Education of Matt Ratt

Upon first encounter, the kid seemed fairly green. Not because he’d been wrenching his guts out for hours over the gunwale of his water taxi since departing Padang, but more for the way he talked and carried himself those first days navigating a small covey of lesser-traveled islands in the Indian Ocean.

Climbing the five-step ladder from the vessel’s stern deck to the mid-level cabin, the wiry, five-foot-seven nineteen year old extended his right hand and introduced himself as “Matt.”

“But everyone calls me Matt Ratt,” he added.

“You guys are late,” someone jokingly heckled from within the cabin.

“No worries. You’re just in time, Ratt,” interjected a thick, rugby-framed man in cordial South African diction as he descended the slim, wooden ladder from the wheelhouse.

“Heard you had some dramas? … Nice to meet you, I’m Jock–the ship’s captain,” the man said proudly before reaching out his large, callous-riddled paw to greet his latest guest arrivals. “Glad you and Dan (Malloy) finally made it. We can now get underway and out of this area–too many boats in these waters right now. Dinner’s going to be ready shortly. See you guys in the a.m., got to rest up for the journey tonight.”

“F–k, I could use somethin’ to eat,” admitted Matt “Ratt” Schrodetz in a nasally, Spicolian California-surfer-dude accent. Holding his stomach, he sat down and surveyed the new digs with a semi-despondent look upon his face. “So seasick. Stoked to finally be here,” he said with a forced smile. “Such an eggy ride. Just f–kin’ pukin’ the whole way. Even got sick on the plane, too.”

Matt Ratt immediately recognized a few faces from mags and videos–like David “Rasta” Rastovich and Oscar “Ozzie” Wright–but the names Tyler Hatzikian and Mike Stewart didn’t register. Similarly, no one had ever heard of the white-haired Santa Cruzian except for the trip’s ring leader, Thomas Campbell–the filmmaker who rallied this rather well-balanced contingent of wave riders aboard the Indies Trader II for his upcoming 16mm film project, Sprout.

Eleventh-hour cancellations by other invitees forced Campbell to make a last second roster change, filling the slot with a wildcard. But Matt Ratt nearly failed to show, too, after being defeated by inexperience at Mineta San Jose Airport’s ticket counter when he was told that his connecting airline in Los Angeles wouldn’t allow him more than two boards. Holding a bag full of four, he turned about-face and went home to call Campbell for a refund. After a lengthy pep talk, Matt Ratt drove down to LAX and hopped a flight with fellow late-arrival Dan Malloy.

Following the obligatory exchange of pleasantries, Matt Ratt was led over to his accommodations: a well-worn wicker couch in the common area. Showing a few days late meant he was out on calling dibs for any of the swanky, private bunks down below. It worked out for the best, as he had a tendency to get pukey and the captain asked that all upchuckers do so over the side–not in the downstairs “loos.” Now he’d only be a few steps from the rail.

Back down on the lower deck, the other new arrival, Dan Malloy, was cracking open a freakishly long and wide cardboard box. The ruckus piqued Rasta’s interest, and he closed in for a better vantage. When Dan had unveiled the contents, Rasta’s eyes widened as he recognized the significance of both objects. Grabbing one of the two candy-colored, vintage-style, single-fin mini-guns shaped by Gerry Lopez, he gave it closer inspection.

“What are those all about?” Matt Ratt asked before attempting to answer his own question. “Those are, like, for big waves, huh?”

Rubbing his hands over thehiny, polished gloss coat of the red seven-two, Rasta eyeballed the rocker and rail line. “This kind of board was used by Gerry (Lopez) and some of the boys in the early to mid 70s in Hawai‘i, as well as when they were pioneering waves in this part of the world,” he explained matter-of-factly.

“They gonna work?” Matt Ratt queried.

“I’m sure they will, grommet,” Rasta confirmed. “We’re heading to a place where they should go beautifully.”

The wave that Rasta spoke of gained notoriety in the mid 90s when Sonny Miller documented Tom Curren taming freight-train-sized caverns on a micro tri-fin fish. Dan shared Rasta’s enthusiasm, and they traded thoughts about how incredibly these boards should perform at the aforementioned break.

With a blank look on his face, Matt Ratt tried to understand the reason for the fuss over such antiquated equipment. He was admittedly “over” anything retro or longboard-related, a sentiment shared among many surfers–especially those from the über-core lineups of his Santa Cruz home. Matt Ratt only cared to ride contemporary thrusters, and why wouldn’t he? He was raised on spoon-fed messages from the media that surfing is “progressive” and performance-driven. Thus, in conforming to that commonly held belief of what surfing really is, one must bow down to the bedrock paradigm of riding an ultra-light 6’ 2″ tri-fin in almost all conditions.

As the tropical twilight sky faded into flickering pinheads of light, Dan carried the discussion over to dinner. It was hard to not get sucked into the tail draft of his enthusiasm as he retold the story of what it was like to meet Gerry for the first time when picking up the boards at his Bend, Oregon factory. He then elaborated on the reason behind his tardiness (finishing up a sponsorship change) and how he narrowly made his flight from LAX. “That’s why I got away without paying excess baggage fees,” he laughed. Changing subjects, Dan asked for a quick rundown on what kind of surf he had missed the previous two days.

Since Dan and Matt Ratt were lagging behind, the boat had been on a holding pattern in the Mentawais. So it was there in the “Playgrounds” area on the first session of the trip that Rasta puffed up and rode the craft he was most amped about–inflatable rubber surf mats. He was influenced to try one after seeing American ex-pat and now Byron Bay’s eccentric slider George Greenough, regularly flying down Northern New South Wales’ long points on one. After being befriended by Bob McTavish and Nat Young while visiting Oz in the mid 1960s, Greenough’s mat surfing, high-performance kneeboarding (on his ultra-flexible “spoon” board), and innovative fin designs directly influenced the shortboard revolution by inspiring McTavish to make surfboards that could drive and turn like a kneeboard.

Rasta has recently adopted mat-surfing to the “ride everything” philosophy he’s pursued wholeheartedly since dropping out of the competition scene years ago. He reckoned a mat rounded out his daily options perfectly. “A quiver isn’t having ten six-ones, so in case you break a few you have eight spare,” waxes Rastovich. “For me, it’s having everything from a paddleboard to a longboard, four-fin to thruster, single-fin to twin-fin, or a mat. It’s a great concept because it ensures I’ll have as much fun as possible for the given conditions.” No one was surprised when he showed up with two bags containing nine boards (and two mats), many of which were made of alternative, more-bio-friendly materials.

Mike Stewart, perhaps the world’s best prone surfer ever, inflated Rasta’s other mat with a few hearty puffs to join him. The nine-time bodyboarding champion and eight-time Pipeline bodysurfing champ, who hangs his hat among history’s most respected watermen, had no trouble adjusting to the awkwardness of his new ride.

Ozzie, one of Australia’s most creative and acrobatic freesurfers, was in turn inspired to pull out one of his “Batmoboards”–a recent phase of painting his boards like the “Batmobile” or other various Batman imagery. His art doodles and avant-garde sense of style brought a refreshing vibe to the amalgam of characters, and if anyone there was going to push surfing’s above-the-rim limits, he’d be sure to deliver.

Tyler joined in with his 50/50-railed, ten-ounce-glassed, nine-eight single-fin log. A throwback hailing from El Segundo, in L.A.’s South Bay, Tyler is known for his traditional loggin’ style, David Nu‘uhiwa-like skills on the nose, and Butch Van Artsdalen hell-on-wheels approach in heavy surf. Those in the know rank him as one of today’s most skilled surfer/shapers.

Although Dan and Matt Ratt missed those first two days, Campbell’s desired effect for bringing this eclectic group of surfers together was already demonstrated during that first session. From Ozzie’s high-speed, quick-snap direction changes to Rasta and Mike’s low-flying air-biscuit rides and Tyler’s traditional trim-line form, it was a beautiful showcase of wave-riding diversity. During the days to come, there was heavy cross-pollination of ideas and techniques on how to best enjoy what the ocean had to offer. Boards were swapped often, and new ones kept rotating into the mélange. Sometimes they were just ditched altogether for something more pure–bodysurfing. It was during one such session that Mike put on an impressive display of rarely seen maneuvers that left all present slack-jawed.

“I knew he (Mike) was the best bodyboarder in the world, but I didn’t know he could do bodysurfing cutbacks,” Ozzie chuckled while recalling that moment over a frosty Bintang. “He came flying toward me, looked me in the eyes, and just went, ‘Huhhhh!’ (making a turning motion with his hand) … Threw spray all in my face.”

With the dinner table cleared, and Dan and Matt finally settled in, the twin diesel Cummings engines lit up, the anchor was pulled, and the wafting exhaust fumes were soon dragging far behind. With ten boats tripping over one another in the Mentawai chain that week, there was little doubt that bailing that scene was the right call.

While assimilating to the rhythm of the ocean once again, someone yanked off one of the cardboard sides from the Gerry board box and threw it in the middle of the lounge area for an impromptu art barge. Rasta and Ozzie broke out their respective quivers of paint pens, and all joined in for what would morph into an acid-trip collage. During such gatherings every evening, roundtable discussions invariably broke out–ranging from art to board design or just goofing on world culture and politics. And because of present personalities, esoteric discourse on riding waves was a given.

The following day, after several torturous days of transit and countless hours spent tasting his bile, Matt Ratt finally got a reprieve when the ship arrived at a new chain of nameless, desolate isles. With barely any swell running, a handful of single-fin logs were piled into the aluminum dinghy to scope out a nearby prospect. Matt Ratt hopped in with his standard shorty, and Ozzie a full-dimensioned quad.

Pulling around the inside of the break to get a better look, a nearly shoulder-high set stacked neatly out the back. Each wave rolled flawlessly down a coral point straight as a carpenter’s snap line, then spilled ever so gently into a small, uninhabited bay.

The first to leap into the opulent blue water was Matt Ratt. His pale, perpetually seasick look was flushed once reconnecting with the ocean. While he struggled to maneuver on to hangs his hat among history’s most respected watermen, had no trouble adjusting to the awkwardness of his new ride.

Ozzie, one of Australia’s most creative and acrobatic freesurfers, was in turn inspired to pull out one of his “Batmoboards”–a recent phase of painting his boards like the “Batmobile” or other various Batman imagery. His art doodles and avant-garde sense of style brought a refreshing vibe to the amalgam of characters, and if anyone there was going to push surfing’s above-the-rim limits, he’d be sure to deliver.

Tyler joined in with his 50/50-railed, ten-ounce-glassed, nine-eight single-fin log. A throwback hailing from El Segundo, in L.A.’s South Bay, Tyler is known for his traditional loggin’ style, David Nu‘uhiwa-like skills on the nose, and Butch Van Artsdalen hell-on-wheels approach in heavy surf. Those in the know rank him as one of today’s most skilled surfer/shapers.

Although Dan and Matt Ratt missed those first two days, Campbell’s desired effect for bringing this eclectic group of surfers together was already demonstrated during that first session. From Ozzie’s high-speed, quick-snap direction changes to Rasta and Mike’s low-flying air-biscuit rides and Tyler’s traditional trim-line form, it was a beautiful showcase of wave-riding diversity. During the days to come, there was heavy cross-pollination of ideas and techniques on how to best enjoy what the ocean had to offer. Boards were swapped often, and new ones kept rotating into the mélange. Sometimes they were just ditched altogether for something more pure–bodysurfing. It was during one such session that Mike put on an impressive display of rarely seen maneuvers that left all present slack-jawed.

“I knew he (Mike) was the best bodyboarder in the world, but I didn’t know he could do bodysurfing cutbacks,” Ozzie chuckled while recalling that moment over a frosty Bintang. “He came flying toward me, looked me in the eyes, and just went, ‘Huhhhh!’ (making a turning motion with his hand) … Threw spray all in my face.”

With the dinner table cleared, and Dan and Matt finally settled in, the twin diesel Cummings engines lit up, the anchor was pulled, and the wafting exhaust fumes were soon dragging far behind. With ten boats tripping over one another in the Mentawai chain that week, there was little doubt that bailing that scene was the right call.

While assimilating to the rhythm of the ocean once again, someone yanked off one of the cardboard sides from the Gerry board box and threw it in the middle of the lounge area for an impromptu art barge. Rasta and Ozzie broke out their respective quivers of paint pens, and all joined in for what would morph into an acid-trip collage. During such gatherings every evening, roundtable discussions invariably broke out–ranging from art to board design or just goofing on world culture and politics. And because of present personalities, esoteric discourse on riding waves was a given.

The following day, after several torturous days of transit and countless hours spent tasting his bile, Matt Ratt finally got a reprieve when the ship arrived at a new chain of nameless, desolate isles. With barely any swell running, a handful of single-fin logs were piled into the aluminum dinghy to scope out a nearby prospect. Matt Ratt hopped in with his standard shorty, and Ozzie a full-dimensioned quad.

Pulling around the inside of the break to get a better look, a nearly shoulder-high set stacked neatly out the back. Each wave rolled flawlessly down a coral point straight as a carpenter’s snap line, then spilled ever so gently into a small, uninhabited bay.

The first to leap into the opulent blue water was Matt Ratt. His pale, perpetually seasick look was flushed once reconnecting with the ocean. While he struggled to maneuver on the small waves, Dan, Tyler, and Rasta zipped along with ease, putting on a world-class log-riding clinic for the next two hours.

Where Matt Ratt resides in California, longboards are seen as “a sign that you can’t surf.” But for the first time in his life he had to admit that riding one in surf like that made sense, especially after what he had just observed.

“This is pretty amazing,” Matt Ratt said enthusiastically, but still not totally convinced to try one himself. “I didn’t know anyone could ride those boards like that.”

For having only been on a log once or twice before, Ozzie appeared quite switched on after exchanging boards with Dan and getting his first awkward ride out of the way. “I can barely even paddle one, it’s a different sort of balance,” he laughed while straddling the red ten-footer that Tyler had shaped and glassed himself. “But it’s wicked seeing all this noseriding. It looks like magic–going super fast and levitating on the nose at the same speed as the wave.”

Fishing, egging, bodyboarding, longboarding, mat-riding, bodysurfing–what was happening? Matt Ratt was tripping hard on the freaky surfing he saw and had been told about the day prior. Without knowing it yet, he was witnessing a playful, uncontrived example of how the many juxtapositions within equipment choices can all be embraced and seen as functional.

Just before everyone crashed out that night, Rasta warned all to not be alarmed the next morning: “On Tuesdays, I don’t speak or eat for the entire day.”

“No way. You can’t do that,” Matt Ratt defied Rasta with a look of disbelief. “It’s, like, not healthy for you to not eat.”

“How so, grommet? Fasting is a perfectly good way to rid your body of toxins. Many cultures have done so for thousands of years,” Rasta assured him.

“I don’t know about that. But then why no talking, too?”

“It’s just a discipline thing. I don’t think it’s necessary to be talking all the time. It takes a lot of energy to be continuously expressing your thoughts throughout the day. I just think it’s healthy to give the body a day of rest from speaking and digesting.”

After some more back and forth on the subject, Matt Ratt had a stunned look across his face–no doubt from meeting someone who had such a completely foreign lifestyle compared to his. It was a moment that further demonstrated how small his view on the world had been when considering that his hometown of Santa Cruz is rife with all sorts of healthy lifestyles similar to Rasta’s.

At confusing or uneasy times like that, Matt Ratt would fall back into his heavy dudism speech pattern. Ozzie and Rasta of course would then have a bit of fun with him by doing their own satirical take on whatever the topic of discussion was, using spot-on “Seppo” accents.

As always, Rasta was up first and doing his two hours of breathing exercises and yoga on the bow. However, that morning he skipped breakfast, spoke to no one and only gave affirmative or negative head nods if asked something. It was hard not to laugh at first, but soon everyone adjusted.

With the longboard spot looking onshore early and the captain getting word the swell was up considerably on the other side of the island, Jock pulled stakes and shoved off.

There was swell. Good swell. Buzzing past miles of straight coastline with closeout breaks and no defined points in sight, the captain made a starboard turn to head in closer. Rolling up to a presumably shitty wave, he suggested someone paddle in for a look. There were three takers: Dan, Matt Ratt, and Ozzie. Returning an hour later, Dan was super jazzed, boasting that he’d just surfed Indo’s version of Lower Trestles.

“You can do whatever you want on it,” Dan explained. “I’ve been looking for a wave like this in Indo for years. It’s a hybrid of perfect Lowers and Pupukea without the lump.”

Rasta, Tyler, and Mike caught up with Matt Ratt and Ozzie to play in the skateboard-park-like break that offered everything from hand-dragging barrels and roundhouses to fin-hucking lipslides.

Making a run the following morning for the next group of islands, a fast-moving front with vicious wind and rain hit the Trader II hard, forcing a retreat into a protected bay. Matt Ratt learned a good lesson about sharing tight quarters. One evening, he was sitting closest to the sliding door, which someone had left open. Rasta asked him to close it to keep mozzies out. In an act of defiance, Matt Ratt told Rasta to do it himself. Not too long after that incident Rasta returned the serve at dinner:

“Hey Rasta, can you please pass the bread?” asked Matt Ratt.

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe you should walk around the table and get it yourself?” Rasta answered. Foll

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