Her Hands Come Together and She Gives Us the Gift
Photos By DJ Struntz
Back To The Future
The United Arab Emirates is the future. A blade running future. A dystopia. A steel, marble, glass, laser, photon, zap-zap-whoosh-pow mirage. Hugging the southeastern Arabian Peninsula, it rises from the desert expanse and there it is and there you are. The future. Indoor skiing and real skiing, and not just a kiddie slope, with a chalet mid-mountain, serving the hottest chocolate. Immaculate camel race tracks. A manmade island shaped like a palm tree that features a giant Atlantis resort on the trunk. Another series of manmade islands shaped like a map of the world with David Beckham owning North America. A living, eating, working neighborhood dedicated to Internet technology. Another dedicated to sport. Another dedicated to shopping. Men wearing gleaming white dresses designed by Tom Ford and Jil Sander. Women wearing luxurious black folds of fabric that swath them in glamorous anonymity. Only their eyes peek out and those eyes are lined with black. It might not be the future we wanted when we were young and dreamed, but it is the future we got and, really, what we deserved. Pow, whoosh, zap, zap.
It is a future that reaches through time, and into the present, and it reached through time and across the oceans and into Dion Agius’ present while he sat in Byron Bay and poked around his computer. He found, on the super-sexy European surf website, Desillusion, a short video featuring a wave pool that featured a perfect, literally perfect, wave and he couldn’t believe his eyes. Outside, the Australian summer sun shone and Australian hipsters sipped flat whites and dreamed about 1976. But inside Dion was transfixed. What was this wave? Where was this wave? And his eyes wandered around the screen and he knew it was a mirage. A fake. A man-made chlorine anomaly in the United Arab Emirates desert. But it was also perfect and he thought if, in fact, this wave were actually as good as it looked, then he could do every sort of air. Then he could change surfing now and forever. He called Desillusion and asked that they take the clip down because it was his secret, not theirs or the public’s, and they agreed because they are sexy. He called Joe G and told him that he had found, maybe found, Shangri-la.
Joe G had not been on vacation for six years. He had been filming and filming and editing and filming and winning awards. His latest creation, Year 0000, was the film of the year and possibly the best surf film ever. He was tired. And his gorgeous wife was Spanish royalty with conquistador roots in the Dominican Republic. And so the G family went to the Dominican on a much-deserved getaway. No cameras. No edits. No deadlines. He stretched out, poolside, on his first day and shut his eyes and felt peace. An attentive staff brought cocktails. His wife smiled. His phone rang. He looked at the screen and it read Tricky D.
Dion told Joe what he had seen and Joe’s insides began to boil. Vacation ruined but a possible future beckoning. He was torn. His wife looked over her Karen Walker sunglasses at him, over her Us Weekly Spanish edition, and knew this dreamy break was finished but loves unconditionally and has the internal fortitude of royalty. So she winked. He went upstairs, watched the clip and started making his own phone calls.
He called the wave pool and spoke with Jason from the United Kingdom, who is in charge of the whole operation, and Ryley and Luke, from Australia, who run the pool every day. Legends all. They told him, yes, it is good, and yes he should come. He called its owner, a sheik, and told him that he would need two black Lamborghinis in order for all of this to work. The sheik told him, yes, two. He called Beren Hall to come shoot the most cutting-edge RED footage, Grady Archbold for 35mm stills, Col. DJ Struntz for his general amazingness and Warren Smith because why not. And he booked his ticket to Dubai. Dion booked his ticket to Dubai. And they both flew Emirates Airlines and they both flew into the future while drinking Champagne served by the world’s most beautiful flight attendants.
They landed in Dubai in a fog and it was hot and a sandstorm howled. They looked up at the giant Rolex clocks that hovered over the airport, and the night sky painted with LED lights and the palm trees that exist somewhere between fact and fiction and felt out of place. Out of time. They retrieved their luggage, found their eager transportation and drove through the city, past the world’s only six-star hotel shaped like a sailboat sail, past the world’s tallest building named the Burj Khalifa, past an Arab boy showing off his hoverboard to a British friend, past two old men sharing tea, past a man wearing a long, black trenchcoat and black razor sunglasses who they each swore was Neo from the Matrix and into the desert. They rubbed their eyes. It was 1 a.m..
Their transportation drove due south, away from Dubai, away from the water, and toward Saudi Arabia. Their destination was Al-Ain, the city that held Dion’s perfect wave. Neither of them knew what to expect. Wave pools are always a mistake. They are man thumbing his nose at God. They drove, jet-lagged and dubious and excited, and arrived at the picture of fabulous modern luxury. The Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet hotel. It was white and angular and gleaming and perfect. They were tired and fell asleep swaddled in high thread count sheets and futuristic theta sounds.
The morning brought dense fog. They walked out of the lobby and realized they were on a hill, perched atop a red rock desert mountain. And they looked down at a sea of milky whiteness that floated like high thread count. They looked to their right and realized there was another building on the hill as well, and it was the sheik’s palace.
The sheik’s representatives met them for traditional Arabic coffee, which they drank traditionally sweet and thick, and apologized very much that the black Lamborghinis were unavailable. They apologized profusely and said they had two yellow Lamborghinis instead and, as a token of their sorrow, a red Ferrari too. Joe G told them it was OK. They would do but said they would now also need models. The hottest women in the land. Joe G does not film surfing without his muses. Dion does not surf his best unless he is surfing for Joe’s muses. The representatives cast furtive glances at each other. The United Arab Emirates is the future but it is also the past. It is Islamic and there are rigid rules governing the fraternization of the sexes. The representatives agreed as long as nobody would be improper with the models. They bore holes into Dion as they said this.
Logistics taken care of, Joe and Dion got into the Ferrari and drove down the perfect racetrack road, down toward the pool. The sheik had built the racetrack road for his young teenage sons who love to race cars. They often race them straight into the guard walls and laugh afterward. Down, down, down, into the fog and then they were there, at what appeared to be a giant lake in the middle of the red-rocked desert.
God Is An Arabian
It was an impressive sight, no doubt. Massive amounts of water fringed with typical Arabian structures fringed with palm trees. It was still. There was not a ripple. It shimmered in the sun that had just begun to break through the fog.
Then an explosion. A heart-shuddering boom. An unnatural detonation. And out of the fog, out of the corner pocket rushed a head-high, legitimately head-high, wave with a beefy shoulder and a lip and momentum and potential. They rubbed their eyes. Another explosion, another boom, another detonation, another wave. Dion, needing to see no more, grabbed his surfboard, shaped slightly thicker to account for the lack of saline flotation, and paddled into position.
It was nerve-wracking, he said, because one must line up where the wave will be after it explodes off of the pool floor. Before it explodes there is nothing. After it explodes there is a freight train bearing down quickly and the surfer must be decisive and also quick.
Dion caught his first wave and could not believe it. It was a wave. A real wave. And he pumped down the line, a real line, hit the lip, a real lip, and did a frontside finner. A real one. This wave, this anomaly, was real. The Australian operators had secured a Jet Ski because they thought it might be desirable for the filming but it was unnecessary. The wave was that real. Dion surfed all day and Joe filmed. He got better with each explosion. He learned the subtle nuances. He learned how to read it and how to use it.
Joe asked the operators how this perfection came to be and they said by sheer accident. It was supposed to be a slopey wave. For beginners. But the Pakistanis who poured the cement miscalculated and poured 20 meters short. What was done was done and so they continued the build and filled it with water and turned on the engine and prayed. The result was perfect. The too shortness meant the wave stood up quicker and with more fury. There was another accident too. They had built a “closeout” setting. The engine was supposed to spit out a giant close out that little chubby boogie boarders could ride with smiles on their faces. But the closeout setting didn’t actually closeout. Instead, it wedged off the side walls and made a perfect ramp and also a barrel. Joe smiled. Dion punted.
But what was the inspiration for this wave in the desert? One of the sheik’s young sons surfed in California, once, and told his dad about it. He loved it and so his dad built him a wave. Money makes things simple and, in the future, there is no impossible.
Joe and Beren filmed all day, capturing angles that only man-made consistency allowed. Dion surfed all day, pulling airs, tweaking harder, reveling in a perfect, accidental vision. Luke and Ryley stayed up late, until 4 a.m., crafting each wave like adept Ibiza DJs. Attuned to the needs of the dancers. Jason did everything in his power to make the experience paradise. He hired buses and brought refreshments. Nothing was impossible. Then they fell asleep, swaddled again in the high thread count of the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet, and dreamed of John DeLorean.
The following morning the models arrived from Dubai. They were, of course, from the Eastern Bloc and more beautiful than pure snow. It was a beach party and they lounged in bikinis, sipping mocktails, while Dion surfed all day and Joe filmed all day. Mocktails because alcohol is un-Islamic and not allowed. No alcohol, no fraternization with models, high thread count, the tallest building on earth, a man-made island shaped like a palm tree and a man-made perfect wave. The rules are different in the United Arab Emirates and it is difficult to categorize, difficult to even understand. It is, at the same time, beyond progressive and also anachronistic. These two motivations crash into each other and strange things are created. It is better not to ask.
When the sun began to set, they all took yellow Lamborghinis and red Ferraris and drove into the desert. The Russian models wore the traditional luxurious black folds but did not wear them properly — one of their beautiful necks was exposed, and a passing motorist, taking umbrage, pulled over and screamed at all of them. The future is a strange place. It does not always make sense. It is better not to ask.
The following morning brought more perfect surf. More mocktails. More filming. It was never ending. Never ending until Dion and Joe had to exit the dream. They flew back to Australia and Southern California, respectively, rubbing their eyes, again. They will be rubbing their eyes forever. Zap, zap, whoosh, pow. —Chas Smith