The earth’s crust is like a jigsaw puzzle, made up of multiple separate pieces called tectonic plates. Unlike your regular puzzle though, these pieces move, pushing each other in different directions by colliding, rubbing or submerging along their edges. Every coast we see, is shaped by these continuous interactions. And it appears that the best waves are created on the edges of these plates.
The search for waves makes surfers venture to these edges, chasing storms and embracing natures’ forces in all its size. Only sometimes those forces really are just too strong. Recently I found myself venturing into an area that is the living proof of this.
On December 26th, 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1-9.3 on the Richter scale occurred just off the coast of Northern Sumatra at 30 km below sea level. It lasted for almost 10 minutes and literally made the entire planet vibrate as much as 1 cm. The motion of the seabed displaced so much water it created a tsunami that worked it’s way through the entire Indian Ocean. Northern Sumatra was hit the first and the worst: within 20 minutes 3 giant waves reached the shore, measuring up to 30 metres in height, destroying everything in it’s path. The town I visited recently, was completely flattened and the population decimated from 7500 to 400 (!) inhabitants. With universal monetary support and manpower the area was slowly rebuilt, recreating the beautiful village it once was.
Unfortunately earthquakes remain a recurring threat: just before I landed at the local airport on the 7th of December, a new earthquake had struck, measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale, this time affecting the opposite shore line of the island. Luckily, the area I visited was not damaged, but up to 3 days later you could feel ‘small’ aftershocks ( up to 4.1) that still made your bed tremble. And just out of precaution, everyone had their ‘ tsunami-emergency-bag’ ready and their scooters filled up on fuel. Talking about excitement.
Some might ask: WHY would you stay there, and take such risks? Well, because some places are just worth it. First and foremost because of the quality of waves, but also because of the people, the food and the history. Also, it’s not the first place where I experienced an earthquake or a tsunami warning, and I’m afraid it won’t be the last either. Venturing to plates’ edges comes with a price.
Wandering down the beach a few days later, I caught myself surrounded by a cloud of endemic yellow butterflies, and a strange thought came to me: what if these butterflies were souls of the deceased that had come down from the heavens above for a quick play-day on the beach? Needless to say it was hard to shake that thought when I realised they were even out with me at the actual surf break – a 10 minute paddle from the shore. ..Maybe it really is true: once a surfer, always a surfer.
This column is dedicated to those lost in the tragedy: may you ride eternal waves of bliss in the heavens above.
Happy holidays everyone.