Posts Tagged ‘Western Australia’

UNDERGROUND EXPLORER: ROB WARD

The story of British surfing would not be complete without reference to its underground surfers – those who passed up competition, fashion and media exposure for hard-bitten travel. These are the “soul” surfers such as Rob Ward and the late Nigel Baker. Rob Ward was a lover of French waves. “The early days surfing France had to be the best time of my life. I was totally focused on riding big waves at Guethary,” says Rob. “In 1967 I lived in a tent in the Cenitz valley, then in later years stayed in a villa with early Newquay immortal Alan McBride.” Rob was a standout big wave surfer and a hard-core adventurer. “Growing up on the Isle of Wight, in the south of England halfway up the English Channel, I never saw anyone surf,” says Rob. “But one day in 1961 I found an article on glassing a surfboard torn from a magazine and lying on the floor of a garage at the back of my dad’s hotel. I tried to make a board upstairs in the hotel, but lacking the right tool or materials, it was not a happy experience, and I never finished the board.”

Educated at the Nautical College at Pangbourne in Berkshire, Rob went on to become an officer in the Royal Navy. “In 1964 I was a Midshipman in HMS Jaguar on the South Africa/South America station,” says Rob. “I’d been pestering a South African lieutenant aboard with the question of whether people surfed in South Africa. I had a day’s leave on the Friday of the week. I took a taxi to Cape Town from Simonstown naval base and arrived just after the shops had closed. I found a shop with a surfboard in the window and banged on the door until they opened. They gave me a board and took £30 pounds (a month’s wages) from me. The sporting taxi driver shoved my prize halfway into the boot of his car and drove me back ‘home’. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen—brownish, distinctly bent and with the name Sunsurf announced by an orange sticker with an impressionist rendering of the principal feature of our solar system near the nose.”

“I surfed in South Africa, South and Central America and returned to the UK,” says Rob. “During my third year at the Britannia Royal Naval College (in Dartmouth, Devon), I tendered my resignation with some trepidation. I had, after all, been in an institution since I was six. Within a few months, a friend and I had bought an old diesel van, some blanks from a defunct surf business in Newquay and, after building a dozen boards in the Isle of Wight, headed down to Guethary. Then followed nine months of bliss. We built a small factory on the outskirts of Bayonne with a French partner. I grew my hair for the first time in my life and surfed every day it was possible. At first I entered in the competitions that the French Surf Federation had newly inaugurated. I won an international paddle race taking Felipe Pomar’s record for the course by five minutes.” 1965 World Champion Felipe Pomar was a go-for-broke Peruvian big wave surfer, famous for his power paddling.

Later Rob turned his back on competition, travelling extensively in California, South Africa and Australia, often seeking the more obscure, high quality big wave locations as his hang out, such as Outer Kommetjie in Cape Town, Margaret River in Western Australia and Cactus in Southern Australia, many years before these places were reported as make-the-barrel-or-die big-wave breaks. Rob also had an innovative attitude towards surfboard design and had a long relationship, spanning decades, with experimental shaper Tom Hoye, Precision Equipe, in California, who would ship him his latest, sometimes quirky designs, to ride wherever he was in the world. “I recall in 1972 coming from the surf in the desert in South Australia. There had supposedly been a large shark sighted. But the waves were extraordinary,” says Rob. “I spent an hour alone with both fear and elation and when I came from the water I actually fell on my knees and thanked God for my existence. It was the sort of peak experience that will carry you through a lifetime of the normal, and less common, trials. Bliss indeed. Thank you surfing.” In one of those impossible to predict moments in an obscure place on the planet, who should Rob bump in to during a spell at Cactus but ‘Moby’ – Dave Patience, one of Newquay’s earliest surfers and Guethary pioneers.

In the ‘80s Rob lived in Cornwall and ran a surf shop in Newquay called Ocean Imports. “During that period,” says Rob, “a friend encouraged me to buy a 26 foot boat with him and smuggle hashish from Morocco. Of the six-year prison sentence, I served four years. I had no excuses. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was grateful for the opportunity to study Romantic Poetry at the Open University.” Upon release, Rob started building 40 foot catamarans. In the Orinoco Flo he made a global circumnavigation, financed by paying surfer passengers for the surf break stops along the way. These included pioneering visits to the Easter Islands.

Rob’s surfing passion has always been focused and intense. He possesses a driven quality recognised among that breed of surfers like Laird Hamilton who “have to be there to ride the big waves.” Well-educated and highly articulate, Rob has also been able to share his love of surfing. His performances have been inspirational, and he would have been better known, but for his low level of interest in surfing contests. Even in current surf sessions he sets a high international standard for his age. “I just completed a 27 kilometre paddle race beating paddlers 20 years my junior,” says Rob. “Now 60 and looking back at 40-plus years dedicated to surfing – seeing that I abandoned a naval career my father had set his heart on for me; considering the jail term that I served as an arguably direct result of the economically barren years in the back of a van in Mexico and California, a station wagon in Australia and under the stairs of a villa falling down a cliff on the Chemin des Falaises in Guethary – I suppose I should harbour some regrets. A surfer will know that I do not. Joseph Campbell, in one of a series of interviews made shortly before his death, declared – ‘Ah, fortunate is the one who finds his Bliss.’ It’s an odd phrase but that is what surfing has been (and remains) for me. And I feel fortunate indeed.”


Rob Ward

I am heading off into the South Australian desert in a week or so to Cactus. If you Google Ceduna South Australia and go west 60k to Penong, Cactus is on the coast 20k roughly south. Nothing there except vast ranges of dunes to the west and the extensive Point Sinclair where there are 3 lefts and one of the best rights in the world. Cactus is only the surfers’ name for the area. It is not on the map as such. I’m figuring out the intricacies of inverters, solar panels and deep cycle batteries. In the 1970’s I went there about four years in a row for period of up to 3 months.

I don’t know how the writing will go at Cactus. I am taking a table I have made (Foam Sandwich/Carbon/Formica) , and hope to be better set-up than I have ever been in the past. But I’m not an electrician and my ability to write ANYTHING (pen and paper? Are you kidding me?) is contingent on my yet-to-develop competence in assembling the deep-cycle battery, the inverter, the alternator and the 2 solar panels (when they arrive) in an order that is not mutually explosive. Or, even, that produces a trickle of usable MACjuice.

There is no broadband or telephone reception there and I shall have to do a ?weekly, ?Fortnightly trip to Ceduna to hook up.

There is some resistance to surf photography at Cactus these days. If you look on any website that speaks of Cactus (any that I’ve seen, anyway) you’ll be pushed to find a decent wave. A brilliant bit of reverse propaganda. Dunno how they do it. Violence, I suspect.

I have a lot to do between now and the next 10 days finishing off work at “Mermaid Composites” and preparing the Ute.

I wonder if you have read Fred Mew’s “Back of the Wight”. That’s more or less the Old Testament when it comes to getting into the surf. Of course, this was largely about getting in with rowing boats at night in horrendous storms to pull people out of sinking or grounded ships on the IW SW coast (the “Back of the Wight”). That, and smuggling and a little messing up the excise man.

I’ve lived in California and South Africa as well as sailing around Australia (whilst I was circumnavigating in Orinoco Flo) and I’ve driven across this country 3 times in cars costing from $50 to $200. But it is no pose to say that a great wave at Freshwater or Compton, for being so rare and beautiful and for its almost bizarre context and improbability remains as much of a thrill in my memory as any waves I have surfed around the world. And I do suffer a small nostalgia for Sid and the boys and girls, who so wisely and happily continued to make the lovely Island their home. I have a friend in Western Australia, Glyn Kernick (and his wife), who was also an early (and conscientious) member of the IW Surf Club and may be able to help you with pictures and memories.

I built Orinoco Flo with a heroic small crew of surfers whom I did not pay. (Even at £10 an hour, 15,000 man-hours was going to break the project!) I did what I could with caravans and work-for-dole projects and whatever it took. But they were all champs. I’ll spell out the money for you one time but be quite certain that, when I sold Midnight Hour for £35,000 it was less than 1/6th of what was going to be needed. God is Good and I knew none of this before I started and (Allah be Praised) never employed an accountant who may well have made discouraging noises. I started her in 1992. I had built a less technical 35’ catamaran; Midnight Hour in the late 1980’s mostly alone, although a surfer from Sandown, Pete Singleton, came down from his job in London as a despatch rider to help every other weekend. The object was always to get to surf, though of course the boat building travelled under the guise of “commercial enterprises” but no-one was deceived, least of all the first ex-wife who moaned fairly constantly. With Midnight Hour I spent a year in the Canaries chartering, mostly to surfers before going round the Atlantic and selling her to a Welshman. We had good access to Isla Lobos off Fuerteventura. It’s essentially just a volcano with a brilliant lava bottom right point break peeling down the west side. One South African described it as, “more fun than Jeffrey’s.” I’d agree with that. I lived at Jeffrey’s Bay for 6 months in about 1975 having gone there by boat from Western Australia. A Newquay surfer, “Moby” (David Patience), travelled with me. I had met him in Newquay when I was at the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth after my midshipman’s year. But I didn’t know him very well at that time. After the winter in Jeffrey’s we cycled about 1000k to Cape Town, mostly along the Garden Route, but also via some inland areas like Oudtshoorn where (if I remember right) ostriches are bred. We made some good mountain passes like the Outeniqueberge and the famous (for being a bastard) Schwartberg Pass.

I finished an Honours in well, all sorts of things like The Romantic Poets (Distinction! eh?), Shakespeare, The Enlightenment, Modern Art and Modernism and so on and so forth. Yes, it was done at about double the Open University usual speed. This degree was the counterbalance I needed after being battery-reared in the sciences to further my lost career in the services. The Navy took me to South Africa and South America where I had started to surf and that was the rest was my life. Not the one my parents imagined or wished for.

Flo was the biggest thing I have done and my best memory of all that is the achievements of the young surfers on the build who went on to get jobs in France and Spain as top boat builders. Andy Rose married a beautiful Spanish lady (Teresa… daughter Zoe)) and worked on the build crew for the Spanish Americas Cup. Luke managed a boat builders yard in France and they both did major parts of the circumnavigation. Andy the first half and Luke the South-about round-Oz and Indo leg. I built Flo with two experimental flexible rudders that I built like Tuna-tails. The new owners of the Oricnoco Flo are mostly surfers and she has done 17 Round-the-Atlantic voyages (about 9,000 miles each) to charter in the Caribbean each winter. And last year she completed a second circumnavigation.

My longest-serving Island friend is Marcus Lloyd from Sandown. I met him on my return from South Africa in 1970-something when he was 14. I was getting up a business in jewellery-making and used to take him out to the West Wight. Marcus was to be making this trip to Cactus with me and continuing on to Western Australia.

We recently agreed that a trip we made in (Oh, you know.. “back in the day”…) to France, Portugal and Morocco, taking the entire winter, was one of the best times of our lives. And the beginning of mine once I left the beaten path

France was my break-out and the crucible in which I transmuted from a young, middle class, would-be naval officer to a committed lifetime surfer. It is a pleasant interlude to recount and if you will be patient, I will write it for you as well as I can. Your other references I shall put straight where needed. I should start by saying that others made the real contributions to surfing huge Ireland. I did go there for my honeymoon as the customs had temporarily removed my passport. A Vietnam war vet loaned us his caravan at Easkey (damned if I can remember the Gaelic spelling but it had at least 5 x the number of vowels). And no doubt rendered properly all the subtleties of one of the dozens of Irish accents. I surfed big Easkey alone. Except for some really big sharks. It’s at the mouth of the river and they were no doubt gathered for the salmon run. I almost doubted my eyes but others will tell you that, at Spanish Point, (in the pub?) you can find fotos of huge sharks and the anglers that caught them off the beach. Also, when I got out of the water my wife who was warming my undies on the car heater and pouring an Irish Whisky for me, said “Did you see those sharks?” Before I married, I drove around all of the UK and Ireland when I returned to the UK from Australia, selling jewellery. I made three circumnavigations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, living from a Fiat van.

I did a lot of surfing by myself. I don’t think many people could truthfully say that they really enjoy surfing alone. I did so on Lanzarote long before there were locals there and of course the place is fairly intimidating. But I had a lovely surf on the huge beach just south of Malin Head. I had spoken to a local woman in a cottage and she said that there could be surf there that extended to the horizon (or some like Irish exaggeration) but there was none the day I was there. I’d come over on the ferry from Scotland where I’d been surfing as well as (er?) working. So I went for a run and halfway up the beach (a mile?) I came across a beautiful 5′ peak, light offshore in clear blue water. So! I ran all the way back to my van, got my board, ran all the way to the peak and surfed 2 hours with the 1000′ high cliffs disappearing, blue to the south. Magic day.

We all had people who influenced us and perhaps gave us the courage to make a break with what we were “supposed to do” with our lives. I’ll mentioned one or two I’d like to credit as we go.

I followed your links and it is bonkers how nostalgic it is to see the old fotos and the old faces. Please do send my very warmest regards to Sid, Rog and Sue Backhouse, I always remember for their brilliant house at the bottom of which cliff? where? Rory I remember for the green ? Bilbo with the terrific arrow on the deck. I swear it made the board go twice as fast at Compton Fields. John Ainsworth was a lovely, gentle fellow and a good surfer. For the record, I’m as full of admiration for those people who made the Island their home and the centre of their surfing existence, as for any emigrants from the Island! Of course, Islanders took their adventures in the wide world. But they returned home to a place unique in the world. Has anyone else seen the Shingles Bank going off? I did once at about 6-8′, from somewhere near the Needles! A left and a right peeling down each side.

Today is Saturday. I’ve got some clients coming to pick up a race paddleboard and surfboard I’ve built with Chilean Myrtle veneer and a vacuum-bagged epoxy laminate with some carbon. I really only make boards for my own amusement. I can’t get properly paid for that sort of work but I am past bored with what I call (with reference to the band), “Average White Boards”. The board’s a quad. I veneered the paddleboard too which was shaped in Styrofoam. I’ve got to get a lot of stuff ready for the 5000k round trip drive to Cactus and I’ll enjoy writing the story if I get my electrickery spot on.

I’ll start with France as it launched from the Island………..


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.