Led by Westen Hirst, who just turned 13 yearsold, a cadre of superkids have discovered a time machine in Indonesia.
By Pete Matthews
(As told to Matt George)
Surfed out, sitting on the porch of Pete Matthews Villa Gorilla at Lakey Peak, Sumbawa, you can see with the naked eye three of the five empty world class waves that pour over the pristine reefs off the dusty little town of Hu’u. It is a perfect place to reflect on the last two years of Covid world here in Indonesia and Pete, hot surfer, owner of the White Monkey Surf Shops at Padang Padang and Lakey Peak, futurist and premiere fixer to visiting surf stars, is in the unique position of being one of the most astute observers of the entire Indonesian surf scene. Here his thoughts turn to the surf kids of Indonesia and the extraordinary life they are currently living thanks to the global Covid Pandemic. The following are excerpts of his stream of consciousness, along with thoughts from three of the major players in the tableau he paints.
Westen surrounded by his quiver. Incredibly, Westen is already giving performance feedback to Matt Biolos after a recent surf trip with him to Kandui. Photo: Nate Lawrence
You know that surf dream of wishing you could go back in time when a place was totally uncrowded but you could bring your modern surf equipment with you? Your current magic board and all the extras? Well, the surf kids of Indonesia are living that dream. And I mean right now. Because of Covid, Indonesia is like California in the 40’s, the North Shore in the 50’s and Australia in the 60’s. Uncrowded, untrammelled glory days of perfect empty surf. And that is what’s happening right now for these little kids in Indonesia. Covid has created a golden era of perfect empty surf and these kids are just soaking it up. Think about it. There are millions of surfers in the world but none of them can come here. And a small group of these little hot kids are living within what is going to be a very unique five year window in time. It’s like they are time travelers. They have the best boards in the world and the best shaped danger waves in the world and it’s totally uncrowded and it’s all theirs. They’ve all hopped into a time machine. That is their reality. And so that dream of going back in time with today’s boards, it’s all true for them. In an environment like this, their surfing skills advance crazy early and just accelerate at the speed of light.
In the land of lefts it is easy to forget the importance of honing a classy backside act. Young Westen Hirst is right on track. Photo: Kandui Resort
Perfect example. If you are gonna talk about the surf kids of Indonesia, the conversation starts with Westen Hirst. He’s just turned 13 years old. Which means he was doing all this you are looking at by 12. Twelve years old. Just inconceivable. What WSL superstars were barrel riding like this at 12? None I can think of. Now I have known Westen since he was born here in Sumbawa. His Dad, Troy, is from New Zealand and Troy is a hard core surfer who pours the blanks and manages the Lost Surfboards manufacturing operations in Bali. So Westen is getting custom boards from Matt Biolos. My God, imagine how you would’ve surfed. And so his Troy married a local woman named Yuni from Lakey Peak in Sumbawa and they had Westen and the kid had the perfect waves of Sumbawa and Bali as his playground since he was four years old. But now, with the Covid Era, these waves are empty and they are all Westen’s and he is surfing like a man because of it. I mean Westen is dropping into 8 foot death tubes at scar reef and Supersucks and getting 8 second barrels. He makes the rest of the pre-teens in the world look like they are just jumping around in bouncy castles in Texas wave pools.
How do you act your age when you are the one setting the precedent? Westen Hirst, cool and confident in the vortex of Sumbawa. Photo: Santos
And Westen is a real throwback too. I mean the only reason that a video even exists of him is because he showed up. He doesn’t go anywhere with a film crew or an entourage or fretting parents holding a towel for him and counting his heat sheets and grumbling at the judges. He doesn’t go anywhere to make a video. He doesn’t go there to get selfies and instagram shit either. He goes to get barreled like a real f*cking surfer. That’s his priority. And with his latest trip to Sumbawa the hottest guys happened to be there like Ian Crane and Dusty Payne. And Westen just paddled out and took his rightful place between them and just blew minds taking off deeper than anyone and pulling in. And so the camera’s turned his way. Old school, man. Straight up talent that gets noticed. And the A-Team film guys like Nate Lawrence were like who the f*ck is this little kid blowing the grownups out of the water?
It sounds wild but Westen is already an underground hero here. People are talking about this kid. And it’s because he isn’t asking anything of anybody. He shows up fearless and he rips and if you wanna take a photo or film him, go ahead. That’s his attitude. It’s outrageous in today’s world. He literally had nothing to do with the latest video of himself, which was shot when he was only 12 years old. It’s really refreshing. Westen watched the Surfline maps, knew the surf was going to be outrageous, got permission from his Dad, packed a lunch, showed up and surfed hard. That’s it. Sure, someone else drove, but he got a seat in the car didn’t he? That’s why his Dad is so stoked on him.
Grown up visitors to these shores are always blown away when a youngster like Westen paddles out and takes off 20 yards deeper than any of them. Photo: Santos
(Speaking of which, here is a word from Troy Hirst, Westen’s Dad)
“If I became a soccer mom I would want someone to shoot me. As far as my son is concerned he is going to have to discover himself and carve his own path. Of course I am going to protect him and give him opportunities and options, but I’ll be damned if I am going manufacture him. That’s why I am so stoked on his sponsorship from Rip Curl. They don’t give him money, they pay for his school here. His schooling? Now that is a sponsorship for a kid I can get behind. And I think every company in the world that is sponsoring these youngsters should follow Rip Curl’s lead. Sure, be a surfer, but be smart. That’s the path to happiness. I know Westen has dreams of being a pro surfer, but what kid wouldn’t with all the social media just screaming at these kids? Hell, I would have wanted to get paid to surf too. So if Westen can make that work, I’ll be the first to hug him. But if he decides to just make his way in life and be happy and work with something he loves and is just be a hot surfer that is going to get barreled all his life? Well…I’ll know I did my job”.
With fewer school hours due to the Covid Pandemic and unlimited empty waves, Westen has the freedom to experiment on aerial variations without worrying about wasting a good wave. And yes, he stuck it. Photo: Kandui Resort
Every great surfer that has become something, you know, had a special relationship with the guys that were making their boards. Kelly, Tom Curren, Mick Fanning, all of them. Show me a guy that didn’t do it that way. So Westen does have this huge advantage. His Dad has access to Matt Biolos and all the great board files. So Westen is surfing the same files as Eli Hanneman, but just scaled down to his size. But Westen is also starting to give feedback. So Westen is one of these kids who are helping to create the miniboards that the new generation needs. It’s a revolution and Biolos is leading the way. Can you imagine being this young and instead of being given a go-cart you get a Ferrari? And then you get to be part of its evolving design? I mean this ain’t Huntington beach where you go across the street with your mom and buy a new board and a wetsuit and paddle out into polluted blown out North side. Over here, a surfboard is a serious commodity for serious waves. Boards like this are a luxury here. Not a birthright.
Supergrom Kalani Ryan celebrating Westen’s moment of grace somewhere in the Mentawai. “When people start coming back to Indonesia, and it looks like its gonna be years from now, they are going to be dealing with a whole different pack of animals. Super hot teens on super hot surfboards. And these teens will be the best Indonesia has ever produced”. Photo: Kandui Resort
(And now a word from Westen himself)
I surf because it just really feels good. And because I dream of it at night and then I wake up and I can go do it. It’s just, just me. I love big waves because I see those other kids my age surfing Jaws and it makes me feel like I can do it too. For sure I want to be a pro. My favorite surfer is Gabriel Medina because he doesn’t care what people say about him. He is just him. That’s all I want to be. I just want to be me. And surfing feels like I am being me”.
Riding top flight equipment from a top flight shaper makes for top flight performance. Westen Hirst, putting the new Biolos designs-for-pre-teens through some very serious paces. Photo: Santos
It’s not all gaping barrels. With travel for locals within Indonesia currently so affordable, the Mentawai has become a playground for a whole cadre of families and their pre-teen progeny. Westen Hirst and another phenomenal ripper Dylan Wilcoxen, enjoying the ultimate recess in an empty playground. Photo: Kandui Resort
When I talk to other parents I mention Westen’s attitude and the place that he has already made in our world here. And I just say let your kids focus on having fun for now and let them surf hard and stay the f*ck off instagram, man. That instagram shit is such a shallow reality. These poor kids are so self conscious about their image and so selfie oriented and they are judged and criticized on social media everyday and are rarely praised. It makes them cynical for life and afraid to show their real stoke. As a father of two girls I know you are going to have success as a parent if you keep your kids physically active and off social media as long as you possibly can. Raise them in a real surfing culture rather than an electronic one. I mean kids racing in to the beach to check out footage of a wave they just rode? That’s not a passion for surfing, that’s an addiction to vanity. If you wanna be great? Become a red hot surfer first and then let everyone else post things about you. Be the real deal. That’s what Westen is doing. Avoiding all that internet distraction. The right motivation to surf is still important. More important now than ever. Not just money and fame and stretching routines and trampoline sessions. I mean going surfing as a training exercise? Are you insane? How about connecting to waves on a personal level? A natural level. I mean I am not expecting kids like Westen to be f*cking hippies, but I am also telling them not to be competition Bots either. There is a hell of alot more to surf culture than a 20 minute heat. The adventure still exists. And it’s here everyday right in front of any kid that wants to be real.
“He’s obviously an overly accomplished surfer for his age”, Says Matt Biolos,“But the most telling tale was his demeanor and his character.Traits that, along with his prodigious surfing powers, will bode well as life goes on”. Photo: Kandui Resort
When people start coming back to Indonesia, and it looks like its gonna be years from now, they are going to be dealing with a whole different pack of animals. Super hot teens on super hot surfboards. And these teens will be the best Indonesia has ever produced and they will be controlling the line ups on sheer talent alone.
So are all these kids gonna end up in the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper rocks with pink jerseys on? I don’t know, man. But there is just something so beautiful about watching a natural surfer develop from such an early age. An organic talent. A talent like Westen Hirst.
Video by: Kandui Resort, Nate Lawrence, Ivan Tandjung, Carlo Coral Edit by: Fabian Van Holzen/From the Woods Productions
With the Covid Era providing unprecedented empty line-ups in Indonesia, Westen Hirst, who just turned 13, has been able to fast track his pre-teen surfing to an adult level. Being this good this early has never been seen before and the ramifications of this phenomenon are mind bending.BOOK HERE!