As the mechanized stainless steel gates of LAX's oversized baggage department hissed open, after three weeks on the road, it was finally all over. Sitting with Huntington Beach's Micah Byrne, dazed, jet-lagged and slightly hungover from two too many plastic cups of bad red wine on the plane, all I wanted to do was grab my board bag and go home. While successful, it had been an arduous adventure, and a carne asada burrito and hot shower sounded like heaven.
"First thing you do after you get out of the shower is cut your fingernails," explained Micah. "It's the only way to get all the dirt out."
Waiting next to us was a group of about half of a dozen surfers, more than likely just off the same Singapore Airlines flight as ours. They were well nourished, in good spirits and seemingly unaffected by their hours in transit. They were much more groomed than us—nice tans, not a whisker out of place, they probably even had clean underwear on. They were also the first surfers we'd seen in almost a month.
From behind the Arthurian doors, the tale of two surf trips was revealed. Obviously stowed safely below deck of whatever plasma screen-endowed pirate ship's running the Mentawai armada at the moment, six sparkling eight-foot board bags with not a slice or scuff on the shiny heat-reflective topside, not a spot or wax stain on the canvas shell. Our bags on the other hand, shit-kicked to hell and back, and held together by duct tape and broken leashes, had been our sanctuary. Inside, everything from moldy trunks, to empty bags of beef jerky, to bird-nested bait reels, broken spears and buckled pintails. Three weeks ago I would have been envious, maybe even contemptuous of those guys, but, then again, three weeks ago I hadn't sailed the high Indonesian seas on the intrepid S.S. Vagina.
There are a lot of ways to travel if you're a surfer these days, and each mode most certainly has its merits. There are expensive luxury charters when you want to live the high life, dodgy land camps for the outdoorsman in you, tactical strike missions where you're in and out on one swell and, as Micah and I would experience, there's "going feral." For us, it all began when we shook hands with Boss at the Jakarta International Airport.
"He's our operator," explained Brett Schwartz, one of Micah's Surf City brethren already in country. "Whatever you need, tell him to meet you in a jungle village with four cars a month from now and he'll be there. He's solid, he's connected."
At Brett and Travis Potter's behest, Boss, one of the resident airport hustlers, had commandeered a comedic looking chicken-coup of a bus for the 48-hour overland excursion. Jakarta's airport is the first taste of Indonesia most surfers have but, more often than not, it's simply a jumping off point, a place to catch a connecting flight to Padang or Bali.