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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