Just Say Phuket
Nathan Myers
Thursday, 04 October 2012

This is pretty much the best surf shot from the event. Just to get that out of the way. Raditya Rondi, ASC Champ.
Photo: Tim Hain

The surf is draining in Phuket. Sucking the blood from our bodies. We are helpless to resist.

Here in Thailand, the climax of the Asian Surfing Tour (ASC) is unfolding on the beach before us, but I’m not sure this is really what’s happening.

Just look at this scene:

There is a muscly man with a shaven chest rolling around in the tideline. Primpers and stylists keep fixing his hair and directing him how to hold his board more sexy. Nearby, dreadlocked kiteboarders are strapping into giant windbags. Stephanie Gilmore is giving a well-documented surf lesson a local TV personality in the shorebreak — 9-foot foam-board and all. Ry Craike is doing a flyaway exhibition in the onshore slop with Bali’s Betet Merta driving the ski like a madman. There are skateboarders, BMX-ers and fashion models co-chairing a beachfront demo. The techno DJ is playing a raver version of “Putting on the Ritz.” Two announcers are babbling away in a discord cacophony of Thailand-ish gibber-jabber, neither saying anything about the semi-final heat now in the water. Actually, I think they’re auctioning a television set. A Yamaha waverunner demo just capsized in the shore-pound. European paragliders whiz past us. And down in the low-tide sandbar, Balinese legend Rizal Tanjung is building penis-shaped sandcastles with his two young sons. The older, Varoon, was a standout in the contest’s Junior division and surely a future Indonesian champ. The younger, Sinar, is dressed as Spiderman and swinging an inflatable pool toy like a 9-iron.

“I think he like golf better,” jokes Rizal.

I ask Riz what the hell is going on here on this beach. I thought this was supposed to be a surf contest; an important one.

Rizal looks around, as if seeing it all for the first time. Then he laughs and shrugs his shoulders. “Come on, man,” he says. “This is Thailand.”

The semi-finals are in the water.

Defending Indonesian champ Marlon Gerber psyching up for Thailand’s pumping surf.
Photo: Nathan Myers

If vampires went surfing, Patong Beach, Thailand is where they would hold their championships. Something about this place feels like were all being glamoured up for an impending feeding frenzy none of us will even remember. Lulled and lubricated into dopey, meat-sack complacency while some dark fate salivates behind the curtains.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid. I get weird about that sometimes. Like when this local promoter walked up to all the competitors during the contest final to hand out coupons for his nearby super club. “All you can drink from 10 to midnight,” he says. “You can order four drinks at once and just have at it.” I get the feeling that none of us will leave that club alive. And we’ll still go anyway.

Photographer Sean Gilhooley tries to keep focused on the lineup while a sexy male fashion shoot takes place on the beach. During the finals.
Photo: Nathan Myers

The Asian Surfing Championship (ASC) tour is basically a sub-division of the Indonesian Tour (ISC). Non-Balinese competitors (that includes Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia) rarely advance past Round Three of the Open division. But it’s a place to start, and it’s a good stepping-stone for the amazingly talented Indonesian pros to establish a presence in a larger marketplace.

Oh my god, did I just say that? “Establish a presence in a larger marketplace.” Sorry. I mean, it’s an awesome place to come get wasted.

For a while at least.

Then it’s kind of a nasty place to sit around with a hangover and a heat sheet.

Today the boys sit on the beach and stare out at the onshore wind-slop shorepound like they’re finally had enough of Thailand’s most ridiculous backpacker town. It’s the finals of the women’s grommet longboard division, or something, and it’s been a long day. Defending Indo champion Marlon Gerber’s shades are completely fogged over by the endless onshore mist and he doesn’t even bother to wipe them clean.

“What’s the point?” he says. “I know exactly what I’d see. I’ve been staring at the same thing all week. I gotta get out here.”
The other pros look equally tired and satiated by their Thailand tours of duty. These kings of Kuta Beach are no strangers to wild nights in bloodsucking tourist towns, but a lack of quality waves will break their spirit in short order. And the scene here – sloppy beachbreaks and all – is getting weirder by the moment. It’s as if someone in the marketing department mistranslated their “aha” moment from seeing US Open in Huntington.

Pre-heat warm-up package, Thailand-style.
Photo: Nathan Myers

Gay surf-fashion shoots. Ladyboy surf lessons. Paragliding demos. Waverunner rentals. The sponsors open up a nearby mega-store, fly in various celebrities, and beam the whole thing straight to satellite, then forget to announce the contest. What contest?

Mega Semadhi won the final, by the way. But Raditya “Cabul” Rondi accumulated enough points to take his second ASC crown (two-time winner of a two-year-old tour). Meanwhile, Lee Wilson exited the event few points shy of winning his third Indonesian Surfing Championship (ISC) title, which will end next month on Kuta Beach. Here in Thailand, the food is awesome, the waves aren’t that terrible, and everyone has an awesome time they barely remember. Victory by chaos. Why not?

Hold board more sexy, like this.
Photo: Nathan Myers

The “all you can drink” night club is straight out of a slasher film. Vamped up with hoochie girls dancing on the tables and free-flow booze spilling out on the floors. Neon darkness and techno strobe lights. Rave music smashing every word out of your mouth. My eyeballs itch and I know that the end is near. The bloodsuckers are closing in.

I stumble out to the street. There is some fresh air here, but it’s basically just as crowded, loud and crazy as it was inside. Pulsing three-story electro-hell nightclubs surround us in all directions. Go-go dancers in the windows. Pharmaceutical shops wedged in between. Ping-pong shows. Massage parlors. Cat-calling ladyboys. This whole town, it’s a snack bar of death. And there’s no way out.

Mobile inebriation. Classic Thailand.
Photo: Nathan Myers

Everyone’s staring up at the sky. An exposed power-converter outside the club is shooting sparks and buzzing like electric bees in the warm, equatorial mist. And then it catches fire. Everyone oohs and aaaahs. Electrical fireworks burst into the night and everything goes suddenly dark. The entire street, the entire block, the entire town of Patong Thailand has lost power.

No one panics. No one flees. No one screams. People sip their free flow cocktails and carry on as if this, too, were part of the Asian Surfing Championship afterparty. A transvestite approaches me on the street and offers me half of his/her unfinished cocktail. He/she gives me a quick package check and asks if I need a massage. It’s 1 am and I’m actually already sufficiently relaxed, thank you.

I stroll down to the beach, where silvery moonlight illuminates the waves. The onshore winds have calmed and the warm, equatorial night surf actually looks kinda fun. I squint my eyes looking for any fangers in the lineup, then remember they’re all up the clubs murdering pro surfers. I should probably join them.

If it's pouring rain, they're pouring drinks. It's only surfing.
Photo: Tim Hain