A 5-Star experience on a 1-Star swell

 One man's trash, another's treasure. Photo: Madelaine Dickie

One man's trash, another's treasure. Photo: Madelaine Dickie

Magic-bloody-Seaweed and their bloody-fwarking-star rating system! 1-Star = hopeless, 5-Star = all-time epic. Whilst I’ll attempt to suppress the urge to narrate “back in my day…” I really have to say that star gazers drive me nuts. And what’s equally frustrating is how easily you can get lured into it. Slack, aimless tropical afternoons are ripe times for an internet drift session, and the surf forecast traps always have a good show playing. So when your whole reason to be traveling is surf, not getting caught up in the star gaze can prove trying. Quite a few times I’ve up’d stumps and joined the pilgrims as they march in the direction of the 5-star rated Mecca of that particular week. All converging on that fleeting resource at once, all too quickly succumbing to a tragedy of the commons, pilgrim V pilgrim, smiles become frowns.

 Just like the ancient Polynesians did... Use the stars to navigate your surf holiday.

Just like the ancient Polynesians did... Use the stars to navigate your surf holiday.

This time we opt for the 1-star Pacific gamble over the 5-star Caribbean ‘guarantee’. Our decision probably has a bit to do with watching carloads of Israeli surfers take off for Bocas Del Toro, the current ‘in-vogue’ spot on Panama’s Caribbean coast. It’s the season for it, there’s a swell on, and Magic Seaweed’s 5-Star rating beams bright across all languages on the world-wide-web. We’re keen, no doubt. I’ve been frothing to surf this spot the whole trip but all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such a crash hot idea. So we throw the dice, following the dim and lustreless 1-star forecast for the second longest left-hander in the world: Pavones, Costa Rica.

 Pacific Brown Pelicans are as hungry for surf as any star gazer, seen here doing a 'mainy' on a flat day

Pacific Brown Pelicans are as hungry for surf as any star gazer, seen here doing a 'mainy' on a flat day

We arrive and yep, it’s small alright. So small we only just recognise the shape of what is supposed to be the world’s second longest left. We get out there and have a bit of fun and although neither us are game to say it, we’re both thinking ‘maybe we’ve blown it’. Next morning is totally flat and we walk for over an hour up the road to a back beach for some shoulder high peaks. Walking home my mind is screaming at me, “YOU DEFINITELY BLEW IT!”

 I think I can, I think I can

I think I can, I think I can

And then, bit by bit, it picks up. Each day yields fun sessions on changes of the tide or midday sizzle sessions. Days become weeks, shoulder high runners at 100m, turn into head high drainers at 500m, with too many turns to count. All of a sudden we are saying “That was the longest wave of my life!”  a few times every session. And still, the Magic Seaweed star rating stays at 1. You beauty!

 Good enough size for some fun board action

Good enough size for some fun board action

Now, I’ll never get an invite to The Eddie based on my big wave endeavours, not many of us will. But I have donned a helmet, wetsuit and booties in the soupy West Javan seas to try out run impossible tubes over bone dry coral reef at the expense of skin and surfboards. And I have, just a handful of times, paddled a few kilometres offshore to attempt backhand drops against stiff offshore winds into below sea level slabs. The highs are high, but its risky business, and at the end of the day your actually happier to be clambering ashore, enroute to the safety of home rather than staying out for ‘just one more’. 

 

 Not quite a claim, not quite a soul arch, just an expression of pure joy. Photo: Madelaine Dickie

Not quite a claim, not quite a soul arch, just an expression of pure joy. Photo: Madelaine Dickie

Not Pavones though. It’s a bloody piece of cake. Breaks on all tides, never heavy, and just about consequence free. Normally, 3 weeks of non-stop tropical surfing leaves your feet looking like your morning jogs are barefoot on top a treadmill made from cheese graters. Or worse, you go home early with some bubbling volcanic infection or simply run out of surfboards. Far as I could tell, your main concern at Pavones is working up a thirst in the near-boiling water that only a $15 (USD) six pack of beers can quench and going home broke a week later.

 Pushing deep into the midday sizzle session. Photo: Madelaine Dickie

Pushing deep into the midday sizzle session. Photo: Madelaine Dickie

Both the locals and blow-ins are all happy, everyone’s getting more waves then they can physically handle and its smiles all round. One guy tells me between oil glass sets that they used to joke about blowing up the largest bridge between Pavones and the outside world before a big swell. “Nowadays” he tells me “we all want our kids to grow up computer hackers so they can change the star rating every time a good south swell hits”. This guy Jim at our guesthouse volunteers there whilst working on his Masters for the Centre of Surf Research. His project is looking at the effects of modern day surf forecasting on natural resources such as drinking water in the town. When the stars go up to 5, everyone’s water tanks go down to zero, such is the instant and overwhelming influx of people. You can imagine what it would be like out in the salt water!

As our plans fall into place and we decide on an end date, a swell pops up and just for a few short days (ten days prior to making landfall) it gets ranked at 4 ½ stars. Mind you, it gets quickly downgraded to 3 stars a few days later. But sure enough, the night before the ‘once was 4 ½ star’ swell is due to arrive, the town shakes to the vibrations of car loads of frothers rolling into town all night. The swell turns out to be a hoax, its wobbly and inconsistent and the star gazers are hungry and rude. We get a few more, pack our bags and head home to the Kimberley full to the back teeth on a 5 star surfing experience.