The side image of the set I saw pulling up to Asu for the first time in July 2010 still lives in my dreams. Six to eight foot solid walls of crystal blue water wrapping and peeling from the top of the reef in front of me.
Earl pulled us right up to the channel. I watched as Earl, Samantha and JP jumped off and paddled to the takeoff zone. Pulling out my camera, I decided it may be prudent to watch a few roll in before extracting my board.
A lull in the action. Seven or so surfers were already in the lineup. "Crowded" by Asu standards. JP, Samantha and Earl added to that but it gave me good insight into which waves to paddle for and where to sit. But I couldn't quite see where to lineup from my vantage point to the side.
A set reared it's head on the horizon beyond. It began reeling down the reef, fast as a freight train, then slowed when it neared Earl. He was positioned about fifty meters further up the point than the rest of the "crowd". Letting the first couple waves go through to the second takeoff area, he eyed the wave he wanted.
It began breaking thirty meters to his left, then slowed as it gained in size near Earl. He spun. The wave began to speed up and break. Dropping down only halfway, he pulled up into the barrel, pig-dogging his way through the section before reaching the scrambling group of surfers further down the point paddling over the wave he was riding. The wave let up a bit and Earl dropped down to the bottom and with one big swoop set his rail back to the top of the wave and around to the pocket. He sped off out of sight with only the remnants of his off-the-top attack I could see from the back of the wave.
Samantha took the next wave in the set. It loomed over her, the wave looking larger than usual with her position low and prone on the bodyboard. She set her finless rail flawlessly through each speed correction, seeking the barrel. A little cover up and then she dropped to the bottom of the wave, set a hard rail and threw the bodyboard sideways off the top of the wave before pulling it back under her, finding the trim line immediately, accelerating off down the line.
JP dropped in next, in pole position within the group of surfers taking off fifty meters down the point from Earl's takeoff zone. JP had the advantage of surfing frontside at Asu, and drove his surfboard fast down the line, making sure he ejected prior to detonation in the end section delicately named, "the Nuclear Zone".
It was time for me to enter the fray. Waxing up my 6'6", I somehow felt under-gunned, but had been to Indonesia previously and knew how the perfect waves didn't require bigger boards because of the smoothness of their wave contours and transitions. But there was something about Asu that I still needed to warm up to. It was as if the wave wanted to be as perfect as the waves I had surfed in the Mentawais twelve years previous, but the wave at Asu had a part of its personality that also wanted to surprise and punish you for poor decision making. I wasn't comfortable paddling right in. I could feel something ominous about the water surrounding me.
I was in Jakarta for work. As a supply chain consultant, a large Fortune 100 company had asked me to come teach a two-day seminar on Cost Management for which we were experts in. Fly two days there, teach a two day class, and fly two days home. That seemed like an efficient way to spend money (said sarcastically of course).
My birthday was right around then and while I didn't want to leave my 1-year old son and wife for too long of an extended period, I thought what better opportunity to check out my friend Earl's new surf camp at a place called Asu. Never heard of it before, but the way he described it, it all seemed too good to pass up. Our other friend JP was already visiting from Hawaii during that same time so it would be the three of us. It sounded like all the stars were aligning.
I couldn't spend too long at Asu, but at least I'd get a few days worth and then head back home.
From my 5-star hotel the client had put me up in Jakarta I traveled to Medan where I stayed in a not so 5-star hotel overnight, awaiting the flight to Nias and then travel over to Asu.
Arriving on Nias, I was met by one of Earl's guys and taken not to Sirombu Port, where we were to catch a skiff out to Asu, but rather to meet up with Earl, Samantha and JP directly, in the next town over from the Nias airport.
They had been in town picking up some supplies so decided to personally stick around to pick me up. What I nice thing, I thought. But I quickly realized they were really interested in surfing a spot on Nias nearby. Can't blame them for that. I met Samantha, Earl's partner, and off we went exploring.
Since JP, Earl and I were all friends from our hometown, Earl felt okay with adding a bit of adventure to the trip. We were welcomed into a local village to stay the night. An earthquake had ravaged the island chain just one year prior. Bridges were decimated, towns were leveled. The reef rose three meters in some areas and completely changed the surf zone as it was known before.
UNICEF had provided relief in the local village and I witnessed new supplies being used to build new bridges and homes in villages we passed through, including the home we were visitors in.
That evening, we surfed a fun left point break which was a great warm up after all the travel I had endured. Not only was the point break about as perfect as it can be, the beach break just down from it wasn't bad either. It would have blown away any beachbreak back home, but when you're in Indo, you only have eyes for the best waves.
To go from a 5-star, service-at-the-ready kind of hotel in Jakarta, to a UNICEF cloth covered home where we had camped on the ground was a dichotomy I had not expected. But I loved every minute of it. It reinforced my desire to not need much, especially when we were on the search for waves.
The next morning, we gathered our gear and as I was wondering where the car had gone, Earl told me to walk towards that single trail leading into the trees with all of my stuff. He would meet me in a few minutes.
As I passed through the jungle, a river revealed itself. A medium sized panga was waiting for us with JP already loading his boards in it. Samantha was also there ready to roll. A few more supplies plus my luggage and board bag were at last added before Earl returned, hopped in and off we went. The jungle was low hanging, but high enough that we didn't need to duck. The boatman navigated us through the turns with ease as I watched in awe, the trees, bushes and leaves flying past. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, about to find treasure. Except, we were heading away from the center of the island toward the coast, a surfer's treasure.
A few minutes ran by and the rivermouth opened up in front of us. But it wasn't like any rivermouth I had seen. It didn't seem to quite connect to the ocean. And it didn't. At least not until the tide came up a little more. Or were we late, and it was disappearing? Either way, we jumped out and pushed the boat about fifteen meters to deeper water, swung our bodies back in and were off into open ocean, watching for waves and lineups as we passed them.
Due to the earthquake raising the reef, many spots disappeared or changed, but several others popped up out of nowhere. We checked on a few setups as we sped down the coast, one of which seemingly wasn't connected to any land nearby. It was an open ocean wave, or more likely a pinnacle of the reef that had raised from the earthquake. Earl said it wan't quite working (but I was halfway out of the boat when he said we would move on) and we headed out towards Asu, or "Dog" Island.
It was my turn in the takeoff zone at Asu. A wave approached, my heart thumped, I turned and paddled. It was as easier drop than I had expected, and I rode my first wave relatively safe, getting my water legs under me again. A few more waves added to my confidence and I decided to paddle past the takeoff zone where most of the group was to further up the point where Earl was sitting. In short order I realized what a mistake that was.
Before I could reach Earl's spot, a set rolled in. A large set. I angled my paddling line more out to sea to match where I thought I could take off from. First wave, I turned and paddled, dropped in, but the wave reared up fast. Realizing this I grabbed the outside rail and tried to knife the inside rail to gain some sort of traction. I thought for a moment I had done it - my vision of a perfect tube out in front of me and my vessel trimming nicely. But I was wrong. Instead I was bucked hard when the rail set, got squished onto my board flat and had enough time to look down the line at the group of surfers through the tube as I belly rode for a few seconds before I met my end in the foamball.
It was utter torture. To first see the perfection of the tube in front of me but not able to travel through it. Then to add insult to injury, the entire lineup watched me botch this perfect wave. Then came the thrashing.
You know that feeling I had earlier? About how Asu's personality was part perfection, part devious. I met the devious side during that wash and spin cycle. I encountered the rawness of the groundswell coming from the roaring forties and raging fifties, traveling up the Indian Ocean to end with wrath upon the reef.
Apparently, prior to the earthquake the year before, there had been sand lining the point - the entire point. The sand filled in the fingers in the reef making Asu an absolute perfect peeling wave. If caught inside, one only had to ride the whitewater in to the softest sand you'd have ever felt. You would then simply stand up and walk back down the reef to re-enter the lineup.
Now, however, when caught inside, the general advice is to "paddle as hard as you can to Nias!" Nias was to our right off in the distance. Even when you were getting rolled on the inside could you see the high mountains off in the distance so you knew where salvation was. Since I had taken the first wave of a ten wave set, I was paddling a lot. The inside wasn't so user friendly as it was before the earthquake raised the reef. Where there was once sand is now two meters high dry reef. The rain which poured on the island carved perfect razor blades on the dry part of the reef. It was sharp as knives that will cut you just for looking at it.
Since we pulled up via the boat, I wasn't familiar with the keyhole, nor the reef on the inside. All I saw was finely tuned cutlery (sans spoons) behind me and dared not test that escape route. So I paddled. The current swept me from the highest part of the point where I had attempted my takeoff to the nuclear zone, two hundred meters down the reef where I continued to avoid narrowly being diced up into tiny bits of Rob.
The fours days I was there were a blur from that first day on. Waves were surfed, adventures taken, and dreams of going back were planted firmly in my head.
The swell slowly diminished by my last day, resulting in a short surf followed by a lot of freediving and spearfishing.
I headed home as happy as can be for taking the chance to pop in for a few days on Earl's doorstep.
It took eight years to get back, this time with a group of surfers from my Surfing Paddling Academy for a group trip, with new adventures and experiences made.
The accommodations at Asu have changed dramatically for the better since that first trip in 2010. They moved higher up the point so that every bungalow now has a perfect view of the waves as they roll in. Amenities have been modernized with in-room air conditioning, running water (hot too!), and super comfortable beds and lounging areas.
I followed up with another trip in 2019 - you can read all about that trip here. To describe it in one word - "Legendary".
Then Covid hit this year and the 2020 and 2021 trips have been postponed.
Asu is experiencing a difficult time during this pandemic. To keep this gem alive so we can enjoy it when this event ends, Asu needs our help. Even a little will go a long way. If you're feeling generous, please contact Earl direct on how you can donate and help. He’s offering camp credit for any amount, and can discuss larger investment amounts if you are interested. Contact Earl at [email protected].
In the meantime, keep dreaming of that perfect tunnel vision and yearning for adventure.
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