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EXPLORATION

We wanted to go and see for ourselves. We’d asked everyone we could, but no one had any real information. Plans were made and they fell through. New ideas to get there kept popping up. None of them ever seemed realistic. We knew a boat was the best option, but getting any kind of boat there was going to be difficult. Then everything fell into place.

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I could very easily follow the well-worn path to perfect waves. Actually the path is not well worn, the path is a highway with traffic flowing constantly in both directions. Whilst the surf travel marketers might sell you on the concept of ‘perfect un-crowded waves’ the reality is if you are seeing photos in a magazine, or footage on the internet, there are plenty of people already there.

 

For me the adventure is as much a part of my photography as the technical side of working with cameras. For the people I travel with, finding new waves is the motivating force. The search pushes us outside our comfort zones and into the unknown. After all, that’s where the magic seems to happen.

 

Several years ago a group of us that regularly surf together in PNG got talking about a stretch of coastline along the weather side of an island group in Melanesia. We looked at the charts along with the wind and swell information. We were convinced that there had to be waves there. The coast looked perfect for it. So we started hunting for information, surely someone had to have been there before. But we turned up nothing. So with no more than a hunch, we started making plans.

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Over the years we tried several times to get here, but the remoteness of the island and the density of the jungle that covers it made it all but an impossible trip by any method other than a boat. Convincing a boat owner to go there was no easy task, there were just too many obstacles in the way and the predominant swell and wind conditions would make it far from comfortable. Then, through sheer coincidence I met Gav, a salty sailor, willing to take us there.

 

Gav had his 60 foot catamaran in Sydney for some repairs and maintenance work so I met him one rain soaked and windy afternoon and agreed then and there to meet him several months later in the tropics. He would sail ahead and have the boat ready to pick us up in one of the most remote island groups of the Pacific.

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Four of us were involved in the trip, four people who knew very well what we were getting ourselves into. People who had all spent time at sea together. We knew that finding surf was the aim of the trip. However, if we didn’t find any waves, we would all still be totally satisfied. The fact that we were getting the opportunity to explore a part of the world that very few people have even heard of, let alone been to, was reason enough to go.

 

It took three flights in ever-smaller aircraft to reach an island with an airstrip close to where we wanted to go. This is where we would begin our journey. The last two landings were on grass strips cut into the jungle. Flying over the islands we would be exploring in the coming weeks filled us with confidence. The shear number of bays, reefs, coves and passages was a sure indication there would be waves.

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Previously we had nothing more than the nautical charts, Google Earth and a sense of adventure. But we reminded ourselves again, this trip was about having a look. Either way, waves or not, we were going to put to rest this stretch of coast as a region to return to and surf, or a region to cross off the map and move on from.

 

As we began our approach to land on the last leg of the journey our spirits lifted as we caught a glimpse of the boat at anchor, at least Gav had made it there to meet us. To put our trust in a person who I had only met briefly one afternoon in Sydney was a running joke amongst us. Would Gav be waiting as expected or would he have taken our cash and done a runner with the wind in his sails and a grin on his face, leaving us stranded on a very remote island. As it turns out, Gav and his first mate Dave were two of the planets good people. True sailors, who were up for an adventure as much as we were. Things worked out just perfectly.

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The first thing that struck us when we set sail along the coast was the sheer ruggedness of the terrain. It is hard to describe in words what the coastline looked like. The best I can do is to say it was a cross between Jurassic Park and the Fiordland area of New Zealand’s South island. In short, it was nothing but spectacular.

 

Each day we were up at dawn and weaving in and out of every nook and cranny that the coast had to offer. By early afternoon we had the boat in a safe anchorage. Pushing any harder than that was neither necessary nor safe. The anchorages were what made the trip. Some of them had small villages where we traded with the locals for fresh fruit and vegetables. In others we just snorkelled, fished and enjoyed the pure serenity. According to the some of the village locals, they had not seen a travelling yacht for over ten years, some said never.

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As the days rolled on the scenery maintained its amazing presence. There was plenty of swell, but the waves were not what we were looking for. Sure we did surf, but we were hoping to find something special, not ‘just another wave’.

 

The next people to go through there might find a world-class surf break. Anyone who surfs knows a few degrees in the swell direction, or a slight shift in the winds can be the difference between something you would not bother surfing to something that is truly incredible. But a surf break worth naming was not to be found on this trip, not by us.

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Strangely though, with each passing day, with each mile of coast checked there was no sense of disappointment, rather a sense of satisfaction. We were following our dream to explore a region that we knew nothing about, and we were doing exactly that. I know most people would prefer to do their annual ten-day charter in Indonesia or the Maldives with the virtual guarantee of good waves… Then do their best to convince their friends that they ‘had it to themselves’. We all know the reality of that statement is far from true.

 

So my friends and I will continue to explore. This trip did not take that sense of adventure away from any of us; in fact it simply heightened it. Plans are already being made for the next adventure. Whether we find waves or not, we will have done something that most will never do, and of that we are proud.

 

For me personally it is a little different. I have my camera and where there is natural beauty I have my passion. Over the past few years I have brought you images from some of the most remote and amazingly spectacular locations around the world. I will continue to do that in the future. Surf or no surf this truly is a wonderful world and sitting still really doesn’t suit me very well…

 

Enjoy your day,
Joel Coleman…

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24 Comments
  • Phil
    Posted at 00:22h, 25 June Reply

    Great story Joel fantastic adventure

  • brett
    Posted at 00:24h, 25 June Reply

    Absolute gold Joel, for everyone that says they’d love to do this sort of thing, you are the 0.1% that actually does
    – you deserve to find your Desert Point or Rifles, and I wouldn’t blame you if you come back and say “But a surf break worth naming was not to be found on this trip, not by us.” ! 😉
    cheers
    Brett

  • Jody
    Posted at 00:47h, 25 June Reply

    Love ur stories and photos. I dont surf but I keep looking for and enjoying the road less traveled. Also the road well worn, by seeing and meeting peole and places others cant see for the forest.
    Keep searching and sharing please 🙂

  • Jason
    Posted at 01:08h, 25 June Reply

    Beautiful images and great words Joel. You are a lucky man to experience a part of the world that few have visited. You keep the bucket list alive. Cheers jason

  • tom-paul jagg
    Posted at 01:11h, 25 June Reply

    I get high every time I look at your photos mate. Nice to see you’re living the adddddiction of life… rock on. tpj

  • Charlie
    Posted at 01:29h, 25 June Reply

    Unbelievable man! Definitely some of your best.

  • Chad Barlow
    Posted at 01:47h, 25 June Reply

    Hey Joel,
    This trip looks amazing mate! Truly inspiring! Spectacular images. Makes me already want to get off of this computer and go on an adventure myself!

    Cheers
    Chad

  • Jules
    Posted at 01:48h, 25 June Reply

    that is truly beautiful Joel….. thank you so much for sharing!

  • Ivan
    Posted at 01:55h, 25 June Reply

    What once was lost has now been found. Impressive stuff mate what an adventure and thank you for bringing images back so we can experience it too!

  • Tracey
    Posted at 02:40h, 25 June Reply

    Such raw beauty and wonderfully captured Joel! Undeniably worth the adventure into the unknown!

  • Seana Smith
    Posted at 03:23h, 25 June Reply

    Love your photos and also the armchair adventuring with you. I’d LOVE to know where you were. Map forthcoming?

  • Aidan Beanland
    Posted at 04:07h, 25 June Reply

    Jaw dropping. And beautiful though the photos are I bet there was a lot of discomfort, expense, uncertainty and friction which you all overcome to not only experience that magic first hand, but to share it in such a stunning format.

    As Brett says, if you did indeed find a wave you have every right to keep that secret.

    Aidan

  • Jude
    Posted at 04:30h, 25 June Reply

    Great article Joel – beautiful photography as always. Looks like you all had a great trip.

  • Sean Cunningham
    Posted at 09:37h, 25 June Reply

    Keep me informed for the next one Joel.

  • Alan
    Posted at 10:01h, 25 June Reply

    Really enjoyed your beautiful photographs.
    I think I will have to do more exploration my self.

    I wish my surfing ability was up to the standards shown in your photos, but it is still great fun trying, even for an old guy.

    Alan

  • Alan
    Posted at 10:04h, 25 June Reply

    I really enjoyed your photos, and feel I should explore up North soonI doubt my surfing ability is up to the great standard shown in your phots, but I can still try.

    Thanks for a great experience on a cold wet night.

    Alan

  • Benny
    Posted at 11:57h, 25 June Reply

    You take adventure to another level my friend, it’s inspiring. Very grateful to share a little taste through your mind’s eye & the incredible images you bring back for us.

  • SusieQ
    Posted at 00:33h, 26 June Reply

    Love your work! The essence of your photography captures the beauty of our world perfectly. I enjoy sharing these adventures with you from my office desk, dreaming of destinations unknown.

  • Hillary
    Posted at 07:37h, 26 June Reply

    The photos are simply stunning. I am really looking forward to seeing where your next adventure takes you. Your descriptions make the pictures seem even more beautiful. I hope you keep searching for places that you want to share with us..

  • Rich
    Posted at 22:55h, 01 July Reply

    Agreed Brett. If you find a ‘Desert Point’…don’t disclose it.
    Your photography is inspirational, thank you from an Aussie expat who craves his daily surf.
    Richie

  • Morgan
    Posted at 17:15h, 03 July Reply

    Love the images and the story. Admire your adventurous spirit!

  • Dave Mitchell
    Posted at 04:28h, 21 July Reply

    Loved revisiting the trip Joel. It was as special as it looked! Dave.

  • Mason @ Honiara
    Posted at 03:51h, 08 August Reply

    Fantastic photographs Joel. Look forward to reading stories from your next adventure.

  • Bilal
    Posted at 07:24h, 28 August Reply

    Ive been surfing for 2 years now alsomt everyday with the exception of deployments and have found that the waves that you paddle into the most determine what you grow accoustomed to and or comfortable with, if you only ride 3-4 and call it a day at 4-8 you will never get used to the larger sets I rode 2-4 for a long time and would cringe at bigger waves until i forced myself to paddle on them, initially ill admit it was spooky droping in and i got rolled up and crushed a few times but now that i have subjected myself to the size i have gotten used to, it i still prefer 3-5 but overhead no longer sends me home.

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