24 January, 2020 24 January, 2020

Combo Nation – Full Edit

Zag & Monster Energy present ‘Combo Nation’ in association with Pollywog; Sozinhos Surf Lodge and Channel Islands Surfboards South Africa. Featuring Monster Combo Winner and 2020 CT Rookie – Matthew McGillivray and SA shredder Beyrick De Vries and QS vet as the ‘host’. Get an up-sized order of swell, served up on a perfect reef pass at Sozinhos Surf Lodge on Asu Island, Indonesia. Team Zag was on board to capture all the barrels, Bintangs, backgammon and everything in between.


All Images – Greg Ewing

The wind is blowing perfect offshore with four foot waves rolling down the point, one after the other, absolutely flawless lefts, but our backs are turned to this masterpiece, we are walking away from it. Another mozzie draws a long gulp, the jungle underfoot is humid and muddy as hell, thick with coconut palms towering over us. We’re heading to a small boat on the other side of the island that will take us head-on into the wind in search of something else, something less spectacular. A righthander perhaps, even another left with a bit of an onshore puff on it… anything but the perfection we have turned our backs on.

Why turn your back on what it is you came to seek? One word: variety. We are here to document it all. Not just lefts, but rights as well. We are here for A-grade content for this here magazine. To show off the full riches of Sozinhos Lodge on Asu Island, north of the Mentawais. Promises have been made to brands, surfers and our own team back home that we would get the goods. And if that meant looking in unexpected places to unearth it, the richer the reward.

Along with seasoned Zag Photo Editor, Greg ‘The Sheriff’ Ewing and multi-talented videographer Calvin Thompson, we were joined by Monster Energy team rider, Umhlanga local and QS campaigner, Beyrick De Vries and fellow QS warrior, J-Bay local Matthew McGillivray, winner of the 2019 Zag Monster Combo project. Along with his R20k cash prize, Matt also won flights from Pollywog Travel and Monster Energy to come on this trip to Sozinhos Surf Lodge. It was a tough one to line up due to Matt and Beyrick’s busy QS calendar, but we found the gap and made it happen before both of them headed to Hawaii to chase down crucial QS points for potential CT berths in 2020. At the time, Matt was just one big result away from possible CT qualification.

A result he nailed with his 3rd place at Haleiwa. And Beyrick’s past and present performances in Hawaii speak for themselves. Both of them took this opportunity to break free from the contest pressure and cut loose. Their performances cranked up the risk factor with every session.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. Three to five-foot glassy walls running down a reef pass, shaping the waves like a perfect lefthand point. The foil bending back with not a drop of water out of place. It wasn’t long until we were all out there, led by Sozinhos lodge owner Darryn Harrison, over the sharp reef to the entry channel as sets streamed down the reef with metronomic efficiency.

The wave itself is situated on the northern tip of the island and works best with a southwest swell direction and southerly wind. With Darryn pointing out the intricacies of the various sections and the reef that shapes it, Matt and Beyrick started to tap into the pace of the wave and really flare-up. Turn and go, crack the lip, kick out, paddle back. Everyone surfed until their arms burned.

That first session ended at sunset, where we gathered on the lodge deck overlooking the lineup with the mandatory helpings of Bintang quarts in hand. 

Everyone was physically knackered from the long commute but buoyed by the excitement of the wave’s phenomenal potential. But this was only the first dip, energy needed to be stored. We had arrived at the end of a swell and knew the size would be dipping off for the next couple of days, and we all wanted to bank what we could.

Darryn, a commercial diver from Scottburgh in KZN, opened Sozinhos Lodge with partner Adam Palfrey in 2018 after first discovering the set up in 2015. A seasoned Indo explorer, Darryn took advice from a friend to skip the usual charter boats and check out the Hinako Island chain. What he discovered, changed his life. A perfect lefthand reef pass with waves rifling down the point and not a soul out. Darryn cracks a huge smile, remembering that moment. “It was incredible. There were waves in sets of eight and I was able to cherry-pick whichever one I wanted, paddle back and get the last wave of the set.” He was hooked, he needed this to be part of his life. This experience that inspired him to name the lodge ‘Sozinhos’, a Portuguese word meaning ‘alone’.

After a good night’s rest in the spacious lodge, designed beautifully with a minimalist appeal, we woke up ready to get into the flow of the island. The swell had dropped off a fraction, with longer lulls but still some cracking, clean walls on offer. The beauty about Sozinhos at this time of year, is that the southerly wind is the prevailing one, which is bang offshore, meaning there’s no pressure to wake up super early and rush before the onshore gets it. We had all day to pick the best sessions.

After the second day, Beyrick, Matt and the Sheriff were keen to go and explore the area and see what else was on offer. We’d been told that the variety of setups in the vicinity was plentiful. With the likes of waves such as Bawa, Mini Bawa, Tiger’s Claw, Lagundri and Nias all on our doorstep we were keen to do a reccie and see for ourselves.

Darryn fired up his boat and we went searching, but unfortunately, the southerly wind was too strong and far from ideal for the other lineups. The area’s potential, however, is undeniable.

One wave’s loss is another’s gain. The southerly wind is perfect offshore at the left in front of Sozinhos, so it was straight back to Asu for round three in perfect, light offshore four foot walls that ran forever.

And so it began, a routine that would make any surfer jealous. Wake up, check waves, consume a breakfast made by the Fruit Gods. Surf, eat lunch, chill, backgammon, surf, Bintang, dinner, more Bintang, table tennis, backgammon and sleep. Repeat.

But amongst all the perfection, there was a fundamental problem for the Sheriff. It would not stop raining and the sun stayed behind the clouds most of the time. This didn’t prevent us from shredding all day and getting waves, but the Sheriff needed light to capture what he needed. Overcast, cloudy conditions are a photographer’s Kryptonite.

Weak, dull light flattens images, colours are washed out and the sharpness of performances are blunted without a bit of sunshine. We would wake up every morning to the sound of pitter-patter on our roof or even a massive downpour. Sometimes we joked that it wasn’t rain but the sound of the Sheriff’s tears that he couldn’t capture and frame the performances that stood out against the backdrop of grey.

The arrival of Ryan Payne and Darryn’s business partner Adam on day four were a welcome addition to the crew. Ryan jumped straight into the water, and never afraid to throw buckets, got stuck into the firing lefts, relishing what Asu had to offer and quickly proving that he still has what it takes to pick a wave apart, nay, smash apart a wave, making sure that Beyrick and Matt knew they couldn’t slack off and take their foot off the gas.

The next couple of days were much the same. Groundhog Day, Sozinhos style. Consistent, clean head high waves, table tennis and backgammon championships set to repeat. But everyone’s attention was really focused on a singular swell that was approaching the island. One we had travelled halfway around the world to come and experience, capture and record. A proper southwest ground swell with a deep 18 second period was heading our way. The expectation was palpable. We had spent nine days on the island waiting for this, Beyrick and Matt had clocked up hours fine tuning their performances, but how ready would they be when the swell finally arrived?

We all enjoyed a late afternoon session in the building swell and it was clear something was happening. Besides the post surf Bintangs that evening, it was dinner and early to bed in preparation for what was to come… The day dawned with clear skies and an ocean alive with eight to ten foot sets stacked to the horizon. Not a single person out. What were the odds? Clearly they were stacked in our favour. The crew grabbed their boards, filed into the keyhole at the channel and were out there quickly to share in the spoils.

Darryn brought his boat around into the lineup with the Sheriff on board giving him a front and centre view to nail the shots in perfect light. Calvin Thompson was propped up on the beach with charged batteries anticipating gold. It was time to shine.

The days before certainly helped Matt and Beyrick get in tune with the nuances of the wave, its sections, how and where it sucked off the reef, when it was angry and when it was playful. So when opportunity presented itself, they were ready for anything.

Witnessing high performance surfing in waves of consequence is rare. The sets were 10 foot, some hitting the 12 foot mark. Thick, heavy water that moved in slowly on the back of an 18 second period, then lurching over shallow coral. It’s one thing to watch
a good surfer perform in overhead waves, it’s something entirely different to witness primed athletes dominating double overhead waves breaking top to bottom over live coral. It was beautiful. Matt and Beyrick didn’t hold back, they were pushing each other to go harder after each wave.

Ryan was also adding to the show with his big backhand gouges. He was due to fly back to SA that morning for a wedding, so the man was hungry to get his fill before his boat ride back to the mainland came to collect him. It was to be the ultimate ‘last wave’ test. Running down the clock, Ryan had called his ‘last wave’ in, giving him enough time to make the airport run, but not before the longest lull of the trip arrived. Imagine telling your mate in SA to find another MC for his wedding thanks to a long period Indo swell.

Finally a set arrives and Ryan engages. He sets his line and pulls in. Boom, he doesn’t make it, leash snaps, board headed for the rocks. But Matt is up to the task, he catches a wave in the set, goes left then fades right into the barrel and just before the wave closes out, jumps and gets hold of Ryan’s board and takes the hit. Ryan grabs his board, jumps on the waiting boat, waves goodbye and motors into the distance toward his connecting flight.

With Ryan’s departure dramas in the rearview, Beyrick and Matt were able to refocus their energies on performing in the solid waves and they played off each other’s strengths with purpose and drive.

Beyrick was taking a bit longer to find the barrels, but when he did, he locked into the longest, cleanest tube of the day. He pulled in at the top of the point and drove through the section, navigating his line perfectly, only to be shot out to give Darryn a high five on the back of the boat in the channel.

Not to be overshadowed, Matt synched up with one of the most stylishly surfed waves I have ever seen. Drawing off a deep set, low slung bottom turn, he came flying up the face to hit the lip, readjusted his line, dropped the flip stall to slam on the brakes and let the section flare over him. Leaning even further backwards to control speed with his right hand trailing behind him, he casually hung in the throat of the wave before being spat out and then seamlessly layed into a big arcing turn: the epitome of a combo. Everything the Zag Monster Combo project stood for.

Between the grey skies, the lay days and the waiting, the sun came out, the waves pumped, the performances went next level and the whole damn show at Sozinhos went straight up stratospheric. Seems good things do come to those who wait… including sunlight for a patient Sheriff

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *