On a warm June day, under Indonesia’s harsh midday sun, a row of soft turquoise peaks is stacking up and bending into a wide cove tucked neatly behind a headland overrun by tropical greenery.
A pack of 10 or so local surfers scraps for the frontrunners. Meanwhile, sitting wide of the peak, 21-year-old Deni Firdaus — a fit, 5’8″ Indonesian with jet-black hair that’s trimmed short on the sides, with a longer, tousled shock on top — calmly strokes toward the last wave of the set, aiming the nose of his board toward the whitewash of the cresting peak before climbing to his feet and stylishly swinging his dark-red, 9’4″ log into the pocket of a racy section. Now locked in trim, Firdaus nimbly cross-steps to the front of his board, where he plants both feet, hanging all 10 toes over the edge of the nose. He stays perched there with stoic confidence for several seconds before retracing his steps to the tail and laying into a smooth arc back toward the pocket.
Firdaus continues this fluid dance as the wave runs nearly 250 yards across the cove, and it’s easy to see why he’s considered one of the best up-and-coming longboarders in the world. He exhibits the same smooth, timeless style embodied by some of the best regularfoot loggers
of any era, from Mike Hynson and Midget Farrelly to Harrison Roach and Tyler Warren.
“He’s got a really classic style that I love to see in longboarders,” says Roach, who has been watching Firdaus progress for years. “He really is surfing as good as anybody these days.”
What is unique about Firdaus, however, is that he doesn’t hail from Malibu, California, or Noosa, Australia, or any of the other hotbeds for traditional longboarding. He’s developed a classic approach along his home coast in Java, in an area much better known for high-performance shortboarding than stylish trims, arcs and noserides. But Firdaus’ hometown is a special case among Indo surf villages.
Hours away from the hectic urbanity of Jakarta or Bandung, Firdaus’ difficult-to-access fishing village boasts a single road, an open air market, a handful of warungs and a few hotels and homestays hidden under patchy canopies of broad leaves growing from the trees that stretch right up to the water’s edge. A sand-bottom right-hand point serves as the de facto town square, adjacent to busy restaurants and a popular homestay that hosts European, Japanese and Australian backpackers throughout the year. Unlike the heavy top-to-bottom reefbreaks for which Indo is typically known, Firdaus’ home break is soft, long and seemingly tailor-made for traditional logs — not so dissimilar, in fact, from points like Noosa and Malibu.
“I learned that the waves here were no good for shortboard,” he tells me as we sit in a small, dim café overlooking the point. “Longboard is much more fun.”
Firdaus isn’t the only gifted logger in his hometown. There’s a trio of regularfooters — Tedi Kurniadi, Tio Nugriho and Dean Permana — each of whom surfs with his own blend of style and technical chops. There’s also Arip “Mencos” Nurhidayat, a switchfoot magician whose ambidextrous approach might even rival that of Santa Cruz’s CJ Nelson.
Between sessions, the posse of local longboarders sits in the shade, watching the waves, puffing Sampoernas or Lucky Strikes while mixing it up with the tourists. The whole scene looks like an alternate history, with an idyllic Indonesian beach standing in for post-war Malibu.
Thirty-five-year-old Husni Ridhwan — often referred to as “old man” by the other local surfers — is thought to be one of the first Indonesians to ride a longboard at the point, after an Australian ex-pat named Lylle introduced him to traditional logs.
“I would borrow his board during the day and then he’d invite me over to watch old surf movies like ‘The Endless Summer,'” Ridhwan remembers. “When I tried to give him back his longboard, he just said, ‘No, you keep it. Ride it.'”
In much the same way, Ridhwan passed longboarding down to Firdaus, lending him a log during his early sessions. Ridhwan’s own balance of style and power served as the template for young Firdaus as he began adapting his approach to riding heavy single-fins.
“He just became obsessed with it,” Ridhwan recalls of Firdaus’ introduction to logging. “He asked me all kinds of questions about longboards. He learned so fast.”
A few months after Firdaus began riding Ridhwan’s longboard, a contingent of highly talented Noosa-based loggers, including Roach, Matt Cuddihy and Thomas Bexon, came to surf the point for the first time.
“I couldn’t believe that there was the most perfect pointbreak in this sleepy little town,” Cuddihy remembers. “And the local guys surf so much. Their lives revolve around it. When it’s flat — which is not often — you’ll go through town and see all the kids in the warungs, fixing their dings and waiting for it to get good again. As soon as there is a glimmer of a wave, they’re all out there. Deni and all the other local boys have so much stoke and drive. You see why Deni surfs so well.”
Starting with his first visit, Bexon, who is a shaper by trade, began leaving boards for the locals to share. As the Noosa contingent made return trips, the locals began picking up on certain aspects of their foreign style, blending them with their local sensibilities to create a wholly original approach.
Lately the locals have been experimenting with all manner of alternative surfcraft, from twin-fins to single-fins to finless boards. Firdaus has been testing out twin-fins and mid-lengths, taking a page out of Roach’s book and diversifying his quiver.
“The most interesting thing will be watching how they progress now that they have great boards under their feet,” Roach says. “Because they’ve got unlimited access to this great sand-bottom point and there are waves all the time and they are surfing all the time.”
As Firdaus has improved as a surfer, he’s managed to capture the attention of sponsors, who have helped him travel elsewhere to search for waves and shoot photos. He currently rides for Sydney-by-way-of-Bali clothing brand Deus Ex Machina, alongside a team of friends from Australia including Cuddihy, Roach and Zye Norris. Firdaus, along with many of the West Java standouts, surfs against some of the best longboarders in the world at the annual Deus 9ft & Single competition in Bali, which requires competitors to ride traditional single-fin logs.
As much as he enjoys traveling to chase waves and take part in competitions, however, Firdaus claims he can’t imagine moving away permanently. He says that, if anything, he hopes being a pro surfer will help him start his own business in the local community.
“It would be good to be a surf guide and make my own money that way,” he says. “My family would be proud of me. I only want to make my family proud.”
That seems like a forgone conclusion, as Firdaus’ unique approach to riding waves has already earned him recognition both at home and abroad, and he’s passionate about continuing to hone his skills however he can.
When asked how much his surfing has grown in recent years from interacting with so many skilled visiting surfers, Firdaus smiles and responds with a piece of adopted Australian slang:
[This feature originally appeared in the 58.5 Issue of SURFER, on newsstands and available for download now.]