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The Drifter Journals

Ziggy MacKenzie | Life Swells

Sliding down the wrong side of my 40s, I’m still surfing life on the back foot.

In a community of entrepreneurial aspirationists, I’m often asked what my five-year plan is. Five years - shit, five minutes barely qualifies as a justified timeframe in my world.

Between swells and conversations though, I have been inspired; inspired to formulate a game plan, to throw caution to the wind, to grab life by its mid-aged spread and ride the guts out of it all the way down the home stretch. It’s a humbling experience to be rattled from your comfort zone, even more humbling is when those life-altering reverberations are convivially handed to you by a 12-year-old…

Ziggy MacKenzie was born in Australia. Not that this cursory entry on her passport application accounts for much; before she was even eating solids and helplessly bawling about her first teeth she was taking in the sights and sounds of Bali, the island she has called home for every subsequent year of her life to date.

Her voice is equally unfettered by the constraints of nationality. Oozing sunshine in every syllable, it is at first Australian, following the accents of mum and dad, before silkily sliding into American nuances, which fade in turn to non-specific English.

Ziggy is a girl of the world, and this worldliness is infused in every aspect of her life. She casually admits small frustrations at the current national lockdown preventing the Family MacKenzie’s usual winter sojourn to Sri Lanka and it can be assumed the same is endured of their annual visits to the snowfields of Japan.But with Uluwatu as your backyard, complaining is not a trait often exhibited.

Ziggy’s former family nest was in Canggu, the über-cool, coconut latté-soaked hipster capital of Bali. But despite her being so immersed in what is such a Mecca of surfing for stokers all over the world, it wasn’t until she moved to Uluwatu that she began walking on water.

“I’ve been around surfing my whole life,” she reflects. “People kept on asking me, ‘do you surf? You live in Bali - why don’t you surf?’ and honestly, I have no idea!

“We previously lived in Canggu and I didn’t surf there at all, but then we moved up here [to Uluwatu] and I made a new friend group and they all surfed. My friends got me into it. I’d go down to the beach and just chillax and watch them surf and then I tried it, and it was so fun - it was amazing.”

That was a little over two years ago. And just last week, the pint-sized wahine took on triple-overhead outside reef Uluwatu… and again, she’s 12.

It isn’t rare to see a youngster charge harder than older folk who are constrained by the inconvenience of something so superficial as self-preservation. Their resilience, lack of fear and heightened ability to bounce back imbibes them with a gung ho attitude that learns nought from broken limbs or near-death situations.

Similarly, groms who start young and are immersed daily progress beyond their years and often outshine their far senior peers. But even delusions of invincibility can’t create a big wave charger in 24 months. That comes down to something more, something inherent.

Ziggy’s father, Drifter co-creator Jake, paws over swell forecasts religiously. The slightest tightening of isobars fuels his froth and he will track waves across oceans, knowing where and when and what will be the ideal equation for optimal conditions. When one such collaboration of the elements emerged last week, Jake knew that Ulus was on.

“I woke up at around 8, but my mind wasn’t really ready for it,” Ziggy recalls of the morning that would prove to be a gamechanger. “My dad came and woke me up and told me he was going to go surf Ulus and if I just wanted to watch I could watch, or I could surf if I really wanted to. He asked me if I was sure because it was kind of big, and I was like, ‘yeah, I want to go out.’”

Ten-foot walls on the smaller sets and Ziggy called it like she was accepting O.J. over her morning breakfast.

Fortunately, she was in the hands of one of the best. An all-round waterman, freediver, expert surfer and one who has had the waves of Uluwatu - and occasionally, the reef - etched into his being, Jake was not about to cast his daughter into the lion’s den without being right by her side to help her tame the beast.

Ziggy takes up the day’s tale:

“We got a big board, like a 6’6”, which is really big for me, and then we got dad’s floatation vest, which was up around my ears! When we got down to the warungs it looked a lot bigger than we’d thought.

“Dad said, ‘Ziggy, you don’t need to come out’, but I really wanted to. We paddled out and it was pretty smooth, but then this big set came and we got sucked so far down the point.

“The thought of going out, I was nervous, and paddling out I was a tiny bit, but when we got taken by some waves surprisingly it calmed me down. Once I started surfing, then I was all chill. My first surf at big Padang was a few days before and it was a lot more nerve-racking than big Ulus.

“I guess I’ve watched my dad surf Ulus so much, so I had an idea of where to go and where to sit. I started surfing there maybe nine months ago, but I’ve been watching dad for five or six years, so I’m pretty familiar with it.

“We surfed for two or three hours and I caught two waves, which isn’t too bad…”

“Isn’t too bad” ...from the mouths of babes. Simply paddling out at macking Uluwatu, the unfettered long-fetch energy of the Indian Ocean unleashing upon the towering sheer precipices of the Bukit Peninsula, is enough for many to call it a beach day. Getting out the back, wrangling a clean-up set, waiting, watching, feeling the ocean undulating multiple metres skyward with every passing wave, then having the presence, confidence and courage to claw your way over the ledge, drop down the face and hold rail until the pay-off… that’s exceptional.

There are those who have laid foundations on the Bukit solely for days such as these, Jake amongst them, and a two-wave solid session is worth every rupiah of interim rent. This fearless 12-year-old recounts the experience as if it was just another day in the backyard.

“When we paddled in, we tried to go up to the outside peak and paddle in through the keyhole at Ulus, but it was non-stop sets. I said to dad, ‘you’re not going to leave me, right?’ ‘Not in a million years’, he said, but then this good wave came through and he caught it, so I was just left at the top by myself. It was a really good wave though!

“I paddled all the way down to meet him and said, ‘what was that you said about not leaving me in a million years?’ We got in fine after that though.”

The MacKenzie ohana: (back) Jake & Vanessa (front) Flynn, Ziggy & Hanalei

Ziggy has delved into the world of competition in her laconic surfing career and reflects upon it with a maturity beyond her years. Competing in the Bingin Boardriders competitions, she isn’t a fan of donning a jersey and surfing on the clock. The appeal of freesurfing ever beckoning, she does, however, recognise competition’s validity in her aspirations.

“I want to be a pro surfer and I know that has a lot of competitions to come with it, so I actually have a coach who is helping with my heat strategy and how to get better scores. My dream though is to get sponsored and get paid to travel around the world, but not have to do competitions.”

Passionate about all sports - soccer, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, running - she again places her diminutive paws in dad’s footprints, looking towards the sub-aquatic world in the pursuit of freediving:

“Recently, I’ve really wanted to get into freediving, and dad said that I can, but we need to go somewhere like Lembongan where it’s a lot calmer and there are less waves.”

Bali is a small island, a microcosm of the greater world, and one that doesn’t offer the ease and prospect found in western education. Passionate about marine biology, perhaps Ziggy will give up the dream, taking her learning back to her birthplace. Year One of high school, she has time on her side and plenty more Uluwatu swells to revel in before any grandiose plans need be laid.

Yet in many ways, her choices have been set. This menehune, living the dream childhood of grommets worldwide, has paradise on her doorstep, but it isn’t taken for granted. For one so adept and immersed in the ocean, Ziggy’s feet are firmly on the ground. She treads with humility, she appreciates the tides of life, she absorbs every moment, indulging it in its potential, but not in its fantasy.

Ziggy knows that dreams are made of bad cheese or hard work, that life has so much to give and that every swell should be ridden with passion, commitment and positive projection all the way down the line.

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