Bali - The Need for Speed
Written by Peter Neely
Bali’s razor-fast coral reef-breaks demand surfboards built for speed. ‘Outer Island’ surfboards have earned an inter-national reputation over the past three decades as the ultimate ‘Indo rockets’: stealth surfboards that take performance surfing into the stratosphere, with ‘no Outer limits’.
When teenage Australian surfer Mitchell Rae first ventured to Bali in the dreamy post-hippy days of 1972, little did he know he would soon gain an international reputation
as the consummate shaper of high-speed performance surf-boards, perfect for the long, tubing, ultra-fast waves found in Bali
and all over Indonesia.
After an apprenticeship in Sydney with surfboard design innovators Glenn Ritchie and David Chidgey, Mitchell moved to an idyllic remote coastal farmhouse where his radical approach to surfboard design blew other surfers’ minds. In an era when mainstream surfboards were progressing from cumbersome 10ft-long Malibu planks to Bob McTavish’s 8ft vee-bottom ‘fantastic plastic machines’, the Outer Island crew was experimenting with an entirely different approach – radical deep concave bottoms, sharply pointed noses and tails, hard rails, and flexible fibreglass tails. As Mitchell Rae says, “We’d try anything to make our boards go faster. Some of the older surfers used to just look at them and shake their heads. They looked like something out of the space programme to them. But in Bali they absolutely flew.”
Bali’s waves can best be described as fast – very fast. They are created by the unique combination of huge ocean swells that travel halfway across the globe from storms over the Antarctic oceans off South Africa before unleashing their power onto the shallow coral reefs that fringe Bali’s southwest shores. Perfectly peeling waves with 200- and 300m-long rides are the result.
It doesn’t get any better in a
Mitchell says: “In Bali we found our surfboards’ concave bottoms created mind-boggling acceleration and drive. We’d fly through waves that others were getting smashed on. I filled a lot of passports over the years with Bali stamps, learning more about the waves and how to shape boards to capture all that speed and maximise performance. We just wanted to see how fast we could go, and still maintain control.”
Legendary American surfboard designer Bob Cooper, who was one of the first US surfers to migrate to Australia in the 1960s, says of Mitchell’s boards: “They developed the whole concave ethos. Everybody rides concaves these days. They were definitely ahead of their time.”
Renowned Aussie shaper Bob McTavish remembers seeing Mitchell and Glen surfing on a big day in 1970. “It was about 10 feet,
a huge, glassy, solid swell. I was
on a 7ft 6in gun, and so was Midget Farrelly. But they were riding tiny little 6ft 6in rockets with rail-to-rail concaves, and were surfing so unbelievably. I was really impressed with the speed they generated,
the precision of their surfing.
The concaves were giving them
the ability to surf so high in the lip, and then generating great down-the-line drive and speed,” McTavish recollects.
Mitchell says: “I shape a lot of boards for serious surfers going overseas,
a lot of mid-range high-performance boards, around 6ft 8in to 6ft 10in, ideal for those perfect hollow reef waves we all dream of finding.”
Over the years, the eyes on Mitchell’s Outer Island surfboards have become quite a cult thing,
and some of his clients have amassed extensive board collections. The creator of possibly the best surf movie ever about Bali, Morning of the Earth director Albe Falzon, thinks he probably owns eight or nine (at last count).
“I don’t invest in real estate,” jokes Albe, “I collect Outer Island surfboards!” Asked by a national newspaper to name his most precious possession in all the world, Albe quickly replied: “That’s easy – my 7ft 2in Outer Island,