip organizer, no small task. Getting the group’s money together and making the visa, flight, and boat arrangements was a challenge. And then there was Jakarta.
“I missed the flight from Indo to Singapore. Got stuck in the Jakarta airport for 12 hours by myself. Got detained by customs. My visa was expired by one day. I had $15 in cash and my credit card. They took me to a back room and closed the doors. They said $15 was not enough. There was no way to get cash from my card. All I had was two new pairs of Oakley sunglasses.”
Today, there are two customs agents wearing very cool shades, and Nick Joeckel and the boys are already talking about the next surfari to Indonesia.