The Brazilian surfer who came a-visiting — Part 1.

The boat charter on the Bohemian to the Banyak Islands off Sumatra wasn’t supposed to end the way it did. We were supposed to be surfing waves, not hauling a nearly dead friend out of the rain forest jungle.

We’d left the port of Sibolga on June 1, 2003. Sibolga is one of those tropical port towns with a list of euphemisms, many of them involving the word “hole.” We were excited and looking forward to (what was then) uncrowded blue water gems of the Banyak Islands. The four of us guests — me and Mike and Rob and Dave — had been on numerous trips throughout the Indonesian archipelago. We weren’t rookies at this.

rob dave nembrala
(Rob and Dave, happier times)

The first week of the trip provided us fun clean swell, first at Treasure Island, the fabled right there (this was before the major earthquake’s rearrangement of these surf spots).

treasure island

(the photo above is totally ripped off the Bohemian website)

Next stop, the Hinako islands, where there were already two surf camps. One catered mostly to Aussies, and the other to Brazilians. Our hearts sank when we heard the Brazilian camp was full. We’d had experience with traveling Brazilian surfers, loud and boisterous and exuberant and fun when on land, loud and boisterous and aggressive and no so much fun in the surf, with that “my wave is my wave and your wave is my wave too” mentality. A stereotype, sure, but stereotypes are stereotypes because there’s some truth to it.

We shared waves at the left-hander on the north tip of the island. We were polite and civil with each other, in a truce between the wars manner. The winds switched and so we sailed to the south tip of the island to surf Bawa, that right-hander made famous by Tom Curren riding a small board in giant surf. This day it was well over head on the sets. They were breaking in two sections, one up toward the top, and the other, waves swung wide into an end bowl. We were surfing out on the top, and then the Brazilians showed up on their camp boat and hung out on the end.

I was riding a new Channel Islands Water Hog, a mini-mal shape. The waves were deep-water thick, a lot of shove, but there was enough float to that board to get in early. I got on one wave — my memory replay says double overhead because it was a long drop — and rode it through. The wave kept going though, one of the rare ones that connected up to the end bowl. I was racing along at top speed, clearly going to make it. But one of the Brazilians paddled like hell to get into the bowl. He was going to drop in on me. I guess he figured I’d ridden it long enough and now it was his wave to ride. I couldn’t believe it and yet I believed it all the same time — he was a Brazilian after all. But he was riding too short a board and this was one of the meatier waves of the afternoon and he couldn’t get it on. That was my last wave. Over sunset beers back to the anchorage we traded Brazil-nut stories. Who the hell did they think they were?

The next day the swell picked up a bit and we left fun Hinako lefts hoping to score Treasure Island to ourselves again, no Brazilians around. But the swell went flat. So instead Mike and Dave put on shoes and got dinghied to shore for some bushwhacking through the island’s thick rain forest jungle. Two hours passed, and we on the boat sweltered in the the windless heat. The chef put out the Bohemian Burger special for lunch, and the two intrepid jungle men still hadn’t shown up. Then we saw Mike running on the beach in the mid-day broil. Mike never runs in the mid-day heat, let alone on the beach. He was waving his T-shirt. Something was clearly wrong. Really wrong. Like, you instantly lose your appetite wrong.

(Part 2 next week: note that since the story isn’t finished yet, I’m closing comments for this post).

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William Finnegan is a staff writer for the New Yorker, one of the world’s premier literary magazines. You wouldn’t think they’d have a hardcore surfer on staff, but they do, and thank Huey for that, because he’s written a memoir on his surfing peregrinations, way back when you basically had to be a bum to travel off the beaten paths of the the world looking for surf. He was one of the first surfers to find Tavarua the hard way.

New York Times: “Extraordinary…[ Barbarian Days] is in many ways, and for the first time, a surfer in full. And it is cause for throwing your wet-suit hoods in the air…If the book has a flaw, it lies in the envy helplessly induced in the armchair surf-­traveler by so many lusty affairs with waves that are the supermodels of the surf world. Still, Finnegan considerately shows himself paying the price of admission in a few near drownings, and these are among the most electrifying moments in the book…There are too many breathtaking, original things in Barbarian Days to do more than mention here—observations about surfing that have simply never been made before, or certainly never so well.”

The book will be released tomorrow: Barbarian Days


My novel of contemporary Bali exploring the mass killings of 1965 is now available at Apple iBooks: Bones of the Dark Moon

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“Ketika Bulan Tidur” : the Indonesian translation of ‘Bones of the Dark Moon’ now available for pre-order

A morning of stiff onshore winds here Sanur side (yesterday gusts were blowing roofs off beach shacks, and I heard that at one establishment four tourists were injured).

Please take note of the new item on the sidebar. My novel Bones of the Dark Moon, about Bali’s 1965 massacres, has been translated. “Ketika Bulan Tidur” is available for digital edition pre-order by clicking on the image. The publishing date is 17 Augustus, Indonesia’s Independence Day. That seems an appropriate date for such an important and yet barely known tragedy in this country’s history.

If you haven’t read the English version, it’s well worth it. Click the image for the Amazon Kindle link. Print copies are available at Periplus and Ganesha bookstores. The 50th anniversary of the killings (an estimated 50000 Balinese killed by fellow Balinese and tossed into rivers and estuaries and mass graves, including the Mertasari Sanur mangroves) is coming up on October 30th.

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What he should have ridden Big Sunday at Uluwatu (and for sale for fund raising)

The other day, Lorca Lueras of Lines magazine showed me some jaw-dropping water shots of a Seminyak kid dropping drown on an Uluwatu Big Sunday wave that made him look like an ant. And the kid was on a 6’6″!

This board below is what I would have been riding (my excuse for not: still recovering from hernia operation). A classic Campbell Brothers fixed-fin thruster that Malcolm shaped for me in 1994. It’s 8’10” and 3 inches thick — these days boards are also measured by liter volume but don’t ask me what that would be except it would be voluminous. I asked Malcolm for some paddle-in beef for big Nusa Dua. I never rode this board except for small wave trials.

campbell bros big board

I didn’t need to ride it because I also had Malcolm shape me a baby-brother 8′ that worked fine for as large as I wanted to ride Nusa Dua (and other places). This is the board at Lance’s Right, taken by Paul Graham from the Indies Trader at the end of the 1994 season. Just friends on the boat for a last hurrah of the year. No other surfers around. A bit overgunned but I sure felt safe on that thing.

for Bill 12

For personal fund raising purposes that I wish I didn’t have to do but it is for a good cause, I am selling the 8’10 for $700 firm — not only is it in great shape for somebody who wants to tackle the next 12-15 foot Ulu swell, I reckon it’s also a historical archival shape from an era before big boards were really on the scene, not to mention it’d look beautiful on a wall. Get in touch if you are interested.

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Bali 27th June 2015 Swell: Most hyped ever?

The way the hype was building for over a week, you would have thought Jesus Christ, He Who Walked on Water, was going to show up with his step-up board.

Now your blog correspondent must state up front that he did not so much as put foot in water for this swell. Twas onshore all night and day in his neck of the woods and his hernia scar still pings. All I did was watch the live webcams from Balibelly and Surfline. So perhaps I am not the one to raise the question, like the timid like kid in the back of the classroom, but was this swell over-hyped?

I don’t mean in quality. I phoned around the archipelago a little and friends told me it was as good as it gets. But some of the places they were surfing, if this swell was in fact an XXL or even XL, they wouldn’t be surfing, because it would over maxed in size.

Was the 2007 swell bigger? I’m not a meterologist with access to reams of data but I do have the simple NOAA wave height charts for comparison.

swell june 25

May, 2007:


At any rate, what seems pretty clear to me is that in the history of Indonesia surfing never was a swell more hyped. All the frothing, you think rabies shots were in order. All the Frolickstanians who paddle out to overhead Serangan on their hypo-krypto popout knockouts and think they are charging were frantically scouring around for larger boards. Why, I sold a 7-3 glassed fin thruster that had been sitting in my attic for nearly two decades to a pleader.

I don’t know, brothers and sisters, but I’m scratching my head. To the old dinosaurs in Bali reading this post, didn’t it seem that in the pre-Internet days you just rocked up to Ulu or Nusa Dua and took what came? Am I wrong in thinking that this swell, while indeed an excellent and classic trade wind season swell, was something to be expected and hoped for at some point in the season? You know, typically terrific? Or am I pressing a few sour grapes because I’ve been drydocked?

At any rate, it’s an odd and unsettling feeling to be in Bali during a trade season swell. In previous years, I’d be outer island on my boat.

scar reef

rogue set


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Bali après surf barbecue circa 1995ish: the usual suspects, unusual suspects, and most unlikely suspects

A friend sent me this photo of a long ago barbecue in the Sanur area.

usual suspects

That’s Mickey far left and Erin third left. Mickey was, well, Mickey, an unforgettable character and I am sure some readers of this blog will remember him. Erin was one of the era’s Pipeline specialists. The guy gnawing on the corn was the Man About Town. The fellow who looks like a bemused altar boy holding his first beer was Brett, an Ulu master and one of the owners of the Hard Core surf label of the time. I’ll leave the rest unidentified, but boy, this photo stirs up stories that I had best not tell, except as fiction.

Although I can tell a small one. One night at anchor on the Good Ship Hati Murnih in a far outer island channel, Mickey and Brett gambled playing backgammon until the wee hours of the morning. The only detail I can remember about that night is that one of the boat’s folding aluminum chairs ended overboard and sinking to the bottom. No bodies followed.

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13 June 2015: The Bingin Memorial Paddle Out for the Unknown Surfer (plus, boards for sale)

Being temporarily ejected from the surf for post-operation recovery reasons, your blog correspondent hasn’t been following the forecasts and webcams. Except yesterday, in boredom, I browsed over to Bali Belly and belatedly noticed they have a new webcam on Bingin. I had a look and was at first saddened to see a memorial paddle-out for somebody, a circle of friends fondly saying farewell.

bingin pack paddleout

Then a wave rose and approached and I realized I’d been looking at a lull in the sets. What I assumed was the paddle out circle was in fact the pack, all bunched together in Bingin’s notoriously tight takeoff spot. The pack started to jostle for position, and any lingering sense I might have had about camaraderie evaporated at the hustle and the drop-in.

On another note, I have two McTavish surfboards for sale, a 7’6″ Carver model and a 7’2″ The Egg model. These will be in the next Bali Advertiser but this is a first look for anyone interested. I bought these some years ago during a trip to Perth, thinking to have variety in my boat quiver, but my back blew up and I never really got a chance to ride them (a visiting friend recently borrowed the Carver hence the fresh wax). Carver 6 juta rupiah, The Egg 5.5 juta rupiah (it has an emergency boat ding repair on tail that can easily be fixed up). These are essentially new boards at half price. I don’t want to put my phone number on a public site so if you are interested you can send me an email at

boards for sale

Since I am in a state of fund-raising, may I again mention a short story that might interest readers of this blog:

menarche cover small

After the death of his Balinese wife, financial difficulties force American expatriate Jordan Elliot to return with their nine-year old daughter Dewi to Connecticut and his wealthy, domineering, social register mother.

Available for Kindle or Kindle apps on other e-readers.

Available at Smashwords for a variety of other reader options.

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