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Tags: Indonesia, Lakey Peak Surfing, Stories

Life lessons from surfing Lakey Peak

We learnt about the importance of leaving our comfort zones with a good guide

After landing in Bima, making it past the driver cartel, traversing winding mountain roads heavy with goat and water buffalo traffic and sweating through the long delays at mosque roadblocks (roads are shut in front of mosques during prayer time), I finally made it to Lakey Peak.

The driver went past the cosy looking bungalows at the beginning of the beach and delivered me straight to the doorsteps of Balumba hotel. The rooms were dreary. Bedding did not appear to be changed for years. The shower was a spigot jutting out of the wall at around the 5 feet level. And my room came with a roommate — a hand sized spider. This place had seen better days. And yet it was bustling!

On the beach side of the hotel I found the other guests. A group of about a dozen young muscular men were standing around in their board shorts, their muscles glistening in the sun as they looked out into the water where the waves were relentlessly beating the empty shore.

This is Lakey Peak — surfers’ hidden paradise. It was popularized amongst foreign surfers in the early 90s by an Australian and it is now well known amongst diehard wave riders around the world for amazing reef breaks and waves with ability to shoot out surfers at each end. But despite its fame it is still relatively untouched. Only a handful of restaurants and small accommodations dot the shoreline. Many of them miles superior to Balumba!

The beach is pristine. The waves keep barrelling in. The warungs (local cafes), full of fresh seafood, are equally shared between locals and visitors. The locals are inviting and quick to smile. The sunsets are mesmerizing. It’s idyllic.

But you only need to be here for a few hours to understand that there is an underlying tension in the surfer social hierarchy, the kind you find in most highly competitive environments. At the top, unquestionably, are the locals, followed by the Australians but frequently contested by the Brazilians and the Spanish. The rest jockey for the bottom rungs.

To an outsider they all seem to bathe in unattainable cool. It’s hard not to feel an imposter — a sort of a bumbling explorer trying to pass as a native among a warrior tribe. I can sense the clan scrutinizing my skinny arms and lack of war paint (most surfers wear a long lasting sunscreen that applies a maroon purple). I know that they know I haven’t a clue about the difference between a long board and beans.

The only way I can even begin to understand what the fuss is about this place is by observing them in their natural habitat and join in their ritual practice of wave riding. Just being among them on land was wholly uncomfortable but getting out in the water is taking it to another level.

Enter my local guide in the aqua jungle — Ornot. He’s a 5’4 local boy, with a small but strongly built frame and a mop of dark hair. Ornot has been surfing since he was a kid, later participating in competitions and finally making his way to Bali to teach at surf camps.

A few years ago, Ornot decided to come back home to Lakey Peak and along with a few friends, started a business of surf guiding and teaching. Lakey Peak is not the typical place for beginners. So most of the business comes from setting up waves for intermediate surfers. But now and again there are a few brave (or foolish) souls like myself who think it’s all a mental game and only a matter of a few lessons before mastering the skill.

Ornot takes me to Nungas Point — the “easy” spot. The waves are still huge and hard to predict. I go in with a brave face, but as we keep paddling for what seems like miles from shore and the swells get meaner, my gut fills with dread. Before we went in the water, Ornot taught me the roll-over manoeuvre used when facing fast approaching white water. On shore I processed it like the emergency water landing procedure explained before take off on a plane. Never going to need it. But here it was coming hard and fast. Aghhh!

The first few times of being mercilessly pummelled by a wave are mortifying. The natural reaction is to panic and flail around. But the best way is to stay still and let it pass.

Ornot is a calming force. He keeps the chatter going and gives the instruction to roll over with out a tinge of alarm. By now he knows I’m a poor excuse for a log in the water, as he pushes me along to get to the wave breaks. But no matter, he keeps the motivation up. And he keeps the tribe’s aggressive warriors from intimidating me. He tells me to keep paddling straight ahead as the water natives (those who ride the waves like the boy below!) are trying to shoo me away.

I come back to shore having sun burned the backs of my legs, water dreaded my hair and lost my earrings, but gained some pride after standing up two times. Thank you, Ornot! Not going to write home about it or make an Insta story, but it’s a start.

Now when I come back to Mamat’s Warung (run by a champion fisherman and star surf photographer) and chat with Pete and Benny (a couple of retired fireman from Sydney I had met the day before) I feel just a little more at home. They ask about my experience and seem encouraging. But likely it’s because they are older and the competitive spirit has mellowed, not that they see a budding surfer in me. Ugh!! The surfer cool is messing with my head!

I know it will be some time before I can begin a conversation with the Brazilian surfer mafia without stuttering. It’s a long journey to learn any skill and along it there is also the often tougher task of mastering the ways of the inner circle. But if your curiosity burns harder than your intimidation and you bring along a good teacher — the rewards can be glorious. And best of all I get to take this lesson home with me. No matter what looks intimidating, insurmountable or socially paralyzing all can be conquered but you have to take the first step and bring a good guide.

Afterword: This story was written by Lina, Co-founder of Seek Sophie. She's not a pro surfer just yet, but Lakey Peak has given her enough of a taste for it that she's on the look-out for her next surfing challenge!

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