Blog dark until 15 Feb as your correspondent’s corruptible corotating corpuscles correctifies

Which is nonsense alliteration for recovery from second shoulder surgery. Take care of your rotator cuffs, boys and girls.

I gather I haven’t been missing much, small swell and surf school mayhem.

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How to make an inexpensive pair of (prescription) sunglasses for the surf

left handed pecking as my right arm is in a sling, so I am reposting this post and taking the opportunity to update a detail on how to make a pair of prescription sunglasses for the surf. And that is, in step three, don’t bore a hole in the middle of the ear piece but at the end where it loops over your ear. The necklace cord fits better. I also now use a stainless steel fishing lure clip that I clip through the hole and to the necklace cord. When you wear sunglasses in the lineup (especially with a neon-bright chin-strap cap that helps hold the sunglasses in place) you do get some guys giving you odd looks, and some burst out laughing, but if you paddle and position with intent to get a set wave, they quickly realize you aren’t just some random kook gone AWOL from a surf school. And besides, I don’t really care how I look as long as I can keep surfing.

First time I went to an eye doctor as a kid, I found out I had a fairly rare eye condition wherein one eye was fairly normal but the other was very short-sighted. The condition has grown worse with age. One of the consequences is that without prescription glasses I have very little depth perception. In the surf, this consequence can be quite frustrating when one is trying to gauge the size and position of approaching sets. In large surf, it can be quite alarming.

During the years I surfed Nusa Dua, I provided my compatriots with much merriment as I constantly misjudged the waves into spectacular freefalls, becoming one with the lip. If successful on take-off and up and riding a wave, this myopic dude would sometimes slice perilously close to over surfers paddling over the shoulder. One occasion, I bee-lined right for a Japanese surfer I was sure was safely far out and rammed right into him, as directly as direct could be. Brett Beezley witnessed this and nearly bust a gut he was laughing so hard. The poor Japanese fellow wasn’t so amused, but we sorted it out, with much groveling apologies on my part.

Anyhow, it’s finally gotten to the point that I’ve taken to rigging up inexpensive prescription sunglasses for the surf. Here are the key steps:

1. Find cheap pair of sunglasses from a sidewalk vendor that has the arms attached to glass frame by screws. The screw is rigid and will break off in the surf (as I quickly learned), so remove the screw and thread & twist a couple strands of copper wire through the screw hole. This will give the arms the necessary flexibility in the surf.

sunglasses 1

sunglasses 2

(Below is a different pair of sunglasses with the copper wire through the screw hole — this pair of surf sunglasses has already lasted for two months in small to large surf)

sunglasses 3

2. Go to an optometrist and order prescription lenses for these sunglasses. (These lenses are not expensive here in Bali).

3. SEE COMMENT ON TOP Bore small holes in the ear pieces – large holes will weaken the ear piece. Thread and tie a loop of string through the small hole. What I use is the small wire for ear-bud speakers – perfect size, plastic coated.

sunglasses 4

4. Tie the ends of a necklace cord to the loops, and there you have it:

sunglasses 5

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Indo surf exploration and pioneering: then and now

Time: a day in September, 1989. Place: the treehouse restaurant on Gang Poppies 1, back when the lane still had leafy trees and palms. Who: three friends, including your blog correspondent. What: discussing a boat trip. Where: two British Admiralty maps spread on the table, one of Enggano Island, the other of the southern Mentawais. The problem: we couldn’t find a boat to charter. Not in those days.

I did have the Hati Murnih, a converted Indonesian fishing boat, but it was a simple thing rigged for coastal sailing along Eastern Indonesian islands.

The solution: a boat in Benoa Harbor called the Wyeema, skippered by a blue-eyed, square-jawed English sea lord who came straight out of a Patrick O’Brian novel, pacing the quarterdeck and bellowing orders to his crew as his steely gaze scoured the horizon for signs of the perfidious Frenchmen. Of the boat captains at Benoa we approached over the next few months (not a great many at that time but some), he alone relished the challenge we proposed (as well as the dollars).

He sailed up to Bengkulu in Sumatra where we boarded, armed with no knowledge except the charts and what we knew of Indian Ocean swells and reefs. I’ve told this story elsewhere. Why I am bringing it back to the blog today is just an older man’s reflection, when he is grounded thanks to worn shoulders being body-shopped at the surgery, on how things have changed. Now there is a fleet of charters boats available for every budget and every Sumatran destination, not to mention the land resorts (check out World Surf Adventures, for example).

I know the surf stoke stays the same, but we of that era of Indonesia surfing (I am speaking of a tribe, not a few individuals) were incredibly fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for genuine pioneering exploration. Finding and riding a surf break for the very first time by definition can only be done once. I, supposedly a wordsmith, find it hard to express that sense of adventure that we had, that anticipation of wondering what we would find, and the undefinable excitement of discovery, rooted in the ancient human compulsion to see what’s over the horizon, when we did guess right and find a world class wave spinning as it had done for millennia. We surfed and we left, the ocean covering our tracks. We left no marks and made no claim. Whoever stumbled across the break the next time would have the same ineffable sense of discovery.


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Crocodiles in Indonesia surf

They’re there, and it’s the one you don’t see that gets you.

But the truth is

FIRST, your blog correspondent is in a lousy mood, his right shoulder having exploded while exercising his left re-built shoulder during a rehab swim. Hence it is off once more this week to Oz and Dr. Rotor-Rooter From Hell.

SECOND, the only story I’ve heard of crocs and surfers in Indonesia comes second-hand via a friend who lives and works in Jayapura, Papua, the capital near the border with Papua New Guinea. He’s a surfer who has scoured the coast line around Jayapura. This is not the Papua surf zone that has filtered into the surfing media and surfing consciousness, and now is complete with surf tour companies you can find via Google. No, the coast line around Jayapura, my friend says, is lots of jungle and estuaries and crocs, and the surf — well, if you really must know, go there and find out. Just be careful paddling across estuaries to get to the other side. On a surf expedition out of town with a buddy, my friend says his buddy paddled across a back-of-the-beach estuary while he stood watch. A ripple in the water, a croc on the ambush zeroing on the paddler, but the buddy made it just in time. If I recall the story right, the buddy did not paddle back but went on a long arduous trek carrying his board through the jungle to return from whence he started.

Gary Burns of the Mahalo charter boats worked in Eastern Indonesia for twenty years or so, and found a fickle wave near a remote village with crocs in the adjacent river basins. Sometime later I read a local paper wherein the villagers reported a crocodile eating a man. Theoretically, any surfer at that surf spot could conceivably have a close encounter of the toothy reptilian kind.

But one classic story of crocodiles is a true one that I believe I have reported in this blog some years earlier. A ship carrying over a hundred live salt water crocodiles caught in East Indonesia/Papua and to be smuggled to China and turned into handbags chugged up the entrance of the Rote-Kupang Straits

This was a time when the Navy was cracking down on fuel smuggling, not animal smuggling, but the crocs were still contraband. A corvette spotted the boat and roared down to intercept it. The crew frantically dumped all the crocodiles overboard to get rid of the evidence.

croc strait
(red blob above — this strait is traveled by most surfers heading to Rote, and some frustrated surfers stuck in Kupang due to various reasons have been known to rent a car and explore around that headland just to get out of Poo-pang — in case you must know, the surf there ranges from flat to no good to it sucks, and for a while at least, crocodile infested to boot).

The serendipitously released crocs must have been pretty happy, because this area so happens to be ideal crocodile environment, lots of mangroves and coastal bush close to villages with chickens and goats and other things to eat. For over a year the crocs terrorized the local population, with reports of sightings and close encounters and the loss of valuable animals.

Then just the other week I opened the Jakarta Post and see this photo of a saltie caught off Kupang:

croc kupang

I wouldn’t be surprised if this crocodile was one of the original One Hundred.

Perhaps there are readers of this blog who have their own tale of the crocodile?

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Happy holidays! Finally rain! West winds! Small swell! Blog returns 4 Jan with CROCODILES (in the surf)!

Family visiting. Shoulder rehab. Stumbling about in the dark at nights because of flying ant swarms, so have to turn off the lights. I was so looking forward to the rains I forgot about that part of the wet season. Blog will be back 4 Jan

croc in surf

(The face looks kind of familiar–I believe I’ve surfed with him, a bit of a wave hog)

In the meantime, if you are looking for a good Christmas gift for a Kindle reader in your family (or Kindle app on all kinds of devices), then click on my rip-roaring adventure thriller A ROTTEN STINKING PLACE TO DIE on the side-bar. Below is an excerpt of the first chapter. It’s under a different author name than BONES OF THE DARK MOON because it’s a different genre.


Chapter 1

I didn’t see the body at first.

It’d been a rough night crossing, the Orient Star plowing into thirty-knot squalls with driving rain and corkscrewing seas. Around two in the morning we dropped anchor in the lee of what boat skippers in this part of the Indian Ocean call Thank God Island and collapsed into our bunks.

I woke by long habit before dawn, my consciousness returning full and instant. I have never been a sleepy-head. The storm had passed. The cabin held steady. The air conditioning unit hummed, the red numerals of its temperature display reflected off the porthole’s glass. We were a few degrees shy of the equator, and while I am long accustomed to tropical heat, I’d indulged my Nordic-American genes by dialing the thermostat down to frigid.

I was crewing as the ship’s cook, so I took a minute while huddled under my blanket to decide on breakfast for the guests. Something soothing to tender stomachs. Oatmeal with palm sugar syrup and a fruit salad, say. That said, I got out of the berth and made the bed. After dressing in loose cotton trousers and T-shirt, I grabbed my yoga mat and stepped out of the cabin. The warm humid darkness wrapped me in its clammy grip. I used the toilet, which on a boat is for some obscure nautical reason called a head, washed my face, and climbed the metal stairway to the upper deck.

On the landing, I turned by the compact hydraulic crane, a dark cactus-like hulk. The body dangled only ten feet away, shrouded in thick night shadow. I walked past without noticing.

Beside the salon door, bolted rungs led to the top of the wheelhouse, festooned with radar and satellite domes. I moved quietly in order not to disturb Alexandra, who slept with her captain’s ear alert to the ship’s noises. Tattered clouds strung across the moonless sky. Patches of stars shed enough light to silhouette the island, hardly bigger than a hand. A light breeze carried the iodine scent of reef and the murmur of surf.

I began my stretches, facing east where the night was thinning. The body was below me, out of my line of sight. I’m not a yoga devotee, but as I am by nature a restless, restless man with an unruly mind, I’ve learned the benefit of starting my day with a meditation of stillness and silence. This morning, my thoughts refused to drain. In the weedy edges of my consciousness, uneasiness about the ship’s troublesome guests squatted like a warty toad.

Giving up with a sigh, I rolled the mat and stepped toward the ladder. A swell curled into the anchorage and ran under the ship.
In the darkness below me, something swayed. I noticed then that the crane’s boom was extended over the water. As I peered, the thing dangling from the boom swayed the other way and hung still again.

The head tilted at an ugly angle. The chin flopped onto the chest. The arms fell straight. The toes drooped toward the water. I might have thought it an illusion, a shape fashioned out of the night like a cardboard cutout, without depth or detail, except another swell rolled into the bay. The body swayed again. A stray beam of anchor light fell on the face. Dried blood crusted under the nose. A swollen tongue protruded between puffed lips.

That made it real as hell.

Chapter 2

A week earlier before the madness started, I was in Bali, where I was born to American expats before the babble of the global village, when Bali was still mostly a romance of the imagination and not a favored destination for mass tour junkets.

Gus and I were at Serangan Beach, checking the surf from the front seat of my pickup, which is what you do when you grow up island boys and your Saturday morning is free and the sun is shining after days of rain. An offshore wind groomed the lagoon’s pastel water. To the north, the purple hulk of Mount Agung took a volcanic bite out of the polished sky. A tourist postcard of tropical paradise, except the photographer would have composed the shot to exclude the plastic trash on the high tide line, and no postcard could have caught the sour stink of rotting garbage wafting from the island’s main dump a mile away in the mangroves.

Eau de Bali, these days.

A head-high swell pulsed weakly over the reef, utterly uninspiring but stirring excitement among the surf school students. Bali gets them all, novices from around the globe who want to frolic in the warm waves. To our left, a van disgorged a horde of Russians, and to the right a bus unloaded a squadron of Germans. From the two rental cars flooded a stream of Japanese. Out in the surf, the lineup was already packed with a flotilla of soft-top learner boards going every which way. The January monsoon winds were blowing every surfer and every surf school to Serangan, about the only place offering clean waves today.

“Do you even want to bother?” I asked Gus.

“We could go golfing,” he said.

“You don’t golf.”

“You don’t either, but we could start.”

Two women in their twenties strolled past on the beach, their skin gleaming with sunscreen, surfboards under their arms. As for their bikinis, there was barely any there there. An admirable view, because one thing about surfing is it keeps you fit and your muscles firm. When I started surfing the chicks stayed on the beach and sunbathed. Now they surf in droves and I call them women. The blonde threw a sly glance over her shoulder. I raised the fingers of my right hand off the steering wheel and wriggled a wave. There was a time when I would have been out the door to engage in some casual banter, the spicy question of what later hanging intriguingly in the air, but those days were long ago. I was well into my fourth decade of life. I was tired of that game and wanted something of substance longer than a tourist visa.

Besides, she was sliding the glance at Gus, not me. With my blond hair and colored eyes, I looked like any other tourist surfer, but Gus has that island lad magnetism.

Gus didn’t even give them a glance. He’s three years a widower but still wears his wedding ring. His full name is Ida Bagus Johanes Putra. The Ida Bagus is the title for a high-caste Brahman. His nickname Gus is not pronounced like “bus” but rounded just short of “goose.” Most Balinese are Hindus, but the Johanes indicates part of Gus’s extended family were from Dutch colonial days members of the indigenous Catholic Church of Bali. Gus’s mother was a Jewish atheist from New York. By Jewish law this technically makes Gus a Jew. Such a mash-up is typical of Bali’s blended international community, no place on earth quite like it.

From kindergarten days, Gus and I went to international school together and cut school together to go surfing. He was one of the local enforcers in the increasingly crowded surf lineups, keeping the peace, and I was the one who got into the fights. After he graduated from Bali International School, he attended the University of Chicago on a full scholarship, where he studied economics and transformed somewhat vampire-like into a rabid Bears fan and Green Bay Packers bloodsucker. He returned to Bali as a civil servant in the Bureau of Statistics. It’s a mystery to me what he does there. He watches Bears games live on satellite TV. He’s a cantor at the Catholic Cathedral and a member of the Bali Community Choir. Sometimes for public performances he drafts me as a bass. I can’t carry much of a tune, but I can boom like a bull frog.

My cell phone buzzed. I looked at the display. “It’s Alexandra,” I said and put on the speaker phone. “Hey, Alex.”

“Budi, where are you and what are you doing?” The raspy voice conjured up an instant image, all five-foot-five and one hundred and twenty pounds of her. In the wheelhouse of the Orient Star, her captain’s chair had a booster seat.

A gaggle of Taiwanese with boogie boards under their arms and swim fins on their feet waddled into the water.

“I’m with Gus at a meeting of the United Nations,” I said.

“Gus! Is he there? Hi, Gus.”

Gus leaned toward the phone. “Hello, Alex. How are you?”

“I need Budi’s help. And I just might need your prayers.”

In her sea-salted forties, Alex had grown up in South Australia as a fisherman’s daughter and then a skipper herself, rugged and proud and independent. Those Southern Ocean fishermen are a breed of folks who are the first to offer help and the last to ask for it. She worked mostly out of Phuket in Thailand. She told me she was sailing the next day for the port of Padang on the west coast of Sumatra Island to pick up a surf charter booked by Elroy Kapuni.

I whistled. Elroy Kapuni, Hawaiian big wave surfer and legendary waterman, was to the surfing world a demigod of the tempestuous Roman kind. It was best to keep a prudent distance. He was CEO of his own clothing and sports company that rumor said was going public. His PR handlers were massaging the message that Elroy was actually a friendly and likeable fellow, but nobody was buying it. His fame had spread to the civilian world in part because of his monster wave exploits that filled slow news days on talk shows and because of several Hollywood epics in which he’d co-starred as the chiseled and menacing sidekick. Many clever non-surfing folks in Minnesota and Melbourne knew him as the answer to trivia game questions.

“It’s prime big wave season on the North Shore,” I said. It was early January, and Hawaii’s surf spots were rocking with big winter swells. “Why’s he doing an off-season surf trip?”

“I don’t ask those questions. I just take their money. Pick up in Padang and then all the way down to Jakarta for drop-off. There’s him and his girlfriend and four other guys. But here’s the thing. He’s asked me to get rid of my crew. He says he doesn’t want a crowded boat. He says one of his guys is a master mechanic and fully licensed engineer. He says they’ll take turns on watches and cooking. I told him he was going to have to pay an extra ten grand. Didn’t even faze him. I should’ve asked for twenty.”

“The harbormaster isn’t going to let you leave port without crew.”

“Oh, we get the clearance and then I pay them five hundred dollars each to get sick and we drop them off. Stryker is spending his school holidays with me on the boat and I don’t want to be alone with a bunch of seppos I don’t know with something going on.”
“Then cancel the charter.”

“I need the money.” She sighed, and I could see her raking her fingers through her hair, which she keeps immaculately dyed to an unnatural shade of red. “There’s some crates in the hold Elroy sent me in Phuket. They were escorted and stowed by a couple of his fellows. Thing One and Thing Two. Thing Two also stowed a bunch of weights and bars. He looks like he could bench-press a bus. Who ever heard of weightlifting equipment on a surf trip? It’s hinky as hell, Budi.”

“What’s in the crates?”

“Bill of lading says fishing and camping gear. I want you to come up to Padang and join me and be the charter chef. I’ll say you’re a family friend, and that’s that.”

“I’m a seppo too,” I said.

For those who don’t know, seppo is an Aussie term of endearment for an American, derived from septic tank, which rhymes with Yank. I am also an Indonesian citizen, in part because I was born and raised in the country and in part because I paid a bribe to the judge to make me one, which at a stroke removed annual hassles with the Immigration Department. For my Indonesian passport and other civil documents, I changed my name from the hated Vannevar to Budiman, which means “law abiding.” Gus had suggested it. There was some irony involved. I was supposed to relinquish my US citizenship, but one thing about being born an American is that it’s extremely hard to do so. Several US federal agencies take a deep and abiding interest in why you would want to do such a thing. The Internal Revenue Service in particular is loath to let a tax-paying citizen escape from its clutches. I am still known to them as Vannevar Wells Junior.

Alex snorted. “Mate, you’re an honorary Aussie. You eat Vegemite.”

“And Elroy’s Hawaiian, not American,” I said. “You call him an American, he’ll make sure you know the difference.”

“True. Stryker’s beside himself with excitement. He’s got posters of Elroy all over his cabin.” Stryker was her ten-year-old son.

“I’m not much of a chef.”

“What’s there to it? You fry, bake, boil and barbecue. The galley has an automatic bread-maker, just dump in the ingredients and forget about it. I’ll pay for your ticket. Plus you’ll be getting uncrowded surf. Nobody around this time of year.”

Out in the waves, war was breaking out between the surf schools, and it didn’t seem world peace would be established any time soon. For once I had nothing to do, the sunny-side up of my consultancy business was going well, and I had no clients wanting my specialized brand of services in the darker shadows.

I was, in other words, bored and restless.

“I’ll book my flight,” I said.

“Thanks, Budi.” She sighed again. “God, I need a cigarette, but with Stryker on board I’ve vowed to stop. No nicotine and seppos, this charter’s gonna be hell.”

We said our goodbyes, Gus chiming in with his. We sat in silence for a few moments, watching six students take off on one wave and mow each other down.

“It’s that time again,” Gus said.

“And what time is that?”

“You nearly get yourself killed on a regular basis, and it’s been a while.”

“It’s just a boat charter.”

“May the Good Lord make it so, but I’ll be praying for you.”

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The Parable of the Good Muslim, as Jesus would tell it today

This is surf-themed blog. It has nothing to do with religion or politics. There’s enough ranting and foaming at the mouth. But after all the worldwide headline news of this past week cause by pronouncements coming out of the Man with the Toupee, today I’m rephrasing the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. You might know Jesus’s story, how this Jew was attacked by robbers who stole everything and left him half-dead. A Jewish priest came along and saw the victim and passed by on the other side of the road. Then appeared a Levite, a Jew who worked in the temple, and did the same. The third man who came along happened to be a Samaritan, who not only stopped but helped the guy to an inn to recover and paid the innkeeper for the man’s expenses. In 1st Century Palestine, this story Jesus told was radically subversive, because to the Jews, the Samaritans were unclean foreigners, best to just get rid of them (a Jewish scholar is recorded in the Jewish Talmud as saying, “bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh.”). To the political and religious establishment of the day, Jesus was a dangerous bleeding-heart liberal and traitor to traditional morals and values. They ended up killing him.

So I’m rephrasing this story, as Jesus might say it today if he were wandering around America, trying to preach the Good News:

On one occasion a well-known scholar in church doctrine stood up in the town hall to test Jesus, this new kid on the block preaching a suspect message.

“Preacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Bible?” Jesus replied. “What is your take?”

The scholar answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You nailed it,” Jesus replied. “If you do this, you’ll live.”

But looking for a loophole, the scholar asked Jesus, “And just who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was driving through the Valley of the Three Church Steeples in the back country of the Bible Belt, west of Chicago. His tire went flat, and he got out to change it. As he did so, some skin-head punks cruising stopped and attacked and robbed him, stripped him and his car, and left laughing as he lay there half dead.

Five minutes later, a pastor drove by, on his way home from a men’s prayer lunch. He saw the injured man lying on the side of the road. It was dangerous to stop here in this quiet area, so quiet the cell phone signal dropped out. There’d been frequent attacks. It would more prudent to drive on until he got into range and then call 911.

A few minutes later, another man drove by, heading to a political rally. He was one of the organizers of this county rally, where they would be live-feeding to their convention screen a major policy speech by Donald Trump. He too saw the injured man on the roadside, but surely somebody else would come along and help. He didn’t have the time. He had more urgent things to do. Donald Trump was the man who was going to save America and his speech was important for the good of the country and for God.

Some time later, a third car rattled by. The man, a recent immigrant, had driven forty miles to the closest mosque in the area for Friday noon prayers and was now going home, worry for his family occupying his mind. At the last second he saw the badly injured victim and stomped on his brakes and backed up. With his car’s first aid kit, he bandaged him up and put him in his car and drove back the other way to the nearest hospital’s emergency room and stayed there until the man was seen to, giving his credit card as guarantee for the bills.

In the town hall, Jesus asked the scholar, “Who do you think was a neighbor to the man attacked by the skin-heads”

The scholar replied, “I suppose the Muslim.”

Jesus told him, “You go and do the same.”

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Congratulations to Bruno Hansen, Bali’s first world surf champion!

The longer you live in Bali, the more cretaceous you become, secreting calcium carbonates that slowly and insidiously keep you fixed to an ever smaller space, until you hardly ever go out anymore to anywhere. One day you wake up with no enthusiasm to deal with the island’s hassles and you think, “Jeez, I’ve become a Bali Barnacle!”

But yesterday, the Man of Perpetual Motion himself, wedged me out of my space, insisting I attend a special event over in Kerobokan. From way over here, to way over there in La-La Land, on a Saturday evening? But Curt insisted, kept applying the dongkrak (if you don’t know the Indonesian word, it’s a common tool that works pretty much like it sounds).

The occasion? A surprise celebration at Limasan Surf Lodge for Bali’s first world champion surfer. Although Bruno Hansen represented Denmark in the first ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship in San Diego, California (he’s paralyzed from waist down, so won the prone division), he’s been Bali-based for long enough I think we can claim him as our own. Straight from Bali pretty much on his own and pretty much a complete unknown, he competed as the underdog of underdogs and won! The guy has an amazing story to tell, but I think the picture below (and his interview in the Youtube embedded video) tells most of the story without me having to. This photo was taken of him at Lance’s Left, and served as the celebration banner.

Bruno banner

bruno pic

And you can see Bruno surfing at the 2:05 mark and a brief interview at the 3:35 mark

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