The Land – Rookie Files Pt.2
When you live in a society… there’s much to accept.
Standing in line… following the signs… trying to get along – assimilation.
But any opportunity to escape the circus… to jump off the merry-go-round – I’m long gone.
A vacation from humanity – it’s nothing personal – just self-preservation.
The main problem here is codependency… it’s everywhere. Our lives inevitably depend on judgement calls of others. People we probably wouldn’t share a football field with if there was a choice. Some idiot decides to run me over to gain 6 inches on his gridlocked quest towards a bankrupt future – beyond my control. If you actually survived…. you could retort by blowing his brains out with a shotgun. But that would be too hypocritical.
That’s why I’ve surrendered to this notion of a ‘life at sea’. Out here… you conjure your own luck… you have a say. Live or die – it’s up on you – no one else. Far from land you receive a sporting chance – you set the odds. There’s still limited human reliance – but you get to select the team. Sure there’s plenty of similar escapist action on land… disappearing into deserts or jungles… scaling Everest – but there’s no waves up on Everest. And we like waves.
Surfing alone used to be the answer… it offered me a deep level of enrichment – a path to unadulterated adventure – an escape from the generic hell. But as coastlines become further strangled by crowds & social politics… its harder to score the same emotional reward. That’s why this whole ‘life at sea’ deal makes sense. Not that it didn’t before – but now since the opportunity has fallen into my lap – it’s finally possible. I did nothing to deserve it – just dumb luck – right place at the right time. But I am extremely grateful for the life-line.
My deepest gratitude and thanks… terima kasih banyak…
The grom lives on…
Onward to Java
Gazing back East… it’s a nebulous haze… dusted clouds stretch beyond the horizon… we’re halfway across… return or continue – no difference. Distant white caps form and then dissolve – the promise of stronger winds teases us. It’s an “average run” Iron exclaims – but I wouldn’t know – it’s all new to me. Iron eyes suddenly tighten as he looks into the distance… his face the eternal barometer. I follow the line of his finger to a faint speck… it’s a fishing boat… a long thin wooden vessel – rolling across the open swells. Suddenly its course swings… it heels hard… it begins heading our way. Iron grimaces as I enquire about the motion – “They always do that… they just want to check us out”. I understand the curiosity… but Iron’s expression doesn’t demonstrate calm. I know we’re not in the Malacca strait – pirates aren’t a problem… but when you’re under the power of wind… your ability to maneuver is more limited. As the weathered vessel crept closer… it was obvious they wanted to cross our line. But as the wind sustained… slowly the vessel surrendered – unable to meet our course… eventually peeling away… leaving us on our mission west.
Considering this particular trip… it wasn’t my first to G-land. I’d visited the bay several times prior – but never like this. I remember ferries across the Bali/Java strait… and overland bemo hell-runs down to the modest fishing village of Grajagan. I recall laying in the dark while being brutalized by swarms of mosquitoes… then finally boarding an old fishing boat and motoring slowly into the hook of this famed bay. These days it’s a two-hour luxury speedboat run from Kuta right onto the beach. But after all these years… I was quietly pleased to return under the power of wind. It gave a mild sense of still earning the right of passage. A fairly naive notion considering… but it’s how I felt.
Reclining back with my feet up on my board bag… gliding through the emerald swells… I see the faint outline of land. As I lay back grinning… I begin to think about an old mate… one who’d left this world not so long ago. A friend who was a born waterman… a deep thinker… and a talented writer. We both shared the joint utopian Indo-dream – but the plan was tragically cut short when he contracted lung cancer. He fought it for a year – but had to surrender in the end. He was the reason this whole blog business began… an initial collaborator… a motivator… and I’ve done my best to continue on – in his spirit. But unlike myself… this guy could really write… and did so for a living. Just before he passed… he managed to finally achieve a long-held ambition – to have his words published in ‘The Surfer’s Journal’. So as a nod to this once commanding soul… I’ve decided to insert some of his most relevant words.
Here’s some of what Mark Cherry wrote about in the article entitled: “Nothing Really Organized”:
Bali waves were perfect. But not compared to Grajagan. The first trip to G-land was on a charted turtle boat in 1976. Twelve hours downwind and they sailed straight up onto the beach. There was no one there, nothing but a strip of sand clinging to the edge of the jungle and the reef. Tigers could be heard at night, it was along way from Bali.
“We camped in the boat. Dave Michel, Fitzy, Dick Hoole, the Henderson brothers, and me. There were a couple of other guys there too, and they built themselves a tree house… they were coming off smack… way too restless for the boat.”
The group surfed and slept till the food ran out. Famished, they left briefly and then returned. “Actually we just went back to Bali, got more food, re-supplied and then went back in. Yeah, we went back immediately.”
Next season, Mike Boyum had the beginning of a camp built, and by 1980 things were in full swing. G-land became the world’s premier surf destination: perfect waves, a restricted A-list crowd, and a thousand bucks a week to share a hut. It was like a country club, and McCabe was a founding member. With a twinkle in his eyes he says, “I made Mike a few surfboards during the season and he kind of looked after me.”
G-land turned out to be a top laboratory for McCabe’s shaping. On his first trip, his quiver included an 8’3 Egan and a 7′ Tom Parrish. From then on his boards shrank as he experimented with his own designs. Others began to take notice.
“I started making boards specifically for G-land. Everybody else was riding big, fat, wide things. I started making boards 6’6, 17 & 1/4 inches wide with a little bit of rocker in them, everything real narrow – best boards. I made Gerry a couple. He started riding them too.”
McCabe and Lopez developed a tag-team act they called “Blue Angels” – a homage to the US Navy aerobatics team. From sharing waves they started experimenting with go-behinds, eventually moving their antics from the pocket deep into the barrel. Their brand of precision has since become surfing camp fire material: tandem tube riding – side-by-side, shoulder-slumped goofys, casual and slotted, way, way back. “Gerry used to put the biggest gouges in, he had. To this day, I never rode across anyone’s tench as deep as his.”
G-land’s Valhalla exclusivity eventually hit critical mass. The place was so successful that Indonesians started wanting an ever-increasing slice of the action. When Boyum got sick of the constant stand-over demands, he reached for a box of matches.
As Mikey lit the fire, Boyum’s offsider Bobby Radiasa burst into tears, “Peter, Peter what’s going on?” McCabe stoically replied, “I don’t know, mate; I just don’t know.” They moved back from the heat. Together they watched Boyum, framed in flames, splash accelerant around the camp. The place was burned to the ground.
The camp was subsequently rebuilt, this time with Bobby at the helm. With its new Indonesian management, the vibe changed, and other camps were built nearby. McCabe is still an honoured guest as what is now known as Bobby’s Camp, and he continues to log in several visits a season. But with Boyum gone, McCabe reflects, “It’s never been the same.”
(“Nothing Really Organized” – Published in The Surfer’s Journal – Vol 19 – No 4.)
‘To be continued…