Soaring in East Bali
The story behind the Irons’ Brothers groundbreaking trip to Bali in 2006.
Words: Adam Blakey / Transworld Surf 2006
It was a mission of monumental proportion. Taylor Steele had ten days with the Kaua’i brothers for his upcoming super 16mm/hardcover photo-journal epic Sipping Jetstreams. “Art house” in the purest sense of the term, the mission statement of the project was to reveal the soulful underbelly of the surf-travel experience – the chaotic noise of busy cultures, the soothing silence of the far reaches.
Rumors of secret waves, helicopter flights, towns for hire, and local dissent were doing rounds of the island like a lost tourist on a runaway motorbike. Grubby fingers wanted a slice of the Irons pie, and who was gonna stop them from getting it? After all, Taylor was just a blow-in, why should he get sole rights to the action?
Well, aside from doing all the groundwork alongside Sipping Jetstreams partner-in-crime Bali-based photographer Dustin Humphrey (which did indeed include the hiring of a helicopter, a day’s search for and discovery of a sick new wave, another day’s exploration for the wave via land, and the bribing of airport officials so the Irons brothers could skip the usual quiver hassles through customs), Steele had a bigger picture in mind. “As far as I was concerned, if we were going to affect anyone, we wanted them to be compensated,” said Steele. “We wanted it to be a good thing for Bali and for Balinese surfing. That was a priority.”
Bruce had cut his head pretty badly. Blood poured down the side of his face and dripped off his shoulders. “It’s gonna need stitches,” said Taylor, examining the wound.
Brucey was visibly shattered: “Oh God, first surf! I can’t f-kin’ believe it!”
Meanwhile, Andy sat in the line-up alone … well, maybe not completely. Four sets of lenses were sweating on his every move. But the attention seemed to escape the two-time World Champ. “Are you kidding me,” he said later when asked if he felt any pressure to perform for the cameras. “I got ten days in Bali, surfing perfect empty waves with Bruce. This isn’t work, this is the best holiday I’ve had in ten years!”
It showed. Prior to the skull laceration, Bruce and Andy had been putting on the kind of surfing that has groms wanting to be them, girls wanting to be with them, and grown men shaking their heads in a mix of disbelief and admiration. From roundhouse cutties to tail-whipping off the lips to hara-kiri air bombs, the brothers looked loose and psyched. But it was more than just the relaxing tropical atmosphere that had the Ironses’ jaws frothing, it was also the wave.
Double Ds was a two-hour drive from the crowds of Kuta, and, as far as anyone knew, had only been surfed three times before, during the previous week when Taylor and Hump had taken Rizal Tanjung, Benji Weatherly, Mike Losness, and Dede Suryana up for a test run to get some footage for the follow-up feature to Campaign. Tagging along were local rippers Marlon Gerber and Lee Wilson, and it only took a few waves before the boys knew they were onto something special.
A grinding black-sand-bottom right with a wall that never let up, Double Ds (or Dead Dogs-named after a mangled pooch corpse was found decomposing up in the dunes that overlooked the wave) was the pick of the bunch, discovered from the chopper. The Campaign 2 sessions planted the seeds of potential, and by the time the cameras started rolling for Sipping Jetstreams, Double Ds was firing.
“F-k, it’s like J-Bay out there,” screamed Andy. “Oh shit … there’s nobody out!”
The psych didn’t let up until the spilling of blood. Bruce scored his cut two hours into session one. The result of an air that went so high he might have come down covered in snow. He all but made it, slipping at the last second after what looked like perfect entry into the transition. His board flicked back, and the fin sliced his melon. But seven stitches and five hours later, he was back out there. It was that good.
It was kind of Rizal’s idea. The conditions had changed, and Double Ds was no longer an option. The group was kind of stuck until Rizal mentioned Keramas might be a possibility. From there the wheels were back in motion.
Keramas, the hot new ticket in Bali town, is a right on the wrong side of the island said to be a cross between HT’s and Macaroni’s – the two finest jewels in the Mentawai crown. Everyone was coming to surf it. Everyone else was coming to shoot it. To get it for a whole day, empty, at this time of year? Impossible. Unless…
Bali has a tendency to run a bit like Chicago during prohibition – knowing the right people and having the right amount of money can make things happen. But there was an ugly stain on Keramas. Only a month or two earlier the beach had been hired outright by a major company for a contest that left a sour taste in a lot of local mouths. This time everything would have to be well cleared before the show rolled in.
Rizal, Made Switra, Pepen Hendrik, and Hump’s lovely girlfriend Mira canvassed the entire area, including local surfers, businesses, warung owners, and beach vendors, gathering support for their plan. They got the blessing of Ketut Kasih, a.k.a. King Kong, the well-known godfather of Balinese surfing, and backed up every proposal with a fist full of rupiah. Five of the hottest Balinese surfers were invited to join the session (Riz, Pepen, Bol, Betet, and Made Switra), and it wasn’t long before Andy and Bruce arrived via helicopter and jumped straight into takeoff position in the line-up. The hiring of Kramas was suddenly complete.
“It was an important thing to do, but I think it’s important that it never happens again,” says Hump reflecting on the day. “This was an opportunity to have the best two surfers in the world surf what is fast becoming recognized as one of the best waves in the world. It was a positive thing for everyone involved, but the problem is there are a lot of people in Bali, and when people aren’t involved, they know they’re missing out on the opportunity to gain for themselves” he adds.
“A few days after the Keramas session Pepen was confronted by a pretty heavy figure in the underworld and told to keep his friends and business out of Bali. To his credit and character, Pepen stood straight up to the guy and told him that anyone who has a problem with his friends would be dealing with him first. Pepen can see the bigger picture – how important it is for local groms to see guys like Andy and Bruce in Bali – but still, that sort of confrontation is unfortunate and unnecessary.”
Something was in the room. Something sinister. A presence not quite human. Bali is a spiritual place and that’s fine, but when the spirits are in your space, when they catch your eye and you spin only to see nothing there, when they whisper strange cries as you drift in and out of sleep… well, it doesn’t create the ideal holiday atmosphere.
Mia and Lyndie had had enough. As far as they were concerned the hotel rooms were haunted. Andy and Bruce weren’t about to disagree. Sure, fifteen-foot, ledging Teahupo’o is one thing, but ghosts, now that’s f-kin’ scary. They all moved into Taylor’s to escape the evil vibes. Two days later, Andy got struck by typhoid fever.
It was a string of events that can only come together while traveling. Paranormal activity and strange diseases mixed with tropical paradise and sick fun sessions with only your brother to share it with. You can either take the bad with the good and live with the memories or slink off home to Mommy. Gripped by fever, chills, and stomach cramps, Andy wasn’t about to pussy out. He persevered, even changed his ticket to make up for the two days of footage he missed while out of the water.
“It was the coolest thing he could have done,” said Taylor Steele after returning home. “All we wanted to do when we organized this trip was to treat the two greatest surfers in the world like the elite athletes they are. I think surfing is at a place now where they should get that sort of respect. We flew them over, got them through the airport, we put them up, we basically didn’t want them to have to worry about anything. When Andy got sick I didn’t expect him to stay, but he did. He dealt with it, and as soon as he could, he was back in the surf. That’s all he really cared about.”
Watch the full movie & more on the Momentum Files YouTube Channel HERE