The Brazilian Surfer who came a-visiting–Third and Final Part

(Part 1 here : in which Mike and Dave leave the boat on a flat day to go bushwacking through the jungle at Treasure Island, and two hours later we see Mike running down the beach, waving his t-shirt)

(Part 2 here: in which the we rescue Dave, using a mini-mal surfboard as a makeshift stretcher, to surf him down the hill to the beach)

(Corrections to Part 2)

So at this point of the story, we’ve surfed Dave a kilometer (or more) down the steep hill and its rocks on a mini-mal as a make-shift stretcher. We’re out off the rotten stinking jungle. The chef’s waiting just off the beach in the ship’s dinghy.
But there’s another hurdle. Even though there are no waves breaking on the island’s surfing reefs, there’s still enough swell in the water for consistent waist-high shore dump on the fringing reef. Normally you wouldn’t think twice about wading out to the dinghy, except perhaps for getting a pocket camera wet.

But Dave’s got a broken upper thigh, the leg already swollen plump. He’s hanging in there, but getting him through the shore dump and then up into the dingy is not going to be fun and pleasant all. Somehow we manage. My memory is pretty hazy. We were all physically fit getting Dave down that hill through that jungle was the most taxing, exhausting thing I’d ever done, and I think this was true for all us. We were drenched in sweat, our bodies melding around the edges into the humid tropical heat. Our muscles ached, some we didn’t know we had. Our clothes were torn, our skin latticed and bleeding with rattan thorn slices.

Not enough room in the dinghy for us all, so I hike along the shore line again back to the main beach. When I finally get on board the Bohemian, it’s late afternoon. Dave’s on the salon cushion, gritting it through. Mike happened to bring along a satellite phone with him to stay in touch with family and business so he’s already on the phone trying to organize a medevac from anywhere close to anywhere with a decent hospital. He finally gets an oil company’s (I think it was an oil company) helicopter to meet us the next morning at Singkil, on Sumatra mainland.

We got delayed when at midnight or so the Bohemian ran right into an unmarked fishing net. That took an hour or so to untangle and get sorted out.

We make it to Singkil and anchor up as the helicopter descends on the wharf area there, attracting a crowd. Mike and Rob escort Dave on the helicopter to Medan, Sumatra’s largest and most modern city, and Dave is rushed to the emergency room Gleneagles Hospital.

I go the slow route, by chartered van with all our surfboards and gear. When I get to Medan the next day, I find out that first thing the ER doc had done was slice open Dave’s thigh from hip to knee to relieve the pressure, as the leg was dangerously and grotesquely swollen. The upper thigh bone was more than broken, it was pulverized into bits, beyond the skills of ordinary orthopedic surgeons. Dave will need somebody specializing in in accident and war trauma injuries. The hospital surgeon inserts a pin to stabilize the leg, but Dave will have to remain in hospital for several days before he can travel back to California. Mike and Rob have flights back to the States, but because I live in Bali, I stay longer in Medan.

Now I’m getting to the point of this (multiple) blog post. The news of this incident had spread at the speed of light, in the form of radio chatter among the surf charter boats out there in the Mentawais. Remember those Brazilian surfers I mentioned in the first blog post, the ones in their surf camp at Hinkao Island? The ones I grumbled about, with their “my wave is my wave and your wave is my wave too” mentality?

Late one morning as I went to visit Dave in his hospital room, who should I find already in there and chatting with him but one of those very same Brazilian surfers. Nobody else had come visit, but this guy had taken the trouble to find out where Dave was and dropped in to say hi and ask what he could do.

Now this was not great light-shaft of revelation where I dropped to my knees in repentance of my earlier griping. At the moment I thought it was a very thoughtful and kind thing for the guy to do. But yet somehow this has always stuck with me over the years. I’m not so sure that if I was in a strange city in a strange country that I would have taken the trouble to visit a sick surfer I’d happened by chance to meet a week earlier. I would have wished him well in my thoughts, but a visit in person?

So these days, when I’m griping about the crowds here in Bali, I pull out the memory of this guy, whose name I don’t even know. I think to myself, I should be more like him.

And it so happens that the last few months have been particularly trying to your blog correspondent, involving authorities and blatant jaw-dropping corruption in a country where it seems that corruption empowers and absolute corruption empowers absolutely (I’ll have to write a novel about it). But friends (and family) have stepped forward to help. Which brings to mind this Brazilian surfer all over again.

May God bless him. In fact, may God bless all Brazilian surfers.


Oh, my Waterhog mini-mal that was used as a stretcher got thoroughly chewed up and thrashed. So years later I got another for another Bohemian surf trip to the same region and this is what happened:

broke waterhog

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Selamat Hari Raya 17 Augustus, Indonesia! Happy Independence Day!

My concluding post on the Brazilian surfer who came a-visiting will be next week. In the meantime,

hari raya merdeka

Happy Independence Day to this wonderful, crazy, chaotic, bewildering, beautiful, trashy, beguiling, frustrating, fascinating nation and a country I just plain call home, like many many others.

Today also marks the release date of Ketika Bulan Tidur, the Bahasa translation of Bones of the Dark Moon, regarding Bali’s 1965 mass murders.


Available at Apple’s iBooks or Smashwords for computer and other gadgets.


Dua belas kerangka manusia tanpa sengaja ditemukan tertanam di salah satu pantai di Bali.

“Terbunuh oleh hantaman benda keras pada tempurung kepala mereka,” kata tim forensik.

“Kami tidak tau siapa mereka,” kata kepala desa.

“Kami tidak ada laporan soal kasus kehilangan orang pada saat itu,”kata kepala polisi.

“Pembantain komunis tahun 1965,” bisikan dari beberapa orang desa.

“Dan aku bisa tebak salah satu dari mereka,” pikir Made Ziro, yang bapaknya guru sekolah hilang diculik dan dibunuh pada zaman mengerikan itu.

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The Brazilian surfer who came a-visiting — Interlude & corrections to part 2

(Part 1 here : in which Mike and Dave leave the boat on a flat day to go bushwacking through the jungle at Treasure Island, and two hours later we see Mike running down the beach, waving his t-shirt)

(Part 2 here: in which the we rescue Dave, using a mini-mal surfboard as a makeshift stretcher, to surf him down the hill to the beach)

Mike, he who marched into the jungle with Dave, has been in touch to correct me on some details and add others regarding the our friend Dave who fell out of the sky.

In my earlier post, I’d said that we hiked 500 meters inland, straight up a 30 to 45 degree slope to get to Dave, but it was over a kilometer. Mike knows because he had to hike it twice, once down and remembering landmarks to get back to Dave, and then up again.

As an eyewitness to Dave’s Tarzan climb up the tree, Mike stood on the base of thte tree with head tilted all the way back to look straight up, keeping sight of Dave a hundred feet high upon this forest giant. To get a better photo angle of the Bohemian far in the distance, Dave jumped from one branch to another branch close by, getting a full two-handed grip on the latter. But the second branch was slippery with moss and Dave did a complete trapeze loop before he came off. Lower branches slowed his fall and spun him around horizontally. When he hit the sloped ground, he bounced five feet into the air and away. Mike didn’t know whether he was dead or alive at first, and then he had no idea of the extent of his injuries. A large burrow of some jungle creature loomed immediately beside Dave, but Mike had to leave him there while he returned to the boat to organize a rescue crew. For two hours or so Dave lay there, woozy with shock and pain, spiced with worry that some creature was going to slither out and swallow him whole.

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The Brazilian surfer who came a -visiting — Part 2

(Part 1 here : in which Mike and Dave leave the boat on a flat day to go bushwacking through the jungle at Treasure Island, and two hours later we see Mike running down the beach, waving his t-shirt)

“Dave’s hurt bad,” Mike said. “He climbed a tree and fell. A broken leg, probably has a concussion. I had to leave him there. We have to go get him.”

Surf charter boats generally do not have stretchers as part of their first aid emergency kit. The only thing we had to carry him with any reasonable degree of stability was my new Channel Island’s Waterhog 8-foot mini-mal surfboard. I don’t think Al Merrick had this use in mind when he made that shape.

We put on our shoes and got into the dinghy with the board — Mike, Rob, me, and the local Indonesian deckhand. The Aussie chef zoomed through the channel and to the beach. We hiked a couple hundred meters along the shore, which wasn’t all easy-going sand. We navigated around rocky outcrops, me carrying the surfboard. As we hiked, Mike explained that Dave had climbed a tree to get a photo of the Bohemian at anchor. Being a construction worker, Dave was used to heights and had Tarzaned his way a hundred feet up the tree. At that height, he jumped from one branch to another, but his hands slipped and he plummeted straight down, bouncing off the rocks at the bottom. Mike reckoned the steep slope of the hill had broken his fall, which was why he wasn’t killed on impact.

When Mike and Dave had started their bushwacking trek, they’d made their way through the jungle from the channel bay. With Dave badly injured, Mike gotten him as comfortable as he could and then had zeroed straight for the beach. We turned into the jungle at the landmark he remembered. This was virgin rain forest as it had been for millennia, before large-brained bipeds arrived on the scene. The primal rain forest is not scented by the perfume of flowers, but something a lot darker and danker, of mold and rot and gloom and poison and fangs, of nature red in tooth and claw. It’s also a surprisingly spacious place, because the melded canopy of the tree foliage blocks out the sun, leaving little light available for bushes and smaller trees.

It was also one damn steep hill, mostly of mossy granite rocks and boulders. Rattan sapling with vicious barbs snagged at clothes and skin. We all got cut up pretty bad. We panted up the hill, being steam-cooked in the broiling humidity. We hiked about five hundred meters inland, and most of that a 35 to 45-degree slope.

Dave lay semi-conscious at the foot of a large tree, in shock and pain. We got him on his back on the mini-mal. I’d had the foresight to remove the fins on the boat. So basically the four of us surfed him down that hill over those rocks. We got cut up even worse by the rattan barbs. Our clothes were ripped to shreds. The rocks gouged deep into the board, chewing through the fiberglass and into the foam. Sometimes we had to lift the board over an obstacle. At steeper parts, one of us had to go below and hold the nose of the board so it wouldn’t tumble out of control.

All these years later, what I remember about this was that it was hardest, most taxing thing I’d ever done—I think we’d ever done—in our lives, but we did it together, with only one thought of getting Dave to safety. Even in his shock and pain, Dave was part of the team, staying alert, keeping his head up and gripping the rails as hard as he could to stay centered.

We finally got him to the beach, but it wasn’t over yet.

Photos or graphics add to a blog post, so here is a snap-shot of the Bay of Plenty on another Bohemian trip to the Banyak Islands quite a few years later: bay of plenty


Some people were asking about my first novel The Flame Tree published by Simon and Schuster. The story is set in Java against the backdrop of the events of 9/11 in the US. It’s available for Kindle. Click on the blue link below the image.

Flame Tree Cover

The Flame Tree

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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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