Passion Comes in Waves
Story

INTO THIN AIR


In 1991, a heartbroken Aussie surfer named Lance Knight lies awake and dreams of a perfect wave all to himself. He wakes up determined to move forward. He finds some Marine charts of the Indian Ocean and starts mapping out rumors he’s heard. He decides on a small island called Sipora, off West Sumatra. Having traveled most of the way from Australia overland, He arrives in the capital of Padang by bus.

For 50 bucks he hitches a ride in a tiny bush plane with an Iranian Pilot who is also a MSF Doctor. Lance Knight arrives, barely, on a small, dusty, island jungle airstrip with one board, a small backpack and a 10 kilo bag of rice. He then hitches a ride on a small fishing boat, attempting to make his way to the opposite, swell-exposed side of the island. After days of coastal trading, the small fishing boat is caught by a big storm. The Captain heads for shore to a place he knows where they might find safety.

It is the small village of Katiet on Sipora island where, in 1943, the WWII Japanese Imperial Navy once blew a massive holes in the reef very close to shore so that they could drop off Ammunition and establish Anti-aircraft gun nests. Lance and the Fisherman barely make it through the blown reef pass and drop anchor into the Japanese Navy’s deepest spot that is now known as “the keyhole”. That’s when Lance notices that the Japanese Navy had created a miracle. An absolutely perfect wave grinding along a perfectly altered reef not 50 yards from the safety of the keyhole. Lance suits up and, storm or no, paddles out. Having never seen a surfboard before, over 100 villagers climb the trees on shore to watch him die.

He lives. And returns to shore to be a celebrity among his new tribe for weeks while surfing what eventually became to be known as Lance’s Rights.

Today, as Taj Burrow, Rio Waida, Teiki Balian and Tatsyua Tanaka discovered recently on a big swell, the ride at Lances Right starts long before you take off. It’s starts when you begin your journey to the place. Then, after you have had your very first ride and find yourself back out in the line-up for more, you become dizzy with excitement.
Because at this point, you both know each who each other are now. Both wave and surfer know what the other is capable of. Before your second wave you have learned some things. Like the fact that despite the perfection, this wave is dangerous as hell. Sit deep and when a set approaches, if you are not paying attention, you will find your feet dragging along the live reef.

Get greedy and do one too many cutbacks and you will be eaten alive by the “surgeons table” on the inside. A wipeout there, over exposed scalpel sharp cockleshells and staghorn coral, causes deep lacerating damage that has been compared with shotgun wounds. And things like the fact that the wave is so perfect, all it takes is for someone to even think about dropping in on you to cause a disastrous chandelier. And the fact that every take-off takes absolute commitment over the kaleidoscope reef just waiting to chew you up. But, despite all this, you wait for your second wave. Smarter, ready. It comes, it’s yours, you paddle, hard, it lifts you, begins to draw, bending and tapering away into the channel in perfect harmony with the underwater contours.

This is your entire world now, your board releases, you hunch to your feet and floor it. And in what feels like slow motion, you can feel the wave lunging, warping and pitching. You keep your eyes on the exit. You drive and drive, and the wave drives back, grinding around you, giving you everything its got. You match it for long moments until you feel something else. You feel it in your balls, in your scalp, in your quivering legs and your pounding heart. You feel that you are actually going to come out of this thing.

And then you do. With speed to burn and a heart rate to match. You don’t know whether to laugh, scream or cry.
So you just eject, rocketing off the lip, leaping off your board into the sky, suspended for an instant, defying gravity, flying. Feeling like you are going stay that way forever. And you just might.