Part two: rebellion, adventure, the unknown.
Flying. Shadows. Weightless. The sound of thunder. Sliding through twilight, I let go of everything behind me, including the cave. Further and further on we glide, the ocean and me. I know I must be nearing the end of the reef. It’s shallow here. From the shadows blurring past me, I can see rocks, and fragments of jagged coral peaking out from beneath the water. I’ve never seen a wave connect this far down the point without closing out. But I’m committed now, and I choose a high line to avoid catching my fins on the reef as I fly through the shallows. I think I’m laughing out loud now. It’s a strange sensation to hear your own voice when there’s no one else around. I’m through the shallows now, and still onward the wave carries me, further down the point until it finally reaches deep water and coughs me gently into the darkness.
I hear myself laugh again. But the surrounding silence startles me. No waves. No people. No light at all. Is this real life? As the adrenaline begins to fade, it is replaced with worry. Now what? I’ve never been here before. I have no idea where I am, or how to get back. I can barely even see beyond the nose of my surfboard. Now panic. I know it’s pointless, but my thoughts immediately turn back to the cave, and I begin to paddle frantically against the current. It might take me an hour, maybe longer, but maybe eventually I can make it back towards the cave. But deep down I know it’s useless, and although I can’t see the shore, I know that I’m just paddling in place. The strength of the current is matching me stroke for stroke, and I’m far too committed to turn back now.
Surrendering to the current, I allow my my tired arms to relax. A kind of surreal calm. It’s hard to believe that behind me, and undoubtedly somewhere up ahead, large waves continue to pound the coast. But here in deep water, the swells glide silently past. Drifting in darkness through silent waters, it’s difficult to tell how fast I’m moving. Although I’ve never been here before, this part of Bali is well-known within the surfing community, and I know that somewhere up ahead, further north along the Bukit peninsula is the famous wave known as Padang Padang — “a wave so powerful they had to name it twice,” as the legend goes. But I’ve never been there, and this is not the way that I’d like to be introduced: all alone in the dark. But I also know that because it is a well-known surf spot, there must be a path from the beach that leads up the cliff and back into town.
I’m not sure how long it takes for the human mind to start playing tricks, but now I’m hearing things. Splashing things. There it is again, closer to the shore. Closer now. Rhythmic, steady. Then a voice. “Hello? Anyone there?” I can’t believe it. I’m not alone after all! The voice belongs to a surfer, who is now paddling towards me. As our eyes meet, I see my own relief reflected in the expression on his face.
“Do you know where we are?” His question is hopeful and genuine.
“No, I don’t.” Again, I see my own feelings reflected in his face. To cheer him up, or maybe myself, I follow with, “At least we’re in this together.” We both fake a smile, and start paddling for what we think might be Padang Padang, watchful for set waves and trying to stick to the channel. But what he says next is probably the last thing I expect to hear while drifting through darkness in the Indian Ocean of Bali.
“Hey, are you Tim from Switchfoot?”
Now let me first say that, whatever you may think, this is actually not a very common thing for me, even back on land in California. I think I really might be losing my mind. I’m no mathematician, but I’d say the odds of being recognized out in the ocean, in the dark, in Bali, by the only other surfer within miles of me is unlikely, to put it mildly.
“Um, yeah, actually. What’s your name?”
And so this is how we met, Travis and me. We managed to dodge the sets, and slowly pick our way through the coral and and finally found ourselves back on the land. The moon had begun to rise, and we were both smiling, feeling fully alive, and thankful for the unlikely companionship. As we walked along the shore, looking for a path up the cliff, I was painfully reminded that the bandage around my foot had long-since washed away. The sharp reef had not been kind to my feet, especially my right foot. It would require stitches when I got back home, but for now, duct tape, super glue were all I had. We stumbled upon a footpath in the moonlight, and I limped along the trail making small talk with Travis as we finally found our way to road near the top of the cliff.
Headlights approaching, we laughed and raised our thumbs high. After a few failed attempts, we found someone who was willing to give us a ride back to town for a small price. I told Travis I was buying, and we hopped in. When we got back to town, his friends surrounded the car, relieved to see him, and surprised to see me. And this is when I realized that I had no money at all with me, just trunks and a surfboard. Travis paid the fare, and we said our goodbyes. I still had another mile to walk before I made it back to where we were staying. I was sure the guys would be worried about what had happened to me. As it turned out, they were finishing dinner and hadn’t even noticed I was missing! Rob Machado was with us on the trip, and he told me that Padang Padang was actually first discovered that very same way, by surprise (only during the day). I may have missed dinner, but I’d ridden the longest wave of my life, found an unlikely friend in the darkness, hitch hiked my way back, and even stumbled upon the famous Padang Padang along the way.
There are plenty of good reason as to why we should listen to logic, to reason. And they’re all true. Safety first. Maybe I got lucky. It could’ve ended much worse. But I also think that life is meant to be lived. And that means taking risks. We come alive when we step beyond the comforts of what we know. And it’s all too easy to just say “no” to the things that scare us. But who knows what’s waiting for you, beyond the safety of your apartment or your mobile device. Like fire in your veins: rebellion, adventure, the unknown.
Travis, it was nice to meet you. I owe you a cab ride.