Easter Island – The Enigma Of Sea And Stone

A Quest For The Elusive Rapture Of Easter Island

By Rusty Long

It’s the most isolated piece of inhabited land in the world. The next terrain south is Antarctica. East, approximately 2,500 miles, lies Chile. West, of similar distance, is French Polynesia. On her lonesome, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) was revealed during a lucid vision to a chief named Hiva, presumed to be from an island in the Marquesas. In his vision he saw an austral land, which impacted him sufficiently that he deployed seven explorers in search of this speck in the vast Pacific. How long at sea this endeavor may have taken is difficult to comprehend because of the innumerable factors involved with open-ocean travel. There’s swell, wind, currents, equipment, hunger, and thirst all to consider elementarily; it could have been months and months. But who knows-perhaps Chief Hiva was so tapped in with the ways of the world that he summoned a pod of dolphins or whales to guide the crew, or had such a lucid vision that the star path to follow was outlined precisely. Anyway you dice it, this seven-man crew, using incredible ocean judgment correlated with astrological adeptness, trekked through the swell-laden South Pacific and landed upon the rugged volcanic speck of a landmass that truly is the navel of the world. Broken down mathematically, could the fourteen-by-seven-mile island have been easily missed? Oh, yes.

What they found is deemed by anthropologists to be a microcosm for the rest of this world. The land was settled, different clans and societal hierarchy were formed, and some groups procured power and oppressed others. Hundreds of years of tribal warfare combined with a dwindling supply of water and other natural resources caused the population to thin considerably. Next, the white man came into the picture, namely the French and English, and they wanted their chunk of the chicken. The island was too far away from French Polynesia for the French’s liking and too isolated for the Brits to hoist their flag. However, there was a moneymaking resource of the most despicable form on the island-men. Very strong men at that. So began the abduction of men and their sale as slaves in Tahiti and Peru. All the while, the white man was sharing his foreign diseases, thus sealing the fate of the islanders. The population thinned drastically, but in the midst of it all, the island was abuzz in production.

When foreigners revisited the island in 1889, only 114 people remained, mostly women and children. Until then, island history and folklore was passed orally between generations. With men as the primary historians and storytellers, much of the factual history was lost with their conquest, and so evolved the mystery of the monolithic stone sculptures, the Moai-the mana of the people-and wonders of the world found all around the island. Now recognizing the island as an extraordinary place, these visitors went to fetch the men out of slavery and bring them back to piece together the puzzle of the Moai. One-hundred men were recovered from slavery and put on a ship back to the island, yet only five lived. Disease took them out. Through what remained of the island’s population, much of the history was salvaged, although plenty is left to speculation. One thing is certain: the energy, power, skills and artistic nature of this near-extinct culture most certainly are set in stone.

For our congregation on this power point of earth, there was New Jersey-hailing lensman/waterman Seth Stafford, a cool cat who always goes with the flow, and my brother Greg, fresh off getting nailed by a tiger shark in Hawai’i but coming off unscathed and with a second-place finish at the Mavericks contest under his belt. Greg figured he was in a pattern of good fortune. Nineteen-year-old Tahitian Michele Bourez, whose surfing is world caliber and his demeanor cool and calm, followed his ancestry south. Hawai’ian heavy-water surfing specialists and worldwide tube trackers Jamie Sterli and Tamayo Perry-with his wife Emilia, who handles herself very well in the ocean-also made the voyage. This was a return for Sterlz, Greg, and me after a four-year hiatus. On our first trip, the waves were the equivalent of seeing a beautiful ahi being sliced into luscious dark red sashimi slices and getting a small taste each, but the main course consisting of big portions of the bloodline, which is better suited for the cat. It was four years of salivating for us. That was midwinter, but this return was during fall. We figured the weather would be a bit more tranquil, because it was a pesky storm-induced wind that tampered with the wave quality last time.

The bones couldn’t have been happier when we stepped off the plane. With the sun shining, a refreshing breeze blowing, the internal thermometer immediately suggested about 78 degrees with a humidity level just a hair less than Hawai’i. I couldn’t think of a more pleasurable climate. With no prebooked accommodations and only a name we hoped would key us with the inside hook-ups, we began our trek. The name was Renà‡e Varas. He is the key figure in the Rapa Nui surfing community, an excellent free diver, and a true all-round waterman. We met him and his brother Raffa last visit, and I’d heard that he now had guest rental quarters at his house. The plan was to scope out his situation and go from there. Amid the perplexity of about 50-plus guesthouse accommodations situated in the one town of Hangaroa, he could surely steer us in the right direction. Hangaroa harbors nearly all the island’s 4,000 or so residents, most of whom are mixed blood with Chileans and other Polynesians and make their living through the tourist industry.

I dropped Renà‡e’s name in the small airport to some older ladies who owned other guesthouses. To give a picture of how small and tightly knit the island is, it turned out one was his next-door neighbor, and the other, his cousin’s wife Erika. We organized a ride with Erika to her house, and she phoned Renà‡e. While waiting among giant papaya trees, peach-colored angel trumpets, giant burgundy bougainvillea, and exquisitely manicured gardens, she made us a batch of fresh guava juice. Renà‡e showed up soon after, stoked to see us all and excited at the chance to surf some of the heavy waves with our crew because they are so sketchy that you want at least three people in the lineup-five is better. Turned out he was momentarily living in his guesthouse because he’s building his dream house in the hills outside town. He said no need to go elsewhere for a place because Erika’s was primo. We could feel the compound’s good vibe already. Things were flowing smoothly. Then Renà‡e let us grab his second car, a good four-door Nissan pickup perfectly suited for the dirt roads circumnavigating the island. Too smooth. We were settled.

Renà‡e was laughing as he said, “You guys come for the big waves, and it’s the smallest it’s been in as long as I can remember.” We jumped in the car with him for the quick two-minute drive to a beach right in the center of town where a perfect side wedge peels in the heart of a bay. Its shape is so flawless and the amphitheater-like arena so perfect for watching, you get the feeling the setup is almost a man-made surfing stadium. We took a drive down the main street on the way to the beach, where Renà‡e pointed out the restaurant he opened two years ago with his beautiful wife Carolina. She is a dancer in the Kari Kari, the traditional island dance that is performed weekly on the island. Their restaurant, the Te Moana, was closed for a weeklong breather, but he didn’t shy from telling us about the mouthwatering menu, a fusion between Polynesian and Asian foods with raw-fish dishes being the forte. We asked him jokingly, “A week, Renà‡e? You sure about that?”

“Smallest it’s been in ages” meant perfect offshore, waist-high side wedges, good for surfing but excellent for bodysurfing because the wave has such consistent push and bowl the whole way through. We jumped in for the inaugural airport-sludge rinse off in the crystal-clear 70-degree water. Getting in the ocean and sliding along on the zippy little wedges put us in a state of pure euphoria after 24 hours of travel and gnarly airplane boogers. It was a feeling of untainted paradise I hadn’t felt in a long time, with all of us on that same page of sensation. We topped it off with big fish plates at sunset in a restaurant with a perfect view of the wave stadium. If the first day were any sort of an omen, we were in for it.

The majority of the waves we came to surf reside on the south coast, utterly pounded by swells. The wind was in a period of onshore, offshore, town side, but it was due to switch-we were figuring and hoping. Still, even without good conditions, we made multiple daily drives to watch how the swell directions were working on the different reefs. With such consistent battering on the coast, one might logically guess the reefs have been broken down a bit and the shorelines smoothed in areas. Not the case. It’s the most knavish mess of ultra-sharp lava and urchin-lined shores I’ve ever seen, with twisted, kinky little keyholes to get in and out at most spots-really, really, savage. We were a few days into our stay, and the town wave was nearly zilch, although the south side was still three to four foot-it never gets flat. Papa Tangaroa is one of the paramount breaks-a right-hander first properly surfed by Laird and Brock Little back around 1990. Best in the six- to ten-foot range when it focuses on the ideal part of the reef, the wave is a grotesque, boxy, horseshoe tube that often finishes on top of a three-foot-deep platform, which periodically becomes bone dry. Some waves miss the platform, some hit it; sketchy and perilous is an understatement, but it can be extremely rewarding.

On a side-shore day with a few three-footers coming in at the very top section of the reef, Greg and I paddled out to catch one or two, while Sterlz and Seth swam out with masks for us all to share to scope out the bottom. We really wanted to see what was on that platform because chances of getting a love tap out there are high. Seth looked first and came up bug-eyed. He passed the goggles over to Greg, who took a scope and came up looking ill. He passed the goggles to me, and I took my peek. Good god, it was horribly uncouth. It was the meaner progeny of some hideous nightmare with little elves, hairless cats, and weird torture devices. An absolute blackout-no exaggeration-blackout of urchin! And there was nothing petite about ’em either. Sterlz got there after we had all looked, took a peek, and was disgusted. He reckoned, “It makes Teahupo’o look like a sandbar.” If you were to hit that section, you’d be purple. We decided not to surf out there without full suits and booties. Sterlz went as far as gloves and a helmet. And to get even creepier, out in the deeper part of the lineup, there’re a few huge pirate-ship-looking anchors stuck on the bottom. How the hell did those get there? We were scared.

We were more than a week in, and still no good waves. The seasons were in rotation, and rain had commenced for the first time since spring. The locals kept telling us that with the rain the wind would switch, but there was no switch, and we needed it because a solid swell was hitting the south coast. It poured steadily nearly every night, with periodic ten-minute monsoons that would rouse us from sleep. Every morning we awoke with the anticipation of coco palms pointing south, but our eyes wouldn’t lie. The steady fifteen mph wind direction wouldn’t change, town was barely feasible for our daily body surf sessions, and Renà‡e was baffled at the flatness. We did all the major sight-seeing throughout that week, until there was nothing left to see. Sterlz started getting skitzy.

Town was flat, although it was big on the exposed shore. Pakaia, a big left-hander that needs at least eight feetnd bowl the whole way through. We jumped in for the inaugural airport-sludge rinse off in the crystal-clear 70-degree water. Getting in the ocean and sliding along on the zippy little wedges put us in a state of pure euphoria after 24 hours of travel and gnarly airplane boogers. It was a feeling of untainted paradise I hadn’t felt in a long time, with all of us on that same page of sensation. We topped it off with big fish plates at sunset in a restaurant with a perfect view of the wave stadium. If the first day were any sort of an omen, we were in for it.

The majority of the waves we came to surf reside on the south coast, utterly pounded by swells. The wind was in a period of onshore, offshore, town side, but it was due to switch-we were figuring and hoping. Still, even without good conditions, we made multiple daily drives to watch how the swell directions were working on the different reefs. With such consistent battering on the coast, one might logically guess the reefs have been broken down a bit and the shorelines smoothed in areas. Not the case. It’s the most knavish mess of ultra-sharp lava and urchin-lined shores I’ve ever seen, with twisted, kinky little keyholes to get in and out at most spots-really, really, savage. We were a few days into our stay, and the town wave was nearly zilch, although the south side was still three to four foot-it never gets flat. Papa Tangaroa is one of the paramount breaks-a right-hander first properly surfed by Laird and Brock Little back around 1990. Best in the six- to ten-foot range when it focuses on the ideal part of the reef, the wave is a grotesque, boxy, horseshoe tube that often finishes on top of a three-foot-deep platform, which periodically becomes bone dry. Some waves miss the platform, some hit it; sketchy and perilous is an understatement, but it can be extremely rewarding.

On a side-shore day with a few three-footers coming in at the very top section of the reef, Greg and I paddled out to catch one or two, while Sterlz and Seth swam out with masks for us all to share to scope out the bottom. We really wanted to see what was on that platform because chances of getting a love tap out there are high. Seth looked first and came up bug-eyed. He passed the goggles over to Greg, who took a scope and came up looking ill. He passed the goggles to me, and I took my peek. Good god, it was horribly uncouth. It was the meaner progeny of some hideous nightmare with little elves, hairless cats, and weird torture devices. An absolute blackout-no exaggeration-blackout of urchin! And there was nothing petite about ’em either. Sterlz got there after we had all looked, took a peek, and was disgusted. He reckoned, “It makes Teahupo’o look like a sandbar.” If you were to hit that section, you’d be purple. We decided not to surf out there without full suits and booties. Sterlz went as far as gloves and a helmet. And to get even creepier, out in the deeper part of the lineup, there’re a few huge pirate-ship-looking anchors stuck on the bottom. How the hell did those get there? We were scared.

We were more than a week in, and still no good waves. The seasons were in rotation, and rain had commenced for the first time since spring. The locals kept telling us that with the rain the wind would switch, but there was no switch, and we needed it because a solid swell was hitting the south coast. It poured steadily nearly every night, with periodic ten-minute monsoons that would rouse us from sleep. Every morning we awoke with the anticipation of coco palms pointing south, but our eyes wouldn’t lie. The steady fifteen mph wind direction wouldn’t change, town was barely feasible for our daily body surf sessions, and Renà‡e was baffled at the flatness. We did all the major sight-seeing throughout that week, until there was nothing left to see. Sterlz started getting skitzy.

Town was flat, although it was big on the exposed shore. Pakaia, a big left-hander that needs at least eight feet to break, is another of the paramount waves on the south coast and the one Sterlz has the greatest affinity for. The wave is a deep-water slab-the most powerful kind. It rises from midnight-blue depths and condenses on a twelve- to fifteen-foot-deep platform in a jump, lurch, and fold motion. With the onshore wind, it was a blasphemous eight- to twelve-foot ugly duckling joke. Who else but Sterlz? He couldn’t contain himself-he needed an adrenaline rush. He made the long ten-minute paddle out by himself through the rugged chop and had a successful three-wave session dodging bullets all the while. He came in psyched. The next day, conditions were the same, and he wanted more. We told him, “Sterlz, stop skitzing! It’s absolute shithouse out there!” because we were all considering the danger in surfing out there alone, and none of us wanted to join him. Sterlz was going regardless, so Tamayo decided to join. He also wanted the lineup perspective and figured getting out there and letting the wave know he was interested would grant him good fortune when the day really came-if it came. They both rode a couple of rogue ones and came in psyched. Tamayo returned to shore blown away by the heaviness. Morale was boosted on an otherwise skunk mission at that point.

We heard that cooking a pig in the ground would somehow bring good waves, but none of us could quite pull it together to organize that. We did, however, meet Peu Tete, the most primitive man any of us have ever encountered, whose name roughly translates as “mountain man.” We met him at a barbecue at Renà‡e and Carolina’s house. Peu Tete dates Renà‡e’s sister and left his home on a small Marquesan island for the first time to come with her to Rapa Nui. To him, Rapa Nui was fast-paced. Fancy that! He’s a very stout man, the kind that looks like he could lift a car if he wanted. His head is somewhat square-shaped with a Cro-Magnon, angled forehead that proceeds into deep, deep eye sockets and big ape-sized ears. He wore a large piece of jewelry around his neck that encapsulated what he was about-pig hunting. The pendant of the necklace hanging just above his sternum is a gigantic boar tusk that could gut a person head to toe and is surrounded by about twenty small bones, all wrapped around a Mike Tyson-like neck with a thick attempted-murder-looking scar running vertical from just below his earlobe down to his collarbone. The scar looks like it was carved with a serrated-edge steak knife. The story of neck and necklace go like this: He was hunting four hours by horseback from town on his island when he came across the beast. Being an ardent pig hunter, he went after the boar and thrust a couple knives into it, but during the battle, the boar tusked his neck, severing veins. Blood was spurting like a hose, yet he stemmed the flow, flopped on his horse, and was carried out of there in a delirious trance while his pack of hunting dogs were left to finish the battle. He made it back and could have died, but he’s too strong a person. His dogs ended up killing the boar, but not before it killed his favorite dog. So he wears his fallen dog’s bones and the tusk that nearly took his life.

He’s a hilarious character. We got the story from Renà‡e, because Peu Tete only speaks Marquesan, but we still communicated-in animal noises. We’d been drinking all evening, and Peu Tete started showing us his ritualistic boar dance and chant to connect with the boar spirits and pay respect before a hunt. Deep bronchial grunts, snarls, pelvic thrusts, etc. He also busted out his wounded animal cries that attract the boars, and in the state we were all in, we all got into it. The entire table was making these screeching animal cries and boar grunts. If you’d showed up on the scene, you’d have presumed it was a loony bin picnic or wacky Frank Zappa song rehearsal. The next day, we figured we didn’t bury a pig, but we did hang with Peu Tete-it should be close enough for waves.

We saw the lines begin