Growing up I remember reading stories in surf magazines about this far away place nestled in the middle of the jungle where the waves were perfect and the cares were few.
I remember seeing it on Bruce Brown's Endless Summer II. Their final destination on their trip around the world, Wingnut and Pat and Gerry and Laird surfing fast, hollow lefts breaking forever over a shallow and unforgiving reef. Gerry and his goggles, staying out for 8 hours a day, sharing stories of small fishing villages and crazy looking boats and monkeys and tigers and snakes so venomous that if they bite you you're dead in under 10 minutes. Life in the jungle - nothing to do but surf, eat, and sleep. A place I never thought I'd actually get to see.
The infamous G-Land is located in Grajagan Bay on the southeastern tip of the island of Java, also known as the Blambangan Peninsula, home of the Alas Purwo National Park. "Alas Purwo" can be roughly translated to first forest or ancient forest as Javanese legend claims the Earth first emerged from the Ocean here (source). There are a few different ways to get to G-Land, but the most convenient is to take the 2 ½ hour fast boat from the island of Bali, which usually departs from German Beach, or Pantai Jerman, in the busy city of Kuta.
Our fast boat, appropriately named the "G-Force," left Bali around 7am. As tired as I was - we woke at 5am to catch a ride to Kuta - I couldn't contain my excitement and spent most of the ride staring out at the sea and the blue rolling swells that we were cruising over. Once the island of Java came into our vision, my froth level went through the roof. Nothing but green painted the coastline. Salt mist filled the air as whitewater speckled the shore. And other than us and a few local fishermen in their typical "jukung" fishing boats - there was nobody else around.
My first sight of the waves at G-Land was pretty surreal. I mean, I had been reading about this place my whole life. It almost seemed like a myth, a legend, like it was too good to be true. But it wasn't. It most definitely wasn't. And as we came around the peninsula and into the bay I watched, for the first time with my own two eyes, machine-like lefts rifling down the reef. Each one perfect. Each one getting me more and more excited. And like our friend Tim back in Bali said, "These waves make Uluwatu look like a sectioning mess." And that's saying A LOT.
A smaller speedboat came out to meet us on the "G-Force" taking us to shore and welcoming us all to the jungle. The ocean was clear and cool. The sand was white and the broken shells and sun-bleached coral crunched beneath our feet. Bamboo and coconut trees lined the beach, and the smiles of the local crew told us we were in for one helluva good time. There are three surf camps at G-Land: the original Bobby's Surf Camp, Joyo's Surf Camp - where Brian and I stayed, and Jack's Surf Camp which didn't really seem like it was up and running - apparently monkeys have taken it over - but to our surprise we ended up meeting a few guys staying there.
It was a short walk from the boat ramp to Joyo's and when we arrived we sat down for some coffee and breakfast while the crew brought our board bags to our room. At Joyo's you have four different options of how you want to experience your time in the jungle: Standard, Deluxe, Superior and VIP. Brian and I opted for Deluxe, seeing as how we got a little discount for our 6 night stay, and we were sold on the in-room water cooler - we drink a lot of water - and the comfort of the AC. Although, we came to learn that Standard Rooms had AC as well, but they were just a little bit more "cabin-like" and located further away from the restaurant and beach. Superior and VIP had queen and king sized beds - we slept separately in single beds, haha - as well as hot water and more options for food and meals. As far as the food at Joyo, well, I'll get to that in a minute.
So after some breakfast we were ready to unpack our boards and get in the water. From the boat ride in the waves didn't look too heavy, and we timed our trip to make sure we had a high tide in the middle of the day. On a side note: If you've never been to Indo, it's suuuuuper tidal. High tide you barely touch the reef, where as low tide you have to walk over half a football field of exposed reef just to get to the water. Joyo's Surf Camp has a "surf guide" as a part of the crew, but the guy working while we were there wasn't very helpful, or friendly for that matter, so thanks to some rad Aussie blokes they helped us learn the sections of the reef as well as where to paddle out.
G-Land is about a mile-long stretch of reef made up of 3-4 different sections - depending on who you talk to. Kongs is the furthest up top. It channels the most swell, so it's generally better when it's smaller, but even when it's bigger it works, it's just not quite as fast or hollow as the sections further down. There's a channel right above Kongs, and when it's smaller you can easily sneak out to the line up. When it's bigger, the channel is not much of a channel, and if you don't time it right you're guaranteed to get your ass drug a long ways down the reef. The next section is Money Trees, where the waves begin to get a little faster and a little bit more hollow. This was one of my favorite sections on the higher tide. Next you have Launching Pads - some will consider this a section and some don't - but it really only starts to work when a proper swell sets in. Launching Pads received its name because it launches you into the final and most dangerous section of the reef, Speedies, a spot that needs some solid swell to break, and when it does it's fast, hollow, and super shallow with a mean looking end section that will either spit you out in glory or send you straight to the bottom. Past the boat ramp, and a little deeper into the bay, you have a spot called 20/20's, which we were first told was named for the 20 minute walk there and back. Later on, we were told it received its name because it really starts to work when the swell is 20 feet at 20 seconds. A little ways past 20/20's you have Tiger Tracks, a super rippable right-hander that's much more mellow and much more forgiving than it's big brother up the way.
Wave wise, I don't think we couldn't have timed our trip any better. The first two days the swell was small, so we surfed playful Kongs about stomach to head high with some bigger sets sprinkled in between. One thing about Indo, and G-Land especially, with swells coming from so far away you always expect at least one or two mutant sets to roll through that are significantly bigger than the average wave of the day. But small Kongs was super rippy and super fun, a great introduction to a new spot, allowing us to relax, let loose, and work on our rail game and forehand hooks.
The second day of our trip Brian and I took a boat to check out Tiger Tracks. Some people from our camp had surfed there earlier in the day and said it was fun, so we decided why not give it a go? Only a couple minutes by boat, we left Joyo's Camp around 2pm as the tide was turning and beginning to back out. We pulled up to see four guys in the water and some of the local crew on the shore. As soon as we hopped off the boat and were making our way to the point, the boys in the water grabbed the boat that dropped us off, and the local guys hopped on their scooters to ride the trail back to Camp. So, we paddled out to an empty line up, the two of us alone, smack dab in the middle of the jungle.
I have to admit I was a little nervous at first. My typical worry-wart mind started racing - "Shit, it's getting shallow out here. What if something happens to us? What do we do? What if the truck forgets to come pick us up? What if we're stuck out here when it gets dark? What about the sea snakes? The land snakes? The tigers and leopards and monkeys - oh my!" But thank goodness for Brian, he's the water to my fire, and he helped calm me down and remind me of how special this moment really was. "Babe," he said, "This is what surfing is about! This is what people dream of doing! I mean, we're out here alone in the jungle. How romantic is this!?"
His words helped me to relax and shift my perspective and we spent the next hour and a half trading waves, sharing smiles, and exchanging "I love you's" until the tide got too low and we were forced to make our way back to the beach. The camp truck that was supposed to show up at 4pm wasn't there, so we decided it was time to begin the hour-long trek back through the jungle to camp. We had about two hours of daylight left and if there's one thing I was sure of, I didn't want to be walking through that jungle at night. We walked for about 30 minutes until the truck finally showed. "Sorry, sorry," the local boys apologized as they pulled up and cut off the lawnmower-looking engine. "The blue truck break down! Sorry, sorry!" We were fine, but relieved to see them because that walk after surfing all day sucks. And I'm pretty sure I heard a tiger creeping through the bush trying to sneak up on us at one point - haha.
By the third day the waves had picked up some. But unfortunately for me, the food from the camp tainted my tummy with some bad bacteria and I had to sit that day out. What's commonly referred to as "Bali Belly" left me with intense stomach pain, little to no appetite, and little to no energy. Like I said earlier, I'd get around to the food and here it is: For all you veggies and picky-eaters looking to spend some time in G-Land, I would highly recommend stocking up on snacks and making sure you take and bring some type of probiotic to keep your stomach happy and healthy while you're there. And activated charcoal, that stuff works wonders and saved me for the boat ride back.
Oh yea, and then there are the monkeys. Did I mention the monkeys yet? Cheeky little bastards. Way more aggro than their cousins over on Bali. They'll sneak up on you at lunch and try to steal the food right off your plate, or even worse, right out of your hand. Some dude had a monkey bite his finger while he was eating and we heard they had to chop it off. Not sure if it was true or not, but I didn't want to test my luck anyways, so I stayed far away from them especially when it was meal time. One tip the "surf guide" actually did tell us was don't look at them in the eyes. Wear your shades. And if they try to come at you throw rocks at 'em or pick up a stick and give it a swing. The rock trick definitely worked when I had one sneak up from behind and try to bite my foot. Cheeky little bastard.
Anyways, my stomach pains continued for the rest of our time there and despite the discomfort and lack of energy I wasn't going to let it ruin my trip. I traveled all this way, I paid my money, and I made it to this place I had always dreamed of visiting - so I was surfing dammit! I couldn't let the jungle bring me down this easy. The fourth day brought a bigger SSW swell than we had seen since we arrived. Luckily we timed our paddle out through the channel above Kongs pretty well, but after seeing an easy double-overhead set roll through the lineup I decided to make my way down towards Money Trees where the waves were a little smaller. This is when I got my first taste of G-Land really starting to display its power. No more rail work, no more hooks, it was just paddle hard, get up and GO! The goal was to get speed, make the sections, and hopefully get a little cover-up along the way. The energy was like nothing I had ever felt before, and in the 3 hours that I was out I only caught three waves, but I reckon they were the best three waves I've ever caught in my life. And I made it to shore in one piece, which is always the #1 goal when the waves begin to get heavy. Brian got a full on stand-up barrel, arms stretched out overhead and not even close to touching the roof of that giant blue cavern. We learned quickly that despite the growing swell, the waves at G-Land don't always grow in height, but more so in width, with barrels big enough to fit a freaking semi-truck through.
On the fifth day the swell was still present, but not quite as big as the day prior. I opted to stick to Money Trees and picked off way more waves than I did the day before. While the waves were still fast, they were a tad bit more forgiving, with a few opening up and allowing me to get playful and unleash some turns without suffering any major consequences. The talk in the water was about the upcoming swell that was supposed to set in the next day, our last full day, and all the guys kept saying, "Just wait for tomorrow..."
Tomorrow rolled around and in the morning, before we even stepped out our room, we could here the thumping of the waves on the reef. It sounded big and mean and since high tide was later on in the day, we knew we had some time to sit and watch the show. For the first time since we arrived, Speedies was starting to break, and for the first time I finally got to see G-Land showing its fangs. A few brave souls dared the heavy waves at low tide with all the experienced Aussie boys claiming they were crazy, stupid even for trying to surf it then, telling us, "They're just asking to get hurt." Brian and I walked up the point and back watching the waves, listening to the sounds, taking pictures, and just soaking up the perfectly dangerous power that this wave holds. I knew even at a higher tide that it was going to be too heavy for me, so Tiger Tracks was on my agenda, while Brian was frothing to pull into some pits and experience the bite of pumping G-Land.
The tide began to fill in and the boys got ready for battle. Pretty much everyone opted for a boat to drop them off at Speedies, while a few of us asked the boat to bring us down to Tiger's. Tiger's was much bigger than the day Brian and I surfed it alone, and much more crowded, with maybe 15-20 guys in the water. But it was mellow, everyone was taking turns and trading waves. Beautiful blue-green head high plus sets were peeling through with the right and left offering up some long, playful rides. I surfed Tiger's for a good 2 ½ hours - like I said my energy levels weren't what they normally are since I was feeling sick - and by then the local crew was waving us into the beach to catch the bumpy truck ride back to camp. As I walked back to the room, high on life after a fun and non-life-threatening session, I could see Brian's 6'2" step-up board on our front porch and in two pieces. My heart started to beat fast as I looked over at our neighbor Paul, an ex-Aussie football player and longtime G-Land charger, who was sitting on his porch. He just said, "I reckon he's a little pissed." "But is he OK?" I asked, worried because earlier I had caught wind of someone getting seriously hurt at G-Land, a fin to the calf resulting in multiple internal and external stitches. "Oh he's fine," he said. "Just a little pissed. I just seen him walking around drinking a beer." My heartbeat returned to normal. I laughed and walked down to the beach where I saw Brian sitting at the picnic table, beer in hand, and to my surprise with a big smile wiped across his face.
"What happened?" I asked, and he went on to tell me a big set rolled through and cleaned everyone up. "I stood up on my board and dove under the white water. Thank goodness the thing broke out past me and not on my head. I was surprised when I came up that my leash hadn't broke, but that's when I realized the whitewater alone had split my board in two." He went on to say that a lot of other guys' leashes or boards snapped during that set, one guy was on the verge of panicking, and after that it cleaned out most of the lineup, with more than half of the people going in. "I wish my board didn't break," he said. "Then I could have stayed out and scored some waves with only five other people. Oh well, I guess it's good that I didn't get hurt." I agreed. I was grateful, and so was he, and we washed down one last Java sunset with a couple of cold Binnies while sharing stories from the day with all of our new Aussie mates.
The next morning it was time to head back to Bali. We packed our bags, ate some breakfast, and took one last look at the machine-like waves. The swell was still pumping, but we had a boat to catch, and my belly was ready for some clean, nutritious food. We said our goodbyes, snapped a few final pictures, then made our way through the tangle of coconut trees and bamboo, down onto the beach of broken seashells and wave-smashed coral, and into the clear cool water of Grajagan Bay. We climbed into the little speedboat that brought us out to the "G-Force," which was anchored safely past the breaking surf, and plopped down into our seats. The captain started the engine and we were off, making the trek east, back towards the island of Bali.
As we pulled away the salt mist in the air began to clear, the specks of whitewater against the shore began to look smaller, and the lush, green, vastness of the jungle started to slip from our vision. A place I never imagined that I would get to see had been checked off my list. We survived the jungle. We survived G-Land with only a few scrapes, a belly ache, and one broken board. That freakin' jungle. Where all you do is surf and eat and sleep. And now that I've experienced it, I really get why it's so special, and I'm already looking forward to that day when the jungle calls to us and welcomes us back.