“He’s talented, electric and he lights things up,” so said the commentators during the final of a World Surfing League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) contest held at Lance’s Right on the island of Sipora (one of the Mentawai Islands) in Indonesia.
They were talking about Angourie surfer, Chris Zaffis, during the final of the QS 1000 event (Mentawai Pro 2016, April 21-24) – the commentators were quite chuffed at the prospect of coming up with a nickname for the apprentice electrician.
Waxing lyrical about Zaffis’s potential to make the leap to the big leagues – he defeated Balinese surfing legend Dede Suryana in perfect barrelling four-to-six foot waves – the commentators said it was “no accident” he had made the final with his ability to “attack” the waves “in a smart way … with his arsenal of off-the-lips, big bottom turns and deep tube riding”.
Coincidentally, the wave, Lances Right (also known as Hollow Trees or HT’s), was discovered by and named after Lance Knight, who captained the Island Trader for 15 years when it was sailing out of the Port of Yamba.
It was 1990 when Knight ‘discovered’ the village of Katiet on the south-eastern tip of Sipora Island, while searching for surf breaks in a 20ft outboard-powered dugout canoe. “The people I lived with [at Katiet for several months] had never seen a surfboard before,” Knight told the Independent in 2007.
These days, surfing the remote islands of Indonesia is big business for many surf adventure companies, which goes some way towards explaining the location of the event.
Zaffis had conjured scores of 18.45 and 19.7 (out of 20) in his quarter and semi finals; meanwhile Suryana scored a perfect 20 out of 20 in his semi final.
As they readied for battle, the commentators set the scene: it’s dead low tide and the waves are sometimes doubling up as they barrel down the near-exposed reef. The competitors are sweating in the “boiling Mentawai sun – the air temperature is 110 degrees Fahrenheit – and unnaturally warm water”.
Zaffis starts his heat with a deep tube and some top-to-bottom turns on the end section, scoring 9.7; one the four judge scores 10. Meanwhile, Suryana scores a 9.0 and an 8.65.
Needing a 7.95 to take the lead, Zaffis falters after another long tube, falling as he mistimes a top turn.
Suryana catches the wave behind Zaffis, but kicks out after a short tube, retains priority; then scores a 9-point ride to extend his lead over Zaffis.
The commentators are clearly willing Zaffis to continue with his giant-killing form. “Zaffis surfs with flair, but in control; he’s not just flapping around. That’s how you know a champion; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the WCT.”
Zaffis needs an 8.3 to take the lead. Holding priority, he lets a set roll through. The commentators see this as an opportunity lost. With less than a minute remaining Zaffis strokes into one of the final’s biggest waves, disappears behind the translucent, cylindrical curtain and emerges standing tall. He completes several turns and then scores a high-line cover-up over the ‘Surgeon’s Table’, where the reef is at its shallowest.
A short, nervous wait ensues; the commentators believe Zaffis has done enough. He scores 9.55 and victory is his.
After the event, Zaffis said: “I’m so lost for words; I can’t believe I just won a QS in such pumping barrels. I don’t think I’ve ever surfed waves as good as that in my life; so to surf like that in a comp is mind boggling – waves don’t get better than that.
“I knew I needed that score and was so nervous, Dede had been on such a roll all contest. I waited and waited until that one came and just sat in it. This has been such an amazing week, I’m already looking forward to next year; I might even book it now.”
Regarding the folklore surrounding the naming of Lance’s Right (there’s a left on the other side of the bay called Lance’s Left, too), Martin Daly, the captain of the Indies Trader, was doing some salvage work off Sipora. “He’d heard there was a white guy living on the island and he found me surfing there,” Lance Knight told the Independent in 2007.
On the Indies Trader website, Daly once said (the post is no longer there): “We ran into a character called Lance McNight (sic) at a really good right hander. We were so impressed with him actually being there and, after establishing that he was the first surfer to surf the wave, we named the wave in honour of him.
“Lance jumped on board and came back with us to Jakarta.”