Meet the pioneering skipper who’s been there, done that, and then some.
Words: Chris Binns / Belly Magazine
On a recent Sunday afternoon, still slightly hungover, I rolled into downtown Kuta to catch the elusive “Captain Chaos” for the first time, following months of failed attempts. I’m met by a rakish Australian man sprawled on a day bed with a margarita in one hand, cigarette burning away in the other. This is his zone between boat charters. He commands food and drinks with a snap of the fingers and a smile, and conversation flows comfortably for the next few hours. By the time I leave, we’ve eaten twice, downed a dozen rounds, and it’s dark. I know I’ve only barely scraped the surface, but here are a few chapters from the greatest book no one’s yet written, but really should.
My name’s Kenneth Colledge. I’m in my fifties, was born in Perth. I grew up there but later moved to a town called Lancelin to become a fisherman. That’s where I got all my boating experience from – I cut my teeth crayfishing. I worked as a mail boy in Perth to fund my first trip to Bali in ’79 and I came back pretty much every year since.
I was pretty culture-shocked on that first visit, to be honest, but I had a few people to show me around. I knew I’d always come back, there was something I really liked about the place.
I first surfed Deserts in ’81, ’82. There was a bit of conjecture about who discovered Deserts, but as far as I’m concerned it was a Kiwi.
I had some mates who used to stay on Lembongan and they got me on a trip to Deserts with them. It was during the transmigration period when the government relocated a lot of people from dense areas to less populated regions. So they’d taken poor folks from the Padangbai area and Nusa Penida, and moved them over to Labuan Poh (home of Bangko Bangko). Thing was, they put Hindus into a Muslim situation and they simply did not get on.
Anyway, we went to Deserts on a seaweed boat out of Lembongan. There was nothing there, the town didn’t exist. It was all jungle, it was green, you wouldn’t call it the desert, like it is now. We weren’t aware of any of the troubles until the captain wanted to see his family in Labuan Poh, and suddenly it was on! They were going at it with machetes, killing each other.
The next time we came back overland and it was full-on, they were still going after each other, all over religion. The government just did not think that one through. That was four generations ago and they’ve learned to get along over the years, but back then it was radical. As for us surfers, they had no clue what the hell we were or what we were up to.
Has the wave changed? Not really, but it’s a zoo in the water, there are a hundred guys out anytime it looks like breaking. And it’s not a wave that can handle a hundred guys, it’s such a tight takeoff with everyone jostling, hoping that others fall off.
October 11, 1996, was the best day I ever saw at Deserts. I’ll never forget the date. It was late in the season and everyone had left except for a guy called Randy. Perfect, not a drop out of place. There was me and my mate Kim, Randy, and then a boat turned up with two Brazilians on board. So it was just a handful of us, all high fiving.
I’d caught three waves, don’t think I’d even got my hair wet, just tube after tube laughing about how much better it was going to get.
Then one of the Brazilians paddled over and told me Kim had hurt himself. I got to him and could just see blood everywhere. He was wearing one of those old Gath helmets with a visor, and the board had smashed the visor and cut through his eyelid and all around his eye.
I offered to stitch him up on the boat, but because it was his eye Kim was adamant he needed to get back to Bali. So, the decision was made that his eye was more important than perfect Desert Point.
It was a yacht too, not a powerboat, so it was a long trip back. I’ll never forget, we pulled the pick and drifted down with the tide and it was just smoking. I looked at Kim and was like, “you fucking prick!” And Randy loved telling us afterward that it was as good as he’d ever seen it, just absolutely perfect. I’ll never forgive Kim for it! I still hate him over it!
The Mentawai Islands
It was either ’92 or ’93 that I first went to the Mentawais with Billabong, and we made that movie Sik Joy. Back then there was only Martin Daly and me doing charters, might have been one other boat. The Mentawais were just coming onto the map, they were still really hush-hush. No one had set up camp yet, we were working out of Padang but there were no expats, no one was living there yet.
That trip was amazing, the only local we saw was a local shaman from the Siberut people, with all of his beads and bamboo tattoos, carrying his bow and arrow. It was full-on.
The best surfing I’ve ever seen would have to be Occy during that trip. He was just absolutely ripping. Shane Dorian, Luke Egan, Munga Barry, Brenden Margieson, even Lowey was ripping. What am I talking about, they all rip!
We were always civil to each other in the early days of the Ments, but deep down I guess we were rivals. The first time I crossed paths with Martin he was on the Rip Curl Search program with Tom Curren and everyone. We all got on the piss and it was friendly, but he told me to stay out of his way or he’d blow my windows out with his gun, that sorta stuff. He liked to talk himself up and carry on like it was his area, whereas I figured it was anyone’s area really. Haha! Not long after that, we became really friendly though, due to the influx of boats. It went from two to five to seven, and at one point there were 14 boats operating and we thought, “Fuck, that’s too many.”
We held a big meeting and tried to get a Mentawai organization together. We wanted to get the government to actually license the region, and you’d have to pay a yearly fee to have one of those licenses. In hindsight, if everyone had cooperated back then the Mentawais would be far better today, but everyone kept fighting and was only in it for themselves. And don’t get me started on Rick Cameron. He’s a fucken arsehole, mate. Had me and my missus thrown in jail. Absolute prick.
He was there early, he’d worked his way through Indonesia and apparently stole some marks off Martin, GPS locations of a few waves. He was a shrewd operator. He had a boat he’d built himself and got wind that there were waves in the Mentawais. Not that he was a surfer. He had plenty of charters and investors though, mainly crew from WA, and he was doing okay.
He managed to get the Sumatran government to issue a decree that his company could control the region. It was only a decree, it would never get passed as a law, but that’s how he was acting, and he was telling everyone he had sole rights to the Mentawais.
He funded the army to go out and hassle all the other boats. He’d do other things, like ring skippers’ wives while they were on charter and say he was having their husbands arrested. He wanted to get everyone under his banner then take 20% of everyone’s earnings to run it.
His plan was to make the Mentawais high end, which I was firmly against. Five hundred bucks a day, that sort of thing, but my theory was if a guy pushes a cart at Woolworths he has as much right to surf the Mentawais as anyone else. So, if you’re gonna do this “I own the Mentawais” thing, then you need to have levels; a budget tier, the middle ground, then sure, the upper echelon. He didn’t like that, so we butted heads. He butted heads with everyone. He dobbed Martin into the police for having a gun on his boat, he fucked Paul King over, he did all sorts of terrible things. Prick of a man.
He had a beautiful boat called the San Souci, probably the nicest boat up there at the time, and on one of his first trips after the decree, he got some of the navy on board and cruised around to all the breaks hassling skippers about where their permits were. And these things didn’t exist.
You’d be sitting on your boat at Macaronis or wherever, and a dinghy would pull up and a bunch of blokes with machine guns would board and harass you for your permit. It got ugly and it freaked out the guests, naturally. It 100% breaks international maritime laws, but those guys were a law unto themselves.
People see the Mentawais these days and just don’t know the history behind it all, but in the early days, it was pretty bloody ugly.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
My first major mishap was a big one. We were on a promotional trip for Oxbow with a Nat Young, Joel Tudor, a longboarding dentist called Fix, and a couple of others including photographer Tim McKenna.
Anyway, we went to Deserts and it was shit, and on the way home swung through the Gili Islands. I was lying on a bunk in the wheelhouse and my deckie had just taken watch. I watched him light up a cigarette, which lit up the radar and I could see there was nothing coming. It was a dark night, but calm.
We were cruising along then suddenly, BANG! I thought we’d hit a log, and it had actually shut down one of the engines, so I knew it was big. Then the deckie opened the wheelhouse door and all we heard were people screaming. We’d absolutely fucken T-boned this boat, and you looked out on the water and there were people everywhere!
It was a wooden boat, no lights, just drifting, waiting for the tide. I’d turned the other engine to idle so we were drifting amongst all the debris. We’d just turned the fucken thing into matchsticks.
I knew we had two choices: go get ’em, and get in a whole heap of shit, or leave ’em, but I knew there would have been women and children at risk. We decided to try and get them, and we’d deal with the other shit later.
There was a guy on the back on the transom board, so we pulled him aboard and when we did we realized he had no legs, just two stumps. It turned out he was the captain, and obviously, he’d gone through the props and ended up on the back of our boat. He told us there were 19 people on board when we hit them, so we got the spotlight out and started fishing them all out. There was another guy who’s foot had been all but chopped off, it was hanging on by a thread.
The dentist went into full ER mode. He’d been training to be a doctor then ended up a dentist, but he knew what he was doing. We had these Flying Doctor kits, full of bandages and morphine and he just went to work. Tudor absolutely freaked then disappeared, Nat was around for a bit then he vanished too. But the dentist and McKenna both got stuck right in.
Thankfully most of them were just wet and cold and we had boxes and boxes of Oxbow clothes, so we were giving out windcheaters and raincoats and whatnot. The captain kept saying there was one more person, and we had to keep looking. So we did, we looked and looked and finally, he was like, over there! And we saw this bit of wood with a goat tied to it!
So we finally got back to Lombok and the whole town was there and wanted to kill us for running over their friends. The captain even said he couldn’t believe we’d stopped, because he obviously knew what we were about to go through.
We got them off the boat and the captain asked me to help keep him alive long enough to tell the police it was his fault, but he died. The other guy who almost lost his foot turned out to be a real prick, and he rallied everyone else and I got charged with murder and had the boat impounded. The surfers were long gone by this stage, though Tim McKenna offered to stay on with us.
We were put under house arrest for two weeks, on the boat with two armed guards. Every afternoon the tide would change, the boat would start rocking and the guards would get seasick. So I told them I knew this great anchorage over on Sumbawa, 20 minutes away. They were happy for us to go there, which we did, but I’d stop at Scar Reef on the way and have a quick surf.
In the end, the whole situation came down to a payout, and we coughed up USD $25,000. Eleven-thousand went to the people on the boat, they each had a claim, and the rest went straight to the court… Years later, I learned that the case had never really been closed. I was still on file in Lombok on a murder charge, which is a bit of a worry.
That was pretty radical mate, it was really fucken radical.
Dude, Where's My Boat?
I lost my first one at Panaitan. We were having engine issues so I took off to Singapore to get a part, leaving the cook behind with the boat. A few days later, I chartered a speed boat to take me back out and the boat wasn’t where I’d left it.
We drove around for a while looking for it, and then we heard this yelling from my mate on the beach. He’d cooked bacon for breakfast, left the grill on, and then went for a surf. Looks back at the boat, saw this big plume of smoke, and reckons by the time they got back to it they couldn’t get within 100ft, it was so hot. That part wasn’t much use to me after that.
The next boat was in the Kimberly. Thankfully, the owner was driving at the time. He hit a rock. Opened it up like a can of beans, and we had no choice but to try and run it aground. We tried to save everything but that was a write-off.
I kidnapped a bloke once in Indo, too. It was night and we had a boat following us. I started doing all these erratic movements, and sure enough, he kept on following us. So I stopped the boat and started drifting when suddenly from nowhere a Padang fishing boat slammed into us. And then it revved and drove back into us a few times. Bang! Kaboom! Bang! Dented the shit outta my boat, smashed a window, scraped heaps of paint, and trashed a railing, then it took off, just like that.
So I was like, “Fuck this!” and jumped in the speedboat with one of the crew and went out at full speed looking for them, and suddenly there they were. At a pretty fair pace, like 20-knots, we rammed straight into the side of the boat and boom, we went straight over the gunnel and mounted their boat. I don’t know what I was thinking but I leaned out, grabbed one of the crew, and yanked him onboard as we slid back into the water then took off. Poor bastard was shitting himself!
We pulled up alongside them and I said they could get their mate back in Padang, but they had to explain themselves to the harbor master and admit to what they had done.
On the way, back one of our Indonesian crew got talking to the guy. It turned out he was pretty young and inexperienced, and his captain had gone to sleep and told him to keep heading for the red light, meaning Padang harbor. Then we’d come along and he’d seen our red light and just headed for that instead. He’d followed instructions so well that he crashed right into us.
In the end, grabbing a hostage worked out because they had to pay for all of the damage. It was the one time in my life that things fell in to place, but sure enough in the paper the next day the headline was “Captain Ken Kidnaps Crew.”
Ken “Captain Chaos” Colledge, Kelly Slater, and Jason Childs. Mentawais mid-90s.