Rob Schanz | Sumatra Surf

Rob Schanz

PHOTOS: Rob Schanz (analog) , Chris Grundy (digitals)

LOCATION: Sumatra, Indonesia

Even over there, it isn’t perfect all of the time. We battled the early onset of the rainy season by taking long drives at 4am to parts of the island that face different directions so the wind was more favorable.

When we asked Rob Schanz what drew him to Indo this Fall, he gave us a surprising response: “I have what I guess people these days call FOMO,” or Fear Of Missing Out. Despite living fifteen minutes from San Francisco’s legendary Ocean Beach, a fall staple for NorCal surf, Rob finally gave in to pushing everything aside for a long overdue trip to Indo- flying from SF to Tokyo to Jakarta to Sumatra for the potentially fickle Indonesian offseason. And so, amid the relative oceanic dormancy of a South Pacific fall, the trip was on.

We always go into such endeavors with a certain set of expectations. The Indonesian islands have been hailed by the surf community as otherworldly, inflated in our imaginations to the point where the ideal is all we know. In the minds of countless foreigners aching to pack up shop and move to paradise, there’s no onshore wind, no seasonal lull, just glassy and consistently overhead left hand barrels year-round, a buffet of empty, hollow caves, of untouched oceanic energy waiting to be harvested by the right rider. “How many times can I see these perfect waves in magazines and films and not go check them out for myself?” Rob asked.

We know, of course, that Indonesia is a real place in the physical world. We just choose to forget that in our bouts of feverous late-night mind-surfing, projecting onto the insides of closed eyelids the filtered ideals of oversaturated surf mag dreams. But then some decide to wake up and make these dreams into realities, buying offseason tickets in hopes of avoiding airlines’ peak season prices and hordes of hungry surf tourists drunk off Bintangs in the lineup.

“On the second night, while I was sleeping, I remember barely waking up several times and feeling this burning surf rash sensation on my hips. I also remember rolling around a lot from side to side that night. The next morning, I woke up and there were several deep, red streaks on either side of my hips that almost looked like jellyfish stings. It wasn’t that bad to start with. As the day progressed, several of the rashes began to blister and fill with pus. Eventually, I ended up going to the hospital, which was in pretty bad shape — blood on the floor. I had them drain one of my blisters and give me some antibiotics. The local people kept telling me it was a bug, but couldn’t quite translate what kind. I was still unsure of what was going on. A few days later, the owner of our camp got back; turns out I was ‘pissed on’ by a beetle called the Tomcat Bug. I think while I was sleeping I rolled on it, and so it pissed on me. Then I kept rolling in the venom all night.”

During the dry season, Tomcats are not a problem. Like Indonesian waves, they come and go with seasonal change. This encounter came with the whole package — we make our memories, we take our lumps. Ironically, a more visceral reality is created by chasing down our own unrealistic expectations.

“We battled the early onset of the rainy season by taking long drives at 4am to parts of the island that face different directions so the wind was more favorable there. At the same time, the middle of the trip saw less swell and we often settled for punchy waves and little inside barrels at the nearby beach break.”

A visit to Bali and Sumatra is full of promise for every surfer. In the midst of its misleadingly perfect reputation lies a less glossy reality that must be experienced to be understood. A trip need not be defined by whether it lives up to an unrealistic ideal — it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be real: approach it that way, and the stories write themselves.