Bangkok, Bali and back

By Joe Bishop

It was a wet and miserable London day when Starboard called. They told me about two new prototype SUP surfboards, one of which is a pretty radical design named the ‘Hyper Nut’. They wondered if I wanted to fly to Bali to photograph their maiden test in the Indo surf. Not only that, did I want to stay in Bangkok before and visit the HQ for a few days? ‘Yes!’ – of course yes, who wouldn’t say yes?

Bangkok to Bali

Over the next ten days I rushed to pack my gear and get flights sorted, loaded my iPad with True Detective and jetted away from England’s relentless rain to the 42C heat of Bangkok.

Now I’m no stranger to travel, and no stranger to heat, but Bangkok is just a beast. In every sense of the word a beast. The smash of money and poverty melting together has created the most awesome city that – at times – feels more like Blade Runner or Megacity One from Judge Dredd’s world.

I was staying with my oldest friend Ollie O’Reilly, the founder and owner of Waterborn SUP, who had recently moved his life to the Starboard Mecca. I hadn’t seen him for six months, however, driving through Bangkok’s sprawling veiny roads delayed any form of catch up. Lamborghinis were overtaking tuk-tuks and school busses filled to capacity were overtaking the Lamborghinis.

Eventually we reached Starboard HQ. Tucked away down a tiny hidden road standing on the shores of Lake Taco. A tropical scene of cable park and offices that blended into thick, bird filled bush.

Bangkok to Bali

Down to business…
I’d met most of the Starboard team before, so it was more, ‘Hi, how you doing?’ than nice to meet you. Svein was as always very busy, very welcoming and very keen to see how the boards would perform in solid conditions.

The next few days were spent prepping for Bali and taking a look around HQ and Starboard’s workshop.

Where the HQ offices were big, bright and airy, the workshop felt totally raw and real – not the huge and busy factory expanse I was expecting. Each product had its own workshop area, all controlled and governed by the master shapers and designers. This was artisan craftsmanship right in front of me. Obviously there is a lot of precision electronic equipment utilised but the overture of every product is crafted with proper tools and total skill and honed by eye and experience.

I found myself stood in the middle of the workshop, covered in dust, camera in hand simply watching the skill – routine for them but amazing for me.

I’m sure most people think a water sport company would be a cool place to work, but Starboard certainly accentuates that thought. Hugely casual – t-shirts and shorts – yet everyone massively professional and hard at work on the next product.

I can’t not mention the head of SUP marketing, Caren Forbes (below). If there was ever an amazing ambassador for Starboard, SUP or all Americans it’s her. I spent the majority of my time in Bangkok with Caren and Ollie – time that turned my trip from a work visit into a vacation. Totally lovely and too cool, she is pretty much the ‘perfect boss’.

Bangkok to Bali

Off to Bali…
We had been out the night before and our flight to Denpasar was early, more troubling though was the absolutely terrible surf forecast for Bali. We had gone from expecting 15 to eight feet, but we were optimistic and after all, off to Bali so couldn’t really complain.

Bali was hot, very hot and less humid than Thailand – this was tanning weather. Rip Curl School of Surf had arranged a car service for us, and within moments of landing we were speeding along the tropical island roads towards Sanur, all of us eager to get in the water and see if forecasts were right.

Unfortunately, they were. The whole south of the island was Lake Taco flat. Nusa Dua, Serangan, Uluwatu, Kuta, all balmy calm. We weren’t disheartened though and optimism remained.

Tomorrow came and we were up at 6am, ready to rock. We had a boat waiting for us, so we could chase the surf if necessary. There was talk of a wave off of Serangan so that’s where we headed.

It wasn’t flat. Occasionally there were ripples of swell that rose and built to form small, playful waves perfect for testing the slack condition capabilities of the Hyper Nut. Throughout the day we could feel the surf trying to grow, we knew there would be proper waves soon – or at least we hoped.

Bangkok to Bali

The long wait between sets did mean I had a lot of free time, so as any photographer with time on their hands would do, I went underneath the water. Turns out every fish in Bali is camera shy except for Clown Fish, they stop, turn and look square into the lens, offering a disapproving pout – which was nice.

The next couple of days were more of the same, but the swell was building fast at Nusa Dua. Finally, on the fifth day the seas started to rise and the sets – though few and far between – came in.

As we made our way over the choppy waters and around the bay I could see the waves breaking on the reef. Most were around eight feet, and then there were the freaks. Random walls of water that grew from the horizon and surged forward towards the land. The biggest wave I had seen for a long time wiped out the frenzy of Australian surfers – a towering barrel of spray that roared as it broke over the coral. This got us excited and we were still on the boat.

There was a lull in the sets, which gave me time to swim into position; and then I waited. The waves that followed weren’t giants but they were strong and well formed. Long, sweeping rights that rolled almost perfectly over me, resulting in some cool beneath-the-surface photographs.

Bangkok to Bali

The boards did their jobs perfectly. The Hyper Nut sliced, carved and arced perfectly in these medium sized Indo waves. It’s shorter length and compact nose shape allowed just the right amount of floatation and control.

We were in the water for seven hours that day and seven the next, trying to fully utilise whatever waves came our way, pushing the boards and myself to gain great shots in not so great conditions. Eventually, our trip had to come to an end, and on the Friday we left the sun-drenched beaches of Indonesia to head back to Bangkok with some great testing results and cool photos – hopefully.

Back to Bangkok…
The flight back to Bangkok was tiring but comfortable. Although the waves weren’t amazing, the boards were put through their paces and we got some cool shots, proving you don’t have to have 15 feet, glassy and peeling a-frames to ride and look good on the Hyper Nut.

We retuned to Starboard HQ with the office anxious to hear how the boards performed, see what the pictures were like and hear how bad the surf was. Thankfully, all turned out better than expected.

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Bangkok to Bali

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