And then we came to the end…(plus, why the green surf hat)

green hat

The old adage says that if you wear booties and surf-hats in the line-up, you’re a kook. The booties mean you don’t have the self-confidence and skill to avoid the reef. The hat means you just look goofy.

Me, I don’t care. One of the best surf products ever was the Rip Curl Bali Bootie. On many trips with low tide sharp reef-walking, they saved my sole. As for the hat, why on earth would I want to paste an inch of sunblock on my bald pate?

for Bill 12

Above: Lances, pre-crowds and pre-hat days — you can just make out ye old spreading bald spot

As for the green hat, well, even though there’s a myth that one doesn’t wear the color green in Indonesian waters as it provokes the goddess of the sea, that’s the hat I wear. Neon green is a terrific search and rescue color. In years past I did many a solo boat trip on the Hati Murnih to remote reefs with lots of current. I’d been in enough situations where I lost my board and where I needed the dinghy/chase boat to find me real quick. So I asked my wife to make the green hat. (She made me a couple dozen, actually, so I’ll probably come to the end of my life before I come to the end of the hats). That color really stands out when you’ve lost your board and the current’s taking you toward Antarctica. It works. It’s saved me from either real long swims or joining the lost at sea statistics.


Above: One of those remote offshore current-y places

denda hm

Above: Hati Murnih I

ye olde hati murnih crop

Above: Hati Murnih II

One time I lost my board and my hat. The driver at the time, let’s call him Mr. X, a gentle soul with approximately a single working neuron, spotted the loose hat in the churning foam and risked the dinghy to save the hat, which did not have me attached to it, while I was madly waving my arms in the current, trying to get noticed.

ashmore crew

Above: Crew of the Hati Murnih II, pirate Skipper Taone, cool engineer Komen and dinghy driver (not Mr. X!), chef and all-around good guy Salim

Any rate. This blog has been quiet for a few weeks and will be quiet for a few more as I am off on a boat trip to Eastern Islands with some friends of old on the Bajo Baji. This next swell will be very large. A year ago I’d be eagerly frothing at the mouth while anxiously biting my fingernails, but this time I’ll just be watching. Shoulder tendons take their own damn time to heal.


And frankly, I think we’re coming to the end of this blog. An old dog can do only so many tricks and tell only so many tales.

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Bali dawn patrol surfers: Beware of thieves

Your blog correspondent is sitting out today’s swell, lumpy but solid overhead sets at Serangan upon his daily swimming check. I don’t want to risk the tumble and whirl and wrenching my still-tender shoulders.

So in lieu of anything historical (although there have been thieves ever since surfers in Bali started parking rental cars and bikes in remote places), a word of warning. There’s been a number of dawn patrol surfers at Serangan coming in for some apres-surf coffee and snack after the warungs have opened and find their wallets and their cell phones gone from under the scooter seat. This has occurred elsewhere around the island in recent months as well. Easy opportunity, easy targets. Those thieves can jack open a scooter seat or a car door in seconds and be off slick as a lick with your stuff.

If you don’t have a beach companion who waits upon the shore to guard your things, it’s best to have only your driver’s license and some cash to tuck in your board short pocket. The inconvenience of having to go back to your place after the dawn patrol to get your phone and wallet and gear is considerably less than the inconvenience of having to report and replace your credit cards etc.

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Swimming and swimming and swimming — getting back to my body surfing roots.


For the past two weeks or so, as part of a physio rehab program on shoulders, your blog correspondent has been swimming and swimming and swimming (obviously without the slings)*. Laps in the pool are too boring, so I’ve been swimming with fins at Serangan, across the hundred meters or so of reef lagoon and out to the lineup and around a bit in the waves and back in. Surfers (the better ones at any rate) give me odd looks but relax when they realize I know how to duck out of their way. It’s been interesting to watch the surf school students up close and personal.

Surf’s ranged from knee to overhead. I’m not risking any body-surfing, becoming one with the lip and plunging down the face, but I have fun enough safely dolphin-diving under the surface as a wave rolls over and pushes me along. I don’t think I’m as graceful as a dolphin, though.

You know, this does bring back a flash of your blog correspondent’s boyhood, when I spent hours in the water at Kuta, then an empty stretch of coconut grove beach, with tumble weeds and no plastic along the miles of sand, body surfing the waves. I had no idea the sport of board surfing even existed (I wouldn’t see my first surfboard at Kuta until 1970). You learn how to body surf just simply by playing around in the waves. It comes instinctively to kids. The Kuta groms at the time played around with broken bamboo outriggers.

When I was a boy, I body-surfed as a boy, but when I became a man, I put away boyish things and surfed as a man upon a board, and when I became an older disabled man, I put on my duck fins again.

Three more months until I am even older but rehabilitated man who can once more get on a board (long and wide and thick for minimum paddling requirement).

* I dont’ wear the slings anymore, the photo was just for a lark. Left shoulder is at six months post-op and is pretty much good to go surfing, right shoulder at three months.

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Update to last week’s holy Day of Nyepi (did anyone go surfing)?

Wednesday last week was the Balinese holy day of Nyepi, wherein everyone stays indoors and does nothing that is not slothful (well for expats), such as listening to that strange remarkable sound that is the silence of motorbikes and traffic, filled with birdsong. Either more birds sing on Nyepi than on any other day of the year or else you’re just getting a chance to hear them.

Your blog correspondent heard rumors that at Keramas, some surfers paddle out on Nyepi to enjoy the empty lineup. I must admit I was only partially skeptical. If you live in this country long enough, you learn that “all things an be arranged.” But the Balinese have become quite zealous in enforcing the laws (if not exactly the spirit) of Nyepi, in part as a way of saying loud and clear “Hey, this island is still ours.”

So early morning on Nyepi day, I logged onto the Keramas wave cam operated by Bali Belly. The web camera is a rotating one, that swings from a view down the coast back up to the main peak. When I logged on, the camera was aimed down the beach. I waited for it to swing to the peak, but it didn’t. You couldn’t tell if surfers were out in the water. I thought, aha, maybe it is true that there is surfing and somebody figured they’d better not broadcast this to the world (a single video grab of surfers out in the water on Nyepi and posted on social media would have gotten wide and agitated attention here in Bali.)

But if somebody was going to the trouble to aim the camera elsewhere, why not just take it out of service for the day?

I went off to listen to the un-sound of no scooters and to the birds and returned an hour later to the webcam view. Lo and behold, it had rotated to the main peak and this was the view:

keramas nyepi

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Happy Nyepi! And no, you may not go surfing (and the swell will be up, too). Plus, a foolish thing to do, young man!

At Serangan the other day, where I am swimming in the waves (with fins) because swimming in still waters is very boring, until such time as my shoulders are healed and I am allowed to surf, I overheard one Balinese surfer remarking to another surfer with a degree of lamentation that the forecast showed a good swell on Nyepi. This tone somewhat surprised me. All my time here, the Balinese surfers have always cheerfully put their duties and obligations and ceremonies first without a word of murmur of missing surf.

Wednesday 9 March 2016 is the Balinese day of silence (in the Balinese calender, New Year’s of the year Saka 1938). To our Balinese brothers and sisters, Rahajeng Rahina Nyepi. I think pretty much everyone knows the drill — stay indoors from sunrise to sunrise, make no sounds, show no lights. And no surfing, no matter how tempting the empty lineups you’re watching from your veranda. But considering the influx of learners from foreign lands, seemingly more so than ever, I bet there’s going to be one idiot who paddles out somewhere. He (or possibly she) will be schooled.

no surf nyepi

Maybe it’s going to be this guy below, some foreign surfer who got dropped in by a local surfer and instead of smiling and shrugging it off decided he’d take it to the beach. (The photo and story are from Slim at Baliwaves). What was this dude thinking? He’s a guest here and he’s going to give a local a knuckle sandwich right there at Canggu in the heart of local territory? Like trying to slap a wasp around a wasp nest. This kind of foolishness is the sort to qualify one for the Darwin Awards, in which through an act of monumental stupidity one permanently deletes one’s genes from humanity’s gene pool for the benefit of future generations.

T he Balinese locals are cool — in other surfing meccas of the world, to the locals you’re an instant asshole until you prove otherwise. But there in Bali, you’re cool until you prove you’re an asshole. This guy did just that. I hope he was suitably humbled and chastised, but you never know with some people these days.


To me, though, this is more than just one clown’s idiocy. It’s a symptom of the dysfunction that’s creeping into the increasingly crowded lineups around Bali, or so it seems to me. Much of it is cluelessness but some of it is disrespectful aggression, shown even by the learners.

For me on Nyepi, I will pray for world peace and for wisdom to be granted to the surf school instructors to teach their students the first rule, that one paddles out of the way instead of directly into your path.

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Surfers to Mentawais required to pay “surfing fees”?

An article in the 12 Feb edition of The Jakarta Post has snagged attention in the surfing world. Here is a screen-grab of the online edition’s article headline, with the rest of the article as the italicized text (with my brief comments following):

surfers fee

Under the bylaw, all foreign and local surfers visiting Mentawai are required to pay Rp 1 million (US$75) and Rp 250,000, respectively, for a 15-day period.

Payments are to be made online, while identification wristbands are to be collected at the provincial capital of Padang or Mentawai. The new regulation is scheduled to take effect in August after the regional administration completes supporting regulations that detail fee collection procedures.

Local authorities, meanwhile, believe that the new fees are relatively low compared with the facilities they are offering to surfers.

Such fees, for example, would give surfers a fair chance to ride the most sought-after waves in the region, said Mentawai Islands Tourism Agency head Desti Seminora.

“Currently, many surfers must compete against each other to secure surf spots on particular beaches,” she said.

“By paying certain fees, surfers will be guaranteed spots on the beach as our officers will allow a maximum of 20 surfers to surf in a particular spot every morning and afternoon.”

Desti also said the local administration would use the additional income from the fees to develop supporting facilities, including guard posts and medical emergency facilities, to improve safety and comfort.

West Sumatra Surfing and Tourist Ship Association (AKSSB) head Aim Zen said it was time for the regional administration to enjoy revenue from its natural and marine tourism potential.

Aim also considered the fees “very reasonable”.

He, however, urged the local administration to pay serious attention to several matters if it wished to implement the regulation, such as ensuring that the surf spots were free from illegal levies collected by thugs and the local community.

“The Mentawai Islands regency administration must also immediately provide basic supporting facilities in the surf spots, such as security, or police posts, lifeguards, health posts for emergencies and communications equipment at the posts for better coordination,” said Zen.

AKSSB members currently operate 34 yachts and 11 boats to accommodate surfers’ trips to Mentawai.

Each boat or yacht can transport at least a dozen tourists per trip, costing each passenger around $2,500.

The director of Kandui Resort on Siberut Island, Anom Suheri, also welcomes the implementation of the surfing fees.

“However, for the sake of business certainty, the regulation must be implemented consistently,” he said.


I read this and thought, “what else is new?” This sort of thing has been going for decades in the Mentawais, and the thing of the thing is, nobody knows what the thing actually is except that it’s there in one form or another like a giant blob in the bottom of Padang harbor. Little transparency and a lot of murk. Much is driven by greed on both sides. One of my characters in a my novel Rotten Stinking Place to Die (see the sidebar) says “Greed’s more subtle than you think. He’s greedy, you want more than your share, but I’m only asking for what I deserve.” (You really should buy and download the novel, my plug piece for the day).

The implementation of the plan, if it is indeed close to the thing that will be (which I have my doubts about), is mind boggling. This is Indonesia. On-line registration? Wrist bands? A maximum of twenty surfers per spot per morning and afternoon session? Valid only for 15 days? Charging locals for surfing their ocean (I’m pretty sure that’s unconstitutional)?

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Charlie Harris, Sumatran surf pioneer, 1949 – 2015

Several months ago, I received an email from Steve Bridge, owner of the Bohemian Surf Charter operation, that his partner Charlie Harris had committed suicide in Cambodia. My heart instantly felt pierced, and the clouds that refused to shadow Bali’s sky during the abnormal drought spell instead formed over me. Out of respect, I held off any public eulogy, but now that this news is already around the Internet, it’s only fitting I post something about one of the most genuine nice guys I’ve ever met.

That was the thing was about Charlie. The instant you met him (and I daresay any of you reading this who knew him would nod in agreement) you knew you weren’t getting a poser or a business guy charming you for your money and a repeat trip. “Nice” is a kind of a bland word, except when you actually meet “nice” in person. Then you realize there’s something heartwarming about it. Charlie made you feel good about yourself. He made you want to be nice to others in return. That’s a very rare gift.

Charlie got into surfing later in life when he was in his forties, not in any light-weight surf school stuff but solo in the Mentawai and the Banyaks. The Banyaks is where the Bohemian first specialized. I still remember their ads, of this jaw-dropping right-hander with the intriguing banner NOT THE MENTAWAIS. That right, Teasure Island, had been in the air for a little while with guys in the lucky know. Steve and Charlie managed the tricky affair of keeping a full business without letting the cat out of the bag for as long as they could.

Charlie surfed with a helmet. I remember waking up one dawn in north Nias at a surf spot that had come up raw and ugly overnight, eight foot growlers no offering much by way of exit over the reef. Being of sound mind and sleepy body, I went back to sleep for another hour and woke up again for coffee. Charlie was just climbing aboard in from the dawn patrol, charging out there at first light. He took off his helmet and with a grin and those blinking eyes he said, “I got pounded!”

Charlie had his struggles, his demons that he was keeping at bay. He didn’t hide this. That was part of who he was, saying “hey, this is me, this is what I’ve been through.”

I thought he was getting through it until that email from Steve. I’m not going to judge Charlie because I can’t. But I can say in the chart of my life, where I keep track of the Pluses and the Minuses, Charlie was one one big Plus. It was honor for me to know him.

(PS Treasure Island is now a regular surf charter stop. I had a pleasure of surfing it a couple times before the earthquake, a long right about 700 meters, a barreling reef run that curved through the “Claw” (wherein some surfers came unstuck and got bloodied and broken) and then through Lopez Lane. But after the quake, now it’s just the top part that works, I am told).

Charlie 3

(Charlie far left with the Bintang)

Charlie 2

Charlie 4

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