“I caught the best wave of my life and I have no doubt it was because of your paddling coaching.” – Garry H
Our lodging host and surf guide, Earl, at “proper” Bawa (photo by Johnny)

The crystal blue water rose closer and closer to the sky in front of me.  The sun’s light seemed to get darker with each moment.  “In 2, hold 2, out 2, 3, 4, 5…” I focused on my breathe and making sure to conserve energy.  This was going to be a romping.  Stay calm.  Don’t fight it.  The wave detonated in front of me, sending whitewater twice the height of the wave I saw moments before.  After traveling thousands of miles along the roaring forties and raging fifties, then up into the Indian Ocean, the wave unleashed all of its energy at me and boy, did I feel it.  We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. 

Garry, setting up (photo by Earl)
And Thomas setting up (among the coconut trees)

Every time I run a Mastery Surf Trip Experience I get nervous.  I get nervous not because I don’t think the participants can handle the surf, nor because I think it’s not going to go well.  I get nervous because I don’t know when throughout the week each participant is going to have their breakthrough moment.  It happens on different days for different people.  Sometimes, the first day is that big “ah-ha” moment.  Sometimes it’s the last.  And sometimes a new one happens each day.  This trip did not disappoint.

Up the reef at Asu
Sunset entertainment

The Mastery Surf Trip to Indonesia wrapped up on a remote island off of Nias.  Asu Island, a gem of a location, has one of the best coaching setups to push clients beyond their comfort zone to breakthrough moments.  A breakthrough moment could be a new paddling technique that hadn’t quite clicked yet but now does, it could be paddling into the biggest wave of their lives, it could be a newly learned breathing technique, a new way to practice the pop up, or practice the underwater armstroke.  For some, it could be combining all of the lessons to paddle into a wave they would not have paddled into before.  The best feeling for me is to see the moment happen.  The look on their face.  Their energy afterwards.  It’s hard to describe but definitely rivals being a kid again at Christmas. 

Sunshine trying out a twin fin
Justin sneaking in (photo by Earl)

The week started out with moderate sized waves at Bawa, Mini-Bawa (not so “mini”) and Asu.  As the week progressed, the waves played out like a crescendo in a song, growing until the last day.  I continue to return to Asu year after year because of Earl and the rest of the Asu Camp staff.  Earl, aka the human barometer, would wake up every day, look up at the sky, scratch his belly and then give us the low down on where and when the best surf of the day was going to hit.  He was barraged with questions throughout the day and answered them in turn with absolute professionalism and entertainment. 

Jimmy dropping in
Garry cutback at Asu, near the Nuclear zone

Between Earl, his wife Samantha, their son Noah, Folo and his family and the rest of Club Asu, we felt well taken care of, and as if we had just joined a family we didn’t even know we had.  You know it was a great trip when you see the genuine smiles on everyone’s faces light up your day.  

During our coaching sessions, Earl and I traded off in-water and on-land photographer/coach flawlessly and with no effort at all. And it paid off with each participant in the program hitting several breakthrough moments during the week.

Rob and Earl, collaborating (photo by Sunshine)
Earl, showing us how it’s done (photo by Johnny)

Our youngest and least experienced surfer, Justin, had only been surfing 4 years.  This was a trip designed to push his comfort zone as well as provide new opportunities for him to increase his surf knowledge.  I was floored with how much he was able to accomplish.  From getting cleaned up by one of the biggest waves he’s ever had to duck dive to getting his first legitimate in and out barrel, Justin had breakthrough after breakthrough.  He was a human sponge.  I would tell him one thing and the next moment, he’s already applied and mastered it.  Stroke count reduced, speed increased, and percentage of made waves increased threefold.  Then he moved onto more advanced techniques while riding – bottom turn timing, grabbing rail backside, pumping, cutbacks, wiping out correctly and barrel riding.  It was quite the performance and one that I hope stays in his memory forever.

Justin at Bawa
Justin on an Asu screamer

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, Sunshine had been a U.S. Amateur Team surfer as well as on the Collegiate Championship team.  In other words, she rips.  And her paddling had improved an incredible amount since I began working with her two years ago.  This trip was an opportunity to push her comfort zone a bit higher and work on the sprint paddle into the wave.  Funny how we might view her experience and assume she’s comfortable in bigger waves.  Just goes to show that big waves are intimidating, no matter whether you are a beginner or an experienced team surfer.  It’s all relative.  What one surfer calls “big” will inevitably be different than another surfer’s definition of “big”.  Sunshine’s definition of “big” had certainly been revised after this trip.  I would add that a wave that seems intimidating to a surfer shouldn’t be defined solely on size.  An intimidating wave could be considered to another surfer as not necessarily big, but elements of that wave could be quite challenging and downright scary.  Such as shallow reef, the way it bends in or rears up on the reef, or even the pure power of the long period energy coming in.  Intimidating is intimidating.  And scary is scary.  It’s all in how you, yourself, define it.  And at the end of the day all that matters is whether you are growing and learning.  And Sunshine did that in spades, dropping into some bombs that reeled down the reef. 

Sunshine, on a slightly “bigger” wave than she’s used to
Burning off some of the speed she created

We also discovered how hard it is to convert paddling movements to long term memory.  On camera in flat water, her paddling stroke is an example to follow.  However, when paddling into uncomfortable waves, old habits die hard.  This is an important lesson to learn.  The more comfortable you are paddling into a wave, the easier it is to apply the techniques you have just learned.  Keep anxiety low and you’re able to apply lessons much more effectively.  This was shown on camera when she would paddle into waves that didn’t seem so intimidating, displaying a perfectly relaxed sprint paddle technique, often times with only one stroke that seemed like nothing to her. 

The best comment I heard from Sunshine, “Man, those waves are huge out there now”, when we were watching from the hut on land.  “Sunshine, the waves you were paddling into this morning were bigger and faster than what you’re looking at right now.  Here are the photos to prove it…”  Focus, practice, trust, and commitment to growth.  That’s all it takes and you can trick your mind without even knowing it.

After losing the center fin to the reef, Sunshine decided to twin fin it
Putting on the brakes

An amazing thing about Asu is that you will at some point surf by yourself.  On some days, you’re actually hoping someone else will paddle out so that the perfect waves you don’t catch get ridden also.  Garry had several sessions like this, sitting on his surfboard in the middle of the day for hours with no one else in the lineup.  While I shot from land or worked with others in the camp, he had his soul-searching sessions completely undisturbed.  When you have these sessions, you begin to think, maybe I should go in.  Then you kick out of another 200 meter wave ready to paddle back to the keyhole but see another set looming on the horizon up the point.  You can’t leave something like that and sleep well at night, so you paddle back out and catch one more.  Then one more.  Then one more…  I’ll go in when someone paddles out, you tell yourself.  But the conveyor belt continues – wave, look around shocked, paddle back out, wave, look around shocked, paddle back out – and so it continues.  These are the sessions you think aren’t real.  And much of your memory is blurred.  But the feeling is lasting.

Garry, ready for the ride of his life
All alone with no one to play with

Garry was another astute scholar.  He had taken the online course and had applied many of the lessons well, but like others who had done the same, had quickly realized the value in working together in person.  Our focus was on energy conservation initially and that paid off in those four to five hour power sessions.  A few drills were spent on speed and power generation and again, he immediately applied it, paddling into some of the biggest waves of his life.  During the evening photo and video reviews at dinner, we were able to show paddling issues we still want to work on.  The next day, those issues were gone.  Incredible student with the right kind of learning mentality. 

Coach Rob got a few fun ones (photo by Earl)
In-water coaching (photo by Earl)

Last year I led a group of surfers to Costa Rica and ran a similar program, covering Levels 1 and 2 while applying the lessons to Pavones’ long, carvable waves.  Thomas was on that trip and decided to circle the globe to join us on this trip to Indonesia.  Instead of long, carvable lefts, he wanted long barreling lefts.  Similar to last year, Thomas inspired me like no other.  He is 65 years old and is an absolute tube hound, tracking down the barrel whenever possible and tucking in.  A very casual and graceful style, Thomas is a surfer who has a lot of muscle memory coding in his brain.  But that also goes for his paddling as well.  At the beginning of the trip, I was a bit disappointed to see the old habits had returned to his paddling form (no double arm paddles!!).  But only after a few days reminders, he was paddling smoother and smoother into each successive wave, applying that casual style to his paddling as well as his riding.  We had more time to focus on the Level 2 content on Positioning that we addressed near the end of the trip last time and this practice made a profound difference in the waves he made versus the ones he didn’t.  Typically, when Thomas dropped in, he was getting tubed, plain and simple.  65 and tubed.  Like I said, inspirational.  His demeanor was pretty level as well.  I was jumping out of my skin watching him get barreled.  Me – “Thomas!!!  TUUUUUUUUBED!!  YEWWWW!!”  Thomas – “Yeah.  That was fun,” as mellow as you can say it.  But I know he was stoked.  You could see it in his eyes. 

Thomas and his super stylish bottom turn (photo by Earl)
TH, “Tube Hound” Thomas, getting out of the hot sun for a bit

Surfing is not the only thing that defines “Tube Hound” Thomas.  Like many of my clients, they all have interesting and inspiring lives outside of surfing.  Watching him apply his medical background on Asu’s emergency action plan was fascinating.  He shared with the locals emergency medical procedures and medical supplies that could help improve their lives.  Remember that we all have special talents that have been gifted to us.  Those talents are meant to be shared.  True happiness comes from serving others.  Thomas is indeed a happy guy, even if he doesn’t jump out of his skin to show it.

Thomas, so casual on take off
Any which way, super relaxed style

“So like, Rob, if I come out to see you, like, what do you do?  Like, let me be real.  Are you legit?”  This was my first experience with Jimmy after picking up a call that originated from Hawaii last year.  Immediately, I knew I was going to like this guy.  There was something about the way in which he spoke and the topics we got into that was intriguing.  He was definitely on another level when it came to his intelligence level (his CPU as he jokingly called it).  But he could be real all at the same time.  By day four, all of the beers had been consumed.  “Jimmy!  Did you drink all the beers?!?”  He didn’t drink ALL of them, but didn’t give away what he was doing.  After we had all gone to bed, he would stay up with the local staff and buy them drinks.  He played dice games and chatted in broken English and Indonesian with those that helped make our experience there on island the best it could be.  Club Asu is what he called it.  And then the next morning, he’d be the first one out in the water to grab some bombs at the crack of dawn.  Like I said, he’s an intriguing guy. 

Jimmy taking off deep (and making it around)
Jimmy tucked in at Bawa (photo by Johnny)

Jimmy’s been surfing for a while, and when he came to my house for a session a little over a year ago, it was apparent.  His muscle memory was very strong, but not in a good way.  I was half expecting all of his old habits to be revisited on this trip.  But surprisingly, they weren’t present.  It was fantastic!  Since that session, he would call me here and there to ask a question.  Then, he would just practice, practice, practice.  He was a great example of someone who put in the work and it paid off.  His regular paddling looks smooth and effortless.  And his sprint paddle was strong and effective.  All the while, he was still working on a shoulder injury he sustained a while back.  We worked on balancing out his power stroke on both sides of his body, pop up mechanics, and the underwater armstroke.  Earl and I worked with him on taking off on steeper, faster moving waves which paid off day by day after each night’s photo review.  By the last day, he took on “proper” Bawa (Earl’s description).  Heaving, double overhead walls of water, unloading without anything getting in their way.  They marched up the Indian Ocean and Jimmy was ready for them.  Paddling with power, popping up and dropping down, down, down, then setting his rail and pulling up.  The grin on his face was priceless.

Bawalanche and Jimmy (photo by Johnny)

This is why I love these experiences.  There is this spark of joy everyone gets after they know they’ve grown a bit more than the day before.  It spreads like wildfire.  It’s infectious.  And I thrive on that.  You know what I’m talking about?  Feels good, doesn’t it? 

See you in the water…

If you’re interested in visiting Earl and the rest of Club Asu on your own, visit Asucamp.com

For upcoming Surfing Paddling Academy Surf Trips, Level 1 and Level 2 Mastery Weekends, Workshops, Private Coaching Days, Online Training, Wakesurfing Weekends and Surf Meet Ups, please visit www.surfingpaddling.com/calendar for updates to the schedule.

Off the top Earl
Couples that surf together…Samantha showing Earl how to edge
Justin high speed line (photo by Earl)
Sunset cutback Jimmy
Thomas getting another tube
Coach Rob burning off some speed (photo by Earl)
Justin searching for another tube (after his first in and out)
Thomas dropping in, morning glass
Johnny!!

A huge thank you to Earl, Samantha, Folo, and the rest of the Club Asu crew.  You are all so awesome and we are super grateful for your hospitality and care.  Terima Kasih!!