Garden Variety

Garden Variety

Words by Harrison Roach | Photography by Anthony Dodds



One of the major realizations I had during the COVID pandemic was how much I missed my friends Anthony Dodds and Andre “Dre” Cricket, who live in different parts of the world. I think anyone can relate to the feeling: Whether it’s because of a pandemic or simply that you have houses or kids or jobs pulling you in different directions, the friendships you build throughout your youth are always at risk of going stagnant. In this case, it became clear to Dodds, Dre and I that to continue – or actually build on – our friendship, we’d have to force a trip to happen.

Friendship just won’t sustain itself over beers at the pub or coffees at the café, so we decided to go for it. We needed new stories to tell, because if you simply rely on history instead of expanding upon it, the future might fade away.

Adventure doesn’t really have to be this grand-scale idea – it’s something that can be accessible to everyone, everywhere. It’s all about having a go at something and just having a good time. We knew this particular stretch of coastline in Indonesia was not always pumping, but we also knew that it was rarely surfed. So, with the hope for waves and the knowledge that we might not find them, we decided to approach our trip in a different way.

The whole thing was fairly low-fi. A simple approach that’s been used by travelers from time immemorial: Go now, figure it out later. We found three old Yamaha DTs as our mode of transport, with the belief that their issues would be outweighed by the character they added to the ride. Then, we’d take a small amount of stuff – some cameras, some surfboards, the clothes on our backs, boardshorts and a tent – and mount everything on the bikes. 

Finally, we’d hit the road for a week and see what happened. Dodds, Dre and I have traveled together on many projects of different scales in the past, and we all agreed that we wanted this one to be bare-bones. We wanted to make the most, with the least. With a small crew and limited gear, it’s so easy to camp or sleep in little warungs (small shops), to change plans and capture and experience things as they happen. 

The three of us are also of the belief that it’s the little hiccups along the way that turn a trip into an adventure. Getting up an hour before dawn, riding to check a wave that you’re not sure will be firing, and having a motorbike break down on the way, it all encourages you to be pragmatic. And having to rely totally on yourself and your friends – as opposed to surf guides and new cars with perfect setups – might be what makes travel most rewarding: a bit of purposeful misadventure. 

Surfers are prolific at finding waves and posting up at them, but the masses are yet to reach this unnamed little stretch of coast in Java. Perhaps because it’s less consistent and more wind-affected, or maybe it’s because it’s more uncomfortable. But that’s exactly what drew us to it. Sometimes the experience of imperfection creates a whole new kind of perfection. When everything’s going really smooth, like you’d expect on a holiday at some fancy accom in the Mentawais, that’s nice and all, but if you want to learn a little about yourself and your friends, it might be best to approach it differently.

Our first night, we camped on a soccer field right next to a huge lefthander. I didn’t end up surfing because it was too big. Dustin Humphrey once called it the most dangerous wave in Indonesia, and very few people have surfed it. I went there some years ago for the film Seven Signs with the wrong board. This time, I went with a trusty step-up shortboard in search of redemption, but it was maxed-out, and I was no hero.

The second camping spot was on the beach in front of a perfect left and right. Again, it was too big, but it was kind of hilarious. Foodwise, all we had was a bag of trail mix, which was pretty stupid, and then we got caught in a huge rainstorm. We were stuck in a tiny tent, with a bottle of rum and very little food. Not exactly ideal, but very funny to reflect on. 

We were in a national park and had crossed three river mouths to get to that spot. Some locals pulled us and our bikes across the first river mouth on an old boat, and from there it was about four kilometers and two more river mouths up the beach to our camp spot. After the rainstorm, the river mouths were flooded, so the next morning, with no food, a slight hangover, and the swell still maxed out, we walked back to the village to get supplies. We were up to our necks in the water, holding bags above our heads trying to cross one river, which was sketchy, but we considered it worth the risk. That night, we covered ourselves in DEET and dealt with the mosquitoes, while we slept on the tiles outside of a guy’s house.

That whole fake-it-till-you-make-it line is so true on these kind of trips. There are simple things that you pick up along the way out of necessity, like how to change a spark plug or a tire, or how to tighten the chain or clean a carburetor. It’s the same thing with being able to find food when you need it, and when you’re searching for surf. We’re not techie swell forecasters or anything; we check the charts when we can, but having minimal expectations is part of the joy, too. You bluster through a spot, and sometimes your mistakes end up being as enjoyable as when you get it all right. 

We spent a good four days sitting around doing nothing, watching a huge swell that was too big for where we were, knowing that it was pumping at places like Desert Point and Padang. Rather than scoring, we were twiddling our thumbs, reading books, drinking what was left of the rum, and doing our best to make the most of our time. I’ll be the first to admit that I would have loved to have been “scoring” somewhere, but the forced relaxation and time for reflection was well worth it, because when the surf finally decided to pump, I had a greater appreciation for it. And yeah, there was no one else there.

Each of us surfed by ourselves, and all of us surfed together. We laughed and hooted and experienced the childish excitement that only surfing gives us. It wasn’t death-defying waves or anything, but for me, it was like tapping into what made me fall in love with surfing, and with travel. It doesn’t have to be the biggest or best waves, or most ideal scenario – if you’re really enjoying yourself with a couple of close friends, that’s a pretty special thing.

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