“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it” – Pablo Picasso.
So what does an owner of a heli-ski company dream of after a cold powder snow filled winter? More heli-skiing of course, with a reprieve of warm sun drenched tropical surf, specifically a luxury yacht chartered to surf the Mentawai islands of Indonesia. Basically a Mentawai Surf Boat charter is for surfers, what British Columbia’s heli-skiing is to skiers and boarders. It’s what dreams are made of. It is the dream that had been fed to me in a steady diet of magazine articles and youtube videos since I started surfing, or better described as falling off of waves, in my 30s. I wanted my dreams to become my reality. I could see the 4 foot wave gently lifting me up with the care of a mermaid, and curling over my head, whispering words of encouragement and ready to catch me if I fell. However, my dream was floating in fiction precariously between the painted picture of 8 foot barreling bone crushing wave and shallow, sharp, live coral reef. It seemed like this was a pipe dream, reserved for pros and lifetime beach bums.
What I found out is that having a dream can get dangerous for your health. Just the mention of the Mentawai’s to anyone, whether they had been there or not, is met with the propagation of horror stories including details of the cannibalistic coral reefs, two wave hold downs that leave the lungs screaming for mercy, tsunami warnings, malaria threats or even suggestions that the hey-day was over and it was now overcrowded. Each warning paired with a list of my own list of barriers, dressed up as unbreakable responsibilities, created a pretty logical argument no to go. That is until I met one of Great Canadian Heli-Skiing’s guests Erik.
“The best way to learn how to powder ski is to go where there is lots of Powder, so I booked a heli-skiing trip.” The logic was so simple, and the reward was inevitable when I saw how alive Erik’s eyes were. Here is a guy living in New York City that arrived on our doorstep in the middle of British Columbia, with no powder skiing experience, in his late 50s, who committed himself to taking the chance of fulfilling a “Warren Miller” dream of his. Here he was living and breathing it. I can’t imagine the horror stories he had to overcome. His message was so clear, here he was living and breathing it, he was telling me “if you want to surf perfect waves you go to the place which is known for perfect waves.” It was no longer a question if I was going to the Mentawai’, it was when.
So here is a sample of some of the fears I faced about the unknown of my trip and the results:
- Fear of Booking. Two years later it became clear the gap between decision and action can be huge. In the end the hardest thing to do was actually making the time to do it and booking it. I would watch online “Surf Trip Deals”, would get interested in one, made a few inquiries about a trip, entice the idea about booking, but in the end leave a enough time for someone else to book it or some other commitment to come up. For a while I thought I had to find someone else to join me which just added additional complication to conspire against a final booking. To be honest I was in the vicious cycle once again, when I noticed there was only one space left. I still had conflicting meetings with the dates, but to be honest I was tired of the disappointment in myself for not booking. So I booked. The meeting got re-scheduled and there was no longer even space for others to join, but I was going.
- Fear of not being in shape. I Don’t Surf Much. Did I mention I live in Golden, BC, a 13+ hour drive and ferry ride to the freezing cold Pacific Ocean wave breaks of Vancouver Island? This means I get about 7 to 14 days of surfing days a year. Probably not unlike many skiers living in the city. So I figured what I lacked in practice & skill I could make up for in fitness. The only other issue is that Golden only has an outdoor swimming pool which is closed all winter long. So I ended up buying a used “Swimming Treadmill” online and then punished myself on it for up to 10 hours a week. I can now report that the fear of sucking is a great motivator to get fit.
- Fear of not bringing the right equipment. I have to admit I am a bit of Kook, someone that poses to be a surfer, because I did not know what I needed to bring or wear on this trip. I worried about it a lot and ended pulling together 4 different surfboards. But, when I arrived I realized that one of the boards I had was not “de rigueur de Mentawai”, I hid it. I also wrapped myself in neoprene vests and booties, smothered myself in sunscreen, and basically did not fit the barefooted, bare chested stereotype of a barrel chaser. But hey, I was there, and I just simply settled on the fact that I was not a veteran surfer, but a humble newbie student. I knew my surfing would betray whatever disguise I came up with anyway.
- Fear of getting hurt. I was scared of the reefs. Indonesian waves look so beautifully shaped, I could hear them calling like a song of a mermaid, but underneath its superficial beauty is a hag that shallowly lurks beneath the surface, a sharp coral reef ready to eat alive any unworthy fools, like me. Well at least those were the stories repeated by anyone that I would sheepishly share my surfing dreams with. Interestingly, enough it was often those that had never been that shared the goriest stories. The truth is, with booties, a rash guard, and a lot of respect for the power of the waves I was able to avoid becoming Parmigiano-Greggiano, albeit looking a bit geeky.
- Fear of Sucking. I was the lowest on the totem pole. I went on my own and did not know a single other person on the boat, whom all happen to be from places like Hawaii, Australia and California, yeah places that people surf. Needless to say I was the only person from Canada, let alone land-locked Canada. The first day I hung on the shoulder of where the waves broke picking off a few leftover scraps and starting to wonder what I had got myself into. The second morning I scooped up some courage and tried to catch some smaller waves on the inside with little success and a big bruising to my confidence every time I fell off the wave and was driven to the bottom. My dreams were getting pretty dashed, when the owner of the boat who was surfing with us waved me out to join the rest of them where the waves were breaking bigger and the rest of the experienced surfers were dropping in. He simply said, “We gotta get you a wave” with a big Australian grin. The next set of waves he called me in with a clear set of commands, yelling “paddle…paddle, paddle”. I caught that wave, bigger, steeper and faster than any wave I had ever caught before, I stood up, and then got clocked on the side of the head by the lip of the wave. Though I got spun like a Maytag machine, and then popped out a little disoriented, I had not hit the bottom. I was now armed with the knowledge that I had taken the first step, standing on one of those perfect Indonesian waves. It wasn’t long before I had an onslaught of encouragement and advice from my shipmates, all amused but positively encouraging about my surfing attempts, and then successes.
Fear of Missing Out. This is best fear and the only real fear that was validated. I had a trip of a lifetime! I ended up catching the most beautiful, biggest and longest waves of my life. It felt like for the first time in my life I skipped a grade. I was at least playing in the same playground (albeit smaller waves and with visibly less skill) as the big boys. The wipe outs and rolling by the waves and threat of the reefs subsided over the trip as I relaxed. Falling was just as much part of the learning as surfing. I did leave some skin but I did not expose myself to a severe thrashing. Even cooler was immersing myself into the scene complete with, Australians, Californians and Hawaiians, all just good people that shared a passion of mine. I knew I was part of the crew as soon as the Australians started to take the mickey out of me. Now I cannot imagine not having done this trip. I would have missed out on so much, especially the dream of going back.
In the end I learned from Erik and my own experience, if you have a dream, go find out yourself if it is attainable. I truly hope the Great Canadian Heli-Skiing dream can be to others what the MV Addiction was for me. I live for these kind of stories. I always enjoy when guests like Tom tell me about the 250 km hike he did in Austria this summer, when Sparks updates me on his various surfing exploits, or when Christian sends me a description of his adventures like his recent ascent of Kilimanjaro (in a Great Canadian Heli-Skiing jacket). If you have a story or pictures of your own dream trip, I would love to see them.
Dream Less Live More
Note: The MV Addiction was awesome. The owner Greg, Captain Dickinson, Geni, Tony and the rest of the crew were even awesomer. They truly operated in the whole group’s best interests including mine and delivered a boat full of happy surfers safely back to their homes. It was a trip of lifetime which I will certainly repeat. addictionsurfing.com