Day 12 – An epic trip comes to a close!

Day 12 – An epic trip comes to a close!

We rise to the sound of the anchor going up in the dark on our way to the Kandui playgrounds area.  Up in the northern end of the chain our last day and of course its raining.  This trip has had bad weather everyday.  Not the best for a photographer.   My job depends on getting good images for these guys and that had been a very hard task this trip with the conditions mother nature has given out.  Of course it was a challenge to get images when I had my small window most days but that is what draws me to photography.

We reached playgrounds just after sunrise and scoped out A-frames where it was sideshore from the storms.  Instead we opted to get a quick little tour of Kandui from Scott, who had stayed there in years past.  A nice little surf retreat surrounded by islands with world class waves out front.  After our morning excursion in the tin where we all somehow stayed dry getting in and out of the boat in the shorebreak we pulled anchor and headed to Meat Pussy.  Yes, that is its official name, wtf!  I will refer to it as MP.  We ate breakfast on our way weaving between islands on the Indies.   MP breaks very close to the shore which prevented me from shooting from the tin boat for the guys.  Since conditions were cloudy and not barreling at first the keeper count of photos is much higher if I shoot from the boat.  I had to shoot from the water or go to the beach.  I opted to shoot water with my 50mm.  I shot near the end of the wave which provided entertainment as well as a good vantage point.  If you didn’t kick out at the end of the wave you ended up on 1.5ft of water on the reef.  Within 20 mins I saw the first victim get his reef credentials.  After getting caught inside the unknown surfer eventually paddled back out with his entire back bleeding.  Poor guy.  None of our guys got torn up although Dave claimed to have ended up in the shallows once.  I swam for about 3 hours before exhaustion set in.  The sun came out for an hour and I finally could get a couple decent images.  Just as Dave and I paddled toward the tin moored in the channel we noticed the Indies Trader leaving us, going in the opposite direction out to sea.  There were still 6 of us out at the break and we were all beat.  Scott had invited friends from Florida on the boat and without a proper tribal council had taken the big boat back to Kandui.  We all were not sure why they left us right when we were all done.  There were some heated words on the tin ride back to Kandui.  We were over it soon enough as we beat the Indies back to camp by atleast 30 min.  While we waited we paddled out at perfect 3-4ft A-frames by ourselves.  I was exhausted but since doug wasn’t going to paddle out, I grabbed his board and got in another 2 hour session.  I had a blast surfing the fun little lefts on the crystal clear shallow reef.  It was back to cloudy and raining so I couldn’t shoot.  Eventually we all were too tired to continue.  Just before the session ended Noel lost his action cam.  He had a bite mount on.  On a set wave he got thrown over the falls and lost grip of the cam.  We searched the whole point/tiny island and came up empty handed.  What a bummer for Noel!

I went back to eat lunch and then came right back out this time with my own board and surfed with Scott, Frank and Skylar.  We were out a couple more hours before I had was again to tired to even paddle.  Put in a solid 7+ hours in the water today!  Great way to end the trip!  By the time we got in most of the guys were already finished packing.  The journey began back to Padang, a 10 hour trip across the channel to Sumatra most of the night.  Tim served up Filet for our last meal and it tasted great although I hardly ever eat meat.  Being that tired all day, I needed that!  We would depart the next morning at 6am from the boat, take a 1.5 hour van ride to the airport and start the 45 hour trip back.  The visual cultural experience driving back to the airport through indue madness keeps you on your feet inside the van.  5 people on scooters, crazy lane changes, huge piles of garbage, stray dogs and chickens all over.  Its something that everyone that lives in the first world should experience.  Our youth need to see how the rest of the world works and the defining of what carries on in a typical indo day.  These experiences I learn so much about how I wake up everyday and realize how lucky I am.  The trick is though these people are happy and most likely happier than most of us.  There is something to be learned and everyone can take from it.  I can’t thank all of those people out there that got me to where I am today.  Thanks to all the guys on the trip for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to document this amazing experience.    All my readers continue to inspire me to write about my experiences and share the images I enjoy capturing!  Thank you!

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Day 12 and 13 – Surfing till the very end

Day 12 and 13 – Surfing till the very end
Day 12 started with a very rainy morning and conditions were small.  We continued our trek North and passed a few breaks already occupied by a few boats.  We made it all the way to Lances rights about an hour before dark.  I was catching up on work, editing photos and backing up photos.  Christian was the only surfer to go out in the smallish conditions.  Lances get more gnarly as it gets smaller as the inside reef, nicknamed the Surgeons table lives up to its name during this time and not just when its big.    It still looked really fun!  We continued on after dark to our anchorage about an hour north into a very calm bay.  We all slept like babies!
Day 13 began at 4 a.m. when I awoke to the bright lightning outside.  I tried to get my gear out and ready in the darkness to shoot the lightning but the pooring rain prevented me from getting any decent shots trying to stay dry under the over hangs.   This morning was the first day of it being truly a dreary day.  Soon after a couple of us and Martin headed out in the tin to explore the inlets and bays for over an hour looking for waves.  The are a lot of breaks that never get surfed and if they ever did, Martin was the first with nearly every one of them in the Mentawai Island chain.  We eventually ended up at Lances lefts and radioed in to the Trader 3 where we were and had them meet us there.  It was a long left breaking on nearly 1 ft deep sharp reef at the end of the wave so you really didn’t want to over welcome your visit on the wave!  I went out and surfed in the cloudy waist to chest conditions for a few hours before coming in and distributing all the images to the guys one by one.  Had some lunch and stayed busy until the Trader embarked back to Lances rights again for an afternoon/ evening session.  The surf was small and once again breaking on very shallow reef!  Everyone started to pack as some of the guys were leaving early in the morning.  Packing meant taking out fins, packing boards, finding your luggage, packing it and so on.  The sun made and afternoon appearance and I set off to get some more images on land and below the water on the reef.  It was great to get in the water again!  Once I got in the boat we set off on our way back to Padang about a 12 hour trip.  We all sat down for one last dinner and cheered in salute of the great fortune we had of getting great waves on the trip with great people.  It was once again a pleasure to come along and photograph the trip.  My casualties were minimal but expensive, with a broken 1d mark 3 and a nice hole on my foot from a blister on day 1!  Skip is nursing a pretty bad sciatic nerve injury in his back and felt so bad with his pain he was going through.  Other than that, there were a couple of damaged egos, reef cuts and 3 broken boards.  Tomorrow most of us will all go separate ways but I am glad I was there to provide the memories for years to come of another great trip for all the guys.  Once again I appreciate all the support from my readers and stay tuned for more adventures to come!

Ben Hicks

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Day 11 – 10 days of surfing does a body good

Day 11 – 10 days of surfing does a body good

With the expectation of a dropping swell many of us welcomed the break in action.  The attendance of watching movies in the galley became stronger and the mornings at sunrise most were still sleeping(and thats going to bed at 830 or 9).  We were at an anchorage that was in a very large bay/channel.  Once the sun was up I jumped in the tin and explored a nearby reef.  Many of the reefs are somewhat dead from a cold water surge about 10 years ago reckons Martin.  This spot still has large reefs head alive and well teeming with fish.  Going into that underwater world at sunrise in the middle of nowhere quickly brings back such a strong inspiration from nature.  Without much time I snapped a few images off and then had to get back to the boat as we were off to head north and look for some swell.  Once we arrived at Sharkys it was somewhat cloudy  and overcast, not a great condition for shooting.  The waves were still fun.  I paddled out and got a few at the right while the rest of the crew surfed the right.  Once I got my fill I went in and switched my board for my camera.  I swam with my wide setup on the shallow reeling right.  The reef went shallow extremely quick and my quick response time for sets and currents wasn’t nearly as quick from the days of swimming.  I was sparred from getting any poundings!  We went in for lunch and were all pretty exhausted.  Tim put up another stellar 5 star meal and from there most of us fell asleep as we headed north from there to start the trek back north as the trip is coming to an end soon.  Today was the second day in a row I had taken a nap.  Our bodies were beaten from the constant time in the water and over load of calorie use.  I was able to catch up on some work and organizing the days of shooting.  We traveled over 5 hours north before setting in to our anchorage just before dinner.    For dinner we had a feast.  Fresh grouper that Martin speared that day along with the latest from rod and reel that Tim caught.  Lamb, chicken, salad rice and topped it off with ice cream cones for dessert.  As usual I feel asleep long before 9!

Ben Hicks

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Day 10 – The rise and fall of swell

Day 10 – The rise and fall of swell

Last night we parked in a rough channel.  All night I felt as though I was on the verge of rolling out of my bed.  Some how I didn’t get sea sick, but Nader wasn’t so lucky.  Rocking and rolling all night!  We woke to another day of solid swell.  The wind was on it where we were all the way south so we headed north a bit to find firing sharkeys…… with another boat.  We let them surf for a couple hours and just as our guys paddled out the swell died, as forecasted.  It went from 6-8ft barrels to head high!  Mother Nature never ceases to be unpredictable!  I shot from the tin for about an hour into the dying swell and still snapped off a few bombs.  Not long after the rain started and that was the end of my session shooting from the tin.  Today I was pretty beat, possibly from getting a lot less sleep from waking up in the giant rocking chair (ie our boat).  Since the waves were getting slower and slower with the sets getting farther apart I decided to take a break.  Took a nap and felt a lot better.   The wind started to feather onshore and we were off south to find an off shore peeler.  Arriving about 2 hours before sunset we unloaded everyone into the tin and headed out to Debuts.  It was head to occasionally a foot over head and fun looking long rights.  Very inconsistent but glassy.  The comedy started as Skip and I watched the session go down on the boat as I shot.  Great rides were had and great wipeouts were documented!  Steve snapped another stick and also lost his glasses.  Bummer!  But he charged!  Just as the evening before we crammed into the boat as darkness came and ended another day in paradise.

Ben Hicks

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Day 9 – Mother Nature fist pumps

Day 9 – Mother Nature fist pumps

I wake to the chattering of large chain links moving along the metal opening on the nose of the boat.  The anchor is coming up, its 530 am and we are off to check out McFrights as we know the swell is rising  and being on it early will be our best chance at scoring.  We headed straight to McFrights but were quickly joined by another boat.  A couple of our guys paddled out but the amount of people and the amount of waves didn’t add up.  Steve snapped a board within 10 mins, one of Wes’s boards too!  Not a good feeling to snap a friends stick!  The wind was slightly (2mph) onshore and that was enough for Martin to make the call to leave.  We headed south.  In classic surf trip fashion we put in the movie Kick Ass and had a laugh along the way.  At all times we troll when cruising and occasionally catch something.  20 mins in the line starts racing out on one of the rods.  Cliff races to the back of the boat and we all go see whats on.  It turns out to be a nice Mackerel that we eat later on for dinner!  A couple hours later we rolled up to perfect heaving Sharkeys.  For almost 4 hours the boys surfed the 6ft barrels trading off wave after wave.  I shot from the tin boat for about 2 hours until the sun won and I headed in to east and surf from the Trader.  Skip and Christian had lost boards from snapped leashes and had to make the reef walk to get them.  Other than that the carnage was only in the photos.  Into hour 3 another boat, The Huey rolled up.  Martin recalled never seeing them this far south before.  He has been exploring these islands for 20+ years and reckons just now that other boats are coming this far south.  A pretty good run on your own!  Thankfully they did the right thing and waited until our guys were done surfing over an hour later.  A rare thing to witness but a wonderful thing to happen when its firing.  Unfortunate for them just as we got out the wind came onshore….lol.  Poor guys!  We escaped the onshore wind by traveling south and scoring another epic evening sesh at Debuts.  The wind was off shore and there were some 8ft sets rolling through.  I chose (with Martins recommendation) to be dropped off at the small sandbar to shoot long lens on a monopod.  It was no less than 30 yards long and 15 wide.  Maybe 3 feet high.  Just in case I brought a radio in my drybag.  I had to reef walk in waist high water with my pack on my head to get there.  Not 10 mins in a huge set fired off the reef and flooded the sandbar to nearly waist high.  Luckily I am fairly tall and just lifted my gear up high enough.  Soon after I pack my stuff away and called in the tin for a pickup.  I was out of there.  From there I shot from the tin in the channel.  Martin snapped his 8’8″ soon after and joined myself and Tim in the boat, thus the peanut gallery was formed.  Solid sets were rolling through and they were hooting everyone into the waves.  The highlight of the session was Steve digging into a solid set wave with a double rail grabbed grip and side slipping late drop into a bomb.  He made it!  Keep in mind he was on an thick 8ft fun shape.  Move of the day!  Martin quickly awarded him the heat winner!  Everyone else surfed until dark and all 12 of us crammed on the tin boat and we headed back to the Trader, already Bintangs in hand.  Hands down the best waves of the trip were surfed today and the boat was full of stoked blokes (as the aussies would say it)!

Ben Hicks

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Day 8 – Barrels and the bottom of the reef!

Day 8 – Barrels and the bottom of the reef!

The morning started off pretty good for me, as everyone slept in and I paddled out to 10 straight waves to myself at Moots.  It was about chest high but glassy.  When your out there by yourself at sunrise catching wave after wave, life is pretty good.  As soon as the boys awoke I paddled back in, grabbed some breakfast and then proceeded to get some shots from the boat of the guys.  The tide was getting higher and the wave count was going down fast.  Part of the crew left to go over to McFrights in the tin.  I missed that boat over and stayed back since the majority of the guys were still where I was.  The Trader eventually lifted anchor and headed over to McFrights.  By the time I had gotten in the water that crew was done.  Shift change as Nader, Wes, Cliff, Skip and Kane paddled out.  I shot from the water as the barrels piled through the lineup.  10 mins in a 6ft set caught us all off guard and got me on the inside.  Bounced off the reef twice, both times off my back.  I had my rash guard on and didn’t get any cuts but did hit hard enough to be a bit shaken up.   On every deep breathe I felt a pinch of pain, hopefully its not a cracked rib!  We continued to shoot and get some epic moments on film for another 2 hours.  Exhausted myself and was spent from the day.  I came back aboard the Trader and shot a bit from the boat as the boys continue to get shacked.  Nader snapped a board on one of the barrels earlier and the second half was still on the reef.  Rather than leave it, Doug and I decided to venture on the beach to get it.  Getting there meant a drop off with the tin about 30 yards from the beach and a swim in.  I had my drybag backpack and camera gear in had and carried on my head as I swam in.  We both had booties on since the reef is razor sharp.  On the beach we realized there was a small tent just inside the lavish bush under the towering coconut palms.  We find out later they were there to harvest coconuts for the village across the way on another island.  Walking up the beach onto the dry reef to retrieve the snapped board we were inundated by biting flies in the 90 degree heat.  While there the wind had turned on shore and McFrights was done for the day.  We headed back after the short swim to the tin.  Martin lifted anchor and brought us across the way to ship wrecks where the wind was offshore.  The waves were a bit inconsistent.  A few paddled out but most of us were to tired for another sesh unless it was barreling.  From there we headed back to our mooring for the night in between a mangrove inlet where there were calm waters.  As usual Tim the chef brought smiles to our bellies by serving up another beast of a meal.

Ben Hicks

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Day 7 – 8ft sets without gills.

Day 7 – 8ft sets without gills.

I was out first in the water this morning as the sun came up over the horizon and got in 10+ long left handers to myself at Moots.  Getting 5-6 turns out of each wave in the mellow but fun conditions.  Soon after I swam in an started shooting the guys as they arose from the dead.  Around mid morning a couple of us headed in the tin boat over to a nearby island where McFrights was peeling barrels.  Cliff and Christian traded off barrels by themselves while I shot from the tin boat with my 70-200 on my only working 1d Mark 3 body left.  Cliffy won the heat and nearly combed Christian.  Since we were in the tin boat about 3 miles from the Trader it was just the two of them out.  All I could think was if Nader knew what he was missing it could get ugly.  A storm started to approach from afar and we had to get out of there before the white conditions met us on the way back from the boat.  We made it back with a little evidence to prove just before the rain started hard.  While it started pouring outside we ate some lunch on our way over to the lighthouse.  It was firing.  Martin was calling it 8ft on the sets.  Solid rights barreling in the inside.  I chose to shoot from the tin for while, then the Trader and then hoped in the water with my flash housing until dark.  The housing setup plus the flash is a lot to carry in 8ft waves.  On top of that the lineup was shifty and a little unpredictable in the inside.  Shooting in the water is and adventure every time I swim out.  Add a flash to the situation and its gets that much more confusing, not just shooting photos from a technical stand point but also the shear weight of the housing.  After all though this is why I like it, bringing that much more of a problem to solve.  Just before dark I was trying to lineup with Kane on a barrel and a 4 wave 8ft set came and cleaned my clock.  I was done and another day was in the books.

Ben Hicks

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Day 6 – Lay day 2

Day 6 – Lay day 2

We arose in the town of Siberut to pickup Steve our 9th and final surfer of the trip.  It was nice to see some civilization and get a feel of the land and the people.  We were anchored in between two islands with a bustling community surrounding us.  Small dugout canoes were out and about fishing and such.  Steve’s ferry arrived at sunrise and the tin boat went to go scoop him up.  Once onboard we also picked up a local mechanic to fix the outboard motors reverse gear.  We headed back out to the breaks about an hour away as the mechanic worked on the motor on the upper deck of the Trader.  It was a bit smaller again and we ended up at the wave magnet, i.e. Thunders.  The boys went out for a surf in the inconsistent but still foot over head (on the sets) conditions.   They surfed it for a couple of hours before it got a bit inconsistent and it was time to head South for the afternoon to find an empty break.  We ended up at Lighthouse rights again and scored some fun conditions into the evening.  Everyone got a lot of waves and of course we had another killer sunset as I shot until dark in the tin boat.  Another killer meal from Tim and we were all ready to hit the bed before 9p.m.

Ben Hicks

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Day 5 – 3 waves, 3 water shooting sessions and 2 surfs

Day 5: 3 waves, 3 water shooting sessions and 2 surfs
From our mooring spot I had a decision to make upon waking in the morning.  Go shoot the reef, the sunrise on the sandbar or flash at the break?  Since the clouds were weird and not letting a lot of light in I decided to get a tin boat ride to a tiny sandbar and try and get some morning light.  Not a real successful mission but being out there at sunrise whether I got any photos or not was worth it.  The wave out in front of the tiny sandbar was working and the boys were on it.  From the channel in the boat it looked small but in fact it was a super fun chest high right that reeled across the crystal water on a shallow reef teeming with fish.  I shot from the tin boat while the guys traded off sets.  Then switched out for my fisheye water housing set up and swam for a couple hours.  The water color, sky and surroundings just added to the amazing waves we surfed by ourselves.  I eventually had to go in to eat.  I turned around after filling my stomach and grabbed my board.  Traded out waves with about 5 of us.  Classic moment was watching Martin Daly doing a full cockroach on his pin Merrick!  All smiles.  After getting a quick ten waves we all went in and moved the Trader to another break called moots.  It was a long left on the end of an island.  A bit smaller and not as much wall.  By this time we were all pretty fried from the sun.  I shot from the Trader and my 500mm for about an hour before calling it quits and paddling out for a few myself.  I caught another 10 waves or so and then went in to get my housing to shoot some water and the light started to get good.  Just as I was on my way back to the break Martin rounded the crew in the water to head over to McFrights an island away.  A 10 minute boat ride and we were there.  The trader was on its way to meet us.  I swam out with Nader, Christian, Wes and Doug.  It was a barreling left right on a reef that pretty much goes dry at the end.  It was small but the sets were working.  First wave and Nader got fully shacked. Then Christian.  The session was on and Nader felt right at home.  They swapped barrels.  Nader lost his board and had to make the swim to the inside, which proved to be successful without any board or limb dings.  The sun was dipping and the day was nearly over.  Christian and I linked up and got the first stand up fisheye barrel shot of the day.  Another killer sunset and we headed in.  As soon as everyone was aboard we would travel all night to Sigatoka to meet up with our 9th surfer Steve in the morning.  He was traveling in on the redeye Ferry from the mainland.

Ben Hicks

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Day 4: I.E….Day 1 of the calm before the storm

Day 4: I.E….Day 1 of the calm before the storm

We arose to traveling south in hopes of escaping other boats around the area of Thunders.  Ending back up at Sharkey’s like the year before when it goes small.  It picks up a bit more swell.  One other boat joined us with a mellow aussie crew.   Everyone enjoyed a few sessions in the mellow long lefts.  A mellow day usually only means one thing in the Mentawais….. the swell is coming.  With word out on the horizon that in a handful of days there is a solid 8ft swell coming it was nice to get a lay day.  I got a surf in as well for a few hours before scoping out the entire reef and inside section with my cam and mask.  The water was clear and the light was high so I decided to shoot mainly below the surface as a change of pace.   Shooting below kills my eyes after a while, since wearing a mask out in big surf is not easy.   You cant see the waves coming to time them to go under thus can be very dangerous.  Today I brought out my super low volume Cressi mask so I could see a bit better.  Conditions were mellower which made it much safer.  I could sit out there all day and watch waves break below the surface.  Just like many of us like watching perfect waves break above the surface, you should one day swim out with a mask and watch it!  Mother nature never disappoints!   The downside with two days of swimming in a row are the blisters forming on my feet.  The sun was dipping and it was time to find an anchorage with a little less swell.  We continued south to find a nice little nook.  The sun disappeared and we closed another beautiful day in the Indian Ocean.

Ben Hicks

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