About a week and a half ago at the beginning of the biggest swell to hit Indonesia in 30 years, I found myself at Uluwatu surf spot in Bali.
Looking from the cliffs I could see that it was big.
I was determined to catch at least one and have the thrill of a lifetime.
The day before was even bigger and with only possessing my 1 surfboard, 6,3, 18 1/4 2 1/2 Tokoro in solid 9ft swell that day, (tripple over-head) I knew I was under-gunned, and under prepared physically and mentally. I got as far as the cave which you go through to get out to the surf, but it would have been a suicide mission.
With my thighs wet, looking out into the monstrous sets, booming wave sounds pounding reef and knowing this was the point where big mistakes were made from bad decisions.
I had a word with my ego - who always wants to kill me, and I turned around to come back in and up the steps.
Feeling a slight walk of shame but a big relief at the same time.
On my way back up the steps I was passing guys coming down with much bigger guns, only confirming my suspicions that I was under-prepared.
Only 2 months earlier Ulu's had claimed the life of a surfer who made the fatal mistake of being out in similar size surf, with only a 6ft board. And this was also playing on my mind.
It was not going to happen today.
I sat up at the cliff top warrung (Indonesian name for cafe) and watched these dreamy giants rolling in with awesome power and grace.
Me and the dude next to me start chatting. Turns out he's just been out the back, getting the monsters on his 9.5 ft gun board. He's an Aussie guy called Mark.
He has his towel wrapped round his shoulders like a comfort blanket, and he's staring out there with wide eyed wonder. No doubt replaying the thrills that he has just experienced.
Mark has that big wave, older surfer vibe, of having a calm aura, soft voiced and eyes that have seen things we only dream of.
He is not egotistical in a any way, no bragging, just quite awe and respect for the ocean.
As we're talking, it turns out as well as living in Bali he does January north shore Hawaii. This is the guy I need advice from!
I ask him at some point, if he's been a pro surfer, "nah" he says, "my son is". But he doesn't tell me his sons name, and we just leave it at that.
Mark has surfed Ulus for 20 years. I pick his brain on tide times, best positions to take the waves, good size boards and what the exit strategy should be getting back in and out of the water on solid days like today.
Mark gives me the golden info, and I leave him half an hour later, now feeling confident about my return the next day with the waves predicted a few feet smaller, and choosing a rising to full tide.
The following day I arrive alone and look out. Sure enough its a little smaller than the day before, but still pumping dreamy giants with long rides, and knarly barrelling inside sections wayyyy overhead.
I wax up, pick my line in, wait for the monster set to come in, and then dash down the stairs to get out, in between sets.
The paddle out is brutal. All I see is white water mounds racing for me, I'm duck diving, one after another. Seeming to only get dragged backwards. The tide is whipping me sideways as I look up and back and see the end of the cave is disappearing from view along with the surfers and the waves. I'm heading out to sea in the direction of Padang Padang - North west Bali instead of South where the waves are.
Finally after a constant paddle, and calming myself to get into rhythm, and digging hard, I reach the pack out the back of the line up. There's 5 of us.
I'm already exhausted.
I sit and catch my breath, stretch my arms, legs and check my leash is secure.
Then they come.
Mini mountains of rolling water.
I see a giant starting to break out the back and I paddle like hell towards it. My mind is just saying one thing, don't hesitate, just go for it!
I see my line, turn around, it scoops me up and I paddle with all my strength and speed against it as it lifts me higher.
Some guy yells "Go girl!"
I see the drop appear beneath me, my board tips forward and I leap forward, warrior stance, holding my breath as time and space no longer exist.
The speed shocks me as I fly down the face in a kind of trance. As my mind joins my body the wave just keeps climbing I'm literally flying along on a knifes edge, only a tiny piece of rail of board is in contact with the wave..
As my mind joins the party, a few seconds late, I let out a "woooooohoooooo!!!!" as I rip across the
No big turning, too much speed, im just gunning it on pure adrenaline.
I fit in a few pumps to keep up under the lip and little turns further down the line as it jacks up for the end barrel section. This solid mound of blue water towering over me, my mind says bail, as I'm not sure if it's going to hold or close out on me. I jump sideways through the wall of the face.
I make it out the other side and me and board are in one piece - YES!
Now I'm grinning from ear to ear. My heart is pumping out my chest. I have one wave down, now feeling more confident about being out here.
I paddle back to the point grins and acknowledgements from the other dudes.
One guy asks if I got barreled, but I told him I bailed. "That was a bomb!" the dude says.
And in this moment, as I reflect my wave, my life is complete.
In the next 2.5 hours I get 2 more bombs, and Im totally stoked.
The tide is now fully high.
The size has dropped a bit and more people have paddled out. There is now about 10 of us.
I've seen some incredible drops from the shoulder of waves as guys are taking off. Some making it, some taking the beating of their lives. Each time a man plummets we all grimace, feel his pain and then guilty gratitude that its not me.
I'm just figuring out that I'll get one more. The Adrenalin disguising how tired I am from the constant paddling around. I'm also on an old board and I don't want to push my luck -haha.
My plan is to catch one more, then paddle out deep to the back, and across left, and come in a few hundred meters cliff side towards the temple, upstream so that hopefully I tuck in to the rocks and ride the current along, and I can make a quick side dash into the opening of the cave. Which is the only way to get in at high tide in Uluwatu.
If you miss the cave then its about 2 kilometers of cliffs and rock to Padang Padang beach and a brutal pounding wave exit on a day like today. As well as a hitch hike back.
I'm starting to realize as I can't seem to get into any good positions, that i'm getting tired, and frustrated. I've missed a couple of waves. Not sure if its fatigue or fear that made me miss the last two.
I've already taken a heavy pounding, on a previous wave, that bent me into all sorts of positions.
I regain my focus, see the next wave in the set on my line. I go for it. It's a big one. I've decided to not back out no matter what. I turn, it scoops me up. I'm digging deep with my paddling, trying to get a nose ahead.
It lifts me higher and I see as i'm tipping over the edge that there is nothing but air beneath me and a vertical drop I'm not going to make it!
In the split second of recognition I dive off to the side so I wont collide with my board.
I fall through the air, dive into the wave, hold my head and wait the millisecond for the beating to commence.
My last thoughts are 'please don't hit my head or break my back.'
Somehow, I feel like im being skimmed like a stone but under the water. Then I somersault a few times, followed by a couple of hard slaps as I get pushed down. Instinctively I'm curled like a loose ball. This is so I don't get snapped backwards so I can protect my spine from being bent the other way.
A couple more pushes down to finish off, as if the wave saying as after hitting me senseless - "and stay down bitch!"
The beating has finally stopped and I make my way for the surface pulling on my leash to know which way is up?!
I surface, breathe fresh air and pull in my board, to see the horror of it being only half a board. It's snapped. FUCK!
Quick decisions as I know the next waves are coming behind me.
I grab onto the tail of the board and decide I just have to get in.
The powerful white water comes, I lunge up into it, gripping this piece of board as my float and life line.
It jerks me about 50 metres in. Its a washing machine of white water, just bouncing me along. I can't see a thing, foam and water in my face, till suddenly I see the rocks, and I've missed the cave. "FUUUUCK!"
2 other surfers are struggling to get round the rocks to the mouth of the cave against the current.
I see the rocks and as I'm launched towards them. I dive myself backwards at the last split second under the white water.
Panic of my situation is starting to arrive.
I surface again, grab my piece of board and attempt to paddle against the current, back out a bit and left round the cliff to the cave. But I'm not getting anywhere and the waves are still pounding.
I'm now being sucked under the rip of the wave and ready to be thrown head first against the volcanic rocks by 5 feet of solid white water. BOOM!!!!
Im trying to decide whether to take off my leash and abandon my board with fins and leash attached and try and swim, because my board is now acting as a anchor that's being taken by the waves and launching me into the rocks.
Suddenly I hear a whistle, and look up among the chaos and I see a life guard on the cliffs signalling me into the rocks. ???!
I realize he's telling me to climb up onto the rocks. Um, OK?!
So I grab my board, the next wave pounds and i try and grab the rocks, but it sucks me back off. I dive again underneath pulling against my leash as my board smacks the rocks.
The whistle is being furiously blown at me again when I surface. I'm trying very hard to not get hurt and cut up. Not to panic. I'm losing energy.
I try again to scramble on my piece of board and paddle out a little bit so I'm not stuck in the impact zone. But there's no where to go.
I'm fighting the fear now, as I realize I am so fatigued, I'm losing all control of the situation. Drag, slam, dive, breathe, repeat.
In this chaos I have this moment of feeling that I might not make this out alive. It's just the fear and fatigue talking.
That fucking whistle is blowing in my ear, and jerking me back into reality of the situation. Although the shrill of it is not calming, it's good to know somehow I'm not alone. I take in what's happening. "make a plan George, quick!"
I finally get a hold on the sharp rocks, and brace myself for the wave to fully hit and suck back off - clinging for dear life.
It sucks off me and the rocks, and I'm still attached. Clinging like a crab. I release my right hand, grab the board, throw it up onto the rocks above my head, and scramble up the knife edge volcanic rocks with my bare feet, just as the next waves comes crashing in. Ouch!
A moment of safety, and relief to be out the water. Now I can catch my breath and take in my surroundings.
So I appear to be now stuck on some under-hanging piece of rock under the cliff. My relief is now that 'worse case scenario', I wait it out till a lower tide and climb back down and walk arournd into the cave.
I unleash myself and climb over the rocks along the shelf left to the edge and see a look out point. It's the cave entrance on one side. I can see the end piece of rock the other side of the cave above on Ulus cliff with some tourists peering down at me with looks of concern. Nice, now I am a tourist attraction!
Looking over the edge it's about a 7ft jump. I just need to time the waves coming in and jump into the water, into the cave. Easy.
I go back and grab my board, now determined to keep my fins and leash. I attach my leash again.
As I peer over the edge I can make out rocks directly below and it looks like I have to jump about a meter out, into the blue.
The lifeguard can see what I'm thinking and is furiously blowing his whistle and pointing out to the edge of the cave.
I can see what he's saying, to climb down a bit and get into the water, but the rocks are so sharp and the waves are pounding hard into them, that I can just see myself getting all cut up, and possibly smashed against the rocks, trying to navigate myself back in. Especially now how tired I am. Too easy to make mistakes and slip.
I look over the edge at the jump point, deciding this is the plan, ready to just go for it when the wave comes in.
As it sucks back out, I see my jumping point is actually a massive rock reef and only a teaspoon of water cover now, and I realize this is no longer a good option. Even with the wave coming in it would be about 1m water coverage, max.
The life guard yelling at me with whistle language, I signal with my thumb above my head, that I understand what I have to do, thanks. Appreciative, yet fucking annoyed with that sound that wont shut up!
I make some dodgy footing on the rocks getting down, but keep my balance. I see the wave coming in and belly launch myself back into the water to stay high near the surface with my piece of foam board.
Wistfully thinking this was the end of my ordeal and i would be carried to the beach through the cave. I have immediately though, realized the fucking current is ripping me backwards out to sea again. Nooooo!
I scramble / paddle forward, like a scared dog being thrown into the water, with my last bursts of will and energy coming from God knows where, and claw my way into the cave mouth paddling just to stay, statically in position against the rip, waiting for the next wave to come and hit me, and thrust me forwards into the cave.
It hits, I launch forward and then it pin-balls me through the cave like the kids slide in The Gooneys movie, my feet are ahead and airborne now to take the hit of rocks first instead of my face. And I doggy scrabble sideways in the flow as it dumps me into the shallows and I touch sand.
The tourists are all there taking selfies in the cave and I now have an audience of shocked and confused Chinese faces, at this thing emerging from the sea with a ship wrecked piece of foam and no doubt popping eyeballs and gasping for air into my tired - as - fuck body is finally giving up.
So that was that!
It's nice on reflection of these days of surf, when you go into the memory files and replay the accounts of the day, just seeing how much of it you can actually remember. I guess all your senses are heightened.
Lots of worrying thoughts went through my head that day, before and during the session. Will I hurt myself?, will my leash snap?, will my board snap? (ah yes!), Am I fit enough for this?
But not once did I have the thought "Will my bikini stay on and in position" I have been wearing my bikinis now, since my first sample designs 6-7 years ago, so i forget this is even still an issue for lots of surfer women around the world.
But, it's worth noting and being proud of, for all our hard work at Surf Worthy, that during those double overhead wipe outs that snapped my board in two, that my bikini did stay on, and keep in position on my body. One less thing to worry about.
What other brand of surf bikini can truly say that? :)