Sunday, December 26, 2010
The Boxing Day tsunami hit Arugam Bay, on the East coast of Sri Lanka at 8.45am six years ago, taking the lives of 300 people, roughly twenty percent of the community’s population.
Approximately two hours previously an undersea earthquake with a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3 had struck off the coast of Sumatra, near Indonesia’s Mentawaii Island chain, and the resulting waves of tsunamis caused devastation across the Indian Ocean. The International community rallied and donated more than US$14 billion for aid and reconstruction.
But how have some of the communities affected by the tsunami bounced back? The list of coastal areas impacted by the tsunamis includes some of the most revered destinations in the surfing world, so it’s inevitable that places that we hold dear to our collective hearts were affected.
It’s six years on, and the small village of Arugam Bay, spread out along the stretch of the bay from the lagoon to the point that draws surfers, seems to be back on track; there’s a new bridge over the lagoon, hotels are doing a brisk trade in the high season and there are multicoloured fishing boats and outriggers pulled up on the berm.
But talk to any fisherman mending nets on the beach and you can tell that the memory still cuts deep…”and then the wave came and everything died” as one man told me.
I didn’t want to dwell too much on the past, but I was interested in the knock on effects and the hangover of this enormous natural disaster years after the international money donating public have moved onto the next cause and the aid agencies and volunteers have moved on. Sri Lanka is an interesting case to look at because of the additional ingredient of a long running civil war which only ended in May of 2009.
There are still piles of rubble and half destroyed buildings stood on their concrete foundations which are destined to remain as reminders. In January 2006 the government, which had been accused of standing by idly and contributing little to the relief effort, enacted the now infamous “100 metre rule” which forbade anybody living within 100 metres of the Indian Ocean from rebuilding their homes on the former site and forcing many fishermen inland away from their boats and the sea. This measure was designed to protect coastal communities from the possibility of more tsunamis however given the right amount of cash in the right hands, there appeared to be loopholes with the result being that many hotels were rebuilt in the same spot, and on many other parts of the coast the whole debacle was seen by locals as a back handed way of acquiring coastal property ripe for development.
The new bridge that crosses the head of the lagoon from Pottuvil to Arugam is very impressive, and should be at a cost of over US$10 million which was stumped up by the US taxpayer. The locals are appreciative, but unsure as to why such a fancy bridge was required in view of the still ongoing reconstruction. Likewise, the wide main road through town (the only road in town) was being resurfaced whilst I visited, and pushed further south. Word was that this resurfacing work was being funded by the Chinese with many holding the cynical suspicion that this was a favour in the bank waiting for the time to come when land rights on the coast further south are opened up. Walking on what remained of the old road surface, I couldn’t quite see the need to re-tarmac it for the second time in six years and shared the local’s suspicions.
It’s not like tuk-tuks cause undue wear and tear.
And I can quite understand the interest. The East coast of Sri Lanka is beautiful, remote and undeveloped in comparison to the West coast, due in large part to the civil war and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) presence. Army check-points and roadblocks still interrupt the main road and soldiers toting AK47s regularly climb aboard the buses and patrol the beach. It felt odd running up the point in boardshorts with a surfboard past four man armed patrols in combat fatigues with heavy boots sinking into the sand. But with the advent of a tentative peace in May 2009 Sri Lanka is becoming more and more popular and it won’t be long before the East coast pops up on the radar. At the moment the bumpy ten hour bus ride puts off all but surfers and the most determined backpackers but that could easily change.
The only hope is that the locals of Arugam Bay retain their community spirit in the presence of development. Following the Boxing Day Tsunami the government proposed several large hotel complexes to help fast-track the areas recovery which were rejected by the Arugam Bay Tourism Association. It seems that local businesses prefer things the way they are, and want to maintain progress at a home-made and locally led rate. All power to them. At present the village gives you the impression that you’re onto something new despite the fame of the wave breaking on the point for the past twenty plus years, you wouldn’t want to be queuing for set waves with too many more people and there’s a nice atmosphere about the place.
It’s worth remembering that recovery and rebuilding communities, homes and livelihoods takes a lot more time than these natural disasters remain in the consciousness of people around the world for. The memories linger and it takes time for things to return to any semblance of normality, during which it’s all too easy for areas to be opened up for exploitation of their natural beauty and resources by people more shrewd and cunning than they are compassionate.
I’ll end on a nice note though: The story of a friend of mine who arrived in Sri Lanka shortly after the tsunami. He decided not to change his plans and headed to the East coast to see how he could lend a hand and catch some waves in between. With another travelling surfer, he bought a couple of bags of cement and set about building a football pitch for the local kids to provide them with a bit of light hearted respite. They cleared some land, dug holes, stripped big branches which they lashed together and cemented into the ground as goalposts, procured a ball and then gathered a crowd of kids for the inaugural game.
Everybody plays cricket in Sri Lanka.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
"To what avail the plough or sail, or love, or life - if freedom fail?
Freedom. Freedom to what? Escape, run, wander turning your back on a cowed society that stutters, staggers and stagnates every man for himself and fuck you Jack I've got mine?
To be truly challenging, a voyage, like life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea - "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to sea men, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot or will not fit in.
Little has been said or written about the ways a man may blast himself free. Why? I don't know, unless the answer lies in our diseased values....Men are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security," and in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man really need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.
The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Dedication to the sea is the symbol of migration and movement and wandering. It is the barbaric place and stands opposed to society and it is a constant symbol in all of literature, too.
As Thomas Wolfe said, "It is the state of barbaric disorder out of which civilization has emerged and into which it is liable to return."
Sterling Hayden, Wanderer, 1964
Miki Dora, Da Cat, The Dark Prince of Malibu and the basis for every single damn counter culture surfing stereotype for the past 60 years. He was one of the most important, and possibly the most iconic individual, in the history of surfing - not for contest results, but for being at the top of the pile through the boom and then leaving the whole stinking mess behind in the persuit of his personal freedom to ride waves at any expense. He spent some time on the FBI's most wanted list, hung with film stars, smuggled gold and jewels, circled the world continuously, was a pioneer at Jeffreys Bay, pissed some people off, became a cult hero and kept surfing and sticking it to the man right to the end.
All he ever wanted to do was surf, and he did, at almost any cost. The path is made by walking and Dora walked it, that's why his name is permanently graffed on the wall at Malibu - to remind the rest of us what to do.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
So last weekend my friend James arrived on our doorstep with two bags full of high-tech camera equipment for some geeky camera club time.
James is studying for a degree in Press and Editorial Photography (photojournalism) down the road in Falmouth and was doing a "compassionate portraits" project, focussing on the impact of second home ownership in Cornwall. It's a pretty contentious issue, looking at the impact of unoccupied second homes on small coastal communities in the off season, when villages that are full to bursting in the summer months are reduced to virtual ghost towns in the winter. There's also the economic impact of sky high house and rent prices forcing locals out of the market and inland, or living a long way from their place of work if they even have a year round job that isn't tourist dependant. But then the income from tourism is what keeps Cornwall going and it's important not to bite the hand that feeds. In the morning James shot portraits of my housemate Ben and me with a whole load of remote studio flash gear and lighting that I didn't really understand, then he ran off around the village to get some more shots - you'd be well advised to check the results and read his piece on his very good blog right here. I've also taken the liberty of posting some of his other work above because I love the images. The middle photograph is from some time he spent on exercises with the Royal Marines, undergoing hostile situation training in case he goes off to take photos of war, and the bottom photograph is of the Crackington Haven Ladies Gig rowing team making their way out of Port Gaverne. Both shot on film, the way they should be.
Anyways, check the work on his blog, it makes me want to study photography properly so that I understand him when he starts talking about off-camera wireless flash set-ups and playing around with white umbrellas.
All images copyright James Allen 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
"What in the hell is that thing?"
It would be easy to instantly dismiss these funny looking surfboards as design gimmiks, just another theory being thrown at the wall to see what sticks in an ever expanding world of surfboard design and manufacture.
Until you find out that this design has come straight out of the fertile creative mind of Californian surfer Thomas Meyerhoffer, who used to be a designer at Apple. Now it's worth a double take no? This guy was on the team that crafted the original iMac, so despite it's wierd looks you know that there are reasons behind its shape that go beyond interesting aesthetics.
In the words of Justin Cote from Transworld Surf:
“I didn’t even want to paddle it out, but when I did and finally caught a wave, the thing actually ripped. I wanted it to suck so bad, but it turned right off the bottom, sped down the line, carved right into a cutback, and basically did everything I commanded—I was shocked. This board was not supposed to work. So why does it?”
Transworld Surf, October 2010.
These boards seem to be the most comprehensive marriage of short and longboard designs yet, with a shortboard shape incorporated into the tail of the board bringing the widepoint further back to enable sharper turns. All of the unnecessary volume and weight of foam is removed from the front rail line (because lets face it all that rail just drags and slows you down) leaving a standard longboard nose area to walk up and perch on. It's a similar theory to slalom skis, and I imagine that it can't have a negative effect on the flex characteristics of the board through turns either.
Digging a little deeper reveals a whole host of design elements aimed at producing faster, smoother longboards that behave more like shortboards: features such as a convex bottom through the mid section to enable smoother rail to rail transitions flowing through to spiral vee double concaves through the fins, and a drawn out tail to balance the nose and hold in through turns.
Regardless of all of these technical details though, there's living proof below that they work, as demonstrated by Matt Martin at Bells, Australia (photo by Steve Ryan) showing a Meyerhoffer longboard coming nicely off the bottom and even getting jammed nicely in a tube.
Who knows, perhaps Thomas is on to something and we'll see more trimmed down and refined longboards coming through, looking to the future rather than taking inspiration from the past as is so often the case with longboard design. It's nice to balance it all out, and it's even nicer when a design so left of field works out and really breaks the mould. It reminds me of a favourite quote of mine by Sir Ken Robinson, who said "If you're not prepared to fail then you'll never come up with anything truly original".
These boards are something truly original.
Check the website here, or read an interview here.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Bhodisatva, South West Sri Lanka.
Each of the Worlds Oceans are so great that there is a massive amount of diversity to be found around the edges, diversity of climates, cultures, religions, ethnicity, wealth and environment to name a few. Whilst I've splashed around in and traversed each of these Oceans, the Indian Ocean is that which I have probably spent the most time circumnavigating and exploring, and there're still a ton of places around the edge and islands in the middle that I'm desperate to check out, and a few that I still can't (Somalia, Yemen and Burma). There's still time yet though.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
First up, at the end of October the tectonic plates that meet along the Indonesian archipeligo rumbled into life again and an undersea earthquake triggered a three metre tsunami that swept across the Mentawaii island chain off Sumatra. Over 300 souls were lost in the area, long held as the surf worlds garden of Eden but vulnerable to these acts of a grumbling planet. Surf Aid International are on the ground delivering aid, you can donate here.
Then this Wednesday, the 3rd of November the news broke that former 3x world champion Andy Irons had been discovered dead in a hotel room in Dallas, Texas, reportedly succumbing to dengue fever on his way home to recover in Hawai'i. Irons was a man who polarised surfers opinion; an incredible talented surfer he was the only competitor who's ever really taken the fight to Kelly Slaters dominance and wrestled several world titles from him, however he was also extremely competitive and appeared to have the arrogance to accompany this. Therefore as you'd expect when an athelete in his prime succumbs to illness, detractors have turned on the rumour mill. Whatever your opinion though, there's no denying that one of the most naturally talented surfers on planet Earth has checked out early, and the real tradegy is that his wife is expecting their first child in a months time. Friend and photographer Dustin Humphrey wrote a really nice eulogy here, and if you want to see the man in his prime go watch the final section of One Track Mind - it'll blow your mind.
And then yesterday, Kelly Slater hit number 10 in '10. Phenomenal. The man who has dominated competitive surfing for a generation just took out his tenth world title in Puerto Rico at thirty eight years old, eighteen years after he won his first - here's the breakdown:
1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010.
The guy has a pact with Neptune, I'm certain of it.
Both images via the photographic genius of Dustin Humphrey.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
They look like my memories of summer in Cornwall when I was really young.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Whilst I love nothing more than new places and faces, I'm as guilty as the next man of suspecting that the grass is always greener some place else. Not always so. It's easy to overlook your neighbourhood for providing you with the environment, ways and means to get your kicks, and when you realise that fact and make the most of where you are right now rather than pining for someplace else, you get a lot more enjoyment, a lot more often.
This is Pete. He runs his familys dairy farm in Westland on the South Island of New Zealand and works flat out. I worked for Pete one Spring time a few years back. Being a dairy farmer is rewarding but damned hard, especially during calving when we spent weeks working 14 hour plus days in the cold and rain milking, delivering calves and doing all the other hard graft required to keep the farm going - "A whole lot of death and mayhem" was how he described the calving season.
The farm stands under the shadow of the Southern Alps, and the Franz Josef glacier is a 15 minute drive away, we were on the edge of the nearest village. One of Petes oldest friends had been one of the original guides on the glacier, but despite this and his lifelong proximity, Pete had never been more than about 20 metres onto the ice. Until now. Myself and the other guy working on the farm wanted to climb the glacier, and Pete figured that if we got up super early and got the bare minimum of farm chores done by day break, we could all go up with his friend. So we did, kitted up in a rag-tag array of old crampons and ice axes, we spent a day up there, first on and last off looking down at the identically dressed tour groups tramping the well cut steps far below. We got to cut our own steps and searched for giant quartz crystals.
When your backyard is one of the most accessible Glacier National Parks on the planet, it's well worth exploring.
I must've looked at this cave and patch of cliff a thousand times whist sat out in the line-up surfing, but not being a proper climber I never really appreciated it. That is until I moved in with Matt, who IS a proper climber. At low tide you can walk out around the base of the low cliffs and over the reef, to patches of secluded beach in the mouth of the caves, and we carried around a crash mat, climbing shoes and a bag of chalk to try and suss some bouldering routes. Here's a shot of Matt with a vicious heel-hook, just about to haul himself up and over the lip of the cave onto a patch of rock that is "merely vertical" rather than massively inverted.
The whole coastline around here is like this, if you've got a climbers eye and can spot the routes. Lucky for Matt he runs powerboat Sea Safari tours so every day at work whilst pointing out dolphins and seabirds to tourists, he gets to explore our backyard looking for climbing routes.
Monday, October 18, 2010
"Keep calm and carry on"
Somebody's selling an awful lot of tea towels and tin mugs with this war time slogan on it, going for the quintissentially British "stiff upper lip" angle on retro design. It got me thinking though about what a good piece of advice it is. Take a deep breath, count to ten and make a new plan.
Missed a connection? Didn't get the job or contract your plans were pivoting on? Luggage lost in transit? There's a million different ways that it can hit the fan at home, work or on the road, but very few of these things are insumountable. So just keep calm, and carry on.
This is an image of my old friend and neighbour Jim, looking quinissentially British, taking a slurp out of said tin mug after harvest.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Sunday, October 3, 2010
How many surf spots are there where you can catch the same wave three times or more, and rack up minutes of ride time?
The tidal bore wave that periodically rolls up the River Severn, through the countryside on the English and Welsh border, definitely provides one of the more charming facets on the periphery of the surfing world. Often garnering more attention from the mainstream media than the surf media, the Severn bore is also at the centre of continual conflicting environmental arguments regarding the decades old proposal to build a £20bn barrage across the estuary to provide a renewable source of energy. With legal requirements for 15% of the UK’s electricity needs to be met by renewable sources by 2020, a barrage would account for a healthy 15% of this.
But this is counterbalanced by the resultant flooding of protected wetlands and bird habitats, the enormous time scale required to neutralise the projects carbon footprint (some eighty years), issues concerning salmon spawning on the river, the silting up of the river and the cost of sediment wear on the turbines.
The movement of the tide and its bore wave up and down the estuary and river has been described as “Gloucestershire breathing in and out”. A barrage would draw an end to this.
A friend once described his bore surfing experience to me as “a small chubby wave, sheep poo and real ale”…I was intrigued so decided to go see for myself, driving three hours inland against all my natural instincts - to go surfing.
Roughly once a month, for a few days at a time either side of the spring high tides, cars stop on bridges and spectators line the river banks to watch a motley crew of surfers and the odd kayaker slide down the muddy, slimy river bank into the water to await the surge of the tide. One wave every twelve hours, or near enough – sometimes there are two or three waves making up the head of the tide, but whichever way you look at it, if you miss it you’ve got to wait a long time for the next chance. Probably one of the rare occasions that you’ll get apprehensive as a waist high line of whitewater approaches. The wave itself exhibits different characteristics on different stretches of the river, sometimes just a rolling whitewater wave and sometimes throwing up shoulders and sections to turn off where it hits shallow stone ledges or sand banks, much as waves do in the ocean.
In fact, the novelty value is probably part of the appeal. Length of ride can be several miles, the record being eleven miles on a single wave - ridden by Steve King, the local bore maestro who’s missed only a handful of tides in the past thirty-odd years. It’s no high performance wave, granted, but it’s a charming and mildly eccentric weekend of surfing a long way removed from the regular scene back on the beaches. Everybody’s friendly and pleased to see each other, keen to share stories, a pint and a wave. When there’s only one every twelve hours, party waves become de-rigour and it’s all about distance covered and the width of smiles shared.
The next tides of sufficient height to produce a bore wave are next weekend, with a 9.8m high tide on the morning of Friday October 8th and a 9.9m high tide on the morning of Saturday the 9th. Why not get yourself to Gloucestershire and go surf something a bit different?
Images from the top down are:
Mick Jardine and Matt Boon waiting for the bore to arrive in knee deep water at Newnham.
Mick on wave number one of the day, warming up ready to give it a go on a shortboard further upstream.
Silty, slimey feet from river bank scrambles.
Trying to find the river down country lanes and farmers fields.
The one that got away...Matt has a head cam on here and the plan was for both of us to capture a shot of Mick blasting his fins through the roof at this secret stone ledge. The longboarder enjoying the empty shoulder here jostled him out of position though which is pretty crucial on a tiny 6'1" in a freshwater river. Oh well, maybe next month hey.