Words by Mike Ritter | Photographs by Jack McCoy (unless otherwise credited)
Light / Dark
An aetiological tale is similar to a myth in that it tries, within the framework of a given culture, to account for or explain social facts that are puzzling or represent a problem for that society. The facts are explained by linking them to events that are said to have happened in the immemorial past, at a time when gods, heroes, and humans were still one community. What follows is Mike Ritter’s aetiological tale of the discovery of the crown jewel of Indonesian surfing: Grajagan.
I consider “Fortune Favors the Bold” such a tale because marijuana smugglers, not professional surfers, pioneered this legendary reef pass. This fact has “represented a problem” for those in surfing society intent on revising and sanitizing our collective past. In an effort to separate fact from both corporately sponsored surfing history and macabre fantasy, Ritter and filmmaker Jack McCoy are presently working on the definitive written and visual history of Grajagan, and have conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with those who were there.
In this condensed version from Part 1 of the narrative, Ritter tells the tale of the mythical left’s discovery from 1972 through 1974. The forthcoming book also covers the years 1975 to 1984, when the limited permits ended and the floodgates opened.
When I returned to Bali in 1972, I brought two hollow surfboards that I planned to fill with Afghani hash and smuggle back to California at the end of the surfing season. My goal was to live in Bali and explore the Indonesian archipelago until the day I died. Smuggling marijuana would be my means to that end.
I grew up in Santa Barbara during the 1950s. By the year I graduated from high school, 1966, Rincon was crowded. I’d moved on and was exploring the wilder coastline of Santa Barbara’s north county, where the waves were protected by no-trespassing signs and the rules were enforced by gun-toting cowboys who hated surfers. For better or worse, I learned that by breaking the rules, I got to experience an otherwise impossible dream that produced some of the most glorious memories of my youth.
Toward the end of that summer, after another day of surfing empty, perfect waves at Cojo Point, I grew sad because I knew this dream wasn’t going to last. I’d already seen a superhighway obliterate the creeks and old oaks that I’d once climbed, and I’d watched Rincon get overrun. I knew then that if I wanted to surf uncrowded waves, I would have to travel the world to find them.
I briefly attended UC Santa Cruz, but after a pot bust and an intense LSD trip, you could say that I ran away with the circus and followed the hippie trail. This modern-day cannabis Silk Road stretched from Europe to Afghanistan and beyond. After nine months of traveling, I returned home to Santa Barbara, where a physical-induction notice for the draft was waiting. Even worse, the FBI had called. Because I’d missed my first physical, I was already a suspected draft dodger. If I passed my upcoming physical, it was straight to boot camp and then to Vietnam. By the time I took it, however, I’d starved myself down to 120 pounds. I then intentionally failed every test they gave me. When the Army declared me 4-F, meaning unfit for military service, I felt a sense of triumph. Many years later, I realized that by beating the draft the way I did, I’d moved closer to the outlaw I’d become.
As much as I liked Afghanistan and India, I longed for the sea and the surf. Word was out by then that Bali had world-class waves. When a friend showed up with stolen, blank airline tickets, it felt preordained. I bought a stack and wrote myself a ticket. One of the world’s most exotic tourist destinations during the 1920s and 30s, Bali had been off the map for decades because of the Japanese occupation during World War II, its subsequent fight for independence, and the bloody coup of 1965-66. By the time an international airport was constructed in 1969, hardy travelers had begun to return.
When I stepped out of the plane at Denpasar Airport, I was immediately overwhelmed by the smells of clove cigarettes, frangipani, and the smoke from coconut-husk fires, not to mention the gamelan sounds of gongs and bells. A 1950s-era Chevy sedan taxi drove me from the airport to Kuta Beach. The road was just two sand tracks with thatch-roofed Balinese huts on each side. The driver dropped me off at the Garden Losmen, a compound belonging to an extended Balinese family who’d all moved into one room and rented their other bedrooms to tourists.
We had not yet learned about the world-class waves on the Bukit Peninsula and were content to surf the beachbreaks and reefs around Kuta. It didn’t take me long to make friends with California surfer-smugglers Bob Jones, Raymond “Tex” Lee, and a mysterious third who went only by the name of Abdul. They had already made good returns smuggling Nepalese and
Afghani hash, and I thought they were the most impressive guys on the beach. I envied what they’d accomplished and began thinking about doing a scam myself.
None of the scammers I met in Bali that year impressed me more than Abdul, because he was so flamboyant and bold. With his long, wild hair and dark, olive skin, he stood out from the others. Definitely not another blond-haired Adonis, the hawk-nosed Californian had a Syrian mother, and after a week in the sun he got so dark that he looked like a seafaring Arab, hence the nickname. His father was a former World War II fighter pilot, a well-respected Southern California businessman, and a staunch Orange County Republican. Arrested half a dozen times, and a draft dodger, Abdul was facing five years of hard time in state prison when he turned to the Brotherhood of Eternal Love for a new identity.
“The Brotherhood people were connected with the Weathermen,” recalls Abdul. “For $500 I got a birth certificate from Ohio, a driver’s license from Nevada, and a draft card.”
Next, Abdul went to the Los Angeles federal building; 24 hours later, “James Robert Monroe” received a passport. Abdul then traveled to Nepal, packed hash oil inside of cages that contained live Lhasa Apso dogs, and Pan Am successfully shipped them stateside.
In India, Abdul ran into a fugitive Brotherhood member who told him about Bali’s beautiful beaches and perfect waves. After he traveled back to California to collect $90,000 in cash, Abdul bought a quiver of Rainbow Surfboards and a ticket to Bali. When the smuggler arrived in Kuta Beach, he found a group of surfers from California already there. At the time, Bali was a place where people hung out between scams and compared notes.
“I was surprised,” Abdul says, “to see that everybody was pretty much doing the same kind of little thing—different scams. Everybody was involved in hash, weed, and hash oil. There was no weirdness yet, no snitching and backstabbing. People at that time actually had a code of mutual respect.”
The best surfers in Bali in 1972 were Jones and Lee. Thin and bony, Jones walked with a gait that reminded me of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. He learned to surf at Huntington Beach and grew up in one of its many blue-collar neighborhoods. Always industrious, he worked as a gas-station attendant and as a busboy as a kid. By high school, he was selling lids of pot. By the time he was 16, he had saved enough money to move to Hawaii, where he lived in a milk truck, surfed during the day, and worked as a banquet waiter at a Honolulu hotel at night. While surfing Oahu’s North Shore, Jones met Lee, a stocky fellow Californian. The pair rode big waves together and became very close friends. In an effort to extend their endless summer, Jones and Lee began to sell hashish and smuggle Mexican weed from California to Hawaii.
After a friend told Jones and Lee about the hippie trail, the two, then 18, flew to London and bought a Land Rover. They strapped a surfboard to the roof, lashed a dirt bike to the bumper, and drove to Afghanistan, where they explored the remote villages near the ancient city of Balkh and bought some of the world’s best hashish, which they distilled into hash oil that sold for $10,000 per liter in Laguna Beach.
When Jones and Lee got caught in the middle of the 1971 India-Pakistan War, they fled to the old British-colonial beach resort at Hawke’s Bay, Pakistan. One day, their houseboy very excitedly told Jones there was a holy man who wanted to speak with him. The Americans walked outside and saw a small, smiling Muslim sadhu wearing only a sarong. “The holy man wants your prayer rugs,” the houseboy said. When Jones resisted, the sadhu burst into laughter, and the houseboy insisted they give him the rugs: “It’s an honor! The holy man will give you anything you want. But don’t tell him what it is. Just think about it.”
Jones looked at Lee, and they both silently pantomimed the words “perfect waves.” The holy man sat down, started to chant, took out a ball of string, wove two bracelets, tied them around the two surfers’ wrists, then gathered the carpets and walked away.
“You guys are going to get what you want,” said the houseboy, “but there’s one thing: don’t get these bracelets wet or they’ll lose their power.”
When Jones and Lee walked over the little sand hill to get back to their house, they noticed a perfect overhead peak that hadn’t been there 20 minutes earlier.
“We went and got the surfboard that we carried with us for so long and hadn’t used,” says Jones. “We looked at our wristbands and thought, Take care of these.” Both men put their bracelets in their socks and then tucked them into their shoes on the beach. “We surfed until dark,” says Jones. “I went to put my shoes back on and the bracelet was gone. Ray did the same, and his wristband was gone too. The next day, the surf was completely flat.”
By then, 1972, Jones and Lee had been away from surfing for two years, and this small taste of perfect surf made them yearn for real waves. They returned to California, collected their hash-oil profits, bought four Rainbow Surfboards in Laguna Beach, and landed in Bali in March of that year. Whether it was the holy man’s magic or just fortune, very soon—and thanks to their friend and fellow Californian, Bob Laverty—they would discover one of the world’s greatest waves.
A tall, strong man with long, reddish-blond hair and hazel eyes, Laverty cut a striking, Viking-like figure. Not a smuggler, he grew up in an affluent West Los Angeles family and enjoyed a privileged childhood. While attending Santa Barbara City College, he met Bob “Pork Chop” Barron. “Chops” was a hot young surfer whose wave riding gained him a modicum of fame at Malibu in the 60s.
In early 1972, Barron called Laverty from Australia and asked if he wanted to join him on a surf adventure. When the two arrived in Kuta Beach, they met Abdul and Jones surfing Kuta Reef. Normally a loner, Jones immediately liked Laverty. “Bob didn’t talk too much about meaningless things,” he says. “He had his own thoughts to ponder.”
The most established expat in Kuta at this time was Mike Boyum, whose house was a landmark after Errol Flynn’s son, Sean, stayed there before his fatal trip to Cambodia in 1970. Although Boyum was a small-time, second-rate scammer, he was a hustler of the highest order whose greatest gift was his ability to seduce everyone from teenage girls on vacation with their parents to powerful American businessmen to surfers on the hunt for perfect waves. Although he’d been briefly blacklisted by the Indonesian government, he’d paid the necessary bribes and was allowed back into Bali.
Boyum was both a visionary and a sociopath. One of his early ideas was to buy a barge and outfit it as a floating surf lodge that could be towed from spot to spot. A classic autodidact, Boyum would become obsessed with subjects and activities—physical fitness, magic mushrooms, surfing—then attempt to master them in short order. Boyum could also be extremely territorial, as Abdul discovered when he tried to buy land near Kuta through a Balinese friend. When Boyum learned of the transaction, he told Abdul that he would not get his building permit unless he gave him a “loan” of $5,000.
“If he had asked in a less thuggish manner, it might have turned out different between us. I thought about fighting him right then,” says Abdul. “I handed him the money and he never paid me back.”
After I bought a jukung, a beautiful Balinese double-outrigger sailing canoe, I sailed the waters between East Bali and Nusa Penida and realized that the best way to explore the archipelago was by boat. One afternoon, I landed my jukung on the beach near a fishing village and a friendly Balinese man handed me a fresh coconut, cut and ready to drink. Wayan Kerig and I became fast friends. Not only did he introduce me to his village, but Kerig also taught me the finer points of sailing these unique vessels.
I wasn’t the only one who wanted to explore the region by boat. In November 1972, Abdul’s brand-new 16-foot Hobie catamaran arrived from California. Soon, he was considering a voyage across the Bali Strait to Java to find a mythical left that Laverty had discovered, but nobody had yet surfed.
Looking west from Kuta Beach across the Bali Strait to the island of Java, all evidence indicated that an amazing wave must exist on the isolated and mythical Blambangan Peninsula. Even the cheap maps showed a broad bay with a large headland that looked even more promising for waves than Bali. The better maps showed a tiny town called Grajagan deep inside the bay. There were no roads leading to the point. Still, more than one surfer flying over the peninsula at 30,000 feet had seen long corduroy lines wrapping into Grajagan. Many Indonesians considered the primordial forest of the Blambangan Peninsula to be angker (haunted or taboo) and believed that the area should be entered only for devotional purposes of the purest intentions.
During the summer of 1972, the intrepid Laverty took a ferry to Java. Little is actually known about his trip, and I was able to confirm only three facts beyond a reasonable doubt: Laverty traveled alone, he did not reach Grajagan Point, and he did not surf it. Presumably, he hired a boat to take him across the estuary that separates the Grajagan village from the long beach leading to the point. Nonetheless, Laverty got close enough to photograph perfect lefts, then turned around and returned to Bali. In an aerogramme to his parents dated August 23, 1972, Laverty wrote, “Have been to Java for a few days and went to a primitive village on the east coast. In fact, I tied my surfboard to the motorcycle and drove there. I was alone and the first white man (Westerner) they had seen. Got some fantastic photos.”
Although Laverty showed the photos to Abdul, Jones, and others, another year would pass before the first surfing expedition to Grajagan.
For most of us, it was then time to go to work to pay for the upcoming 1973 surf season. When Jones offered me a job constructing fiberglass suitcases with hidden chambers to fill with hash oil, I leapt at the opportunity. Jones, Boyum, and I flew to Singapore, where I built four suitcases. We then traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan, to fill them. After Jones had trouble finding runners to smuggle the oil back to the US, Boyum and I decided to take the suitcases ourselves.
I flew through Amsterdam to Canada, and Boyum body-packed the rest of the oil. When I landed in the middle of winter, my warm-weather clothes drew the attention of officials, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police busted me at a nearby hotel. After he landed at LAX, Boyum realized that he had forgotten part of his stash on the plane. When he tried to sweet talk a stewardess into retrieving it, she instead called the police. After a brief foot chase, Boyum also was arrested.
My dad let me sit in jail for a couple of weeks before he agreed to post my $10,000 bail. On the flight back to Santa Barbara, I had only two thoughts: repaying my father and resuming the fairy-tale life I’d tasted in Bali. I set up a false-bottom-suitcase production line at my father’s house and began manufacturing entire sets of luggage. I received $3,000 for every suitcase, repaid my father, returned to Bali, and moved into Boyum’s house in Kuta, where he told me about the first surf expedition to Java.
Today, the memories of this maiden voyage are only slightly less hazy than those of Laverty’s initial trip. Late one night at the start of the 1973 season, Abdul, Lee, and Jones launched Abdul’s Hobie Cat through the surf in front of his house near Kuta Beach. Abdul manned the tiller and sheeted in the main as Jones trimmed the jib for the long, downwind reach. A trail of turquoise phosphorescence followed them like rocket exhaust as the Hobie Cat began the 35-mile crossing of the Bali Strait.
The catamaran reached the southeast tip of Java that evening. After they pulled the Cat up the beach, they ate a hasty meal and fell asleep. The trio set sail again at sunrise the next morning. As they scooted along the bottom of the peninsula, the men stared transfixed at the dense jungle in front of them. They then sailed around the headland and into Grajagan Bay by midmorning.
Jones paddled his 8-foot Brewer into the lineup, but Lee was too ill to get in the water; what he thought were sunburned eyes would turn out to be a bad case of conjunctivitis. As Abdul maneuvered the catamaran, he kept watch on the backs of the breaking waves.
“It was a perfect left—unreal, like out of a comic book,” says Jones.
The three were short of drinking water, so they continued sailing to Grajagan village, 10 miles away. The village sits beside a stream, and waves often break on the bar in front of it. Although the waves were bigger than expected, Abdul deftly rode one all the way to the sand. The crowd of villagers watching them ran when the Americans stepped onto the beach. Slowly, they reappeared and approached with curiosity, sold them produce, and showed them where to fill their bottles with fresh water.
That afternoon, Laverty rode into Grajagan village on his fat-tired motorcycle with a surfboard slung over his shoulder, and all of the Americans spent the night in the village. The next morning, he set off for the point on foot while Abdul waited for a lull in the pounding surf to get the Hobie Cat across the bar. After two hours, the always-bold Abdul decided to take a chance, nearly capsizing before making it into open ocean.
The catamaran reached Grajagan Point by late morning and followed the channel all the way to the beach. After the Americans carried their gear up to the dry sand, Abdul pulled out a small wooden box with Chinese characters and a picture of a ginseng root on the lid. When he opened it, a pungent, sweet aroma filled the air. He pulled out a fresh bundle of plump Thai Stick and a fat-rolled joint.
“Ray,” Abdul called out, “take a hit. You’ll feel better.”
When Laverty arrived soon after, the Americans fashioned a tent by slinging the sail over the boom and tying it down to the hulls. Two men slept on top of the catamaran’s trampoline, the two others beneath it.
“It was wet, miserable,” says Jones. “We were really roughing it.”
To replenish their water supply, the surfers collected rain that ran off the sail. With no buckets to hold the water, they scooped holes in the sand and lined them with their plastic ponchos. After a vegetarian dinner cooked on their kerosene stove, and a nightcap of Abdul’s Thai Stick, they fell soundly asleep.
The following morning, they woke to the sounds of crashing waves and were ready to surf. It was early in the season, so the waves weren’t big. But they were perfect.
“There were good, friendly waves,” says Abdul. “The biggest it got was double overhead.”
They were all sitting in the lineup when Laverty shouted and pointed to their camp.
“The monkeys were stealing from us,” says Abdul. “After that, one person would have to stay on the beach to keep the monkeys away.”
Lee’s conjunctivitis eventually got so bad that he had to cover his eyes with a bandana, and he needed to get back to Bali or he might go blind. None of the members of the Hobie Cat expedition remember exactly how long they camped at Grajagan Point, but they all remember their voyage back to Bali.
“It was blowing 20 to 25 knots from the southeast. We had to tack back and forth with big spray in our faces. We pounded through the swells and breaking seas,” says Abdul.
When Jones broke open a coconut on the aft crossbeam that connects the Cat’s two hulls, it snapped and the hulls began to separate.
“We lashed that back together—otherwise we’d really have been in the shits,” says Abdul. “We didn’t stop on the southeast end this time. We went straight across.”
When night fell, they were still a long way from home. Without navigation aids, Abdul used his senses to guide them and was relieved to see the lights of Bali. By the time the Hobie Cat finally hit the sand in front of Abdul’s grass shack near Kuta, they were exhausted. But they were also exhilarated by their accomplishment and discovery. Before the three men separated, they made a pact of silence about the waves at Grajagan.
Shortly after the Hobie expedition, Jones, Laverty, and Boyum’s younger brother, Bill, were surfing Uluwatu, then a recently discovered wave. When Bill and Jones decided to go in, they couldn’t find Laverty. Scanning the inside, Jones noticed Laverty’s board floating in one of the deeper tide pools. Pulling the board toward him, Jones felt a tug before Laverty’s limp body surfaced. They dragged their friend up onto the rocks and took turns giving him CPR. After an hour, Bill said with sad resignation, “He’s dead, he’s dead.” With a mighty heave, Jones lifted Laverty’s body out of the water, placed him well above the high-water mark, and returned to Kuta to inform the police.
That night, Jones returned to Uluwatu with Abdul, smuggler David Hall, and a friend from the Peace Corps. By the time they got down to the body, only a couple of the flashlights were still working.
“We wrapped him in that sleeping bag to cover his head. We tied ropes around him,” says Jones. “When we went to pick him up, David yelled, ‘Look out!’ We looked down and saw a sea snake coiled around his leg.”
They carried Laverty’s body over the jagged rocks and rising water. Just as they reached the ladder, the police arrived and took over.
“My heart felt like it caved in,” says Chops, who suspects that his friend had had an epileptic seizure. Barron had witnessed Laverty have one at Malibu, and was told later that Laverty’s family had a history of epilepsy. “Bob never talked about it,” he says. “He was just a go-for-it dude. He had a lot of gumption. He never whined about anything.”
After Mike Boyum heard about the successful Hobie Cat expedition, he began making plans to build a surf camp at Grajagan. Because of its strategic location, it was under the control of the Indonesian military. During the off-season of 1974, Boyum and I met with the military officials in charge of the peninsula. Boyum asked whether he could build a safari camp, and my heart sank when the admiral’s adjunct encouraged him to build an airport as well. After watching what happened to Rincon, I’d hoped that Grajagan would remain pristine. I thought visitors should come in by boat and leave no trace—like we did loading and offloading marijuana. While Boyum began the long application process to build a permanent camp, I began looking for a boat.
One morning, I walked into Boyum’s kitchen and saw a disheveled-looking man sitting at the breakfast table. It was Humphrey Statter III, also known as “Bogie,” a New York blue blood who had been in and out of trouble most of his life. After Bogie got caught stealing a police motorcycle, the prosecutor agreed to drop the charges if he left town and never came back. Although Bogie didn’t need the money, he liked the romantic idea of being a smuggler, so he bought a small trimaran called the Madrigal. Bogie and an Australian friend then sailed to Sumatra, picked up a load of pot, and tried to sail it to Western Australia. The weather, however, got so foul that they jettisoned the weed and started to sail back to Bali.
Bogie had been fasting during the voyage and, on the turnaround, began hallucinating from dehydration and hunger. Although their dried fruit was now moldy, he ate some anyway, and told me later that he heard a “crack,” like the sound of a branch breaking, inside his head. Suddenly, his memory was gone. When I first met Bogie, episodes from his life would pop into his mind and he would frantically scribble them down on scraps of paper that he kept in a dirty shoulder bag. One night, after he was beaten and bruised by Balinese villagers, we made arrangements to send him back to New York. Before he left, Bogie told me that I could use the Madrigal if I took care of her.
At the end of June 1974, I prepared the trimaran for an expedition to Grajagan. With Kerig’s help, we gave her a good cleaning and inventoried our gear: one set of sails, one anchor plus chain, an inflatable dinghy with oars, and a fickle old outboard motor for both the boat and the dinghy.
Boyum couldn’t join us on this expedition because of a court appearance in California, and he asked me if I would take Fred Haywood instead. I agreed, as Haywood was a rock-solid waterman from Maui.
“I learned about Bali from Mike Boyum,” says Haywood. “I read a letter Laverty wrote to Mike about walking down the Grajagan shoreline after he had been there. It was probably a ten- or 12-page letter. I think that is what inspired me to visit Bali.”
Jones also joined us on the Madrigal, as did Kerig. I valued Kerig’s knowledge of the sea and believed he’d also benefit the expedition. Our friend Robert Pritikin, also from Santa Barbara, wanted to go, but there was no room. We told him, “Get there on your own and we’ll help you out.” Jones told the same to American Mark Wakeland, who had just arrived in Bali with his Australian friend Dave Michel. We figured that anyone who could get to Grajagan by themselves deserved to be there.
After I completed the paperwork, I sailed the trimaran around the Bukit Peninsula and tucked the Madrigal safely inside Kuta Reef. We loaded our surfboards, gear, and food, and departed well before dawn. I anticipated a crossing full of surprises, but, fortunately, none of my worries about whirlpools or vicious currents were realized. The sea was smooth and the winds were mild.
Meanwhile, Pritikin set out for Grajagan on a fat-wheel motorcycle. When he got there, the villagers put his motorcycle on a boat and ferried it across the river. Besides his surfboard, he had a small backpack with almost no supplies. “Mostly what I had in it was a big bag of pot. No food, no water—just pot,” he says.
“I zoomed up the beach for quite a while, until I hit a coral outcropping preventing me from going farther.”
Pritikin then followed a trail into the jungle. When he reached a small settlement, two naked villagers agreed to guide him.
By the time Pritikin reached Grajagan Point, the sun was about to set and he was beginning to worry. “I had no food, no water, no place to stay, and I began to think this was poorly conceived,” he says. “All of a sudden, I saw the Madrigal come around the point.”
Jones was directing us through the channel, and when our friend appeared at the edge of the jungle, we all cheered. Jones paddled to shore to greet Pritikin. While Kerig and I tidied up the boat, Haywood sat staring at the jungle in amazement before following Jones to shore.
“It was a spooky place. I remember the noises in the jungle,” says Haywood. “I didn’t want to hang out on the beach.”
Just before sunset, I re-anchored the Madrigal farther offshore. While the others quickly fell asleep, I remained awake and made sure the anchor held.
Wakeland and Michel left Bali after Pritikin. They carried only their surfboards and a few essentials wrapped in sarongs thrown over their shoulders like hobo bags.
“I tried to leave alone, but Dave Michel saw me and insisted he come too,” recalls Wakeland.
When they reached Grajagan, a curious crowd followed them to the stream on the east edge of the village. Wakeland and Michel put their bags on their boards, paddled across the stream, and continued walking. The Australian charged ahead and was soon out of sight, but came frantically running back while shouting, “Tiger! Tiger!” Michel had nearly collided with a big cat, which took off just as fast in the opposite direction. After both men calmed their nerves, they continued walking until they collapsed in the dry sand at the edge of the forest with only their sarongs for cover. They woke at daybreak surrounded by Indonesians who offered to show them a path to Grajagan Point through the jungle. When they finally popped out on the other side a few hours later, they were on the beach right in front of the surf spot and saw the Madrigal anchored just beyond the lineup.
The next morning, Haywood was awoken by Pritikin. “Look at the waves, Fred,” he said as he blew pot smoke in Haywood’s face. Sure enough, the surf had picked up considerably overnight and was at least 8 feet on the inside and bigger on the outside.
“During low tide, the tubes were perfect,” says Pritikin. “Bob and Fred went outside. Faces on the waves out there looked to be 15 foot or more, but the waves sectioned. Choosing the right one was difficult. They both suffered nasty wipeouts. I remained inside, where the waves were perfect; it was the highlight of my life.”
“There were three sections,” says Haywood. “After the first section, if you kicked out, you paddled down the coast about 20 yards and you were right in the lineup again. The last one had the boils coming up so heavy that the rocks were almost showing. If you did fall, you never wanted to fall under the lip. You wanted to fall between the lip and the wave.”
The only other people we saw at Grajagan was a boatload of Javanese sailors from the island of Madura, who were known throughout the archipelago as expert seamen. They anchored near the Madrigal and dove for shellfish right in the impact zone. I remember taking off on a big wave and when I looked down, there was the face of a diver in a bright cloth cap looking up at me through hand-carved wooden goggles. I was amazed by their ease in the treacherous surf and they were equally amazed by our surfing.
“When I caught waves on the inside, I could see them. They looked like frogs swimming underwater inside the wave. Their little wooden eye goggles exaggerated the caricature,” says Pritikin. “They shouted ‘Bagus!’ (good) when they surfaced. They had never seen a surfer in their life.”
Late that afternoon, troops of monkeys gathered in large trees that bordered the beach. Overhanging branches provided comfortable perches for them to watch the sunset. Hooting and screeching amicably, the simians behaved like a group of familiar friends meeting in the evening to enjoy each other’s company and to discuss the day’s events. The mosquitos were most voracious at twilight; their buzzing sounds, plus the songs of cicadas combined with the clicks and pops of other insects, created a cacophony reminiscent of an orchestra tuning its instruments before a concert. The noise would swell to a crescendo and then suddenly go silent. We held our breath in anticipation of what would follow. Sometimes it was the loud crashing of a big animal running through the jungle. Other times it was an unmistakable roar.
“The animals were talking to us,” says Michel.
Wakeland and Michel were getting ready to go to sleep in their Afghan Kuchi tent when the flaps opened slowly and five of the Madurese divers peeked in. Wakeland invited them in and the divers expressed their amazement at the surfing they had witnessed.
“We had some spirited conversations about the day, and at one point one of the divers turns to me and asks, ‘Dimana beli rocket itu?’—‘Where did you buy those rockets?’” says Wakeland. “At first David and I just looked at each other in disbelief. After a few seconds we realized what they were talking about. Of course! Our boards looked like rockets as we dropped and traversed the waves while trailing a wake of foam behind.”
While we surfed the next day, Kerig fished. What fish we didn’t consume, he splayed and spread on the foredeck like laundry to dry in the sun. When the boat began to stink, we all agreed that the fish-drying operation had to go. After Kerig dumped his haul overboard, he became despondent and quietly communicated to me that he was under the spell of black magic. “The power here is too strong for me,” he explained. “I might die.”
Blambangan has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most powerful centers of black magic in Indonesia. According to the local lore, the Forest of Blambangan is the kingdom of very large spirits, and many who enter the forest get lost and never find their way out again. Those who manage to escape are said to experience bad luck. Kerig’s obvious fear and the dread in his eyes caused me to reevaluate my skepticism of black magic. Tracing the long, thin strand of beach far into the bay, I peered into the dense, dark jungle. Sensing an eeriness too, I tried to discern the source. At first I saw nothing unusual, and then, like an optical illusion, the forest revealed a hidden identity. It shimmered with energy and then began to expand and contract like it had a pulse. A prolonged shiver ran through my body. I felt awestruck, certain that I was about to learn a deep secret. Then, just as unexpectedly as it began, it ended.
When I looked into Kerig’s eyes, he knew that I had encountered this black magic. I was hoping that the shell divers from Madura would raise Kerig’s spirits, but his condition only worsened.
“I remember he [Kerig] was missing his family and he was crying,” recalls Haywood. “He was freaked out beyond rationale. He was kind of covering up in the corner.”
For the duration of the voyage, my friend was a shell of the person I knew on Bali.
When we woke up the next day, the surf was even bigger. I watched Haywood stand straight up deep in a tube, arms outstretched, turning from side to side to show us how big in diameter the barrel was.
“I was out alone on the main peak at Money Trees. I had the best waves of my life. I had five in a row,” says Haywood. “On one of them, I stood straight up halfway up the face and put my hands in the air. I was probably 10 yards deep in the tube. I think it was about 8 to 10 feet Hawaiian.”
Haywood paddled deeper and deeper and rode wave after perfectly lined-up wave.
“The waves just lined up and didn’t stop,” he says. “Sometimes there were ten to 20 waves in a set, or sets back to back. There were some giant peaks out there. I remember it breaking outside of our spot—crazy. Those were some of the most memorable moments of my life, the most insane surfing I’ve ever done or seen.”
After nine days at the point, we all felt physically beat, hungry, and worried about Kerig’s well-being, so we decided it was time to sail home. Pritikin walked to his parked motorbike and began the overland trip to Bali. Wakeland and Michel joined Jones, Haywood, Kerig, and myself aboard the Madrigal. When we pulled the anchor at midday and headed out to sea, I planned to make one long tack out to the strait that would place us many miles south of Uluwatu before tacking back to Kuta. Once we were underway, a physically and mentally exhausted Haywood fell sound asleep.
Ten hours later, the sound of breaking waves woke him, and he rushed up on deck where Michel was standing watch. Haywood grabbed the tiller and turned the Madrigal in the opposite direction.
“Within 20 or 30 seconds, we were going over massive waves. We even got a little bit airborne on the back side,” says Haywood. “Up and down we went, and then you could hear them crashing on the inside of us. I don’t think we could have sailed another five seconds. Then, in about 20 seconds, we were clear. After we were safely outside, I smoked a joint to relax and replay the events in my mind. We had been sailing right into a giant disaster. We were near death.”
Thanks to Haywood, the Madrigal didn’t get smashed onto the reef, and we arrived back in Kuta in time to celebrate the Fourth of July. We were elated and felt like conquering heroes. But I wanted to return to Grajagan as soon as possible.
I restocked the Madrigal and left Kuta for a second voyage a few weeks later with Boyum, Abdul, and Jones aboard. American Chris Lilly and Western Australian Barry Middleton traveled overland. Instead of a long walk on the sand and through the jungle, they hired a boat in Grajagan to ferry them to the point. They had no tent and slept on top of a sarong on a tiny patch of clear ground, using a second sarong for cover.
When the Madrigal sailed into Grajagan Bay, the waves were big. I tried to anchor close to the channel, but the anchor line jerked with such violence that I worried the bow stem might tear off. I anchored farther out, and we had to paddle across a half-mile of spooky open water to reach the break. I watched Abdul take off on a giant wave and, when he got to the bottom, it exploded on him and he nearly blacked out. Boyum took by far the worst wipeouts. Some of his takeoffs were so precarious that I would turn away, afraid to watch. Boyum was happy if he made the drop and rode even for a short distance before he fell.
Boyum organized the meals and did all the cooking. While he did a great job with the bland canned food and few vegetables we had, he began to dictate rules like a drill sergeant. Jones finally told Boyum off, packed all of his gear into the dinghy, and asked me to take him to the beach. I think Jones was first to realize that we could not keep Grajagan secret much longer.
As I took Jones to shore, Boyum shouted at him, “From now on you’ll have to go through me to camp here!” Jones shook his head in disgust and said to me, “This time is too precious.”
Over the next several days, the swell continued to build. The wave faces on the outside were 25-foot, and the inside waves at Money Trees a solid 10-foot Hawaiian. Jones and Littleton surfed the bommie very cautiously. “If you were caught inside, you died,” Jones recalls.
Although Boyum, Adbul, and I sailed the Madrigal back to Bali, Jones and Lilly remained, hiring local villagers to construct a bamboo sleeping platform with a plastic tarp for a roof.
“Chris and Barry were on the jungle floor, on a clear spot under the tree where my platform was,” says Jones. “I shined my flashlight down at them. I thought, Well, they look okay. Then I saw one of those green vipers. I’m sure there were vipers in that tree I was sleeping in too, but that didn’t bother me too much. What scared me in the tree were those big monkeys with the long tails.”
After Middleton left, Lilly and Jones surfed perfect waves alone for another two weeks.
“I was getting wave after wave and thought, This is strange. I’m going in. I’m done,” says Jones. “And then I caught this wave. I just squatted down, looked up, and I watched it pass me so I was looking out of the tube. I stood there and really didn’t do anything. Just stood there and thought, It’s going to close out. It didn’t close out. It just stayed perfect. I stood in the tube pretty much the whole wave, and then it opened up to let me go over the back. It was like God talking to me.”
Lee ferried Jones’ 1955 Pontiac sedan over from Bali, drove it to the end of the road, and then hired porters to haul his gear and supplies to Grajagan Point. The pair surfed for two weeks until a dozen soldiers with automatic weapons woke them at three o’clock in the morning and told them to leave.
“They let us go back out for one more surf, then we had to leave,” says Jones. “We were told that, from then on, we had to have a permit.”
By the end of September 1974, we still hadn’t agreed on a name for the point. Usually we said Grajagan. I liked Blambangan, Purwo Point, and Plengkung Beach—all names shown on marine charts. I thought we had an opportunity to choose a really special name. When Boyum told me the next day that he had chosen the name “G-Land,” I nearly puked. Even then, it was clear to me that Boyum had a plan to monopolize our discovery.
It was around this time that I met Jack McCoy, who had just arrived from Australia with several celebrity surfers. They were fun people to be around and exciting to watch surfing, but I remember thinking, Here come the crowds. I hope they don’t find out about Grajagan.
Boyum invited McCoy, Jeff Hakman, and Gerry Lopez to his house for dinner.
“While we ate,” recalls McCoy, “he told us about this surf spot just across the Bali Strait that the other guys had been to: Grajagan.”
In 2005, while standing at the gate of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex in Colorado, I realized that the ideology that had guided me for the past 40 years had finally failed me. I had never asked permission for anything, and now I would get no forgiveness.
Although my last scam was in 1985, like many former smugglers, I failed to realize how the events of 9/11 fundamentally changed the rules of the game. After agents from US Customs, the IRS, and local police raided my house in Maui in 2003, I sat down with the federal prosecutor, who told me that if I surrendered $1 million, I would keep my home and serve no jail time. In the end, I surrendered more than a million dollars, lost my house, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Worse than the food and the regimented life were the hours I spent in my bunk as images from my past, including my dream time at Grajagan, appeared in my mind like random snapshots, only to fade away, leaving me with a bone-grinding sense of loss. However, when I compared my situation to those of my old friends, I considered myself lucky.
After Abdul was convicted of conspiring to smuggle Thai pot into the US, he was sentenced to eight years, most of which he served in some of America’s worst prisons. Ray Lee was busted in Thailand with a sailboat full of pot and sentenced to life in a Thai prison. Nobody knows what happened to him after that. While Bob Jones did no major stretch of prison time, he was nearly beaten to death by the bent cops who busted him smuggling pot into Australia. Mike Boyum achieved his dream in 1980 by establishing a high-end surf camp at “G-Land.”
Today, my years in Indonesia seem like an epic poem. All of the characters—large or small, famous or infamous—shared something very special. While I learned late in life that everything comes at a price, it was a price I was willing to pay. For a brief but magical moment, my friends and I sailed backwards in time and lived out our greatest fantasy.
The complete book will be available in print through Cyclops Productions. You can follow its progress at cyclopsproductions.com.au.