Interview: Leo Maxam
Read the back of the menu at Cacho’s and you will learn that his place, Sunset Grill, was the first restaurant to open in the Uluwatu area two decades years. Look at the framed photos on the walls and you will see that Cacho tackled big Pipe with guys like Ronnie Burns and the Ho brothers during the eighties, and later became a fixture at Outside Corner on nearly every giant swell to hit Bali since ’95. And if you stick around after the last customers have paid their bill and the staff has closed up for the night; and Cacho is in a good mood and invites you upstairs for a margarita… or two… or three… well, now you’re in for an education.
On a recent Friday evening, Bali Belly met with Cacho at his restaurant near Jimbaran. The blended margaritas and unfiltered conversation flowed late into the night. Following are selected excerpts from that conversation.
It’s a mini Hawaii. It has the power, but it only gets good twice a month. The Puerto Ricans? They make sure their car is always sparkling clean. Meanwhile, there’s trash all over their front yard. I left my country to run away from the growth. It was getting too packed and too violent.
In Puerto Rico we were the port where every drug could be brought into America. The fishermen would go out at night in their boats and drop off little boxes near the mainland. I grew up near La Perla, in Old San Juan. You go down there and little kids come up to you with five different types of heroin and cocaine. Red Devil? Blue Demon? Champagne? Which one you want? Because the cops wouldn’t arrest the little kids.
When I was 11 years old I won a surf competition in Puerto Rico and they gave me a ticket to Hawaii for two weeks. It was my first airplane ride. I thought that Pipeline was going to be right in front of the airport. I had nobody to pick me up from the airport and I didn’t know a word of English. I didn’t even know how to read the ticket. When it came time to go back to Puerto Rico, I went to the airport and they told me, this ticket is expired. So I never came home. I ended up staying in Hawaii from ’79 until ’95.
When I moved to the North Shore it was a totally different culture. I could eat bananas and papayas off the trees, and marijuana was drying on the dashboards of cars. There was only one cop on the whole North Shore: Mr. Woodby. And Mr. Woodby wouldn’t pull you over for marijuana. He wouldn’t bother making a report for that because the grandmas used to grow marijuana over there. It was a local tradition.
I used to sleep in abandoned cars until I started meeting people like the Ho family. Derek Ho took me in, and then I moved in with (his brother) Michael. We used to celebrate every Christmas together. Later on, guys like Eddie Rothman, Bryan Suratt and Junior Moepono took me under their wing too. I got to know them through surfing, and because I was traveling alone and I was so little. I grew up in Hawaii with them. That’s why if you ask me right now where I’m from – it seems wrong for me to say, because I am Puerto Rican – but I’m Hawaiian according to everybody in Hawaii.
I was 85 pounds and as tall as a mini fridge. The first time I paddled out at Pipe I was on a 7’6” Gerry Lopez that Michael Ho gave to me. I got caught inside and I let my board go – I was so small I couldn’t duck dive it – and my leash got tangled around Marvin Foster’s neck. I thought I was done. But he looked at me and just laughed. He was blown away that this tiny little fucka was trying to surf out there.
We use a secret family recipe. I can’t tell you the secret, but we always use real ingredients. The other day I went to a restaurant in Kuta and they had the worst margaritas. They gave me heartburn. In Indo right now most people are using fake booze; adding methanol to get more money out of it. The mentality of a lot of the locals is, “What can I get today?” But if you do stuff like that you’re not gonna have any business tomorrow.
I stabbed a guy. He’s actually my good friend. But I gave him a scar for life and I went to jail. My daughter was a tiny baby at the time and my wife had no money because the restaurant was closed. She had to drive to Kuta every day to bring me something to eat. Every time they brought the food into the jail I had to share with everybody. I slept in a small room with 20 other people. Because I was a bule (westerner) they wouldn’t beat me up. But anyone else who comes in, it’s a ritual to beat the fuck out of them. The guard says, don’t do this, don’t do that – with a big smirk.
If you can’t set up a deal with the cops in 21 days and get out, you go to court. Now you’re in the system. Now you’re official. I had some friends who were Balinese and connected. Around week number two and a half, they came in and grabbed the guy who I stabbed and told him, if you don’t drop the charges right now you’re leaving Bali and not coming back. So he dropped the charges.
He has something with Uluwatu. It’s hard to explain. It’s like Gerry Lopez and Pipeline; they have a connection. I’m always talking with my daughter about this because she says she wants to surf like Made Lana. The guy has the best backside style. He’s so relaxed; he doesn’t really care. He’s comfortable with his lifestyle. He doesn’t have to prove nothing. He just goes out and surfs.
I’ve been a single parent since she was a baby. When my daughter was born I was an addict. I decided I had to get my shit together. For ten years I didn’t have a drink. I stayed clean and got back to doing what I do, big wave surfing at Uluwatu. Now I live a simple life. I work very hard and stay disciplined. She’s gotta go to international private school. I want to give her a future. I want to give her what my parents didn’t give me.
I got a phone call at six in the morning and they told me, your restaurant is on fire. I got over there and life was over. All I had left was me and my daughter. Every single thing I owned was destroyed; I didn’t have insurance. Everybody came to me said, don’t worry, we’re gonna get you back on your feet. They did a surfboard auction for me; people auctioned off paintings; they did a fundraiser and made the biggest party I’ve ever seen at the Uluwatu Surf Villas. There were so many people who helped us. I still can’t believe it. Now when I leave my house, all the time I stop the car and go in reverse. I have to go back inside and make sure the gas is off and everything is unplugged. It happens to me at least five times a week. It’s like obsessive compulsive. I can’t help it.
I am fully behind it, but it’s hard to find support for the women surfers. This is the strangest country. You have a woman elected president (Megawati) – we’ve never had that in America – but there’s no support when it comes to women’s surfing in Indonesia. It’s hard to find sponsorship and there’s no women’s division at a lot of the contests. Sometimes my daughter and I will go to one of the grom contests and she will be the only girl. We need to change that. I want to give my daughter an opportunity in the surfing world.
Indonesia has been good to me. And the Balinese have been very good to me. A loser like me can be a millionaire here. I live like a millionaire. What I make here, I better not even bring that money to America. I might as well bring toilet paper. Because rupiah has no value in America. Over there I would be a waiter or something, working for somebody else from 9 to 5. But over here I’m a boss. And I have the opportunity to surf the most beautiful waves. For that, I will always be grateful.