INTERVIEW by Leo Maxam
I’m hiking to the top of a hill overlooking the longest barrel in Indo. I’m hoping to find my Buddha: The Most Barreled Man On Earth. The Enlightened One. A monastic barrel seeker who spent the past quarter century camped out on this barren coast for months at a time. Forgoing all worldly pleasures in order to surf every blessed swell that greets this miracle stretch of reef. Countless swells. Untold hours meditating deep within the spinning blue womb of this wave, perfectly balanced between Nirvana and destruction.
My Buddha’s name is Pablo. Actually, his real name is Paul Miller – the “Pablo” thing just stuck after so many years surfing down in Mexico. The only son of southern Baptist missionaries who migrated to South America to spread the Lord’s word, Pablo grew up in Brazil before finding his way to Indonesia in the early ’80s in search of perfect waves. Then he stumbled upon this place. Back when there was no one here. And so surfing’s greatest love story began.
I was told to look for Pablo in a little wood hut at the top of the hill during high tide, when the assembly-line barrels vanish beneath the blanket of the Indian Ocean. When I reach the lookout, I find Pablo and a fellow seeker, Darren, reclining against the posts of the hut, lazily watching the afternoon tide make its retreat. Pablo is wearing a pair of ancient O’Neill boardies that look like they were hand stitched by Jack O’Neill himself. Discolored reef scars cris cross his leathery back. His bald head and grey beard are framed by a pair of broken sunglasses that still serve their purpose. He is the most peaceful being I have ever laid eyes upon.
Surely my Buddha has much to teach me now that I’ve reached the top of the mountain. My questions for him are boundless: What has he discovered on his path to enlightenment? What has he sacrificed for a lifetime of barrels? Was it worth it? I have so much to ask. So much to learn. There’s just one problem: my Buddha doesn’t want to talk to me.
Pablo: You don’t wanna interview me, man. I’m pretty boring.
What Youth: I don’t believe you. I know you got some good stories. What about the time you got stabbed out here?
Nobody wants to read about that.
What happened? Like, what do I do if a bunch of Lombok pirates come out here tonight with machetes and shit and try and rob us while we’re sleeping?
In general, here, if you give them your money you’re good. That’s the difference between here and somewhere like Mexico.
Yeah, Mexico is kinda gnarly.
That’s the key to the whole getting robbed thing, just give em your stuff. Like when I got stabbed here, I had a hut right down on the beach and I was sleeping, and I wake up and there’s a guy going out of my hut. So I get up out of bed and I look out, and it’s pretty bright from the moon, and I can see the one guy’s sitting there with some of my stuff. It was just one guy and I thought, shit, I can handle one guy. So I take off after him – like a dumb ass. Never do that. You get robbed, you give em your shit. Whatever you have, whatever it is – laptop, camera, whatever, it ain’t worth getting killed over. But I was young – well, at least I was younger than I am now – so I run after the guy and reach out and grab the back of his shirt and something just slams my shoulder. And I look down and there’s all these flashlights in my face and I’m covered in blood. I look up and there’s ten guys there. And I’m like, oh shit! So I run back and wake up my buddy Nick who was staying in the hut next to me, and he lays me down and we get a look at this big puncture wound in my shoulder from the guy’s knife. Then the dudes come back – ten guys all with knives – and they’re screaming, money! Money! So Nick’s freaking out trying to dig up our money – because we used to bury all our money and passports in the sand. They’re going through all our shit. And I’m lying there bleeding.
In the end, they were actually kinda cool. They started joking around and then they asked Nick, how’s your buddy? And then one guy came over and looked at my cut and he’s all, I help you, I help you. He got some tobacco leaves or something and starts doing this chant thing on me. And he puts the leaves on my wound and then he spits on it like three times. He’s like spitting on me, and I’m like, oh, thanks. [Laughing] In the end, they left all stoked and happy cause they got some shit and everything was all good.
And you all took a group photo together.
Yeah [laughing].We got robbed a few times out here in the early days. One time a friend of ours got hacked up really bad by these guys with machetes who were trying to rob us. It was the middle of the night and he was bleeding really bad. We had to put him on this little bamboo table and swim him around the point at high tide during a big swell in the dark. He almost lost his arm. It was hanging by a thread. He could have died really easily. But he made it.
I heard this year there’s been more robberies at Deserts.
Yeah, kinda the same scenario, except this year they had guns. I wasn’t here because I don’t sleep on the beach anymore, I sleep back at my place over the hill. But it just happened to be flat and onshore when they came. It was that stint in May where it wasn’t very good here. I guess 30 guys came over here on a boat and docked in at night, basically pirates. They hit the hotels around the bay the same way. But they really freaked out the local people who live here. They roughed em up. Slapped em around. Drank all their beers. They were eating all their food, breaking shit. Full pirates. I heard there was like two or three tourists here. I guess the French guy got in a tussle with one of the robbers and they roughed him up pretty good. I heard he got like 25 stitches. And that was this year! If there had been many surfers here, it would have been ugly. I can’t imagine. One of the guys had a gun and shot it at one of the local kids who got scared and ran. So the guys weren’t scared to use their guns. It would have been a complete nightmare if there had been even 15 or 20 tourists here. It would have been really ugly.
Think they’ll come back?
I mean, who knows. They came once, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again. They’ve been blocking the road too on the midnight run. Because a lot of crew do the midnight run from Bali to get here for a swell early the next morning. Actually a good friend of mine was coming on his bike one night from Bali, and you know that first big hill when you come from the ferry, he said it was like two in the morning and everything felt kinda eerie and two guys popped up and started screaming, stop, stop! Police, police! He said he passed em and then this huge spotlight just came straight in his face and all these guys were screaming, police, police! And he said, fuck that, and he just gunned it. He knew the road did this dogleg turn and he just gunned it around the turn, but they jumped out and tried to grab him. And they’ve been putting shit in the road to stop people, huge logs and stuff. I heard a Brazilian crew got robbed that way. So, yeah, Lombok is still kinda like the Wild West.
When did you first come out here?
Ummm, that was… shit… I came here on a boat with some friends in like ’87 or ’88. Cause back then overland was really hard. So we got together on some shitty little boat and came over here. And then once I figured out where it was, I came back like two years after that by land.
It took you two years to come back to the best wave in the world when there was no one here?
Well, when I came on the boat that first time it was kinda shitty. If it had been going off, yeah, that would have been it right there. But a good friend of mine used to surf it by boat, this guy Bill Hike from Northern Cal. He’s probably like the first guy who really surfed here. He used to have an old Indo fishing boat and go to G-Land and come over here. He had it dialed, he was really the pioneer here. There might have been guys before him that surfed it, but he was really the first guy who really was on it, who was consistently surfing here all the time.
Does he ever surf here anymore?
Man, he came a few years ago. He’s got a kid that surfs. But it’s kinda sad, you know. He gets here and it’s crowded and everybody’s dropping in on him and don’t give a shit, you know.
Back when you first found out about this place, was it like a tightly guarded secret? Like you meet some guy in a bar and he’s a little drunk and has loose lips and he draws you a map on a bar napkin.
Back then there was actually some… you know, back then everybody wasn’t like, dude, look at my video, look where I’ve been! Back then everybody was a bit more like, oh, I got a place, I’m not telling. Someone would ask you, how was it? And you’d say, nah, it was shitty, it was no good. That doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s like, Duuude, it was going off! Look at my video! So back then it was all kinda hush hush and nobody was really advertising.
So how do you find out about a wave like this back then?
You’d tell your friends and shit, but it’s not like it is today where you’re telling the whole world. You know, you’d hear whispers here and there. I think I actually first heard about this place from a guy I used to travel with down in Mex. So I came and checked it out. And back then it was a good call because there was no one here. I said, man, I’m gonna hang here and milk it till it’s done. And it’s about done! [laughing]
That’s what I always think about, if only I could have been around during that era in surfing. Like, I was born in 1984, three years after you first came to Indonesia [Pablo is laughing]. Why couldn’t I have been born 20 years earlier!
Yeah, that was a good era. But then again, it wasn’t easy, man. I’ll tell you what, if everybody had to do what we did back then to get here, there wouldn’t be two thirds of the people surfing out here now. I’m telling you what, 95 percent of the people wouldn’t do that these days! It took hours to hike out here. It took forever just to get from the ferry down to where you hiked out. The road was just a mess of potholes. And then you had to carry your boards, your backpack, your tent, your food, your water, I mean it was hard work. There were times where I would have to bury all my shit in the sand!
Bury your shit?
Yeah, because I wanted to leave but I wasn’t gonna carry all my shit out. Like if I needed to leave for a visa run and there was no one here to leave my shit with. Because we’d look after each other’s stuff – there were these two Kiwi guys, Nick and Chris, they were some of the original guys who were around here forever – but sometimes there was no one around to watch your stuff. There wasn’t any Indos living here at the time, and fishermen would come in and out occasionally, so I actually buried my boards and my food in a big ‘ol hole in the sand so I wouldn’t have to lug it all out.
And back then there was no internet, so you would come out here and it could be flat for weeks. I’ve sat here plenty of weeks with nothing! People now, they go one day here with no waves and, oh fuck it’s flat, ahhh! Back to Bali! It’s like, dude, are you serious?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I do. If it doesn’t pulse before dark I think we’re leaving tonight.
So it wasn’t easy. But, yeah, it was definitely worth it because when the waves came up there was nobody around. But most crew these days couldn’t handle that and wouldn’t do that. These days people wanna drive up and have a cold beer, and get their surfs and get their video, and leave. I mean, dude, how easy is it now? You show up in your car and you got cold beers waiting for you on the beach.
Is there a longest flat spell that comes to mind?
Oh man, as long as a flat spell gets, I’ve seen it. But I’ll tell you what, I don’t really mind a flat spell. For most surfers these days it’s all about the surf. And it’s not. Back then it was cool, dude. We had a bunch of friends camping and it was fun. Not saying that the flat spells didn’t kinda suck, but you’d dive, spearfish, you find other shit to do. We used to work on our huts, make some chairs or tables or something out of wood. Go diving and get some fish. And then you’d get a good fish and you’d have your friends over and have a little fish BBQ party. It was cool, it was fun.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than two nights in a row here.
These days people will come on the day of the swell, show up in the morning, wanna surf, and as soon as it’s done they’re outta here. You kinda lose your whole feel for the place. It’s all about you want your photo, you want your video, and you want everything instantly. I guess it’s just different. I’m just not in that school of thought. I’m more like you put in your time and hopefully you get some waves. But now it’s tough even getting waves because you’re sitting around with 100 other people. Back then you were sitting on the beach waiting for the swell to come up, and when it came up you knew you were gonna get good waves. Now it’s tough because you wait and then 50 to 80 heads are showing up and then, you know, you might not get a wave [laughing]. It’s tough now. But that’s how it is.
Do you ever surf any other waves in Indo?
Not really. I cruised around. I went up to One Palm and camped out there on the beach for a while, like in ’93 or something. But it’s so isolated there and a pretty dangerous wave to be camping on. If you get hurt out there you could really get in trouble. I was never one to really run around and chase swells. I’d rather just hang here and wait for a window here and there.
What would you guys eat out here back then?
You’d bring out your basics, like rice and noodles. You didn’t have a real good diet, but you don’t need too much to survive. I spearfish, so every day I could always eat fish pretty much. But it was funny because there would be other guys showing up sometimes – it wasn’t like nobody else was showing up – and guys would show up and be like, yeah, we’re gonna stay here for two weeks. And we’d be looking at em like, yeah right. After two days of it being flat they’d be like, dude, we’re out of here, you want this stuff? So you basically had guys bringing in food for you (laughing). We used to get all kinds of stuff from those guys.
How did you get your water?
We had a well out the back here. So that was a daily ritual, you’d go to the well and boil your water for the day. The water was ok, it was drinkable. But you definitely had to boil it. Every night you would boil your big thing of water so you had water for the next day. There was all kinds of shit to do. It wasn’t like you were sitting around twiddling your thumbs.
Have you ever been up to the Mentawais?
Never been up there. I have some friends who have boats and shit up there, but I’ve never been. Maybe one day [laughs]. This friend of mine was trying to get me on a boat trip. He said, I’ll pay the 800 dollars deposit and all you have to do is come up with two grand [laughing]. Like I got two grand to spend for 10 days on a boat, I don’t think so [more laughter]. So I didn’t go. Maybe one day I’ll go up there, but… nah, when I’m done I’ll just pack it and leave.
How do you know when you’re done?
Yeah, I don’t know. That’s a good question. Because the crowds are getting…It’ll be the crowds. It won’t be because I want to go or I’m over it or anything. It’s more because of the whole atmosphere of being in the water. Guys talking shit and getting dropped in on and shit like that. I don’t need to deal with that. I don’t need to be stressing about getting waves.
Have you seen some ugly fights here in more recent years?
There have been some nasty incidents, for sure. It’s bound to happen. It’s not really a wave that can handle a crowd. G-Land is more spread out and you got more of a playing field, so you get your crowds surfing different parts of the wave. Out here, you got your takeoff and basically that takeoff is one wave all the way. So somebody catches a wave and there are guys on the shoulder trying to shoulder hop and caving it and shit. Because out here you don’t even have to take off on somebody – if you paddle for a wave and the guy’s coming down the barrel and you pull back, you’re gonna snowball the guy in the barrel and you might as well have just dropped in on the guy. Because it’s that much of a line on the wave that just paddling for it can screw the guy up and he’s not gonna make it.
Yeah, usually I just get completely dropped in on.
And on a crowded day there’s 50 guys paddling for each wave [laughing]. And then 50 more out the back all arguing and talking shit trying to get the next one [more laughter]. So when it gets to that point…So far I’ve been pretty fortunate, I can still manage to get one here and there. And as long as I can do that, you know, I don’t need to be catching every wave that comes in. I realize that everybody else has to surf.
Is it hard not to snap on people who show up here for the first time and act like they own the place?
I think the crew that has hung here for a long time has been pretty respectful, as far as not saying, I’ve been surfing here so long and I deserve to take off on every set wave that comes in. I wasn’t brought up that way and I try to respect people when they show up. I do my best. But it gets to the point where it just turns into chaos and nobody respects nothing. People start frothing, they get a good one, and it gets pretty ugly. It’s a shame really because it takes away from the whole experience. It’s not the same like it was. You’ve had that many years with just a few friends out, you know. Like, you go on that one. No, no, I had a good one just now, you go on that one. Shit like that. That don’t exist no more [laughing]. Now you’re just hoping you can catch something.
Living out here, do you still get those magical days out here? Windows with waves and no crowd?
Man, it don’t really happen no more, man. That Internet stuff now is so…. so exact. They’ve just got it down to a science where they’re on it. And it’s that close to Bali now where any little bump you see, there’s 15 to 20 cars showing up. A lot of people say, oh you must get all kinds of days to yourself out here, but nah. You would hope that there would be a lot – every once in a while there’s a little window, but mostly they’re the small tiny days where it’s barely breaking, maybe one or two will come in but not like pumping – that’s not gonna happen. Because pretty much all them websites, if they say there’s gonna be a good SW-W swell, everybody gets all up in arms, oh Deserts! Everybody wants to come over, and there’s gonna be at least 50 heads here, minimum.
Do you check the swell forecast?
I look at it. But I’m more interested to see when it’s flat so I know when I can go to town and do my little food run or whatever.
Other than the crowds, what has been the biggest change you’ve noticed here?
Oh, this place was beautiful out here, man. All over these hills it was trees. Years ago I’d never been up here. You literally couldn’t walk up this hill, the forest was that thick. That road that you drive in on now was just a little footpath that was actually made by the Japanese. The Japanese had a post out by the lighthouse there where they had cannons pointing out to the straits (dating back to the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II). The cannons are still there, way out past that far lighthouse.
So why does this place look like a dust bowl now?
When the local people came in that first year – I never understood how they allowed the people to come in (Deserts is located in what is ostensibly a national park) – it looked like complete Armageddon. They chopped down everything, every living tree that was here. All these coconut and banana trees are new. Everything you see growing here now wasn’t there before. There used to be big beautiful trees and they just hacked it and sold the wood and burned it. It looked like a battlefield. It was sad. Now they farm peanuts, tobacco, beans and stuff.
If you brought someone here who didn’t know anything about surfing, they would probably think this place was some kind of refugee camp or something. It’s like a surfer ghetto out here.
There’s a lot of problems going on down there that need to be addressed. The trash. They dump it in the riverbed. They burn it. I mean it’s everywhere. It’s sad. It’s grown so much, it’s really gotten too big for what the locals can provide. They don’t really have any money they can put into it. The sewage. You got the septic right next to the wells. I’m surprised there hasn’t been an outbreak. I’ve always said it’s just asking for an outbreak of hepatitis or typhoid or something else like that. You have that many people in that little area with your septic right next to your wells. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, really.
Are you married?
Nope, just me.
Ever been married?
No [laughing]. Ain’t nobody gonna put up with me. I got my family. Somehow they all ended up in Austin, Texas, so I’ll go down there and visit them for a few months every year and then head down to Mex. It’s pretty trippy going to Texas after being here for six months. I would rather not, but you gotta do your family obligations. I’d rather be by the beach, but it’s alright. I used to do more time in Mexico because I used to fix dings down there to make money. So I used to go straight from here down to Mex and go fix dings there. But I taught a couple of the local kids how to fix dings, so now I don’t have a job there anymore [laughing]. Same like here. But that’s ok, I can work other ways, no problem.
How else do you make money?
I have a thing with my sister. We make jewelry and stuff. I take some stuff back from here and sell it there in Texas.
Are you on Facebook?
Mmm, sorry [chuckling].
What do you think of that stuff? Social media has become really popular in the surfing world.
Yeah, like I said, I’d rather just catch my waves and not worry about that stuff. It’s just a different mindset, I guess. I’m not getting a wave and posting anywhere and showing everybody. I’m from a different school. Back in the day my friends used to joke that they’d always ask me how the surf’s been over here, and I’d tell them, oh, it’s been shitty. And they’d say, dude, the surf is always shitty, huh! So I’m more that school where I’m not too much on advertising. It’s the complete opposite now. And it’s kinda strange to me because the guys are complaining that it’s crowded. You can’t have it both ways, posting all your shit and showing everybody and then you wonder why there’s 100 guys in the lineup [laughing].
When did you know this place was going to be your part-time home for rest of your life? Did you know it from your first barrel?
Oh, just as soon as I seen it the first time – when I came by land. I remember walking up the beach here with all my stuff and it was seriously pumping. It was like 8-foot or something. And I was coming up from the Grower, carrying my boards just looking at it, and I’m like, I found it. This is it. This is what I was looking for! I mean, the search was over. Where am I gonna go? What else am I gonna go look for? Geez, there’s nobody here. I’m gonna milk this thing till it’s dry. I’m stoked I did too. Ain’t money that can buy what I got. What I had, you can’t buy that.
When you would stay out here for months at a time was there anything that you really missed?
Oh, you know, you start thinking of all kinds of things, mostly food [laughing]. Like an ice cream, or a cold something. But, no, at the end of the day you don’t really need anything.
And now there’s even ice cream here.
Yeah, you know it, the ice cream man even comes around on his bike. How’s that?
It seems like you got here at the perfect time, because the crowds still hadn’t found this place but board design had really started to improve for this type of wave.
Yeah, back when Bill (Hike) was coming, the boards weren’t that good yet. By the time I got here, the tri-fins had really started to come in. I remember when I was at Ulus in ’81, the first guys were coming over with the three fins and it was like, whoa, check those out. So I was kinda on the edge of where the boards started getting way better. I mean, you could surf here before, but on a big single fin it’d be kinda sketchy. You could do it, I seen a couple guys surf pretty good on some single fins out here, but the boards these days are a whole ‘nother ball game. That was the perfect era where there wasn’t that many heads that surfed and the boards made it more accessible. That was the perfect little window right then.
As time went on, did you refine your boards for Deserts?
Back then I used to fix boards here. There was no one living here and a few crew used to come visit. Obviously, I hadn’t been working a whole lot, so it’s not like I had a whole lot of money. I don’t have a grand to plop down on two or three new boards. So I always surfed broken boards. Guys used to snap boards all the time here and I had a whole quiver of left-behind broken boards. And back then, nobody wanted to haul a broken board out of here, so I always rode broken boards. There was a lot of good surfers around and they’d snap boards and say, here, take it. So I’d whack it together and surf it and break it again. I always got to try all these new boards. Granted, they’re snapped, but out here it doesn’t really matter that much. As long as you got the rocker good. Weight isn’t much of an issue out here. It’s not like I’m doing aerials or anything. As long as it holds a good line and goes fast. I used to have heaps of boards, all kinds. Put ’em together and break ’em again.
Have you ever worked a 9 to 5 job?
Man, I did teach school for a while in Brazil. It didn’t last too long, probably a year and a half. I pretty much haven’t been back to Brazil since I’ve been coming here. Basically, my work the first 10 to 12 years I was here was fixing boards. And I made a good living off it. There was guys coming in and if you broke your board, you had no option, I was the only repair guy around. No Indonesians anywhere. I never got rich, but it was plenty. I always left Indonesia with more money than I got here with.
I wish I could say that. Bali is expensive now.
I mean, what can you spend out here, you know? There’s no rent. You’re buying some veggies and rice. And then I went to Mexico and fixed boards down there too. So in that way I was avoiding a real job. Fixing dings is kind of a pain in the ass, but it paid the bills for a lot of years and it was a good thing. But there come a time when the Indo kids are out here, and I’m not gonna sit here competing with the Indo kids. I taught Budi (Deserts local) how to fix boards. He worked with me for one year, he was sanding. And now he’s done really well with it and I’m stoked for him. I don’t have no more work, but that’s ok [laughing]. He’s built a nice house here, he’s got more than me. But it’s cool to see him doing well. They’re good kids here.
What about Usman?
He’s really progressed. From Day One when he was learning, you could tell he was just different. He’s a funny kid, real charismatic. He’s just got that kinda personality – he was different. They used to learn on the high tide here. I used to give him my old snapped boards and shit. He was tiny when he started surfing. I don’t know how old he is now, but he was tiny, tiny. Like really small. You could tell even when he was surfing as a little kid that he was gonna be really good. He was doing switch stance and backflips off the board, you could tell he was just loving it. It’s been interesting to see his progression from a little kid playing in the shorebreak to now he’s the man out there.
He can hang with anyone in the world out here.
It’s amazing he didn’t kill himself. To this day I don’t know how he didn’t. We call it Usi’s corner over here (extremely shallow zone before the Grower), and every day he would bring his board and snap the nose off, snap the fin off, snap the nose again. It was just every day he was decimating his boards. Somehow, I guess he was so light, he never really got hurt. It’s pretty amazing when you’re taking off right there. And, you know, it took him a while before he got the hang of it. But I’ll tell you what, after he got the hang of it, he’s fun to watch. I like surfing with him, he’s a good kid.
And all those times he would break his board he’d bring it to you to fix, right?
Yeah (laughing), because Budi didn’t fix boards yet, so he’d be like, oh, I broke a fin out again. (Pablo rolls his eyes) Oh, god. Somehow he had a thing with his fins, those FCS plugs. He used to pop em out all the time. It’s good to see him do well. He got sponsored and he’s doing good. He’s got this place completely dialed. He’s the kinda guy that will go out and the waves will just come right to him. He’s just got a connection with the place. And now the other kids are surfing good too, Awan and Budi.
How much money do you need a year to get by?
I’m pretty well known for getting by on not much (laughing). I can do a year on probably like… (thinking) four grand, five grand tops.
I don’t have anything that –
Darren: He doesn’t have bad habits like the rest of us!
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t really party. And I basically hang here. So where are you gonna waste money here? I don’t go to Bali much. I did for a while. I had a few girlfriends in Bali where I’m running back and forth, but that kinda never works out.
Darren: If it’s got tits or wheels it’s gonna cost ya, boys!
And before you know it they want you getting a job and staying over there more, and that’s not gonna happen.
Was there ever a girl where you thought, oh man, I might end up marrying this one?
A little bit. Yeah, I had a Mexican girlfriend and she was pretty special. But that meant that I was basically gonna stay in Mexico and I wasn’t gonna do that.
What does your family think of your lifestyle?
You wonder, because they’re pretty conservative. They’re southern Baptist missionaries, but they’re really good people. My mom for a while, you know, she wanted grandkids, she wanted me to get married. And then all my friends, they all got married and had kids, and then before you know it they’re all getting divorced. So in the end she was like, maybe you did know what you were doing. They never really gave me too much grief. They’ve been pretty supportive of my choices. We’re a pretty close family. I just got two sisters. They don’t surf. I think in the end they’re pretty good with it. And I always come home with some pretty good stories so it keeps things entertaining.
So now you change your tune, you do you have good stories!
No bad habits, huh? You must have at least one vice.
I guess this is it (laughing), surfing out here. And that’s a bad enough one. It messed me up, but oh well.
What do you think you’ll do with yourself if you stop surfing here?
Man, I got no idea. I really don’t. Because I’ve been doing it this long. But It’ll come the day where I’ll have to walk away from here because… I don’t want it to get to a point where there’s such a bad feeling in the water. I don’t want to leave it where it almost leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Some days it gets to that, but you gotta kinda let those days ride. I suppose there will be a day in the not too distant future where it’s not really worth it anymore. And when that day comes, hopefully I can walk.
Could you ever live away from the ocean? Like in Texas?
No way. I really like Mexico. I can see myself ending up down there. The place I hang out in Mexico, it’s not that good of a wave. It’s like a left point, kinda fat. But it’s cool. I got a lot of friends down there and we go fishing, it’s more of a social thing. There, it’s not so much about the surf. It’s just a good place – aside from all the (drug) cartel shit going on. But at least it keeps the crowd down [laughs].
How old are you?
Aw, man, I’m gonna be 55 one of these days. I just turned 54 in August. Yeah, going on 55, damn. We always used to joke back in the day like, yeah, we’ll retire when we get to 50. Well that came and went.
Have you ever tried to calculate how many barrels you’ve had out here?
No. I don’t think you can estimate. Now, with the crowd, you don’t get so many. Now you go out and hope you get a couple good ones. But back in the day you were catching every freaking set that came in. Believe me, with that current, when there’s only three or four guys out, every set that comes in you’re getting. Not only that, you’re choosing which wave of the set you want. You catch it, and that rip used to really go, so you didn’t even have to paddle and you were straight back out there. So basically, back in the day, in one swell I probably used to get as many waves as I get all year now.
You’re boggling my mind right now.
And you’re talking about six months of doing that. So if you tried to count that – you can’t. And somehow – it might be an old man thing – but it seems like it used to be a lot better back then. You got better swells and it was more consistent. Somehow those early years were just pumping, at least in your memory they were. But they were, because I’ve kept a journal over the years, and I’ll bust one out and pick a random year and look at it. And when you look at it, the last few years here haven’t been that good, relatively speaking. This year was a shocker. This year was the worst year by far that I’ve ever seen here – which is not to say there weren’t some good waves. August was pretty good – crowded, of course – but May, June, and July, we were getting all that rain and north wind. Just weird, really strange weather. I’ve always wondered what’s the worst year for waves here, and this was it.
Do you have any regrets?
Me? Nah, I had a great time [laughing]. I’d do this all over for a joke. It was a good call. The shame about surfing now is that what we had here, what I experienced, it doesn’t exist anymore. It might kind of exist somewhere, there are still some undiscovered spots or whatever. But for a wave of this quality, to be able to surf it with just your friends for months on end, for years on end… it doesn’t exist. I’m not sure exactly how productive I’m contributing to the world or whatever [laughing], but I had lots of fun!
When you get a really good barrel now, is it still just as fun?
Obviously, you get jaded. You get used to such a high level of a wave. When I go to Mexico I gotta remember that. And here too. Sometimes you get kinda bummed because you see a guy just get kind of a shitty little one and the guy is stoked and he’s yelling and he’s screaming. And sometimes you’re like, what a kook. But then you think, man, I wish I could be like that. If I could get stoked on a wave like that it would be great. But, obviously, after getting so many waves here you do get jaded.
Is there one barrel that stands out in your memory?
Man, there actually is one, yeah. There’s a whole bunch of ’em that are pretty good, but there’s one that stands out that I don’t think I’ll get a much better one than that [laughing]. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
When did people start surfing down at the Grower?
That basically happened because of the crowds, because it’s so packed at the top. Rob Machado came here years ago and they were filming that Drifter thing, and when he was here it was just absolutely packed. They were promoting this movie as he’s cruising around surfing these soul spots by himself, so they couldn’t have that in this big movie – it’s a business, I understand that. Back then nobody surfed down there (at the Grower) – and obviously he’s a really gifted surfer – so he went down there so they could film it and make it look like he’s surfing by himself. I never saw the movie, I don’t really watch surf movies, but when the movie came out a friend of mine said to me, dude, Machado was there and there was nobody out! I’m like, nobody out! It was packed! There were 100 guys!
You lied to me, Taylor Steele!
And then the Brazilians caught on to that. Because if you wanna take some photos, that’s where you go. A photo out here (motions to the top section of the wave) doesn’t really do it much justice. It looks good and everything, but down there it looks like Pipeline – it comes in heaving. The backdrop, the light, everything is perfect. So it’s a photo spot. I consider it more of a novelty spot. It’s really not a spot. It’s a spot where someone is gonna get hurt. They’re rolling the dice down there. But those Brazilian guys, they come here and that’s all they surf. I know all those guys and they won’t even paddle out the back. They just go out at the Grower and get their shots. You know, it’s a business. They’re making money. That’s how surfing is these days.
What do you think this place will look like in another 20 years?
Man, that’s anybody’s guess. Lombok right now is pretty much just blowing up. Bali is so crowded and so overdeveloped and Lombok is just starting. They just opened the new airport last year in Kuta, Lombok. And there’s a beach right down here called Makaki where they’ve already kicked everybody out for a development. Because a lot of the land around here is government land.
This is actually a national park, right?
It’s supposed to be. These people came in probably like ten or 11 years ago. And there’s been rumors over the years that the government was going to kick the people out and they were going to build a big development here. It’s sad to say for these people. They’re farmers, they’re poor people. They don’t have anything. They came out here farming the land and then they realized they could make money by renting little rooms and making food for the surfers.
Think there will be a Blue Point Hotel here some day? Or another Dreamland?
Who knows what’s going to happen, but if I had to guess I’d say the local people here aren’t going to win over the big money. Some big hotel or something will come in and kick them out. They’ll get compensated, I would imagine. But they’re fighting. They’re trying to get their titles to the land. They’re convinced they’re gonna get titles, and hey, maybe they will. But there’s a lot of big projects going up around here. This one around the corner is supposed to have a golf course, and there’s another one up at Sekotong that’s supposed to be huge. So the government’s got big plans for Lombok. Who knows what will happen and when it will happen. I mean, this (the warung / losmen village) could go on for another five years.
I’m surprised someone hasn’t tried to build a luxury surf camp here already.
They’ll probably build a huge resort here. Probably with an infinity pool. I can see it happening. Hopefully they let me stick around and be the janitor or something [laughing], groundskeeper. Hopefully someone will put in a good word for me.