Opening image: “It’s like the visual expression of freedom.” Ben and Laura take the long road to Stanley on East Falkland Island. Photo Laura Wilson

The Faraway Place: Laura And Ben Go To The Falkland Islands

 

Laura Wilson and Ben Herrgott are a pair of adventurous surf rats with a predilection for all things remote, rugged and raw as possible. In the middle of the pandemic, they made a decision – to depart their sweet home-time situation in Jan Juc, just down the road from Bells, and set out on an epic expedition to all the far-flung corners of the earth they hadn’t yet explored. A couple of modern-day wayfarers, they packed up their lives late last year and set off.

 

After sailing from Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula and back – an expedition filled with penguins, icebergs, elusive waves, a surprise wedding and some polar disco action with a bunch of wild Bulgarian scientists – Ben and Laura took an unexpected detour east. Destination: the Falkland Islands, a wind-blasted Gondwanan archipelago in the far south of the Atlantic Ocean.

(Left) “I loved this wave ... it's really punchy, and seems to be always getting some swell. You park on the grass, you are barefoot, it's a bit cold but acceptable and you never worry that a surf crowd will come.” Ben tucks into a solitary beachie near Stanley. (Right) “The motto for the island and the locals is – where nature is still in charge.” Beach culture, Falklands style. Photos Laura Wilson

Ben. We had been thinking about it, but not very seriously. It’s kind of whoop whoop. It’s a faraway place.

Laura. Flights are always delayed – sometimes by up to ten days because of the wind. It's crazy.

Ben. We were really curious. When we did our research for Antarctica, we were introduced to a guy called Dion Poncet – the son of Jérôme Ponce who was the real pioneer of the Antarctic Peninsula. Dion was actually born on the boat when they were stuck in the ice. So we were talking to Dion, who was telling us where we could potentially see waves, the places to avoid for ice and different dangers. And we asked him, where are you? And he said, “Well, I live on this island with my dad, my fiance and my dad's partner in the Falklands. It’s just four of us, because it's an archipelago of like 700 islands.”

So it had been on our mind, but really not very seriously.

Laura. Then whilst on the boat, we got talking about it. Captain Zeek loves the Falkland Islands and has sailed there quite a few times. And we thought yep, let's just go there whilst we’re in this part of the world.

It’s a long, long way from Bells to the Falklands. This eclectic signpost was initially constructed by British troops deployed to the archipelago. Photo Laura Wilson

Ben. It’s a pretty tough environment with really, really beautiful scenery. A lot of ship wrecks around there too. A few people thought it was a bit unusual. One guy we met in Argentina and he's like, what? The Falkland Islands? It's just so barren, windy, and there's only sheep there – why would you go?

It’s like the visual expression of freedom. There's one small village called Stanley, most people live there. There's 2,500 people who live across the 700 islands. As soon as you leave the village, no bitumen. It's not a joke – there's almost no roads. If you want to go anywhere on the island, you need to track down the farmers, they’re huge farms, tens of thousands of acres each and ask for permission. Once, and if, you have permission you can four-wheel drive across the paddocks, but there's no tracks. There's nothing.

Laura. Everything about it feels safe. People leave their keys in the car ignition and their front doors open. We were staying with one of the locals and he was like, yeah, the door's open. Just go inside whenever you want. Make yourself at home. We'd only met him the day before.

Ben. The wind is crazy. You can't park into the wind because it rips your doors open, so you need to hold your door with two hands when getting out of the car.

Laura. It’s right in the middle of the roaring forties of the Atlantic.

Living the dream in the middle of the South Atlantic – mates, a cranking sunset barbie and the ultimate Defender camper. Photo Laura Wilson

Ben. We got some 90 kay winds, which was a bit normal for them. What’s funny is you’re coming from South America which is a little rock and roll, and then suddenly you're hearing all these British accents. They all drive Land Rovers, not the fancy ones you see in Torquay but the proper old ones that have been going for 30 years, they haven't been on bitumen, they’re on their fourth engine. They’re pretty tough people. They buy a pig, fatten it up and eat the pig for the rest of the year. Some of them eat penguin eggs. They build their own houses. They are so resourceful.

Laura. They have this custom on 1 October every year, where they all go and cut up the peat with a special spade and then they dry it over the year and burn it for cooking and heat. We even learnt about other traditions, like learning to dance – the proper ones, like the foxtrot.

Ben. The internet is so expensive. It would cost you 40 bucks to watch half a hit of the WSL on your phone, which wouldn't even work as it’d be too slow. But this means that the people there are completely present. They talk to you, they don't look down on their phone.

The history is quite tough over there. In 1982 Argentina invaded the islands and what followed was a huge bloody and deadly war for 72 days. It’s still pretty raw to talk about Argentina with the locals.

Laura. When we arrived, the plan was to sleep in our car, drive around, try and get permission from the farmers to access coastline for some waves. We thought we’d just explore. But we had been connected with a guy called Sean Moffatt. Him and his brother Jay and his sister Kelly are pretty much the only surfers on the island. We ended up having a coffee with him on our second day and from that moment, he just took us under his wing and showed us all about, gave us recommendations, rolled out all the maps for us. The islands used to be covered in mines from the conflict between Argentina and the UK, but they have recently been all cleared about a year ago. So now there’s areas that they weren't ever able to access or only by boat, that you can now surf.

Penguins for days. Sean introduces Laura and Ben to his little feathered mates on the north coast of East Falkland. Photo Laura Wilson

Ben. We went and stayed at Sean's family’s rustic and remote cottage for a night. You four-wheel drive across paddocks with no tracks for hours. Laura had to open maybe 20 farm gates. There's no trees, it's all barren, and in the middle of nowhere you’re passing a king penguin – just on his own in the middle of nowhere, not even near the water. This is way up north on the island. There’s no running water, no electricity. You walk to the beach from the farm or to the cliffs and you’ve got all these different penguins living beside the sheep – rock hopper penguins, king penguins, magellanic penguins. You almost need earplugs to sleep at night because the penguins are so loud right next to the farm.

Laura. The motto for the island and the locals is – where nature is still in charge. We love it.

Ben. We were driving around looking for surf, going around huge expanses of water – they look like fjords – in the four-wheel drive. Afterwards we re-joined at the main farmhouse and here we spent the day helping with drafting – it’s when you’re basically guiding the sheep from a huge paddock into a small one to separate the ewes, lambs and shearlings.

Big day out on the family farm – Laura learns the finer points of drafting sheep, hooking a lift on one of the island’s classic old-school utes. Photo Ben Herrgott

Laura. We did two beach clean-ups while we were there, one remote and one in-town. We got some really encouraging and supportive comments from the locals. And the local radio station and the TV station came and interviewed us on the beach which was quite nice.

We went on a bit of a camping trip up north and we found some beautiful waves – smallish, but pretty perfect. Two or three-foot long white sand beach breaks, again with dolphins galore. There was a lot of marine debris, so we filled the back of the ute to the max.

Ben. It can be really hard to find waves. The short-lived swell can be easily too big or the wind can be ultra-intense. There’s a huge amount of marine life – you will rarely surf without dolphins and penguins in the water. There’s these beautiful small ones called Peale's dolphins that just dive under your board.

We had some beautiful sunny days, but it can be gloomy and it’s rough. The surf is really powerful and fast. It's really fast. There’s this barrelling left. We never got it all-time but we surfed almost every day. It was a bit physical, definitely a lot of wipe-outs where you hit the bottom pretty quickly.

The Falkland Islands is the full definition of expansive. Ben wanders up the sands of another deserted beach after a sweet solitary surf. Photo Laura Wilson

Laura. On the Falklands, all the kids go to the UK or over to South America once they hit high school. Sean and his older brother, when they were over in Cornwall in the UK, that's when they started getting into surfing.

Ben. They became ultra-hooked. These guys have surfed everywhere. They're really keen and really humble. When they came home from their travels, there was one scientist from South Africa that was there for two or three years, a really good and gun surfer who taught them a lot.

Laura. He was a real role model for them because he was surfing waves that they didn't even think they could get into. They learned so much from him and now they're really competent surfers.

Ben. There's also a significant army training base from the UK over there. In fact, the only airport is an army airport. Every now and then some Poms get posted there and sometimes they’ll be surfers.

One of the reasons why the scene is semi non-existent is because everything is really expensive and has to be flown in. Wetsuits are just too expensive for kids and it's just too cold. The water gets down to three degrees in winter. Summer's not crazy cold, but it wouldn't be more than ten degrees. It’s also not a great place to learn there because it's so fast.

Sean Moffatt, one of the only surfers on the island, and Ben get their froth on. Sean took Ben and Laura under his wing – “He showed us all about, gave us recommendations, rolled out all the maps for us.” Photo Laura Wilson

Ben. Sean and Jay have got nicknames for all their boards. One is called Dirty Darren – it's a big fat mini mal that they use when it's small. They both have a Santa Cruz epoxy board that are almost unbreakable. They call it the pumpkin and they treat their boards like a tractor. I think they've snapped and they've repaired them and yeah, they're pretty good at repairing now. Sean’s got an Otter timber surfboard that his best friend in England shaped for him. They have a minimal amount of equipment, but they're resourceful and will just make do with what they have.

Laura. We had one amazing surf at a long white sandy beach where we camped. It was crystal clear. I’ve never had so many dolphins around me in my whole life. I’d be on a wave and look down and the dolphins were literally crisscrossing underneath me and jumping around. It was a beach break, it was a left, which was perfect for me, but there were left and right peaks everywhere. We all spread out, but we were all cheering and woo hooing from miles away. I think the dolphins were cheering for us too. It was a “one more, one more” session, which became a four-hour surf.

Ben. We paddled in and walked to our tents that were right there within metres of the ocean, but so far from civilisation. We made some beautiful food – it was the classic camping trip scenario, but felt so remote.

(Left) Camping adventures up north – “We found some beautiful waves – smallish, but pretty perfect. Two or three-foot long white sand beach breaks, again with dolphins galore.” Photo Ben Herrgott (Right) The extraordinary stone runs of the Falkland Islands. Photo Laura Wilson

Laura. Across the islands there are these naturally occurring stone runs – all these large angular rocks that look like they're flowing down from the various mountains and around through the grass. They've actually got the largest stone run in the southern hemisphere on the island. Back in the ice age all the big boulders, blocks of granite and everything was frozen. But as the temperature changed over millions of years, they exploded and created these stone runs.

Ben. I loved this wave very close to Stanley – it's really punchy, and seems to be always getting some swell. You park on the grass, you are barefoot, it's a bit cold but acceptable and you never worry that a surf crowd will come. Sean and his brother would sometimes pull up in their cars, honking the horn and then paddle out to greet us with big high-fives.

My feeling of the Falklands? It’s trying to get to the last farmhouse. We were visiting some family of Sean’s and you're driving along that dirt road and driving and driving and driving and there's no markers on the road. There’s nothing. Then suddenly it turns into a paddock, like straight through the grass and it goes forever. It’s like, where are we going? You're just driving over the land like bush, bush, bush, bush, and eventually you get to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. There’s no tracks, there’s nothing. And that was a very pure feeling of freedom.

Laura. When I think of the feeling it left with me – I think of expansive. It’s actually my word for this year. The Falkland Islands is exactly that. It is the definition, the full definition, of expansive.

Another day begins in the faraway place – sunrise at Port Louis farm. Photo Laura Wilson

Opening image: “It’s like the visual expression of freedom.” Ben and Laura take the long road to Stanley on East Falkland Island. Photo Laura Wilson

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