Everything You Need to Know About The Most 'Perfectly Imperfect' Wave in the Mentawais - Stab Mag
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"The takeoff is easy, but picking the waves is the hard thing. You could pick a double up that looks perfect and you get to the bottom of it and it just didn't hit the reef right.". Photo by @kirvanb

Everything You Need to Know About The Most ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Wave in the Mentawais

Tips from longtime HTs devotee, Liam Turner.

Words by Jack O'Neill Paterson
Reading Time: 7 minutes

In partnership with Onboard Store

“Obviously it’s not always as easy as it sounds, but you have some days where it’s just like, fuck, is this a real job?”

Indo’s been pumping, ain’t no secret. 

The best way to gain any insight, said the late cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, is to have a psychotic episode and get the hell over it. Similarly, for those of us cemented at home, hunched behind a computer screen and geographically challenged, the best way that we can begin to grasp the intricacies of the recent Indo pulse, is to listen to the advice of a man who has hardly missed a swell at Hollow Trees — aka Lances Right — for the past three years.

Liam Turner is the 28-year-old English live-in manager at HTs Resort, and he knows better than most that a two-foot wave out there can be nastier than an outer reef bomb.    

He spent half a decade riding for the Bong as a fledgling and, as you’ll see above, can lay claim to some of the best technique ever exported from Great Britain. As adulthood usurped sponsorship, Liam ventured into the burgeoning industry of surf guiding and yoga instructing in Indonesia, before taking over the managerial role at HTs Resort. 

After spending nearly three years athwart the Mentawai Strait, he’s got the joint pretty dialed, and if you’ve ever caught yourself nervously salivating over the prospect of a stand-up tube at HTs, you’ll benefit from the following consultation with Liam.    

Below, we debrief on Indonesia’s recent red-letter swell event, and he breaks down the dubious simplicity of a second-reef HTs roll-in. 

“I remember the first time I saw it I was like, what the fuck is going on? You’re watching this 10-foot wave going one direction, and then all of a sudden it just turns around and comes back.”

You taking board advice from this guy? Frame: @indo.eye

Interview by Holden Trnka

Stab: You been surfing?

Liam: I surfed this morning. It was kind of fun. Nothing special, but yeah, it ends up almost being more fun sometimes when it’s not good because there’s less people. So you kind of have those little windows where you just get 10 waves in 20 minutes and get out.

But for me, half the time it’s just trying to escape from work for half an hour.

You’ve kind of lucked into the dream job now, huh?

Yeah, pretty much. Obviously it’s not always as easy as it sounds, but you have some days where it’s just like, fuck, is this a real job? 

How’s the past couple of weeks been?

Crazy, basically for two weeks. We did a strike mission to Green Bush the other day. We surfed six-foot Green Bush, came back and went straight to HTs and it was eight-to-ten foot doubling up. Pretty special sort of day. 

Was that when Tosh and Skip came through?

No, they rocked up a few days later. Nathan [Florence] is here at the moment, so he’s doing his YouTube thing. 

After three years, could you grow bored of these moments like these? Frame: @indo.eye

What have you been riding through this last swell? Any of the boards that are in this Quivers video?

Good question. I basically didn’t break a single board for about a year and a half, and then I went through a stage where I broke three because it was like 10-foot with a bit of south in the swell, so you couldn’t easily tell the closeouts. I used a bunch of Happy Travellers, a CI Pro, and one of those new Pipe Rooks, which I don’t think are even out yet. I think it’s one of the models that they’re working on. But a lot of it was on a Happy Traveler, 6’3.

And you blew through a couple of those?

Yeah, I had a bit of an unlucky run. But I hadn’t broken one in literally a year and a half. So it was kind of inevitable to break a couple.

So when there’s more south in the swell, there’s more closeouts at HTs?

Yes and no. You just get caught by more. So if you pick one that’s not great, you could easily get a really wide one on the head, and then you get flogged by that.

HTs is the most perfect imperfect wave there is, if that makes sense. It’s kind of like Ulus in the sense that it’s constantly changing. So if the swell direction is slightly different or the tide’s slightly different, then the wave’s always slightly different. Which is really good because it doesn’t get boring. It always gives you that sort of unpredictability. 

It still completely blows my mind that south-west swells wrap in there, when I look at that place on a map. But you want a west swell and west wind. Explain that.

It’s unbelievable that a west swell wraps 190 degrees in there. Even more ridiculous is, if you surf it on a 210, which is pretty west, then it’s bigger than Lance’s left, which is completely exposed to the ocean.

We’re facing inland and we’re the same size if not bigger than the left. And if the swell’s south it’s bigger here too. It’s only when the swell is super super west that Lance’s Left is bigger, like 225 degrees.

If it’s 4ft of swell and 225deg, the other side will be four foot, with the odd bigger set. And here it will be three foot and flawless but slow. And then as soon as it’s 215ish, you get more swell on this side.

A 210 degree swell is coming from the left side of your screen, and wrapping 180 degrees to break back towards the left side of your screen. Make that make sense.

Do you guys have an explanation for that? Do you know why it does that? Is there a channel?

There’s a couple of really big bombies and cracks in between the two islands. I guess the swell would hit that and just sort of slingshot it back towards HTs.

There’s so much current going past that I think it kind of just pushes it in. You’ll see on the big double up days, it’ll almost go a hundred foot wide and then spring back to where you’d almost take off from. It kind of zig zags in. It’s pretty crazy. I remember the first time I saw it I was like, what the fuck is going on? You’re watching this 10-foot wave going one direction and all of a sudden it just turns around and comes back.

When it’s maxing at HTs, what’s the go? What size boards are people riding when it’s those really proper second reed roll-ins?

All the regular footers ride massive boards. And then there’s me and one other guy that lives here, he’s a guy named Guy. Weirdly enough, we ride a lot of smaller boards. You want to be able to move. The guys on their front-side can kind of just pick a line and set it, so they ride bigger boards. I ride a 6’3 max, really. And it’s just because going backside, you need to readjust so much more.

What’s the biggest mistake people make surfing HTs backside?

That’s a good question. Generally, the way it bends at the end and then goes up all tight, it’s really easy to go too low as you go through the end bowl, because it looks super open and round. But then as soon as it spits, it pushes you up and a lot of the time people will get clipped by the lip. And normally that kind of happens in the deep part as well, so you get pretty flogged, whereas if you can aim up and tight, the spit should push you out most of the time.

On the big ones, where people are chipping in at the back but getting clamped on the inside, do you get pretty rolled? Do you get sent to the bottom or does it pop you out of the back?

When it’s big, it tends to just push you down deep. It’s pretty deep out there when it’s big. It’s only when it’s small that it’s shallow.

And don’t get me wrong, you can still hit the bottom, but it’s the sketchiest when it’s small. At three foot and low tide, I don’t pull in ever. The barrel’s really tight and fast, so if you go off backside, you’ve kind of got no space to fall, so you end up going straight towards the roof.

Yeah, but that’s me just being cautious. I’m here all year-round and you have to pick your moments. You don’t want to flog yourself on a two footer or at low tide.

Is there a predominant wind out there or is it just variable?

It’s so variable. The only time the wind forecast is kind of reliable is if it’s howling southerly or howling awfully, and then it’ll be kind of right. You don’t want north wind, it just curates that weird chattery up the face thing.

South wind is fine if it’s three foot. It’s super rippable still. If it’s bigger it just makes it clamp. It’s kind of like that down the point wind, so it’s still good for turns and then the second it starts barreling, it kind of just makes it crumble the section. Still fun, but not those perfect dreamy ones. It needs to be pretty straight offshore for that.

If somebody could bring one board out there, what would you tell ’em to bring?

Probably a Happy Traveller. I’ve been riding one, and I can ride it in anything from two-foot to eight-foot pretty comfortably. It goes super fast, it’s loose, it turns really well. It paddles really good. It goes much better in shit surf than I expected it to. I thought it was going to be just a good wave slabby board, which is kind of what I ordered it for. But it feels mental when it’s two foot and onshore. Because HTs is literally surfed at any size, from basically waist high to 10-foot it’s always surfable depending on the wind. It’s nice just to have one board.

Is it as approachable as it looks at 10 foot?

The takeoff is easy, but picking the waves is the hard thing. You have people that have really good wave knowledge and have obviously surfed for a long period of time, or just have a good understanding of the ocean. They learn quickly. But it is tricky. You really have to suss which ones are good. Obviously there’s little things you look out for and stuff, but you can still pick the wrong one. You could pick a double up that looks perfect and you get to the bottom of it and it just didn’t hit the reef right.

Do you see people who shouldn’t be out in 10-foot waves getting blown out of ’em?

No comment.

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