The Last Tiger
Silently moving from the jungle she takes her place on a small rise that looks out over the ocean. She had time yet. The late day sun was cooling and she was waiting for the scent. The scent that came when the ocean would withdraw and the land beneath would become exposed to the sky. Then she could saunter down among the shallow green pools of water and slap fish and crabs and eels from the shallow pools with her great paw. The monkeys would follow her. And they would dart in for a steal as her pile of fish and crabs and eels grew behind her. She would roar at this and swipe at the monkeys and like a flock of birds they would scatter and reform and try again and again.
When it came time to feed she would carry her pile of food in her great jaws back to her spot overlooking the reef. There she would hang her head and eat slowly. And she would listen for signs of danger in the silence that came between the great waves that would roll in hissing in unison across the edge of the reef in the distance. Later the sun would set and she would return to her mate and cubs and they would hunt the wild boar together until dawn.
A noise. Her head shot up, ears pricked, eyes searching. Finding an odd sight. Men. Two men. Pale men. Approaching on foot on the beach. Always a danger, men. Though she sensed these two were weak and tired. And they carried things that did not look like danger, unlike the steel poles the poachers used. And the two men on the beach were not interested in the jungle. They were always looking out to sea, shading their eyes, again and again. Still, she decided, she would have to keep her distance until she knew more about them. How to eat them. She left her scraps for the monkeys as, silent as smoke, she turned and vanished into the jungle.
The Jumping Off Point
It all started with a volcano.
At over 3,000 meters Gunung Agung, an active volcano, lords over the island of Bali. Essential to the Hindu culture of the island, the people believe that each earth day begins when the first rays of the morning sun touch her summit. They call this moment “the morning of the world.” In 1972 a young filmmaker named Alby Falzon debuted a fledgling surf film which featured the first idyllic images of surfing in Bali. He’d borrowed the name of his movie from this Hindu summit belief, naming his movie Morning of the Earth instead. And from the moment it flickered on screen in Australia, surfing in Indonesia would never be the same.
Surfers flocked to Bali in droves to surf her absolutely perfect waves. Bali was flaming sunsets over golden beaches, postcards of bare-breasted native women, and swirling, impossibly-colorful dance troops. Fully booked airlines landing on runway 090 afforded a dream view out the starboard windows of the five best waves on the planet marching down the Bukit peninsula. Surfers would deliberately book their seats on this side of the aircraft just for the chance to glimpse this phantasmic sight. Bali was exotic, friendly, and cheap. Everything from beach huts to beer was always at hand for the budget surfer. Why, oh why, look any further for a surfing Shangri-La?
Yet is was inevitable that this global surfing pilgrimage would eventually interrupt the idyll. And as the crowds grew and grew, a few minds turned to the possibility of new discoveries. After all, Indonesia was a country of 17,500 islands.
The Great Discovery
From the beach at Kuta on Bali, on a clear day, you can just see the southeast tip of Java. Shrouded in mystery like her name itself, Java was talked about in hushed tones by most. A land of hardcore, third-world poverty, government coup attempts, student riots, bloody communist purges, and a stone-faced dictator in cop shades and military dress.
Enter Bob Laverty in 1972, a young trust-funded surfer from Southern California who was searching for himself in the far reaches of the orient. On a local flight from Jakarta to Bali, the weather diverted his flight and Laverty found himself flying over that very same tip of Java that he had wondered about when looking on from Kuta Beach. He now was directly over the Plengkung jungle, a lonely, expansive, dried out national reserve. Laverty was looking down upon row after row of crescent swept whitewater lines that formed a perfect phalanx as they moved down from the top of the point into an enormous, azure bay. The fire was lit.
Back in Bali Laverty got to work. He got his hands on a British Admiralty Chart of Java and located the bay. Next he needed partners in crime. Bali surfer expats Bill and Mike Boyum were the best candidates. Laverty unrolled the map where his “X” marked the spot. A mere 67 miles from where they stood in their Kuta beach bungalow. Hire a boat? Too risky and unpredictable with no knowledge of anchorages and wild seas. It would have to be overland. Even though that prospect was horrendously dangerous. Mike passed on the whole adventure. But Bill was bitten by Laverty’s bug. A partnership between Bill and Laverty was formed.
Laverty and Bill Boyum left at dawn on rented motorcycles packed with supplies and surfboards slung on straps over their shoulders. Then it was a sketchy voyage across the strait into the open Indian Ocean and then to a small fishing village. The chart named the small port Grajagan and it hugged the very opposite end from where they wanted to be in the great bay. Arriving at the port of Grajagan, they entered a very different world, filled with all the dazzlement of Muslim culture. Just as the mid-afternoon muezzin call to prayer was crying out from the mosque, Laverty and Boyum pushed their bikes onto a dugout fishing boat and pointed to the far end of the bay. The captain of the dugout took them as far as he dared. The jungle of the Alas Purwo National Reserve was a place of great superstitions. A no man’s land filled with tales of black magic, spirits, snakes, and bloodthirsty tigers. The Captain dumped them a good ten miles from the top of the bay and got the hell out, leaving them and their bikes on a jungle-edged beachfront. The hard-packed low tide sand was okay for the bikes and they pressed on, their lust for surf making them ignore all warning signs. At one point a large flock of flamingos was startled by the bikes, a species that was not even known to inhabit Java. Then the sand, and their luck, if you could call it that, ran out.
It was late afternoon. They abandoned the bikes to the jungle and were now afoot. They could see the offshore spray coming off the waves, probably four miles distant. It was slow going as the tide crept in and pushed them closer to the Jungle. As the sun went down they hadn’t even covered half the distance. With no choice but to press on by a sliver of moonlight, they groped along until they could hear the regular sound of the surf. They then fell exhausted on the beach and slept. At one point in the night they were awoken by the roar of a Javanese Tiger. Neither of them had ever heard such a spine-chilling sound in their lives. They then slept in shifts with sharpened spears fashioned from driftwood.
Boyum and Laverty woke to a blistering sunrise, sandy and sore, and looked out to sea. As the first set of waves marched in, they stood in awestruck silence, knowing that they had found what every surfer could only dream of. Absolutely perfect, empty eight-foot waves, more dramatic and evenly formed than even the great Uluwatu, and without even a hint of another surfer for miles and miles. It was all theirs. There were no Uluwatu cliffs here, no sea snake caves to negotiate, no difficult entry or exit from the surf. An inviting crescent shaped white sand beach gave way to an easy paddle out into an empty line-up. It was by all descriptions a fantasy set-up. Laverty and Boyum, re-energized, prepared to paddle out. This is when they noticed the fresh paw prints of a large tiger within 10 feet of their small beach camp. “That was a sobering sight,” said Boyum. “And that was where the original idea for the tree houses came in.” They then paddled out and surfed undisturbed for three days until they ran out of water. In the tradition of the first surfers to ride a new spot being allowed to name it, they dubbed their discovery, “G-Land.” Even though the break was actually a long way from Grajagan on a point of land known locally as Plengkung.
Back in Bali they received a hero’s welcome from a very exclusive group of surfers. Yes, it was a mad adventure. Under constant threat of Malaria, reef cut infections, road accidents, heatstroke, boat disasters, storms, and tigers. But undeterred, Laverty and Boyum were already drawing up new plans for a return visit. Tragically, it never happened for Bob Laverty. On the eve of their new departure Laverty suffered an epileptic seizure while surfing Uluwatu and drowned in large surf.
The Surf Camp
Yet, the new era of Grajagan surfing had begun. And in many ways the second journey was even crazier than the first. Because the forward-thinking Boyum brothers were determined to own and monetize the break for themselves before the inevitable mobs would descend upon it. The concept of the surf camp was born. But at first, they wanted it to be a floating camp. So the Boyum brothers borrowed enough money to buy a used 24-foot Radon fishing boat, which could get them from Kuta Beach to G-Land in just over four hours on a good day. On a bad day? They would probably die. They thought of this little boat as the concept for a floating surf camp, but lack of room and the outrageous dangers it presented sunk those ambitions. This was when Bill Boyum re-worked his tree house idea. Relegating the Radon to a supply and guest-delivery vessel.
Mike Boyum, a drifting gypsy of a surfer, really came into his own at this time and took over operations. A fitness guru, he could play the hippie and fast for days and do yoga for hours, but he could also become a formidable deal maker in a country notorious for its corruption. As stated, the Plengkung jungle was an all-but-abandoned national forest reserve. But it still meant Boyum’s camp had to be fully permitted. Naturally, and some may say fairly, considering this was not Boyum’s birth country, bribes were essential and tricky. Mike Boyum, quickly having become a master at these processes, at one point even removed a family-gifted gold Rolex from his wrist and placed it on a certain politico in the name of commerce. With such savvy, within the year, he’d obtained the necessary authorizations. In June of 1974, the finishing touches were put on a 15 by 15-foot, thatched-roof, bamboo-sided tree house. Just one. Huge tiger prints were still occasionally seen on the beach, even though the fabled Javan Tiger was supposedly extinct. Cobra’s were also a big concern. Searching for firewood could easily end your life. To say nothing of the wild, ivory-tusked pigs that could reach the height of a man’s hip. Raising the tree house 20-feet off the ground meant everybody slept a little easier.
Underneath the tree was a kitchen of sorts. Three single-burner stoves, four ice chests, and a 50-pound sack of brown rice. Everything had to be duct taped shut each night, but still the wild animals would turn the kitchen to shambles, often gnawing through the duct tape. The surfers got used to the ruckus and could sleep through almost everything except when the tigers came around. They would know when the tigers were looming because the jungle would become completely silent.
For the next three years, G-land was the domain of a very exclusive group of surfers. Aside from the Boyums there was the great Gerry Lopez, who practically made it his second home, writing gushing features for SURFER magazine from his tree house perch that even included his very personal Haiku poems. Australian Peter “Grubby” McCabe was welcomed. He and Lopez would wile away the hours in the surf weaving and crisscrossing their way down the reef on the same waves. Lopez called it their “Blue Angels Act.”
By 1977, the camp was government registered as the Blambangan Surfing Club and began taking week-long reservations of ten surfers at a time, $200 per person, with a transportation fee on the beat-up boat from Kuta Beach in Bali. From there the price went up quickly. In 1982, a ten-day package cost $1,000.
By this time the famed G-Land had evolved from the world’s finest secret spot to the world’s first surf resort. The G-Land operation could do no wrong and it spiked in popularity. Yet it still held on to its mystique. It was a remote, fantasy adventure wave that called to the wanderlust within every surfer. But like all money-driven enterprises, the pristine nature of the dream was not to last. Once Boyum’s camp proved itself as a solid moneymaker, other surfer-entrepreneurs bribed the right officials, more camps opened, daily boat shuttle services bloomed like mushrooms and soon there were up to a hundred surfers at a time in the lineup.
Lopez finally conceded to every surfer’s lament: “It was the perfect setup there for a few years,” he said, 20 years after his first visit. “It was a surfing monastery. If we could have somehow kept it as such it would have stayed surfing’s Holy Ground…I guess we just shouldn’t have told anybody”.
Despite Lopez’s morose prayer, G-Land still remains a place of mystery and adventure. It’s easy to forget that it still lies on the edge of that same abandoned dry jungle, her waves coursing down that same wild point from the top of the bay. A place that will always remind you that you are on the knife’s edge of an exotic, wild piece of the world. Just like the surfers who at 1:17 a.m. on June 3, 1994 were swept from their G-Land resort beds by the full force maelstrom of a Tsunami, the product of a 7.2 earthquake that rattled teeth loose a full 130 kilometers away. Hitting G-land at 300 km an hour, Australian pro-surfers Rob Bain, Simon Law, Richard Marsh, Shane Herring and Richie Lovett were lucky to get away with their lives. It is said that their almost-Olympic swimming skills saved them from a watery death.
The very next year, in perhaps G-land’s most glamorous period in her long history, was when the Association of Surfing Professionals included G-Land as one of its stops on the global “Dream Tour.” With pro surfers exhausted from a grueling tour the previous year in substandard waves, the G-land concept was welcomed with open arms by all. All, that is, except the organizers. The extremely remote location of G-Land made it an organizer’s nightmare. But Quiksilver, the most prestigious surf brand in the world at the time, was determined to overcome the challenges. After numerous setbacks, both logistically and legally, which even included safety clauses for the surfers against wild animal attack, Quiksilver triumphed.
The 1995 Inaugural Quiksilver contest was greeted with a week of perfect 6-8-foot “dream surf” and was won by the brand’s sponsored World Champion, Kelly Slater. Elated, Quiksilver followed up in 1996 with Californian Shane Beschen taking the title and then again in 1997 with Australian powerhouse Luke Egan hoisting the winner’s trophy. Each year had absolutely perfect surf. By 1998 Quiksilver, due to global economic issues, and the enormous efforts needed to run these events, quit while they were ahead. The successful Quiksilver events opened the gates to a handful of regional events in the years to come, with none being more unique than Coca Cola and Surftime magazine’s 2012, “Put Up or Shut Up” competition. A winner-take-all contest format where ten surfer’s threw in $1,000 each as the prize money. In perfect eight-foot surf, Bali local Tai Graham took home the $10,000-purse when he was able to just nip Californian Chris Ward to take the pot. As of this writing, the World Surf League has scheduled a return to G-Land’s competitive glory in 2021, again sponsored by Quiksilver.
Despite the evolution of G-Land as a modernized, must-surf destination, a mystery still pervades over the camps. The local Javanese regard this jungle outpost as a very powerful center of jungle black magic. Local villagers believe that this stretch of jungle was never meant for man, but only for the jungle spirits. And they believed from the start that those who first tread upon it would eventually find a terrible end. When one considers that Bob Laverty drowned soon after his G-Land discovery, this superstition takes on even more credence. After Bill Boyum abandoned the project and moved to Hawaii to raise a family, his brother Mike stayed on to run G-Land, but Mike met a very different end. Not satisfied with being a surf camp owner with a $250,000 annual profit, Mike turned to drug smuggling. He was eventually arrested in New Caledonia with Peter McCabe where they served four years in a penal colony. Mostly on the run from that point on, Mike ended up in the Philippines under an assumed name, where he discovered another surf break he dubbed “Cloud Nine.” To this day one of the best right-hand waves in the world. Soon after, his behavior became more erratic. After a long series of daily marathon runs and at the end of a 43-day fast, Mike Boyum succumbed to starvation and was buried by the locals in an unmarked grave overlooking Cloud Nine.
After exorcising the demons of G-land through elaborate ceremonies, the Boyum camp was acquired by local interests back in 1978. Re-named Bobby’s G-land Jungle Surf Camp, the jungle spirits seemed to have become appeased. More than one villager believes this was perhaps because of the eventual human sacrifice of Laverty and Boyum. Regardless, superstitions or otherwise, Bobby’s G-Land Jungle Surf Camp has been booked solid for over 32 years and remains the longest running successful surf camp in our sport’s history.
The Last Tiger II
She limped on three of her four powerful legs. The three bullets had entered her right hip and two of them had split her intestines in two. She staggered on, ahead of the poachers, her bottom jaw slack, her breathing rattling with the blood in her throat. Her cubs were gone, having eaten the poisoned garbage left out for the wild pigs by the humans. Her mate had died a while back, trapped in a net by poachers so as not to harm the precious fur for the taxidermist. Her mate was probably stuffed in the pose of attack and placed in the corner of some politician’s receiving room. It’s believed in Java that a stuffed tiger under one’s roof assured the owner’s prowess in the bedroom. She was being driven toward the sea. She would have to turn and fight soon. But she limped on, weakening. She tried to stay concealed, but reaching the edge of the jungle she crossed a clearing, palm-sized blood drops marking her trail. She made the rise and could go no further. She lay to rest but kept her head up, waiting for the end.
The familiar scent of the sea at low tide overwhelmed her. She watched the waves march down the reef and heard the hissing. She roared in outrage once. It took all her strength. The monkey’s, smelling the blood and fearing the roar looked with their blinking, thieving eyes from the canopy above. She could see the lights of the surf camps. So bright these days. So many humans. She could also see the flashlights of the approaching poachers and hear their clumsy snapping of twigs as they crept closer through the trees. A monkey screeched a warning and the canopy spoke and moved and rained leaves. She could not keep her head up any longer and rested her bottom jaw on her great paws crossed before her. The moonlight cast a silvery stripe on the face of each wave that broke on the reef before her. Like a flashing fish making good on an escape from the following whitewater. The flashlights were now upon her. A poacher drew a bead on her left eye with his rifle, again to protect her valuable fur. In a last great effort, she lifted her head and roared at the sea once more, the sound echoing out over the reef and joining up with the sky like a great final note into the ether.