When Boat Trips Go Bad – Part 1

Interviews: Leo Maxam
Photos: Lawrence

Your typical pro surfer boat trip reads more or less as follows: A handful of young, sponsored surfers arrive in Padang, Sumatra during prime season and board a luxury charter boat to the Mentawais. Miraculously, they find good waves. No one sets foot on land. Interaction with the locals is kept to a minimum. Time not spent surfing is dedicated to making it through the first three seasons of _________ (insert latest hit TV series here). They come, they gorge, and each returns home with a new Innersection and a potential cover shot. No risk, just reward.

There are slight variations to the theme, but for the most part, it’s the same tired cliché of drive-thru-window perfection. However, every once in a while things don’t go according to plan. Through October, special for Halloween, Balibelly.tv is featuring pro surfer horror stories from the dark side of surfing’s ultimate paradise. After hearing these pros tell their nightmare tales, you might think twice before booking your next Indo boat trip…

Alex Gray’s bad trip

One time I left California for the Mentawais with so much gear I looked like I was on a foreign aid mission. After the boat trip, I was supposed to go straight to South Africa and then Scotland, so I had everything with me: snowboard gear, 5-mil wetsuit, 4/3, short-arm-full, boardshorts, and two boardbags with ten surfboards.

On the fourth day of the trip, I was out surfing HTs during the hottest time of day, but I was freezing. I remember asking the other guys in the lineup, “Are you cold right now? Because I’m shivering.” That night I broke out into a gnarly fever with these intense chills. I was so cold I changed into all the snowboard clothes I had packed for Scotland. I was in full snowboard pants and jacket and still freezing.

Later in the night, I woke up in a pool of sweat. My whole bed was wet and I thought I pissed the bed. Then I see this little gnome hop up on the foot of my bed. He looks at me and says, “I will make you all better and take all this pain away right now. All you have to do is sign this piece of paper giving me your soul.” I sat there for a while wondering if somebody had slipped something into my herbal tea before I went to bed, or if I was just out of my mind. I remember looking around at the other guys sleeping in my room, wondering if I should wake them up and show them the small intruder, but when I looked back at my bed the evil little gnome had disappeared.

I spent the rest of the night riding out the chills, switching between boardshorts and my snowboard outfit. I was done for the rest of the boat trip; didn’t get better until Scotland. It was the sickest I’ve ever been and I don’t even know what it was because I never saw a doctor. The weirdest thing was I ended up getting a cover shot from that session at HTs when I first got the chills. So maybe that little gnome wasn’t so evil after all.

Eric Geiselman and the $1,000 boat ride

I was 16 and psyching for my first trip to Indo with the Oakley team. I was at the Orlando airport with my dad, checking in for my flight, when I ended up fainting. I just blacked out and went head-first into the tile floor. I woke up on my back with people all around me. I said I felt fine but they wouldn’t let me on the flight. I was bummed, but still hellbent on going. I didn’t care if I only got three days on the boat. So I re-booked and flew to Indo by myself a few days later. When I got to the Padang airport the people from the charter boat picked me up and told me I would be taking a speedboat out to meet the main boat already in the islands. So I get to the port thinking I had a sick speedboat. Instead, it turned out to be one of those rickety little wooden canoes with just a small shade canopy and a 15 hp motor.

It was my first time in the Mentawais and I thought you just got off the plane at Padang and were practically there. I figured, sweet, we’ll be there in no time. The two Indo guys driving the boat told me it would take four hours. Then, out of nowhere, a crazy squall hits. A full white storm, you couldn’t see five feet in front of you. It was so bad we had to take shelter on a small island nearby and spend the night camped out. It was literally just this tiny dot in the middle of the sea. The whole time all I could think about was malaria. The guys I was with didn’t speak any English. All they were asking me the whole time was, “Boardshorts?” That night I broke down and had a full-on anxiety attack. I started crying, thinking I would never see the boat or land again. I honestly thought I was done.

We got back on the little boat in the dark super early the next morning. I was still tripping. Then the guy tells me we have six more hours to go. Somehow these two guys were navigating this shitty little boat through the Mentawais with no radio and no GPS, just a little compass and half a milk jug to bail water; no backup motor, just one outdated 15 hp toy motor.

When we were about five hours into the crossing and I couldn’t see land anywhere, we managed to run over a piece of rope in the middle of the ocean and the motor stalled. One of the guys had to jump in the water and untangle the rope from the prop, which took about half an hour. I was holding my breath the whole time, but luckily they got it working again. In total, it took us 14 hours to get to Macaronis that day. We left the little island at 4 am and I showed up one hour before sunset. When I finally saw real charter boats with surfers I was so relieved. As soon as I saw the Oakley guys on my boat I threw my hands up and claimed it so hard. Dino Andino was in charge of the Oakley trip and the first thing he said to me when we pulled up next to the boat was, “You came out in this thing!” He was tripping. The best part was, my special boat transport ended up costing Oakley $1,000. Dino still talks about that.