Peering out of the plane’s tiny window, American surfers Bob Laverty and Bill Boyum were witness to one massive coral reef, the size of 3 football fields, fronting the southern point of the Javanese jungle in Indonesia. As the plane banked towards Bali, they craned their necks to keep looking.
They saw a white-water line of a wave breaking off the very tip of the reef. They continued to watch as best they could, as the wave appeared to run in perfect symmetry for what seemed like a kilometre or more along the edge of the reef. They could not believe what they were looking at. This wave, even from the most difficult angle, appeared to be the longest wave ever imagined.
As the plane banked further into the sun, both surfers decided, on that chartered flight to Denpasar that they would go out and find the wave no matter what the consequences. They decided to explore the west Javanese coastline until they found the wave, until they could watch it upfront and see if it was indeed the Holy Grail of surfing – a wave that peeled perfectly as far as the eye could see. The year was 1972, and travel in Indonesia was a helluva thing back then.
After arriving in Bali, the two surfers hired motorbikes and plotted their route out by hand, using one of their well-worn maps. No Google Maps and no GPS devices back then, they headed off, boards strapped to their bikes, to the Javanese fishing village of Grajagan. From there they ferried across the bay with their bikes and boards, and their backpacks full of supplies. When they reached the far shore – the shoreline of the Plengkung National Forest – they slowly made their way along the beach for 20kms of soft sand and hard travel.
Story goes that it took them three days, and that they were about to give up, before they came upon the wave they were searching for - wave that peeled forever along a kink in the shoreline on the edge of a national forest.
For three days they surfed the wave, at 6 to 8-foot, without seeing another human being. They camped on the beach, and they surfed all day in the relentless sun and heat, quite clear in their minds that this wave was the best wave ever to be discovered thus far in the global surfing world. They surfed until their water supply was exhausted before making their slow and arduous way back to the village. This incredible story of discovery was not over. Laverty died not long after retuning to Bali in a tragic surfing accident.
A few years later his brother, Mike, retraced Bill’s steps and was the next surfer to get to Grajagan. So blown away was he by the wave that he founded the first ever surf camp in the jungle, directly in front of the wave two years later, opening up the some-say devastating pay-to-surf situation that has taken over the world.
His first surf camp consisted of a handful of tree huts, purpose-built to keep visitors out of harms way from the curious and hungry tigers that roamed the National Park and occasionally padded through the camp at night, leaving nothing but large paw prints. His camp was a far cry from the high speed Wi-Fi, cold beer and hamburgers-on-demand which abounds in the modern day camps.
Retracing the steps of Laverty and Boyum is a very different mission 45 years later, but the journey is still part of the adventure, as is all travel within Indonesia.
The more exciting of the two routes to the surf camps is overland, and it’s a 12-hour overnighter and then a ferry ride across the Bali Strait to Java. It’s fairly long and arduous, and the roads and road safety regulations in Indonesia are not good.
The other, more popular method of transport is to hop onto the speedboat. If the conditions are good, it’s a quick ride of less than 2 hours, a veritable miracle in comparison to the task that Laverty and Boyum dealt with all those years ago.
Apart from barrels and crowds, Indonesia is oft in the news for other reasons, with Tsunamis and volcanoes being two of them. Java is situated in what is known as a tectonic subduction zone, right where the Indo Australian Plate is moving northwards and under the Eurasian Plate. Sometimes this results in a bit of a disturbance, which manifests as an earthquake. Such was the reason why in 1994 a Tsunami roared through G-Land surf camp and leveled the camp, throwing people and property hundreds of yards deep into the jungle.
Australian professional surfers Richie Lovett, and Richard Marsh were swept hundreds of yards into the jungle, but survived the ordeal along with the rest of the surfers in the camp. Grajagan is not for the faint-hearted and despite these incidents from the past surfers in the hundreds flock back every season. The possibilities of natural disasters do not seem to prevent surfers from travelling.
Something that might change the situation at G-Land may be the WSL, who may be heading back to the jungle, according to a fat little Indonesian bird sitting on a tree at one of the surf camps... it's an unconfirmed rumour but can you imagine?
Cover shot by Nory's Sick Shot