When it comes to naming the Mentawai Islands’ premium righthander, arguably the finest surf discovery of the modern era, surfing’s traditional power brokers see things a little differently
“Lance’s Right mate. It’s fucken Lance’s… right?”
I’ve just been put in my place in no uncertain terms by the authoritative growl of Doris.
Tony ‘Doris’ Eltherington is something of an Indo legend, first as a prodigious bowl cut teen surfing Ulu’s Racetracks section in 1973’s Crystal Voyager, more recently as a charter boat captain in the Mentawais, well not a skipper, the skipper.
He’s the one who found Brett Archibald, the South African who fell overboard in the Strait at night and spent 28 terrifying hours alone at sea. He’s seen as many perfect waves break as anyone alive. When it comes to the Indonesian surfing experience, he’s as real as they come.
So when it comes to what’s what and who’s who of Mentawai surf lore, when he talks, you listen.
“Lance is a bloke mate,” Doris explains, taking a more forgiving tone. “An actual bloke, who discovered the wave. When Martin (Daly) rocked up in the Trader thinking he’d discovered the wave, Lance came out of the jungle and paddled out. Just coz a bunch of Seppos came along later and called it something else, doesn’t matter, it already had a name” (uh oh, he’s firing up again). “It’s fucken Lance’s…”
Thus went my proper education as to the correct name of arguably, the world’s most photogenic wave. The wave that mesmerised me in my formative years in Bruce’s end section in Magnaplasm, among other notable surf film sections. The wave that threatened the Pipe/Backdoor/Rocky Point/Superbank surf mag domination.
I’ve never even dared whisper “HT’s” since, even in full knowledge that Doris is several thousand miles away. In fact, I’m apprehensive about typing it too many times here, just in case Doris appears.
HT’s, the American version of the name comes of course, from Hollow Trees, in reference to the trees which formerly lined the shore. The American magazines, videos and pros all used HT’s in the 2000’s, and the name stuck. After all, who were we to second guess Andy Irons?
As for who actually came up with that alternative name to Lance’s… who cares?
Lance’s story is up with of the finest surf legend of them all.
Having met Peter Troy, legendary 70’s explorer on a surf trip to Lord Howe Island, Lance Knight was convinced he could find himself his own Nias. He got to Sumatran port town of Padang in early 1991, and unable to get a boat across the Strait, eventually hitched a ride on a medical flight to Sipora island with an Iranian doctor he met in Padang, for 50 bucks. Lance had a single board, a bottle of water and a bag of rice.
Once on Sipora, Lance convinced a local man in a canoe with an outboard to take him around the island to look for waves. Spluttering around filling the tiny outbound with water bottles of petrol, stopping to surf, they first found the left (Lance’s Left, obvs) on the SW tip of Sipora, before going ashore in Katiet village as storm winds blew up. From the village, Lance laid eyes upon stacked columns of swell detonating at the reef offshore off the village on the island’s south-east tip.
After some two weeks in the village, Lance pulling into tubes whilst villagers watched from the trees, Martin Daly (who would later become Doris’ employer via his Indies Trader boats) dropped anchor off the break. Lance paddled out to great them, shared waves and beers, and ended up getting a life back to Java with Daly.
Daly would later return on a Quiksilver trip featured in Surfers of Fortune, and word, as it tends to, eventually got out.
While the Mentawai Islands today are generally considered as being without rival as the most perfect surf zone on the planet, they’re no longer uncrowded.
And you can’t help but ponder, surely there couldn’t be any other undiscovered perfect spots out there with your name on, could there?
Cover photo: @mentawaisurfco