A wide set. This one well overhead. Time to show’em. Arms and lesgs both in action, under the crumbling lip, got in earlier this time, pushing down on the nose… bog… heading backward up the face… don’t push on the nose, release!... accelerating back down… get in trim… How? Drag a fin?…. Bogging…. Release fin... accelerate, but going straight again… turn!... not turning, not turning, not… buck, buck… oh duck!
My fingers clawed at Phileas’s ‘rail’ and Phileas tried to rip my fingers off. Then she was gone.
“Phileas, you mother-f@#$%^ $#@! of a thing!”
By the time I had resurfaced Phileas had bolted across the reef and was gliding, rider-less, in perfect trim across the tiniest line of swell imaginable deep into the lagoon. I put my head down, elbows up and started the long plod in pursuit.
Reaching the shallows, I stood up to find the white plastic rendition of evil incarnate floating in front of a young Sumbanese lad, a local forager, who was poking at her suspiciously with a sharpened squid hook. “Oi! Cut that out you little bugger!” The kid scampered and Phileas lived another day.
Despite my humbling first surf, there was something inexplicably addictive about the experience. Riding a mat was unlike anything I had ever felt before. It was impossibly difficult and yet, in the briefest of seconds hurtling over angry coral heads, Phileas had revealed moments of apparent frictionless acceleration.
Later that evening, over a Bintang, I was studying youtube clips to find out what I was doing wrong and gushing to the only person that would listen, the mal-rider with the minute-long ride from earlier in the day. “There’s something about this mat thing”, I spouted while showing him a clip of Greenough in Hawaii. He raised an eyebrow and made an impolite inquiry about my sexual orientation.
The week continued in this vein. The swell pumped and the winds were light and variable. Lefts fired, rights fired, there were barrels and pockets to be hooked a plenty. This part of Sumba was a special, fickle place. Until very recently it was a favourite hideaway for a few tight-lipped regulars who studied wind, tide and swell charts and knew when the combination looked complementary. Now the land has been bought up and resorts are in build. If you like the sound of it, get there quick because it won’t be pristine for too much longer.