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Wave Pool Tales: Cosmic children at play in the fields of the moon

Deep in the jungle of Sumatra there is a monthly tidal bore that regularly sweeps by and through a small village as dependably as a wave pool. And the grown-ups ride this bore in the river on everything from reed canoes to cast-off surfboards left behind by the few Ocean surfers who have come to ride the phenom. But the children, not allowed to risk their lives in the Crocodile infested river, wait for the bore to flood their village and then create their own kind of magic. These kids, with their own human power, create a wave pool of their own ingenious design.

In a recent discovery as astonishing as this “Seven Ghosts” tidal bore itself, are the toys that the children have adapted for themselves in the village of Teluk Meranti in Central Sumatra. The little boys design, shape and weight miniature surfboards. Then, after the tidal bore floods their village, they place these tiny surfboards, with their tiny riders attached, in ankle to calf-deep water. Mimicking the River’s tidal bore, they shuffle their feet through the shallow water, creating a pressure wave before their legs. Placing their little surfboards on their self-made waves they surf their miniature boards with their miniature riders down the main street of town.

By manipulating their legs they have figured out how to create left and right breaking waves, wedges and barrels and control the size, speed and power of these waves. They have favorite sections in town, outcroppings, sand mounds and channels that they send their riders toward by dropping heavy rocks in the water. There are rumors that they are going to start creating their own underwater contours out of rock-filled soda cans to create little mini barrels for their little surfers. And the wakes of the scooters that rip through town are a boon. And to add to this astonishment is the fact that each of their kid-made mini spots are named after the animals in the surrounding jungle. Harimau (Tiger), Buaya (Crocodile), Ular (Python), etc.

indonesia wave pool toy
Child with hand-crafted wave pool toy splashing in artificial waves created by the naturally occuring Seven Ghosts tidal bore. Photo by Mick Curley

But really, that children are clever when it comes to entertaining themselves with simple toys is no surprise. Still, if you really think about what these kids are doing here, it goes much deeper than that. Having never seen an Ocean wave, with a raging tidal bore part of their daily life, with the cosmic forces of the Universe a matter of common occurrence, being witnesses to the extraordinary forces of outer space, having survived countless encounters with these lunar waves that define the rhythm of their very lives in the jungle, they have comprehended a very complex science and realized a very complicated dream. Empty, artificial waves and the boards to ride them.

And the posture of this play is fascinating. Like the moon itself, which drags the bore along and which looks down upon their village from on high, so do the children look down upon the waves that they are creating. Their minds encased in their skulls provide the science of this extraordinary act, moving like Titans through their world, affecting all the little things that dare stand in defiance before them. Just like the moon. If the subjects on their boards were actually human, they too would be looking up at a great globe that creates the wave they ride upon.

And in the end, beyond all the science and imagination is a reminder to us all. That surfing is a form of play. A simple childlike act of gumption and play. And even here, on the far side of the world, deep in a primordial Sumatran jungle, surfing has found a people. And has inspired its children to invent an entirely new form of it. A form created from the wonders of the celestial heavens and the eternal wonders of a kid-world. With both as mysterious and filled with perfection as the other.


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