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  • Writer's pictureChantal Malherbe

SY SHIMMI - Pacific Ocean crossing

Updated: May 20, 2021

Our two year family "surf exploration" on board our 45ft cat "Shimmi" 2008-2010... Pacific side of Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and on: Galapagos, Polynesia, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia -


EXPOSURE It was towards the end of another 2 hr solo session in smoking 6 ft pits at spot X on Island Z that I began to ask myself the following question? Why am I surfing alone? Why is it not crowded with Seppos, Jaapies, Ozzies and the like? Besides this super consistent right hander Island Z has 3 or 4 other class waves, an airport with regular flights, a nice little town with tarred roads, various hotels and a few dive resorts. In short, it is not some remote surfing outpost. Not main stream, that's for sure. But its not G-Land in the 70's. So why has this island not become another Lagundri Bay or Lakey Peak, with rows of surfing losmen, massage huts and bientang caves? Like many other class waves, it was discovered in the 70's by two whiteys, both of whom still live on the island. Both married local lady's, both are now grandfathers. Their offspring all surf. But lets first give this progression, of which Lagundri Bay is a fine example, from pristine virgin wave, to sleazed out, over-exposed and supercrowded surf destination, a name. Lets call it, for want of a better term, "EXPOSURE". Why has this exposure not happened on Island Z? The answer, as I am sure you have guessed, is localism. But this is a different brand of localism, not only focused on what happens in the water, but also on the land: No surf camps, no surf shops, no surf charters, no photographers, no contests and therefore minimal exposure. If you have your ear to the ground, can read a naval chart, and you have average exploration skills you will find this spot. And if you do, and you arrive alone, without 8 frothing surf buds, but with a mellow attitude, you will be greeted and you will get waves. So this is not the kind of localism that we are used to back home, which is centered around lots of hassling in the surf. Sure, if you even paddle for the same wave as some of the Island Z locals, you may end up in a wheel chair for life. But if you show common sense, play it cool, let wave's go through, let okes go on your outside (especially if they are big), soon they will ask you where you are from, give you the Polynesian hand shake and call you onto the next wave. Its simple really: You must not be seen as a threat to their surfing treasure. So when groups of surfer's arrive, or pro's with cameras, then things get violent rapidly. This then fuels the spot's "heavy local" reputation, and as a result it becomes removed from our list of friendly surf destinations. But the point I am trying to make is that localism on Island Z is evident mostly on land. And its what you don't see. No surf camps, no surfy hotels, no rooms to let to surfers, no surf taxi boats and not a single surf shop. Ye cant even buy a bar of wax here, my mateys! The locals simply will not allow anyone to open any of the aforesaid establishments. This started way back with those first two gringos who found Island Z's surfing treasure trove in the first place. They kept their mouth's shut. They did not invite their mates and they did not build a big surf camp. They did not even try to buy any land from the locals! This may be because they are just 2 drunken slobs with no ambition, OR, maybe they were just bloody shrewd. I don't know. What I do know, is that the locals have given up a big opportunity to make a lot of dollars out of traveling surfers. And in return they have kept their most precious resource UN-EXPOSED. The local surfers all understand this. It was a conscious decision a long time ago, and it has now become a way of life. Nobody even tries to do anything which may lead to exposure. Rather make money off the main stream tourists and scuba divers. Besides, if you even tried to open a surf camp it would be burned to the ground and you will be thrown of the island. One of the local kids was recently crowned world junior champ, yet his has never brought home a single one of his many wqs tour buddies. No photos have appeared in mags, no free dvd's. And who of us has the time to travel to a destination if you have not even seen one pic of the waves? This UNEXPOSURE of Island Z, mainly due to the fact that the locals have chosen barrels over dollars, is why your's truly has had two epic sessions here, racking up barrel after barrel, ACE OUT. In Indo you often get hussled by the same local who own's the losmen where you are staying. Or by the oke who owns the nearby surf shop. That is just bullshit. They want you to come spend your money but then pull the agro on you in the water?!? I've never really been able to figure that one out. Or the foreign surf camp owners who somehow wangle exclusive rights to waves like you get in Fiji. Or okes who move to J-Bay, then after a month he thinks he owns the place. I mean Hello! Then again, I feel sorry for the Indo surfers. Much of the exposure there happened before any of the locals where even surfing. I am sure that now many of the young generation of surfers would like to turn back the clock and somehow un-expose their waves, but its too late. However, on Island Z, these 2 old gringos kept the surf masses away. They showed their kids what they had and how to protect it. Now its in their blood. The wave on Island Z is their sacred resource. It may not be sold in any way. So, if you are the package deal type surfer, and most of us are in this world of tight schedules and stressful deadlines, then Island Z is not for you. No, Island Z is for the explorer type surfer, the oke with time on his side, patience and some street savvy. You may arrive here by plane, but most probably on one of the inter island traders. Alone. You will book into one of the local dive resorts or bum a room off one of the local families (hide your board behind a bush whilst you negotiate). An hour before dawn you will paddle a kilometer out to the reef pass. You will get VERY VERY barreled. And if, towards the end of the second or third hour of your solo session, 4 big locals arrive with facial tattoos, simply greet them warmly by saying "Ia Orana", do the Pollo handshake if its offered, and start paddling back to town. Go have breakfast and just be STOKED. When no-ones looking, dig out your trusty old binocs, find some high ground, watch the wave out on the pass. It will soon be empty again.

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