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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2 Responses to Charlie Harris, Sumatran surf pioneer, 1949 – 2015

  1. Robert says:

    Yes, was very sad to hear, a genuinely nice guy toward me and our crew. R.I.P Charlie & hang in there Steve.

  2. Steve Stewart says:

    A top bloke and sadly missed by everyone who knew him. RIP Charlie.

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