Posts Tagged ‘Pelabuhan Ratu’

Turtles, West Java in 1994

While travelling in New Zealand, Richard Holmes from Newcastle, Richard Harvey and myself (Paul Blackley) had been told of a secret spot in West Java called ‘Turtles’. We had learnt of a place where there were no crowds and epic barrels but that it was well off the beaten track and would take at least a couple of days to get there from Bali.

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It sounded too good to be true, after all those years of watching ‘Morning of the Earth’, ‘Crystal Voyager’, Endless Summer’ and other classic surf movies I couldn’t believe we were actually on an adventure to surf somewhere that was still thought of as a secret.

After some great waves on Bali we travelled across to the western tip of the Island and the port of Gilimanuk to catch the ferry to Ketapang and Banyuwangi in Java. I think the Bemo driver was having a laugh with us as he dropped everyone off, but took us another mile down the road where we had to get another Bemo back to the ferry port. On the ferry we met a very friendly Javanese guy who insisted we come and eat dinner at his families’ restaurant once we had disembarked from the ferry.

The train journey ahead was a long one and we were not prepared. Everything we did was on the cheap so to maximise our stay (the full 2 months we had on our visas) in Indonesia. We had opted for the economy class train (it must have saved us at least £2 each) which took about 14 hours to get to Surabaya. What we didn’t realise was that it stopped 3 times at every station. Just before the station to let the street sellers on, and then again after the station to let them off. You can only understand how crazy you start to feel after a few hours of this, if you have experienced it yourself.

Being the only Europeans on the train we got a lot of interest and always had people wanting to talk to us and the sellers always trying to get us to buy fruit, rice and all sorts of other things. It was a great way to try new things and we ate rice out of big green leaves and tried some very spiky and knobbly looking fruit.

Obviously being on a train for that many hours at some point nature calls and I needed to know if there was a toilet on the train. Thankfully the lady next to me said I would need to go to the end of the carriage. When I got to the end of the carriage, which took some time as the train was extremely full now, there were two guys standing in the open door of the toilet. I gestured that I needed to go in there and they just squeezed to one side to allow me in. I now realised that the toilet was just a cupboard with no door and a whole in the floor and the tracks zooming by beneath me, which I was now sharing extremely closely with two other guys. At this point I decided that nature must have been calling someone else and I went back to my seat.

At some point during the journey a young lad/lady (not sure which but you know what I mean) spotted us and started to talk loudly in Javanese to us. We had no idea what he/she was saying but everyone else on the carriage thought it was hilarious at which point he/she decided to sing to us. The carriage was so crowded all we could do was sit and smile politely. Richard Harvey won’t remember any of this because he was so traumatised by the whole experience. Don’t worry Rich, he/she wasn’t interested in us, only Richard Holmes (the good looking ex model – so he kept telling us). Getting no reaction from us the he/she quickly moved on.

After a couple of train changes, travelling through Surabaya and Yogaykarta we eventually arrive at Bandung where we spend the night feeling a little frazzled. We now need to find transport to take us south. It was really hectic, all we wanted was to get to the beach and get some waves. Eventually we think we’ve found a Bemo that is going where we want to go. The driver takes our surfboards and to our horror attempts to tie them to the roof with a bit of string and our leashes, before piling on crates of chickens and suitcases and anything else that won’t fit inside the Bemo. He assures us everything is fine and ushers us into the Bemo. If you haven’t been in one of these little mini buses in Indonesia you will find that they don’t tend to use their brakes very often and just honk the horn a lot. We saw quite a few bemos in ditches, or with passengers helping to turn them back onto their wheels after rolling, luckily not the one that we were in.

The Bemo drops us off at the closest stop to Turtles and we decide to spend the night in this tiny village. All we knew was that Turtles was near Genteng, so we found a losman for the night and walked to the nearest restaurant. There was one person in the Restaurant, a very tall man dressed in an extremely smart military uniform who came straight over to talk to us. He turned out to be the General of the near by Air Force base and his name sounded something like Superman, I wasn’t going to argue with him. The General turned out to be really friendly and at the end of the evening paid for our meals.

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The next morning we arranged for someone to drive us to Mamas Losman a mile or so from the break we’d heard so much about. When we arrived at Mamas we were greeted by an Aussie, Ben White from Cronulla. Ben was really pleased to see us as he was there on his own and hadn’t surfed that day, saying a couple of others had left the day before. Ben was in the middle of repairing a broken fin on his surfboard and said he wasn’t keen to surf Turtles on his own. We soon get settled in and get our mosquito nets up in our rooms.

Located in front of a prawn factory, the local spot name is Pangumbahan, but known as Turtles because it’s near the Turtles nest. With luck you will surf with the Turtles (I think I was the only one NOT to see any Turtles – Gutted).

Turtles lurches abruptly onto the dead coral reef, making the take-off critical, and then leading into some hooked walls and nice barrel sections at lower tides. It gets classic and is pretty consistent although the south easterly winds usually pick up throughout the day, so best early morning. You must remember to kick out before the sudden shutdown section at the rusty pipe pylons.

We were told we would probably need a couple of boards to cope with what it could throw at us. A quiver here would be shortboards from 5’9″ – 6’6″ (with swallow tail, roundpin tail, round tail) or semi-gun 6’8″ – 7’4″. You need fast board if you want to make the really fast left hand Barrels, but at high tide, you can ride a much smaller board. (Designs have changed a lot since the earlt 90’s so this may be slightly inaccurate now)

The very next morning after an amazing breakfast, (I think it was like a rice pudding but was delicious) we headed off down the track towards Turtles in anticipation. I was quite nervous and didn’t know what to expect. Along the way a dog from the local village joined us darting in and out of the bush chasing something (that didn’t help my nerves).

Once we reached the break, I must have stood there for a few minutes with my mouth open. It was one of the most amazing waves I’d ever seen and quite close to shore. The sea was a gorgeous blue with these perfect head high barrels breaking over the reef. Ben explained where we should try to enter the water, right between the pilings where it looked to be sucking dry over the reef.

Rich Holmes went down onto the beach to do some yoga to warm up and I decided to grab a few pics. As Ben entered the water he made it look easy paddling out to the line up very quickly. Next up was Rich Harvey, he looked nervous and stood and watched it for a while. Eventually Rich went for it and it looked like he got sucked out to the line up very quickly. After Rich Holmes had paddled out it was time for me to get in. I had brought two boards with me and had opted to go with the bigger board which was a 7’4” x 18″ x 2 1/4″ (we were riding very thin, narrow boards back then) MCD semi gun shaped by Kym Thompson (Watercooled surfboards) until I felt comfortable (lol). The other three were goofy footers with me being a natural, it meant I was on my backhand (and I’ve never been great on my backhand).

I stepped up to the pilings and watched a wave come up and jumped in. It all seemed ok to start with and then as the water rushed out to meet the next wave it got very shallow and the reef was only an inch or two under my knuckles. I knew if I’d got this wrong it was going to get messy and it was looking bad as the next wave started to close over the reef. The 7’4” wasn’t the easiest thing to duck dive and with only a couple of inches of water under me, I just made myself as small as possible and shut my eyes. Somehow the last rush of water pulled me just under the lip and I was spat out the back.

Once in the line up the first thing I noticed was that the waves seemed to come out of nowhere. You couldn’t really see much of a wave looking out to the horizon but a few feet a way they would rise out of the deep. With only 4 of us in the water we just took turns grabbing waves. The only problem with this, was there was no waiting to grab a small one for my first wave. The smaller waves through the inside actually seemed to have a more critical take off than the set waves out the back anyhow.

Ben had told us the take off was critical and that we needed to be quick to our feet but I wasn’t ready and first wave up and I went over the falls. It felt like I had been dragged up and thrown over a second time before I came up, but it wasn’t too bad. I went back for more and soon mastered the drop and found I could push as hard as I could, driving through the bottom turns on my backhand.

Once out on the face of the wave, initially I would just try to go as fast as I could to safety, but as the tide pushed up I started having a blast. Rich Holmes was on a 6’6” and he was about 6’ tall. I watched him go over the falls on take off over and over again but eventually he got it sussed, I’ve never seen anyone take off so late. Our first days surf and we were stoked.

Everytime we turned up to surf at Turtles the guys from the prawn factory wwould come down to watch. They were all really friendly but communication was brief as we knew very little Javanese and they didn’t know any English.

When we got back to Mamas two more surfers from Cronulla, had just turned up, Francis Crossle and Ken Cantor. Francis is a physiotherapist who a few years later was physio for Tina Turner when she played in Sydney. Ken Cantor was a water photographer and Knee Boarder who had had two cover shots for Tracks magazine. Francis and Ken couldn’t believe that they had travelled to this tiny remote spot in Indonesia only to find three Pommies already there. It was soon time for dinner and more great food was laid on, with lots of freshly caught fish and rice.

Next morning we were all up early looking forward to more great waves. The comradeship in the water was the best I’ve ever experienced with guys I’d only known a day or two, shouting each other into waves and hooting every time someone took the drop. It definitely helped when it was my turn to go and I was lined up for one of the bigger sets with the other guys shouting go go go…..

Francis would charge anything and Ken was taking some of the latest drops I’d ever seen on his knee board and getting really deep in the barrel.

Over the next few days as we all started to gain more confidence and take more chances. This resulted in injuries and I think I was first with a nice fin cut to the side of my foot that needed paper stitches and busted fins on my board.

That afternoon I decided to keep out of the water but still go and take some pics. The swell had got up, but the wind had picked up too, making some challenging conditions. Francis seemed to be in his element taking some big drops, but Ben who had been getting barrel after barrel earlier was struggling to do the same in the bumpy conditions only making it out of about half this session. After being pitched a few times Ben came in and his back looked raw after being scraped along the reef.

The next morning when we got to the break there was a guy already out. Where did he come from? He wasn’t staying at Mamas and as far as we knew there was nowhere else to stay. The guys name was Ashley from Western Australia and he was staying with a family from the local fishing village with his sister and two of her friends. Ashley seemed to know the break pretty well and was pulling into barrel after barrel.

That night we invited Ashley and the girls back to Mamas for a few drinks and surf trip stories. Ashley and Ben were both on a search for new waves and secret spots. Ben had already spent 2 months in Indonesia and been over to Thailand to refresh his visa (you could only get a two month visa for Indo) and come back to Java. Ashley seemed to know of a few breaks on some of the other Islands that I’d never heard of and it wasn’t long before plans were being made to get to these other breaks.

All this talk of waves and secret spots was great but we hadn’t been in the company of girls for a couple of weeks. Ben and I persuaded a couple of the girls to come down to the secluded beach to watch the sunset.

All that week we had perfect surf. Every morning it was offshore with light winds picking up by lunchtime and dropping again late afternoon. It really did feel like we had found the perfect spot. One morning when we turned up we could see a surf charter boat out to sea, so we hid behind the bushes until it was gone so they couldn’t work out where the waves were. (These days I think lots of people go there by boat and some of the reviews I’ve seen haven’t rated it as a good wave. But if you make the effort to learn about the break and be there at the right time, by getting there early morning and and at low tide it’s epic).

On the second to last day Rich Harvey was sitting slightly inside and paddled for a wave but decided not to go at the last minute. He was too late, as he tried to pull back, sitting back on his board he was sucked over the falls. Rich was slammed into the reef head first coming up with blood all over his face. Luckily nothing was broken but it was enough to put Rich off going in again.

I remember one morning this huge set came through cleaning up everyone except for me. I just managed to punch through the lip of the first wave and found myself alone in the line up and in position for the next huge wave. I started to paddle for it before backing off as I realised that this wave was different and was just closing out right across the bay. As I sat back and watched the wave break, I realised it was going right across the bay and as far as I could see in both directions. I also realised I was a lot further out, and out of position for the reef. The two waves washed everyone else in towards the shore and both waves went right up the sand on the beach. Normally we surfed over the reef on the point which hooked around towards the beach before closing out into a shore break. At the time it just seemed odd, but about a month later I picked up a copy of ‘Surfing Life’ magazine and there was an article about a tsunami that had hit East Java early that morning on that day. Over 200 people had died and many surfers had been caught up in it at the surf camp at G-Land. Had we been caught up in the tail end of the tsunami? I guess I’ll never know for sure but those two waves were very different.

One evening someone from Mamas told us that the wave that broke right out front of where we were staying was sometimes ridden. It was a long way out across the reef but we thought we’d go and check it out. The wave raced along really fast but it just looked much too shallow, so none of us fancied giving it a go.

On the last day we had really good size waves and I had to go out on my smaller board. I found I was taking really late drops and although I pulled into a few barrels, I wasn’t coming out of many (actually I only made one or two). Eventually I pushed my luck too far and got really worked. When I finally popped up, I was right in the impact zone so my first thought was ‘I’ve got to get out of here’. When I finally made it to the line up it was starting to get dark and Ben was the only person still in the water. My leg didn’t feel right and I glanced back to see lots of blood. I shouted at Ben to see if he would have a look at my leg and see what I’d done. Ben went very pale when he looked at my leg and just said ‘you gotta get out of the water’ and promptly caught a wave to the beach leaving me on my own.

Thought’s started to race through my mind, ‘it’s getting dark’, ‘there are lots sharks around (having seen what was at the local fish markets)’ and ‘I’m bleeding a lot’. I very quickly paddled towards the beach and away from the reef. Glancing over my shoulder at my calf I was sure I could see things that weren’t supposed to be on the outside. I wasn’t sure If I’d be able to stand so I stayed prone all the way to the beach. I don’t know what sliced me open but it had made a big hole in my calf.

Ken and Francis came down and helped me get up the beach while someone went back to arrange a moped to come and get me and take me back to Mamas. Once we were back at Mamas the pain had kicked in but Francis took over and went and got his medical kit. Being a physio he had just about everything in it. Francis cleaned up my leg and I think a few of the boys sat on me while they put iodine on the wound (that brings tears to your eyes, I think they use Betadine these days which doesn’t hurt). Francis said he had stitches but had never stitched anyone up before and he wasn’t sure if I needed internal stitches, so he patched me up as best he could.

I needed to go to some sort of medical facility and it was now mid evening and very dark. The nearest hospital we knew of was in Pelabuhan Ratu which was about 5-6 hours drive away. We didn’t have any transport and you didn’t just phone for an ambulance. I was in a remote location in a third world country and I needed a doctor. ‘Oh crap’ is as polite away of saying what was going through my head at that time.

Someone from Mamas very kindly said they would drive me in to hospital in their minibus, but they didn’t have enough fuel. There wasn’t a local garage but they said it wouldn’t be a problem as long as I had money. I grabbed all the cash I had and my walkman and was helped aboard the minibus. Rich Harvey came with me and we set off in search of fuel. I was in a lot of pain and just put on my walkman with some Celibate Rifles cranked right up. I suddenly noticed we seemed to be going door to door around the local houses. The driver was trying to get fuel from people he knew from the village. I just handed over my cash; I didn’t care what it cost.

After a couple of hours we stopped and the driver got out and what looked like a couple of nurses came to the minibus. I didn’t know what was going on as I knew it was at least 5 hours to Pelabuhan Ratu. There was a discussion between the driver and the nurses and then they looked at me. I looked at Rich, he had the translation book. From what Rich could work out, was that this was a training school and they didn’t normally treat people like me but they’d have a go. I wasn’t interested in someone ‘having a go’, I would have rather stayed at Mamas and let Francis ‘have a go’. So we carried on until we got to the proper hospital.

When we go to the hospital I was shattered and still in a lot of pain. I was helped into some sort of theatre and put on the table. It wasn’t quite like being at St Mary’s Hospital. It didn’t look particularly clean and the doctor and nurses uniforms were pretty old and grubby, but at least the instruments were clean. I had actually brought needles and syringes with me that I bought from a chemist in Australia.

Before they would do anything, some forms were thrust at me to sign and I had to pay them. It was all in Javanese so I didn’t have a clue what I was signing. I really didn’t care by then, I just wanted it stitched up and some pain killers. Although I did joke with Rich that I hoped I hadn’t just signed away my kidneys. As I lay on the table being stitched up I realised I was watching geckos running up and down the walls and there were mosquito’s buzzing around my head.

I must have fallen asleep on the way back to Mamas as the trip didn’t seem to take as long, not being in so much pain helped. Once back, all that was left for me to do was to pack up my things. A few of the boys had an early surf and Ben had decided to go in search of more secret waves with Ashley.

Rich Harvey, Rich Holmes, Francis and Ken arranged for transport back to Pelabuhan Ratu where they could get some more waves at Cimaja. On route to Pelabuhan Ratu Francis suddenly asked the driver to stop at a little village. Francis had spotted a guy who was working on the side of the road. He turned out to be the local wood worker. Francis had broken a fin and wanted to know if this guy would be able to make him a wooden one. The whole village seemed to turn out to greet us and in no time at all this guy was shaping Francis a new fin. It was amazing to watch him work with such basic tools and turn out a beautifully carved fin from a tree trunk. We watched the whole process, from cutting a plank from a huge log to the final sanding. Francis was so impressed that he got him to make him another one as a souvenir (I had an email from Francis recently to say he still has the fins on his mantle now, over 17 years later).

We all stayed in one big room in Pelabuhan Ratu and in the middle of the night I heard someone quietly getting cross. I couldn’t sleep as the pain killers had worn off and was very uncomfortable. I’m also a very light sleeper and Francis was snoring for all of Australia. I realised the person sat up in bed getting cross was Ken. I pretended to be a sleep, but in the morning I spoke to Ken about it and he said he hadn’t had any sleep the whole trip due to Francis’s snoring.

The boys came back from surfing Cimaja saying what a great little wave it was but that the water was very murky and they thought they had touched something swimming under water. I didn’t like to tell them about all the sharks I’d seen at the local fish market when I’d hobbled along to the telephone exchange to make arrangements to get home.

From Pelabuhan Ratu, Rich Harvey and Rich Holmes got the train back to the other side of Java to go back to Bali. I went onto Jakarta with Ken and Francis who were flying on from there. My flights home were supposed to be out of Bali but I was hoping that Quantas would let me change my flight so I could leave from Jakarta. Jakarta was an eye opener for me, as on some streets you had people in total squalor on one side of the road and people in suits driving Porches and Mercedes on the other side the road seemingly oblivious to the plight of the people across the road.

When we got to the airport Quantas were very kind and changed my flight arrangements free of charge, but there wasn’t a flight out until the next morning. Ken and Francis weren’t flying out until the next day so we went and found a place to stay. That night we spent the night drinking in the bar and I spent the last of my money drinking bottled Guinness, something I hadn’t had since I left the UK some 12 months previous.

Ken and Francis dropped me at the airport early as they had to get off and I suddenly realised how difficult it was with two boards, a huge rucksack and my camera gear. I had help all the way to the airport but now hopping about on one leg with all my gear it was quite difficult.

A very kind lady who worked at the airport called Monica Retno saw me struggling and came over and helped me get my gear onto a trolley and then got me to my gate. I had completely forgotten that I needed to pay airport tax and had spent all my money in the bar the previous evening. Monica must have seen my look of panic and paid my tax for me. A ‘Huge Thank You’ to you Monica if you ever read this.

Once on the plane, I found that the plane was completely packed and was so pleased that I’d managed to get a seat. Then I realised that I was sitting between to huge guys who seemed to be taking up the whole three seats. I squeezed into my seat and was just thankful that I was going home. My leg had started to hurt quite a lot and I was worried that it had gotten infected. Francis had been changing my dressings regularly but in the climate and the fact that it had taken so long to be stitched up, the chance of infection was high.

Once back on the Island I went straight from the ferry to A&E at St Mary’s Hospital as my calf was throbbing. The nurses couldn’t believe the state of my leg when they removed the dressings. The wound had to be opened up again and cleaned thoroughly with all the infected stuff squeezed out of my leg. I was then advised to leave the wound open and let the air get to it. After getting a tetanus I was allowed to go home.

After seeing my family the first thing I wanted to do was go to Compton. I couldn’t go in the sea but just wanted to get back to my home beach. I jumped in the car with my brother and drove to Compton. Walking along the beach I bumped into lots of friends and it suddenly dawned on me how so little had changed, yet I had experienced so much in the last year and I had changed. It was kind of comforting and I appreciated what we had here on the Island a little more too.

The accommodation was really good at Mamas but sadly Mama’s has now been sold and is now a surf camp as far as I know. I have also seen reports of illegal surf camps right on the beach in front of the wave ‘Turtles’. They’re built on environmentally friendly land that’s there to protect the turtles habitat. Many of the charter boats that look for surf along the Javanese coast visit Turtles too now. I have also heard reports of it being dangerous to visit as there are certain religious army training camps near by. I hope this is not true as it is an amazing part of the world, very beautfiul and very friendly people.