“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
My brother Mike and I spent our youth traveling because of our father’s Navy career and our focus in life became finding a place we could call home, or a ‘power spot’ as my brother’s favorite author, Carlos Castaneda wrote in his novels. Eventually we thought we had that power spot, the first surf camp in the world, on the southeast tip of Java. The road to establishing the camp and the consequences of that journey are chronicled Journals From The Edge.
Don King, the famous surf photographer was one of the earliest photographers to shoot the camp. These are photos from Don of our surf camp at Plengkung or what the surf world started calling G-Land. The calendar on the kitchen wall reminded me that it was 2002. That meant it had been three decades since I first came on an adventure of a lifetime to this remote place, where my brother, Mike Boyum and I started the first surf camp in the world on the Southeast tip of Java.
A light commotion caused me to glance up into the rafters above the surf camp kitchen. Rats. Lots of rats. My brother used to have the bamboo structures burnt when the rains returned every year. Compared to all the other operating camp costs, rebuilding the structures the following season was the cheapest. The benefit was, that during the wet monsoon, the rats would be forced to flee into the jungle where their safety from a multitude of predators wasn’t as secure. Those days were long gone and the rodent population had exploded since Mike given up the reins as camp manager. Instead of learning the lesson about jungle living, some people had suggested that my brother burnt the camp as an act of spite when stopped being the manager of the camp. He had many flaws but spite wasn’t one of them.
Mike with early camp visitors, surfer Gerry Lopez and photographer Jack McCoy. In those days we used local boats to journey from the village of Gradjagan across the bay to where the surf camp was located.
Yes there had been changes but I didn’t want to dwell on how things were better back then. Much better in 2002 was that both of my sons were with me. My reflective mood inspired a climb up the shaky stairs to a high bamboo platform. My sister Mimi had been so supportive of everything I had done and I wanted to share what I was experiencing. From my high vantage point, I was typing on a laptop computer my son had set me up with to write an email, something totally new to me. It was so spectacular that I could do that there. When we returned to Kuta Beach Bali I plugged into the internet and pushed send. Kuta was hooked up to the rest of the world and looked totally different than when I first saw it in 1969.
There were no more crickets in the late afternoon. It was as if an atom bomb exploded and the sleepy fishing village was rebuilt as an all-night bar town. 2002 Kuta was one of the most social places on the planet. Wow was all I could say. Out there in the camp, wedged between the jungle and ocean, things had also changed but the wave was still the same. With a strong pair of binoculars I could see my son, Cyrus, paddling into position. He had told me that he was going to marry Meitre, a beautiful girl from Central Java. He met her in West Virginia where they finished college together and were living in Java in 2002, in their home on the outskirts of Surabaya. I could barely keep my eyes on the computer. My sons were in the line-up surfing flawless beauties that ripped by on the outer reef. But I was trying to concentrate on the email and writing about the joys of surfing so my sister could appreciate the lifetime of attention we had paid to this place.
Hunting and pecking began. “Your stomach is empty. Surf stoke feeds your energy. You feel the ocean lift under your board like a surfacing Polaris submarine. No drop is out of place. This is what surfers live for—waves that define their life. They go out on the mediocre days to establish instincts and reactions for a day like this. From the moment you start paddling, till you stand up is two to three strokes. Strokes become the relevant form of time measurement. Time is of the essence. Can you get your board moving down the slope before it becomes so vertical, that standing requires the agility of the flying Vallendas on the high wire? You’ve watched other surfers misjudge the take off, lose their edge, and do eggbeater wipeouts. You don’t want any part of it. You use your experience.” Don King photo I watched Cy’s drop. It was if he was getting a steam catapult. He had twelve years of experience at this demanding wave even at the age of twenty-four. This is photo by Art Brewer was when Cy was twelve. His older brother Nat was duck diving. I may not have been a perfect father but I did introduce them to this. Writing about surfing in an email felt inadequate when what I saw in front of me was beyond words. But I put my head down and continued. “Speeding to the bottom of the wave, you bend your knees in anticipation of the first turn. Gentle enough to maintain edge and fin control, but hard enough to turn up into the steep face and duck. Now the wave is pitching its top into space, like a NFL running back diving over a wall of defensive linemen for his TD. The difference between nirvana and total annihilation is only a few feet. Spectators on the beach see you disappear from view under the curl and reappear as if by magic when the wave’s cracking velocity slows. That is if you’re good and lucky. Only seconds transpire. But that is real time. Riding inside the tube has an element of timelessness to it. You ride this wave till it exhausts it’s energy, kick out and paddle out for another, until your own energy is exhausted. Up to that point you have total focus. Bagging waves of this caliber, adds to your resume for entry into heaven.”
Cyrus had just blasted out of the tube. Any success at writing that email was only because it was happening right in front of me, and a whole lifetime. Cyrus was holding his hands to the sides of his head as he kicked out of his wave and I knew what he was thinking and feeling. What a wave.
The sun was getting too low for me to write. I looked out and saw Nat and Cyrus walking in over the dry reef and thought I’ll go join them to watch the sun go down on a glorious day. When I reached them, a newly arrived surfer in his early twenties, joined us on the beach. He introduced himself to us and shook our hands. “Aren’t you one of the Boyum brothers?” I replied, “That’s these two. ” The day before, Nat speared a forty-pound fish that fed the whole camp. Both of them were already legends. They spoke better Bahasa Indonesia than I did and knew their way around that chaotic country much better than I ever did. We were staring in amazement at the continual onslaught of waves that roared through as if turned out by a machine lathe. The new guy looked at me and broke the spell. “No. I meant you. Man, you were here thirty years ago. It must have been unreal then. I’d give anything to have this when you guys had it. ” “You would’ve huh?” I was thinking there was an unreality to the camp now. That day I paddled out through eight-foot surf while I saw this kid twenty-five years younger than me get shuttled out in a powerboat and get dropped off right in the line up. There was draft beer and electricity in the camp, which meant loud voices along with the edgy beat of techno music pulsed into the late hours of the jungle night.
But much of this was my doing. The surf camp was a great idea but we should have known that something so spectacular was impossible to keep secret. I look back on it with a mixture of pride and sadness. Return trips during the last thirty years made me cringe. At times there had been over 150 people living at the camp. The reef had transformed as the porous limestone geology drained the sewage of human existence into the ocean. Large trees that used to mark certain line-ups were gone. Japanese fishing fleets had certainly scoured the reef in search of giant clams, but it was our calling attention to this wonder of the world that had added to its ecological demise. We had great intentions. But it wasn’t enough. I had come to see that the means to an end and its future consequences were equally important as those great intentions.
The surf kid was still curious. “Yeah, I want to be the first somewhere but everyone has already been there before me. How did you find this place?” “Join the Navy and see the world. ” “You were in the Navy?” “Nope. But the Navy is in me.” My sons were chuckling. They had heard these riddles. He was scratching his head and while he acted interested, I felt too inadequate to communicate how I got here in a brief and casual conversation. My story happened over a span of forty-five years. How could I explain Surfing, Travel and Mind-expansion to a kid who has grown up in a world where surfers are paid to surf? How could I explain the pressure of a looming draft, Vietnam and the Boomer war protest? How could I explain War trauma and the effect it had on our family?
There was also a part of being there that was uncomfortable. I was realizing that at the age of 52, I was at a point where I felt there might be other things in my life that I could explore, rather than return to a past sanctuary that continued to change for the worse ecologically with the overcrowding. Whenever I returned there I was simply part of an ongoing problem that wounded my spirit. That might be the last time I will go to the surf camp. In 2002 I just wanted to spend some quality time with my sons.
But the young surfer’s request reminded me of a promise I made to tell my sons how it all happened. They had given up bugging me about it. I always had put them off with a curt, “Later.” I told myself that I would deal with things later after my father died on Maui during my first trip to G-land. I was younger then than my sons are now. Well, later was 2002. I felt strong enough and hopefully they were old enough to understand how to forgive my shortcomings as a parent as I had forgiven my Dad.
So in 2004 I began amassing my rather long collection of events that was eventually cut down to become Journals From The Edge.