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Surfing Java

Before you get all dreamy about Java, let’s be clear.  It’s the world’s most populated island, home to over 140 million people.  Most of its masses are concentrated in gargantuan cities, Jakarta being the most well known, with others such as Surabaya, Bandung, and Yogakarta also housing millions in their concrete corridors.

If you come to Java expecting to sip its aromatic coffee that you pay so dearly for at Whole Foods, think again.  Finding freshly ground beans in Java is more difficult than finding cheese, and we all know cheese is the only thing you really care about in month seven of travel in the developing world.

Nescafe, that sugary instant coffee, is all the rage.  They sell it everywhere-- supermarkets, street food stalls, even that little jungle coffee farm that takes two hours of sweaty trekking to reach that you have in your mind’s eye to be the secret source of all your coffee dreams, they, too, will proudly serve you Nescafe instead of their own crop.

That’s why I say it’s about the waves, man.  All the about the waves.

One thing about surfing is that you never have pictures of yourself because everyone who could be taking the pictures is, well, SURFING.  But one late afternoon I managed to drag myself out of the water and up onto a cliff to snap some shots of some local longboarders doing their lovely nose riding into the evening.

Sun piercing the jungly overgrowth above the Green Canyon.   A four-foot wide bamboo and wire bridge crosses the canyon’s waters, cutting of a good five miles off the jounrey to Batu Karas.

Our entire goal in Java was to surf. No magical quests for civet coffee (that involves a rodent shitting out the digested beans), no elusive village treks, none of this 4AM sunrise volcano hoopla.    A simple quest for a simple wave, something gentle, slow, glassy, and mellow.  Suitable for longboarding.  A place where the locals aren’t covered in reef scars, and the break isn’t so crowded that you end up mowing over ten people each time you take a wave.


That’s a lot to ask for in the United States, but in Indonesia, sweet Indo, where the shores are endless and the waters warm,  where your entire diet consists of fried rice with fried egg rolls stuffed with fried noodles, where the Mosque will wake you at 4 AM each morning with prayer,  where there’s only squat toilets (goggle THAT one), we found it.


Batu Karas, Java.  A small fishing village with a lovely point break, where NOTHING ever happens. In fact when we arrived, Ramadan was also in full effect, when everyone takes coutless naps for thirty days, fasting from sunrise to sundown, no food no drink.  Indonesia is mostly Muslim, and Ramadan is their biggest holiday, but the celebration starts when the fasting ends.  Until then, restaurants close for the month, and the ones that do remain open, in respect to fasting, appear closed, with shades drawn and outdoor seating relocated inside.


Our arrival was rather precarious—riding a motorbike across the village’s infamous bamboo bridge strung together with wire.   A jagged bamboo plank could easily send you flying into the Green Canyon below, no railing to stop your plummet.  Though a plunge into the gorgeous shimmering water wouldn’t be the worse way to go.


There are a few places to stay in Batu Karas, all small bungalows set back from the road that cost about 15 US dollars a night.  But we lucked out and met Jack-- a short Indonesian with a mohawk and a bungalow.  We followed him to the very edge of the beach, and there, nestled into the jungly cliff, was Shelter.  Not a shelter, mind you, but one basic two story hut with a hand painted wooden sign that said “Shelter Homestay: Books ‘N Beer”.  For 6 US dollars a night it was all ours: the downstairs sand-floor pavilion, equipped with a few logs for sitting and one hammock for lounging; the upstairs bedroom, with two mattresses and a balcony with a perfect view of the break; and the ten book “library” which included such fine works as a National Geographic from 1972, Catch-22 (which is one of my favorite books) and the Koran.  It was simple, and needed some accoutrements, (a mosquito net, most notably), and the electricity was being siphoned via numerous extension cords from the (our) public bathroom next door, but it was exactly what we were looking for: a little private surf shelter.  We took it.


And thus began our Javanese dream.  Every morning we woke at 7 AM and surfed,  We ate and then surfed again. Ate and then surfed AGAIN.  And this surf was beautiful, shimmering, glassy longboard surf. We grabbed a 9’0’’ from the Australian guy running the bungalows across the street and just carved wave after endless wave.  Thirty-second rides, sixty-second rides, two-minute rides if you were good enough to ride a wave all the way to the other beach over the hill.  This was the place we had been looking for, in all our travels.  A little bungalow to call home, a nice wave to nose ride, and of course, Mr. Rainbow with the crystal necklace that opens up under the light of the full moon.


But that will have to wait for the next entry.


It’s hard to resist the surf when it’s right outside your door 24 hours a day.  The mermaid checks the afternoon swell from Shelter’s balcony while the merman ventures out with his longboard.

Sunset surfing in Java.

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The point.