The new issue of Slide magazine is now on sale at many fine surf shops and bookstores, and, if you're especially keen and are a subscriber, it's en route to your mailbox. Within the pages of Issue 21 is my tale about Tonga, which I've excerpted (is that a word?) for you. Get your copy of Slide #21 today!
Our boat driver is drunk. Sateki’s glazed, red eyes focus on nothing. He didn’t sleep last night and was in a messy quarrel with his wife until dawn. Something about not drinking on Sundays. Today is Monday.
Still Sateki drinks. His forearms are gray with faded tattoos. In the chest pocket of his dirty black shirt is a small glass bottle of whiskey (“Jack Daniel’s! Don’ tell nobody.”). With a fat brown hand gripping the wheel, he pounds us through the blue wind chop over two-meter swells and a deep, dark sea outside a small island’s barrier reef. The drop-off is sheer. The boat ride is loud and blustery and spine-jolting and we are soaked in salt spray.
Low and green, this island looks deserted. But, viewing the abundance of baitballs and splashes, an angler here would have it made. Tonga is known for rich fisheries. And we’re really not far from the Tonga Trench, which, at its deepest, drops to 35,702 feet — nearly seven miles.
“One time here I see tiger shark longer than dis boat!” Sateki yells, slurring a bit but nodding slowly as he sways. He wipes sweat from his face. “Come right up to da side and sit, waiting for us to bring fish up on da line. Hoo-wee!”
“How big’s this boat?” I yell back.
“Six, eight meter? I dunno!” He laughs and picks his nose.
Armed with print-outs of Google Earth grabs, I pinpoint our location. Amid the bounce, I almost lose a few precious sheets of paper to the wind. But it’s a good wind. It’s offshore. We need it. These swells are not clean.
Ryan Burch steadies and stands. His eyes gape when he sees a gap in the reef.
“Ahoy!” he yells. “Is this the spot?”
It’s one I’d marked with a red pen arrow, the coffee cup stain two inches away. Tongan coffee is particularly good, akin to French roast.
“Sateki, will you please steer us into that channel?” I show the map to him. We’ve reached the end of the reef at the end of the island. In the distance are several more, like stepping stones, and nothing but soaring birds, spindrift, and bouncy blue water. Lifting and lowering our little boat, the swells are from the southwest, the wind from the east, and as Sateki motors us around the reef and into the pass, it becomes joyously clear that Google Earth is indeed our best friend.
(To read the entirety of "Welcome to Meatland," grab a copy of Slide #21...you can see what else is inside the mag by clicking here: /peathead/2012/03/slide-magazine-21-is-hot-off-press.html)