Photos by Stefan Jose and Charlie Cullen
Last October we sent McTavish ambassador Christian 'Wispy' Barker and filmmaker Stefan Jose to Sumatra to catch a promising swell looming on the horizon. They hit the streets of Medan, ended up scoring at a not-to-be-named right and came back with this beautiful short film 'SEEK'. Stop what you're doing and dive right in.
The Indonesian surf trip is a favourite for most surfers, and not without good reason.
The tropical archipelago is pretty much a sure thing and this trip was no different, except for the fact I got to bring my mate along, who just happens to be one of Australia’s best cinematographers: Stefan Jose.
Like many before us, we set out to make a surf film in Indo, but also to showcase the culture and natural beauty of the place, with Stefan behind the lens. We chose the palm tree-littered isles of Sumatra and the gritty streets of the northern capital, Medan.
North Sumatra had been on my radar for a while. I’d researched the waves as much as possible, trawling YouTube clips, talking to friends, anything to help me choose the right quiver for the mission. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ben McTavish—son of Bob McTavish, and an outstanding surfer and shaper—over the past few years. As soon as I mentioned my plans, I could see his brain ticking over, intuitively dissecting the boards he was going to shape for me. The chosen boards were a 4’11” ‘Vinnie Craig’ keel twin fin, a 5’3” ‘Slip’ twin + 1, and a 6’I” ‘Stewart St’ thruster step up. After working with Ben on these shapes for a year, I was itching to get them into Indonesian waters.
Four flights and 50kg of excess luggage later, we made it to our final stop: a secluded island off the coast of Sumatra. It’d been a nail-biting experience getting there—if one piece of the baggage puzzle went missing it would have meant a fail for the whole trip.
I’d watched a decent swell generate off the bottom tip of Africa and move through the Indian Ocean in the weeks prior, so to arrive and be met by the smallest surf the locals had seen in months was a bit of a letdown. But the swell eventually arrived as predicted, and a couple of memorable days at a not-to-be-named right will be etched in my memory for life. (Special thanks to Aura resort, whose crew made sure we were always in the right place at the right time).
As for the filmmaker, his health and equipment were not coping well with the conditions. Stefan copped a bulging disk not long before the trip, leaving him at half pace in the ocean and on land. On top of that, he picked up a rogue flu that had been circulating through the camp, and equipment failure resulting from the intense heat and humidity almost derailed the mission, forcing Stef to check and fix gear on the fly while in extreme pain. Full respect to the man who still nailed the clips and stills again and again. This trip really opened my eyes as to what it takes to make a high-quality surf flick.
Returning to Aus with three weeks till deadline, we got straight to work on the edit. A storyline unfolded as the film took on a darker tone. Words were needed to beef up the production, so I went home and put pen to paper to see what I could come up with. The result was a poem of sorts, describing the trip’s twists and turns, and we got our old friend Benny Owen to narrate, which worked an absolute treat. Stefan went above and beyond with filming, editing, producing, colour grading, and sound design on the whole project, and all with the bout of typhoid he picked up on the way through Bali.
The result was SEEK. Months of hard work and incredible surf condensed down into 13-minutes, created in the hopes of inspiring you to get out there, see more, and scratch that itch that lurks deep within us all. Huge thanks to McTavish for making this all possible, Aura Resort for the awesome hospitality, our man Benny Owen, and everyone who supported us along the way and showed up for all the screenings. We hope you enjoy.