Pirates in the Desert

Back when the place was still a secret, the danger of pirates at Desert Point was always very present.

Interview by Leo Maxam / Photos by Nate Lawrence

Armed robbery is nothing new in these parts. Just ask Pablo, aka “Mr. Deserts”, who sports a large scar near his collarbone courtesy of some knife-wielding pirates who tried to jump him and his buddies on the beach years ago. Pablo has been surfing Deserts longer than anyone, back when there was no road in to the beach and you could surf a swell with just you and a couple friends. According to Pablo, even back when the place was still a secret, the danger of pirates was always very present.

Back in the day there was no road out to the beach. You had to wait for low tide and hike around from the cliff (past the end section of the wave). There was a regular crew that used to come out there – a few Aussies, Kiwi guys – and we’d just camp on the beach. There was no one out there back then and we were pretty vulnerable. You could come and rob us and leave without anyone knowing about it.

The first time we got robbed was in August during a full moon. Some guys came out with full balaclavas (face masks) and knives. I was in my tent and I always used to sleep with my spear gun. The guys came in and started smashing shit and they had those big parangs (machetes). This guy Johno, a big Australian guy from South Oz, they had him down on his hands and knees and they had a knife right on his neck. They were like, money! Money! Give us money! Johno was the biggest guy out of us all, so I guess they were scared of him and they had him down like a hostage. Luckily, they just took the money and split.

So after that incident, there were enough of us that we hired this Indo friend of ours, Bun, from the village back over the hill to be our night watchman. He would come every night and stay up at night and walk the beach and keep watch. One of the surfers, Chris, had a whistle with him, and he gave Bun the whistle and said, if anything happens, blow this whistle to warn us. So one night around 2 or 3 in the morning, sure enough, that whistle started blowing like crazy. So we all got up and it surprised the robbers because they thought they were going to sneak up on us.

I got up with my spear gun and ran out of my tent and the scene was like a punch-up. There was probably 10 or 12 robbers, but the whistle and us waking up spooked them, and they ran down towards the riverbed. There was one surfer camping in the riverbed and he was by himself, this guy Blair from Australia. He heard the commotion and got up, and I guess he just saw one of the Indo guys and grabbed a stick and started fighting him – they had big ol’ knives. Well the rest of the robbers ran into Blair when they got down to the riverbed, and that’s when we heard yelling and screaming.

When I got to the riverbed, Blair was on his hands and knees and they were just hacking him up. If I had got there a minute later, he would have been done. It was a full moon, and at Deserts it’s like daylight on a full moon, you can see clear as day. So I started screaming, and I had a big old spear gun. They saw that and immediately ran off. Blair tried to get up and didn’t know what was going on. All I could see was his arm was hanging by a thread. I was yelling for something to plug him up with and put the thing back together. One of my buddies had a sarong and I kinda wrapped his arm and shoulder together. I didn’t see until later that Blair had cuts all over his back. We laid him down and put pressure on his arm to keep the bleeding down and tried to think of how the heck we were gonna get him out of there.

If we stayed there he was going bleed to death, there was no question. The road that you drive in on now was just a little footpath back then. And the robbers had ran that way, so there was only one way we could get Blair out of there – we had to go around that cliff. And if you’ve ever seen that cliff at high tide and on a big swell, it’s a nightmare to get around. It was night. The tide was high. And to make things worse, the swell was pumping.

We had made all kinds of furniture when we camped at the beach. We had chairs and shit made out of bamboo. I had a table I had made, and we put Blair on the table and carried him down to the point. We had a guy climb up on the big rock and watch for sets. When there was good a lull he said, Go! Go! Go! We were scared we were gonna get washed by a wave and lose Blair. You have to go with the current. It sucks you around the point and down.

It took hours. We had to get around the cliff and then get him to the village where the blacktop ends. Once we made it to the road, we found a car and took him to the hospital in Mataram. He made it. They sewed him up in Mataram, then flew him to Bali. When he got back to Oz he had all kinds of infections because they didn’t do a great job at the hospital in Mataram.

Blair did end up coming back years later. He still surfs well. He almost lost his arm, and it could have been worse. If those guys had got any arteries with their knives it would have been over real quick. He was pretty fortunate not to have died.