Antony ‘Yep’ Colas is undoubtedly one of the world’s most prolific surf explorers, racking up a total of over 220 surf trips to 52 different countries, in the last 32 years. Here’s a fun fact: Yep also represents World Surfaris in Europe as a senior travel consultant! We’re pretty stoked to have one of the most travelled surfers in the world be a part of our team. It’s very likely that Yep’discovered most of the destinations we send our clients to in the Maldives, and he is very much respected among the locals in the region. However, for a man like Yep who has dedicated most of his life to surf pioneering and adventuring, the effects of Covid-19 have hit him pretty hard we reckon. In a quick catch up with Yep, we uncover his thoughts and feels towards the virus, and what his year in lockdown has looked like.
Let’s start from the beginning. What sparked your interest in surf pioneering and exploring? How did you get involved in the early days and what inspired you?
Well, in the early 80’s, surfing was still in its infancy. We did have some surfing heroes though, like Thierry Domenech (AKA ‘Lion’). The beach where I grew up had plenty of potential for empty, perfect beach breaks, but the winter was harsh. So, I was more focused on my grades at school than trying to navigate the strong currents or long swell periods (I didn’t understand any of it back then!). It wasn’t until I met a shaper who had been travelling to Bali since the early 70s, that surfing really captured my attention. A few years later, I jumped on a plane and went to Bali for the summer with the shaper, and that was the trip that changed my life forever – Bali 1987! I wondered if there were more places like Bali out there… and so that became my mission. After all, I was just a standard surfer (competition felt out of reach to me), so instead my challenge was to find ‘another Bali’. The surfing world simply felt like an unfinished canvas, so I decided to add some colour, organising surf missions to unknown regions like the Maldives, Maluku, the Mediteranian and Mascarets (a tidal bore wave).
We know you’ve just returned home from a surf mission to Guinea Bissau in West Africa. What draws you to search for waves in such remote, unknown areas?
Since 1998, I’ve scouted 25 rivers in 10 different countries, like the Bono in Indonesia and the Baan in India for example, but I had never searched for a river to surf in Africa. I’ve always surfed ocean waves in remote African countries like Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Gabon (where I caught Malaria) and South Africa, but I’ve never had the opportunity to chase river waves there. Prior to this mission, I studied colonial history and discovered that XVIth century ships would encounter shipwrecks because of strong tidal waves, that’s what gave me the hint to go. I then convinced a mainstream French media company to follow our search with some of my usual suspects curious to know what kind of waves were hiding in the African bush. We didn’t score the 4-5ft wave I was looking for, but we did find this smooth as silk peeling right on the Geba river. But hey, this just means we have to go back! It’s hard to score gold on a first trip.
In what ways has the pandemic affected you and your line of work? Has life changed much?
Funnily enough, I was in Northern Maluku late January with guests when we started to hear about this strange Chinese virus. We only started to feel the pressure when the virus hit Southern Europe in mid-March, meaning strict lockdowns all spring. This time of year just happened to be high season for surfing in the Maldives, so all of my trips from March to May got cancelled – it felt like the sky is falling on my head! Soon after, work vanished like a fog blown by trade winds, so I decided to pick up some work in the fields and later on in the vineyards in Bordeaux. It was good to try something new and generate some instant cash to feed my family (3 kids). By mid-July, the Maldives re-opened its borders and I somehow managed to line up a trip with a friend Laurent Masurel and WSL photographer. We scored big time. The North Male breaks were as empty as you could imagine, with perfect glassy conditions and a good sized swell.
What are you most looking forward to in a post-Covid world? Do you have any exciting surf adventures lined up?
Well, my strategy is to keep doing what I usually do. I will go to Maluku in January, spend April In Maldives trying to find new reefs in the large and partly unexplored atolls north of North Malé, and so on!
Can you name your top 5 surf expeditions, and why?
Besides Bali, I would say:
- August 1998 in southwest Madagascar (unreal ethnics, far-fetched deserted lines, slowest transport ever, best light ever, feels like the “morning of the earth” every day.
- June 2001 in Pakistan (3 jeeps scouting the Makran Coast from the Iranian border up to Karachi, hottest place ever, sandy and dusty, the Mirage right pointbreak, heavy beach breaks, the military and smugglers factor)
- January 2005 in Maluku (chartering a boat with John Callahan and Alan Van Gysen from Manado with semi-pros to officially start the surf campaign in Morotai and Halmahera, smoking volcanoes, intense waterfalls, jungle quality surf, the crazy race with the Rip Curl boat)
- February 2007 in Libya (our best Med trip after 7 winter trips in that closed sea, no one really made it after we went there, found high quality lefts, West Australia premises, unique search through lake Kadhafi Kernel land)
- March 2011 in Sumatra for the Bono (on our third trip there, we really found gold with an epic search adventure with Rip Curl team riders like Tom Curren, quite a difficult media trip with Ted Grambeau, Nate Lawrence and Jon Frank but highly successful imagery creating a world buzz on April Fool day, the day of release of the teaser)
Packing for a surf trip to surf a tidal bore in the middle of Africa must be very different to the average surf trip to the Maldives or Indo! Can you tell us some of the weirdest things you have had to prepare for or pack in your suitcase/board bag?
Well, nothing fancy really, apart from a diving knife for crocs, a personal bedsheet in case you have to sleep in your board bag, a lock so you can use your board bag as a safety box and a Leatherman tool to deal with usual technical problems. I’ve always stuck by this motto: half of what you think you will need but take twice as much budget! And if you’re a pale chap like me, take various different sun creams – the sun will kill you better than any of the sharp reefs out there (in the long run).
We’re all in need of some serious travel inspo down under. Can you tell us about your favourite experience or moment as a surf explorer?
Surf trips are like butter and jam, the better you spread them, the tastier it gets. Those 3 parts (pre, during and post) really make a surf trip special. The more time you spend reading about a destination before getting there, especially becoming aware of maps, surf locations, historical and cultural stuff, means that when you get there, you will feel more at home. During the trip, I personally prefer to keep my expectations low, so things seem more magical – as if finding a good wave is a miracle and not owed to me. It’s also important to emphasize those special moments, like cheering your friend on as he gets barrelled. But, these things are always easier said than done. One of my sayings is “if you don’t know, you don’t go. BUT if you don’t go, you don’t know”. Create your own surfing experience wherever you go. And remember: “there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way”.
Yep's first post-Covid surf trip to the Maldives with his friends, 10 days after the region re-opened it's borders in July! Now that is what we call "dedication to the cause"!