As a surfer
Red Brisco was sure he had the ‘right stuff’ just like those Houston
Astronauts. He had his surf tricks timed to perfection, aerials, 360s, lip
bounces, floaters and a few others they still hadn’t invented names for yet.
And if proof was necessary about his skills, he’d been two-time runner-up in
1999 and 2001 at the Gulf surf contests at Galveston, Texas.
Red was a
natural-born crowd pleaser in and out of the water. He liked to brag to his
buddies that he ‘got more ass than a Roadhouse toilet seat.’ But lately, Red
was beginning to wonder if some of the girls just wanted to bask in the
reflected glow of his Texas surf fame.
wasn’t Texas and the surf at G-land on the island of Java was a whole
different ball game. First of all there weren’t any young ladies at the surf
camps; it was dudes only, Testosterone City.
At the surf
camp bar there was a nightly pissing contest fuelled by Bintang beer about
who rode what, and how big. If Red could do it over again he’d have probably
kept his mouth shut about his Texas contest achievements to the fellows at
It wasn’t the
size of the waves at G-land that had him on edge; Red had surfed bigger
waves during the storm season. That was at the end of the hot Texas summer
when hurricanes kicked up the surf along the Galveston coast. This G-land,
or Grajagan as the Indonesians called it, was a whole other number. The
waves were over three meters and breaking bone-crunchingly hard on the coral
reef, and they were getting bigger.
surf was too big for Red’s 5′10″ Al Merrick surfboard, but he didn’t want to
paddle in for the bigger board, some of the guys on beach might think he
couldn’t hack it. After all Red had his image to consider: how would it seem
if a two-time Texas Gulf coast runner-up looked like he was chickening out?
Red had been
in the water for a least a half an hour and hadn’t caught a wave yet; he was
still scrambling trying to line up. At Galveston he would have had a dozen
waves under his belt by now. The trouble was, you had too much time to think
about these big blue beauties as they came at you. They were
freight-training past and started breaking some fifty meters further down
was looking a lot different than the magazine photos or the clips he’d seen
on the surf DVDs. It was downright scary out there. The wind was blowing
hard offshore, ripping the froth off the top of the giant waves. The way
G-land was working today the only option you had was in the timing of your
take-off. Getting a wave here was like sticking out your arm to catch a
speeding bus and praying it didn’t get torn off.
impact zone at Moneytrees Red floated among the pack of surfers. They all
turned their faces when a set came through to avoid being pelted by the
stinging offshore spray that was whipped off the top of the waves. On the
faces among the pack Red could see that most of them weren’t ready for this
shit either. Like him, they had probably just stepped off the plane after
months of surfing one-meter wind-blown slop at their local beach.
saw a couple of boogie boarders, younger guys from his surf camp Tiger
Tracks, talking quietly. He paddled up next to them.
“Did you get
a few?” asked Red.
but it closed out,” said the first boy.
The kid held
up his boogie board for Red to see a fist-sized gouge torn out of the bottom
by the coral reef.
this isn’t even big,” said the other kid.
laughed and stroked leisurely towards the take-off zone. G-land had these
guys spooked too.
Further down the line Red could see some guys ripping, Aussies, French and
of course Indonesians. They were flying, dropping down the face of the wave,
then whipping a bottom turn and driving down the line for all they were
didn’t see any of the surfers try to get ‘air’ or do a ‘floater.’ They just
tried to beat the wave as it collapsed behind them. They rode high in the
pocket and pushed it hard down the line. Just make the damn thing was all
they wanted to do. Well hell, I’m not going to pussy out, thought Red, I’ll
show these dudes how we do it Texas style. Maybe he’d do a 360 that would
make their day.
Besides, the G-land surf camp was costing Red a hundred dollars a day. If
you divide that up with how many waves he’d caught so far, he might as well
be kicking back at Kuta Beach in Bali. For that kind of money you could buy
dinner, Bintang beers for everyone on the beach and still have enough left
over for a jiggy-jiggy massage.
made his move. He paddled away from the pack and positioned himself at the
next take-off zone. The big sets at Kongs had died down, but a few smaller
waves were still coming through. Then he saw one without an Aussie, Frenchy
or Indo dude in sight. Like Elvis said, “It’s Now or Never.”
wave was over two meters. Red wheeled his board around and stroked. The
offshore spray stung his face and blinded him, but he dug his arms deep in
the water and picked up the tempo. Red could feel his board starting to
lift, but with the spray in his face he couldn’t see a thing. Instinctively,
he snapped up to the crouch position as he began to drop down the face of
Red’s eyes cleared he could see patches of seaweed swirling just below the
surface as the water was being sucked up over the coral reef. From the
corner of his eye he could see the wave start to fold over to his right. It
was breaking top to bottom over the gnarly coral heads.
down the face of the wave; there was no time to make a bottom turn. He
grabbed his rail as the wave folded over. He could feel the spray on his
back. Ahead of him the wave walled up as he tucked in tighter and shifted
his weight forward.
flying. It flashed in his mind that he hoped someone onshore was getting
this on videotape. He squeezed all the speed he could from his board. There
was no time for any moves, and the lip bounce—forget about it. Further down
the line the wave was still holding up and now it started to pitch over him.
have easily stood up in the tube and stroked the surface of the wave, like
those cool guys in the magazines do. And if he thought someone was actually
videotaping he probably would have tried it.
The reef was
passing right under him like you’d see from a glass-bottomed boat, green and
white jagged coral. The wave started to pitch out in front of him; now
kicking-out was not an option and in a split second Red decided to try and
punch through the wave.
Red dug his
inside rail into the face of the wave. The theory was if you had enough
momentum you could punch through to the backside of the wave and avoid any
nasty consequences, like having the lip of the wave grind you into the
coral. He hit the water at full speed and felt the deceleration G’s as he
pushed through the wave. But instead of coming out of the backside Red could
feel the wave winning this tug-of-war, sucking him backward. He lost his
balance and fell hard on his back on top of the board. Christ, he thought, I
hope it isn’t fin side. He felt a grinding and heard a bang under his back,
and was now caught in the roiling foam of the broken wave.
popped up to the surface he was standing in waist-deep water, out of breath.
Though the episode lasted no more than a few seconds it seemed an eternity.
In the surging white water it was difficult to get his balance. He stumbled
over the coral, banging his toes. The surge from the wave tugged at him. He
lost his balance and was scraped across the bottom. He surfaced and blew the
sea water from his nose. He turned to face the surf as the next wave broke
just ten meters from him. He dove under the white water, but not before
hitting the reef again.
broke to the surface once more. The wave flipped his board over and he saw a
gouge that ran down about half the length of his surfboard. But it was his
tri-fins that had the most damage; the center fin was split in half after
contact with the reef.
big set now rolled in at Kongs and Red saw a surfer drop in the first wave.
The guy made the bottom, but caught a rail and was spun off his board. He
was then swept up the wave face and pitched out over the lip. The surfer
came up with a piece of scalp flapping from the side of his head after
hitting the bottom. His buddies came to his assistance and helped him
ashore. The surfer held his scalp in place as blood seeped through his
Good God almighty, Red thought, this business is supposed to be fun. He
checked his own cuts, nothing serious. And his board was still usable so he
pulled it underneath him and began to paddle out again.
pushed through a few waves and once outside decided to drift further down
the line, where the waves lost most of their size and power. He drifted past
Speedies and Launching Pad. Down the line the crowd thinned out until there
were only a couple of boogie boarders, but they had had enough and were
paddling in. He caught another wave and this time it was a much better
experience. He even got a little ‘air’ when he pulled out, flipping his
board over the backside of the wave.
Then Red saw
it as he was paddling back out. There had been rain in the last few days so
there was a lot of flotsam in the water, palm fronds, tree branches and
coconuts. It looked like just another piece of debris as he paddled past it,
but then something caught his attention, startling him.
underneath the fringe of dark hair an eye stared at him; in the other eye
socket Red saw the tail of a fish feeding in it. Across the face of the dead
Japanese boy the flesh was ripped away. It looked as if a gigantic claw had
torn it to shreds.
panic Red Brisco wheeled his surfboard around and stroked for shore. He
didn’t even feel the cuts on his feet as he ran across the coral towards the
beach. As he raced past a couple of guys getting ready to enter the water he
yelled, “He’s dead! Fuck, there’s somebody dead out there!” He ripped off
his leash and ran with his board under his arm towards Mick’s Tiger Tracks
surf camp, shouting.
body out there!”
all they had,” said Bobby Cruz holding up a plastic sack of take-out food as
he entered the hotel room.
all they got, then that’s what I get,” said Samantha from the bed.
“I don’t feel
good about this.”
going to be okay,” she said tossing aside the covers.
“Why do I get
the feeling that this is not going to be the end of the story?” he asked.
what the doctor said, these things just take time that’s all,” she replied
weary of the discussion.
don’t like this.”
“Come on sit
down, its going to be alright,” said Samantha indicating a place next to her
on the bed. She turned down the TV volume on the Friends rerun and
tossed the remote on to the bed covers.
As Bobby sat
down next to her he could see Samantha had put on make-up while he’d been
out getting food.
“It’s no big
deal,” said Samantha. “You are going to continue on with your trip and I am
going home. I can’t deal with this stomach bug here. I’ll feel a whole lot
better just to be able to talk to my own doctor.”
“How are you
feeling now?” he asked.
medicine is working. No cramps. And according to doctor the bug is gone,
there’s nothing more we can do. Its getting late and you better get moving
or you’ll miss your flight.”
see more talk wasn’t going to help. He leaned across the bed and kissed her.
Samantha tasted like the toothpaste she’d used after vomiting.
she said. “It’s alright. Honest. I’ll call as soon as I get a flight back.
You have fun.”
“I love you,”
said Bobby, as he shouldered his bag.
“I love you
too and don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay,” she said with a smile.
As soon as
the door closed behind him, Samantha turned up the sound on Friends
and opened up the bag of take-out food. She closed it quickly to keep from
retching and curled up holding the pillow against her stomach.
together girl, she thought, hang tough, you’ll be home soon.
was late afternoon and sweltering hot in Singapore. Bobby had sweated
through his shirt by the time he walked the short distance from his hotel to
the metro station. There he would pick up the train to Changi Airport and
catch the 6 p.m. Garuda flight to Denpasar Bali.
Earlier that morning they had taken a taxi to the Raffles Hospital. Bobby
had insisted because Samantha’s stomach trouble hadn’t got any better. For
the last few days she had thrown up, had bouts of diarrhea, and was nauseous
every time she stood up. They had been hunkering down in the hotel room for
days now watching HBO to the drone of the hotel airco until Samantha could
drift off to sleep. This tropical vacation wasn’t turning out as brilliantly
as they’d planned.
and nurses at Raffles Hospital ran a battery of tests on Samantha. They
tested blood, urine, heart and blood pressure and could not find anything
wrong. They ruled out a digestive track parasite, yellow fever, malaria and
hepatitis. The doctor finally concluded it was most likely food poisoning,
quite common in the equatorial climate, especially with western tourists.
The body had already done its work, he explained. It had expelled the
foreign invader through every orifice of her body over the last few days.
There was nothing more modern medicine could do for her. Doctor’s orders
were to rest and keep hydrated. End of story.
Samantha decided to return home, back to Santa Monica, California where she
would have her own doctor check it out. There was a certain financial logic
to this. Singapore wasn’t cheap and their holiday hotel was costing two
hundred dollars a day to serve as a sick room.
Bobby was glad Samantha suggested it. If he had made the proposal it might
have been misunderstood. Leaving your girlfriend thousands of kilometers
from home with stomach cramps would no doubt seem crass and uncaring to
some. But Samantha was a good sport; she knew what was on his mind.
was going surfing.
Airport Bobby took his surfboard out of storage and checked in at the Garuda
counter. When the plane lifted off he realized he was the only westerner on
board. The plane was full of Asian tourists, Malays, Singaporeans and
Chinese from the mainland.
that SARS, Jamah Islamiah and the missing Weapons of Mass Destruction had
western visitors spooked. After all if you had never been to Bali and saw
the headlines of terrorism and violence, it would dampen any holiday plans.
first booked the flight to Indonesia some of his well-meaning non-surfer
friends started asking questions like, “Aren’t you afraid of terrorist
attacks?” When Bobby told them no, he got looks like ‘Better pack a flak
jacket, dude,’ but he knew the fear factor also had its plus points, it
meant fewer surfers.
As the Boeing
747 cruised over the Malacca straits, Bobby was feeling bad about Samantha,
but he had to get out of Singapore. The tropical heat without respite, the
relentless shopping malls. The city had few redeeming qualities except for
the food courts and the iced beer, but even those simple pleasures had come
to an end once Samantha got sick.
Singapore was Bobby’s compromise with Samantha. It was relationship
insurance; a deal that partners sometimes make if one is a traveling surfer.
It is a compromise made in the hope that their loved ones will not have
second thoughts about the relationship in their absence.
there were women out there who were only too happy to bask in the sun on a
beautiful beach and hold back boredom with thick paperback books waiting for
their bronzed beach boy to exit the surf. But he had never found one who
would stick and he reckoned these ladies couldn’t be too bright, baking
their brains in the tropical sun all day and reading books designed to kill
done the ‘body beautiful’ thing, but it never lasted for more than few
weeks, even if the sex was good. While gratifying sex made up for a number
of shortcomings, out of the water you had to be able hold a conversation
that dealt with more than what number sun block you used or the color of
more and Samantha Kane gave it to him. She was gracious, intelligent and
sexy in a funny way. They met at a yard sale in Santa Monica when she was
trying to raise rent money. Their conversation began about the sale of her
opera CDs. Then their talk moved quickly from musical tastes to her plans to
open a travel agency specializing in opera tours. Samantha’s dream was Verdi
in Verona, Wagner in Bayreuth and Händel in London.
Bobby bought a couple of CDs and invited her for dinner. That night they
was an army brat born in Germany. Her father was a black G.I. from New
Orleans and her mother a German from Frankfurt am Main. Her dad walked out
when she was still a kid and the only things he left her were an American
passport and a Motown record collection.
taught Bobby about opera and once she got her travel agent license, he
helped her organize tours. Last season he accompanied the group to Bayreuth
in Germany for Wagner’s Ring cycle. Now they were planning a trip to
Verona, Italy. There they would see Verdi’s Nabucco performed on the
stage of the two-thousand-year-old roman coliseum under the summer stars.
After a couple of short surf trips to Baja California the novelty of beach
life wore off for Samantha. She found beaches boring, hot and empty expanses
of sand, keeping her from whatever is important. She knew surfing meant a
great deal to Bobby and she was wise enough to realize it was not an
experience that could really be shared. Bobby once told her that surfing for
him was more than a sport, like basketball or baseball; it was an art form.
There would never be surf leagues or franchises, he said, because it was an
interpretative art form whose approach varied according to Nature. What you
did on a surfboard was to put yourself in harmony with the ocean, with
Nature itself. This was what surfing meant to him.
After touchdown at Nagura Rai Airport in Denpasar, the plane’s door swung
open and Bobby was hit with the blast of warm Balinese air. It was night,
and he could taste the sea air and smell a hint of cloves. His linen suit
felt sticky and hot, but it didn’t matter. He had arrived. Bobby Cruz was
back in Bali.
Bobby had taken to wearing suits while traveling with Samantha on the opera
tours. It made Immigration and Customs much easier to deal with and he could
even talk some airline staff into upgrades. Never underestimate the desire
of some people to kiss the ass of authority, and a guy in a cream-colored
linen suit sometimes fits the bill.
Bobby collected his luggage and surfboard and walked out of the terminal
where the local transport touts were working over the new arrivals. He
talked to the first taxi driver he met and negotiated him down from $20 to
$2 for a ride to his hotel. He told the driver to take him to Yan’s
Bungalows, a crumbling Kuta Beach hotel off the main street Jalan Legian.
For all its dubious qualities, it was cheap and within walking distance from
the beach and the boats to Kuta reef.
the taxi driver got his revenge; there was a crack as his surfboard hit the
pavement when the driver pulled out his bags. Bobby knew exactly what it
was—one of the fins was broken. It happened twice on the last trip.
Bobby paid the driver his two dollars and made a mental note to get a new
board with detachable fins when he could afford it. He wasn’t going to let
anything spoil the pleasure of his arrival.
bungalows Bobby made a deal with the night-desk man for a room at six
dollars a night. Bobby had met the man on the last trip and had given him a
T-shirt as parting gift, something he normally didn’t do. Now this small
courtesy paid back dividends.
the room Bobby showered and set up his mosquito net. It was too late to go
out for a drink and besides, he was exhausted from the trip. Then his mobile
phone trilled and he read the SMS text message.
It was from
Samantha, informing him that she was feeling much better and had a confirmed
seat back to Amsterdam. “Love and Kisses,” he replied. Life was careening
along just fine. Bobby dropped on to the bed and fell into a deep sleep.