By Shelby Stanger
I'm scared out of my mind. The waves in the Mentawais are bigger, thicker, faster and hairier than anything I've ever seen. I'm the lone girl on a surf odyssey with a dozen of the world's best watermen, and though the guys are respectful of my 'wahine' status, they charge hard, every day. My, 'I'm just a journalist,' card has been played.
So I've become the Zen master of shoulder and foot massages, repaying the fellas for giving me heaps of waves which I either blow or wuss out on. After a few days alone in the middle of the ocean 700 nautical miles from the nearest discernable estrogen, jokes about the masseuse and 'happy endings' are easy. I play along until the end, when I get right in their faces, smile the biggest grin I can and say, "Here's your happy ending: CHEEEEEEEESE!"
We're aboard the Indies Trader III with legendary surf skipper Martin Daly, a New Zealand salvage diver who first came to this remote island chain off the west coast of Sumatra to drag a timber barge off a reef in 1989. He has made a return pilgrimage every year since, and claims to have discovered 90 percent of the region's breaks.
We're at one of the best of them when the breakthrough comes. The sun is setting and Brian Keaulana and I are the only ones still in the water. He tells me how he trained Kate Bosworth for Blue Crush by taking her out in 20-foot Waimea the first day they filmed. Some actress went out in big surf, and here I am in barely overhead waves, frothing from fear?
Just as I envision a dainty blonde careening down a 20-foot face, Brian sees a set wave in the distance. I'm in perfect position. So is he. "You gonna go?" he asks in a way that says I'm a complete idiot if I don't. A few extra strokes and I'm planing, ruddering around the chop, but with enough power to drop into the pit. My feet are planted. My eyes focus on the horizon, not at the menacing, rocky reef a few yards ahead.
"Make it, make it, make it," I tell myself—a trick Brian has me use after I bailed for the hundredth time, thinking the wave would close on my head and pummel me. I say it again and again, until I sense water above. I'm in the tube for the first time in my life and have never felt so scared, and so elated.
Back at the boat, I'm beaming. The guys tell me I charged. I lie on the deck, bikini still clinging to my wet body. "Who's giving me my happy ending now?" I shout. Everyone laughs. Getting barreled in front of this crew is the happiest ending I could have imagined.