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Bali and Back
You would think that after more than a decade of non-stop travel Mikala Jones would be inclined to stay put by now. There’s no shortage of quality surf near his home on Bali, and responsibility in the way of helping raise a growing family calls often. But while building the piece on Jones in TSJ issue 23.2, he never seemed to be in the same place twice. When he wasn’t “just heading back from the South Pacific,” he was “driving across Java,” or “back in the jungle again” —always staying vague about his final destination. In this interview, Jones explained how he’s balancing domestic life with the near-constant pursuit of surf.
It seems like the frequency of your travels hasn’t decreased as you’ve gotten older. Do you foresee a point at which you’ll want to slow down, and stay planted in one place?
You should ask my wife about that one, I guess; she’d probably tell you a different story. I try to keep most of my trips to strike missions and make sure they’re worthy of the time away. Over the last six or seven years I’ve been taking shorter trips than I used to. I think surf forecasting improvements have helped with that a little bit, but learning how to read a proper weather map is key. I would never believe a long-range forecast. Mainly, I try to just weigh how much time it’s been since I haven’t gotten good waves.
Stationing on Bali leaves Jones with no shortage of waves in easy striking distance for a one-swell trip. Photo: Brad Masters
You do a good job of covering your tracks at many of the spots you frequent. It’s not a value system all traveling surfers share. What made you decide to operate that way?
There’s no reason to draw people maps. Growing up on the North Shore and seeing how crowded it can get, I knew that surfing really good waves with 40 guys out isn’t fun. I just really enjoy surfing with a few friends. You want to be able to come back to these places over the years when it’s not completely blown out and there are 30 guys in the water.
Why leave the comfort of your life on the North Shore—beachfront living at Rocky Point—to settle on Bali?
My dad took our family to Indonesia when I was 12 and that was always etched into my mind. I was already gone for nine months out of the year by the time I was 21, and then I met my wife over here. The seasons are opposite: summer here, winter there. I’ve always gone back to Hawaii for the winter—but nowadays with the kids I’m getting a little shorter time period over there, and I definitely miss it. This time of year—when the world tour is in Australia—is incredible. There aren’t that many people around the North Shore and the waves are still pumping. Not being there for the late season is definitely what I miss most. There are still plenty of waves that you can go and surf with just a few other people.
The Jones family digs at Rocky Point, on the North Shore, serves as the de facto board locker for many seasonal visitors, which first inspired Mikala to try on a diverse range of equipment. Case in point, this 5’8” flex-tail, quad-fin, Luke Studer stinger. Photo: Brad Masters
Who do you enjoy traveling with most, and who are your most frequent travel partners?
Travis Potter is one of my best friends. I’ve known him forever; we met in Texas at a surf contest when we were both really young. He always stayed with me in Hawaii and I would stay at his house in Seal Beach. That’s where I met Timmy and Ryan Turner. They were going to Lakey Peak a lot. I flew over there one summer with them and did a couple missions. They just kept coming back, and I kept coming back. When they made Second Thoughts was right when I met my wife here in Bali. I would go back to Bali and they’d stay on Java. That movie was definitely Travis’s brainchild and Timmy made it happen with his camera. Travis was talking about that for maybe two years prior.
Did you ever consider going out there with them?
Travis would be at my house on Oahu talking about it, and I’d say “Yeah, right. I’m not staying out there with you.” When they were making the movie I never camped with them. I was traveling, and I would be on a boat and they would be there—just hanging out on land. That was years ago. Since then, Travis and I have been on at least 20 trips together, doing the same thing—except without a movie. He helped build a brewery here and made some cash. He’s fluent in Bahasa Indonesian and he knows the culture really well. Traveling with him is great because you’ll pass a landmark or some old people in the street and he’ll tell you all about their background.
Jones locks in just around the corner from where the Second Thoughts crew originally set up camp. Photo: Jason Childs
What are your good memories from seeing Travis, Timmy, and Brett on the island?
Those guys were definitely out of their minds. I’d see them out there and bring them a board or some food. I remember sitting on a boat watching Travis and Brett using spears to try and catch stingrays on the reef. The people I was with on the boat were pro surfers and they were just thinking, “What the fuck are these guys doing?” They really did look like they’d gone tropical. We’d take our dinghy in and give them some beer or give them a ride to surf when we were out there, then shove them back off and say, “Alright, have a good trip. We’ll see you when you make it back to civilization. Call me to let me know you made it.” That was at least 10 or 12 years ago. Timmy has like five kids now. Travis doesn’t have any. But at that point in their life it was probably as good as it gets: being in Indonesia, in your 20s, with no responsibility. A lot of those areas were still pretty untouched. They had the time of their lives for sure.
For more on Mikala Jones check out the feature in issue 23.2 of TSJ.
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“They come out best when you shape ‘em fast,” Luke Studer tells me with a convincing nod. The board is 5’7” — whipped out in a fluid 30 minutes for his team rider Dede Suryana, Indo’s only hope on the World Tour. Studer is already starting another board. I think he wants to go surfing today. I don’t blame him. The waves are good. They’re always good.
Back in Huntington Beach, CA — where he grew up influenced by upperclassman like the Turner brothers and Travis Potter — Studer used to spend his off-season months pumping out production boards for the bigger labels just to save up cash for his annual Indo trips. Like his influences, Luke’s a certified, card-carrying tube junkie: addicted to unnameable outer island reef passes with brutal consequences and life-retarding experiences. (He once asked if he should enter an Innersection with just one wave — a single barrel shot.)
Eventually he thought, “Maybe I should just stay.” Or maybe it was the local girl he knocked up who thought that for him…I forgot to ask the details. Either way, he stayed. He shaped. And he shaped some more. Luke doesn’t go back to Huntington Beach much. Instead, he’s living his dream in a busted warehouse outside Denpasar. Shaping. Surfing. Building a label, a team, even his own “surfboards only” surf shop in an age when such things seem the sole property of major shapers and conglomerated octo-shapers.
Like the uprooted culture he’s part of, Studer’s boards are a celebratory fusion of everything we’ve learned. Modern shortboards. Tuberiders. Step-downs. He’s not reinventing the wheel. He’s trying to wow the hype-sters with the Next Big Thing. He’s simply building good surfboards for people surfing good waves. Here in Indo, nobody’s jumping off their SUP foot-strapped alaia because they’re bored of getting barreled. When the waves are good, people don’t think like that. They just go surfing.
The foam dust is still settling and a fresh blank is already running through the shaping machine when Luke sits down for a moment’s conversation:
SURFING: Is it easier to be a shaper in Bali than back in the center of the universe?
Luke Studer: Obviously. It’s less competitive here. The waves are better. More people are coming through. More people are breaking boards. Back in the US and Australia you’re just a small fish in a big pond. All the big names just dominate: Rusty, Merrick, …Lost, that’s all people want to buy.
Do you think those big labels’ reputations are justified?
Of course. Those guys have been at it the longest. They deserve it. They designed the modern shortboard. And the stuff Merrick is doing these days in terms of R&D with Burton, that’s on another level. They’ll probably change the game. I just make surfboards.
Oh, has Merrick done something with all that?
No. But it will.
Do you ever feel you need to hide the secrets of shaping from the locals for fear of them breaking away on their own?
Not really. At the end of the day, surfers generally want to buy boards from surfers. People don’t want boards from people who don’t surf. We saw that with the China boards. Maybe it’s okay for beginners and stuff, but they’re not really selling to real surfers. There are a few Indo shapers out there doing good boards, but most Western surfers tend to buy boards from Western shapers.
Do you have a proudest shaping moment?
I’m just happy being where I am right now. I’ve come a long way in the last four years — from making five boards a month to making 50 boards a month. Now I’m about to open my own shop. So, that’s all pretty huge for me.
The board is finishing in the machine, but Luke just leaves it for later. He blasts the foam from his shirt and sandals and excuses himself to check the surf. He’s a busy man. —Nathan Myers