Interview by Sharpy

Lee Bartlett has been a fixture in British surfing for the last couple of decades. Whether it was winning more trophies than a standard mantlepiece can hold or shaping cutting edge shred sticks he’s one of the stars in our firmament. Last year wasn’t too kind to him but it came good. Read on to find out more.

At any point when the trip was being planned was there any rumblings of ‘one of us needs to stay behind?’

Haha. Yes there was. It was kind of the elephant in the room. We still had a factory to run, orders to take. At one point there was all most 18 of us keen for the trip but Tom Lowe and Harry Timson couldn’t make it and Celine had an op on her shoulder. Luke, Ben and I all took turns saying we would stay behind but the other two would come up with reasons why the third should be there. It was a bit of a love in.

What with one thing and another you weren’t 100% surf fit last year, was a Mentawai trip the perfect rehab?

It was a goal for me to reach. I got ill in March with a thing called brachial neuritis which is an infection that attacks the brachial nerve in the shoulders. Basically I had limited control of what my arms did. No strength and constant pain. I was on 16 painkillers a day and lost a stone in weight. I needed something to aim at and the trip was my target. I booked it even when I was still ill. I was allowed to surf in June and my first surf was a massive shock. I grabbed my girlfriends 7’6” mini-mal. It took me about five attempts to catch a wave and then when I finally caught one and went to stand up, I basically did a forward roll off the nose of the board. I went home gutted and tried to do a push up, I couldn’t do one! I thought about giving up surfing every time I went in for about six weeks. slowly I got a bit better and my confidence started coming back. Once in the Mentawai I was happy to surf anything. Not sure if I was ready for 8ft E-Bay but looked forward to surfing fun warm waves.

As a, and I word this with the utmost respect, ‘older surfer’ now, is there a limit to surfing? You, Kelly and co still killing it in your forties.

Getting older’s a strange thing. I personally don’t think you get any worse at surfing. Kelly and Tom Curren are amazing! Tom’s in his fifties now but I saw a vid of him surfing a skim board without fins last week and he’s killing it. Kelly had a bad year and still finished top 10. I like to think I surf as good, if not better than when I was in my twenties. I may not be as strong or quick but maybe a couple of bumps have been ironed out in my surfing. Like I said, you don’t get any worse, you just don’t improve as quick.

What’s more helpful when it comes to tweaking designs: surfing yourself or watching the team?

For me it’s 50/50. I’m blessed to still be able to surf and also shape boards for some of the best surfers in the country. Its very gratifying when you come up with a design like the Shank, that works for you but then other guys surf it and love it too. Gearoid, one of our Irish rippers, surfs very similar boards to me. Shaping boards for him is a bit of a cheat as I pretend the boards for me. Oli Adams and Angus Scotney are both over six feet tall and ride very different boards. I guess we all have a common goal: to improve our surfing and the boards we do it on.

Is Beng Beng actually your favourite wave in Indo?

Haha. On this trip absolutely. We had a couple of days when it was about head high and five of us in. We took turns hooting and calling each other in to waves. It’s a real mellow carve wave. E-Bay broke maybe twice but had a full crowd. The last thing I wanted to do was paddle for a wave at E-Bay and my shoulder give out sending me over the falls onto the reef. The other place we surfed a lot was Shitstops … sorry Pitstops. I hate that wave. Small take off zone, back wash and natural foots!

How’s travelling with a bus load of frothers like the Fourth team?

It was amazing. I knew most of he crew very well but a couple I hadn’t really spent time with. I’d met G-Man maybe twice and also Em William’s at the factory but that was it. I knew Tass from when she was about 14 at contests but again never really sat and chatted to her. So this was a chance to get to know the person rather than the surfer. The best thing about the trip was how relaxed everyone was. No egos. No hassling in the water and plenty of laughs.

After the trip how much do you want to cross the channel from the Ments to the mainland in any form of boat ever again?

OMG. On the way over if someone had said after an hour “shall we turn back to Padang?” I would have voted yes. I mean I worked on fishing boats when I was young for a couple of weeks but that ferry ride was insane. Once out of Padang in the open water the novelty wore off real quick. Soaked, sea sick and no end in sight … it was dire! Saying that once we hit camp at Matungou, had a coconut and a surf, it was all forgotten.

Do you ride different boards now you’re an elder statesman?

Back in the day in my contest peak I would have been surfing 5’10”-6’0” shortboards. Now my everyday board is 5’7”. I have a 5’5” for small waves and a 5’10” step up. Thanks to shaping programs I know the minimum amount of volume in a board I need to surf ok. Anything between 24-25 litres will do me. I won’t be looking at any 6’4” cruiser boards just yet. I need to nail air reverses first!

Do you pine for palm trees and warm water in the current British run of grey gunge?

As bad as the ferry to the camp was, I would do it again in a heart beat knowing how much fun the waves are in that part of the Mental islands! Can I just say thanks to everyone who made the trip happen. You made an old man very happy! Haha!