The Drifter Journals
Dave Andrews | The Bali Journals: Part 2
Discovery - like beauty - is in the eye of the beholder.
In moments of quiet, we cast off the bowlines of rational thought, weigh the anchor of the real world and cast our minds adrift into an ocean of endless possibility and discovery. We fantasise about untouched wonderlands of golden-sand beaches running down to azure waters that reach out and wrap uniformly across mile-long, faultless points.
We dream of breaching the next bend to discover a quiet fishing village with welcoming hosts, dollar-a-day living expenses and an immaculate a-frame breaking right out the front beyond the knowledge of a single other surfer in the world.
Discovery is a perspective of ‘firsts’. Newton discovered gravity, Einstein discovered relativity and Kylie Jenner discovered that the pendulous contents of her gusset weren’t the most necessary parts of her anatomy
Dave Andrews ‘discovered’ Bali in the mid-1970s.
Cornelis de Houtman may well stir the tulips on his long-settled Dutch grave to suggest that he discovered Bali first by the small matter of 380 years; the Indonesian locals may well dispute that fact, given that they’ve been calling the island ‘home’ since warungs were made of rock and fire was the latest wonder of modern technology.
Even as a surfing pioneer, he was pointed in the right direction by a previous visitor and Albe Falzon, Steve Cooney and Rusty Miller had well and truly placed the atoll of the Indonesian archipelago in the annals of surf travel some six years prior.
Nevertheless, Dave Adnrews ‘discovered’ Bali in the mid-1970s.
To him, it was unknown, untapped; it wreaked of adventure and excitement, it was engorged with potential and possibility. He didn’t know what lay in wait as he descended the old bamboo ladder into the bowels of Uluwatu’s iconic cave - he discovered that for himself.
“I had my own Padang Padang discovery as well,” he reflects, eyes still glistening with the salty Balinese water that steeped them almost 50 years ago. A long ride and a solid rip away from the point at Uluwatu, it’s quite possible that surfers had found their way around the headland to the Indonesian Pipeline. But it was Aussie surfing champion Richard Harvey who is attributed as the first to ride Padang’s walls almost half a decade before
Dave takes up his story:
“My leash broke when I was surfing at Uluwatu. My board washed in way down the beach and I was just walking along the shore. I climbed up on a rock and there it was: the Bali Pipeline - Padang Padang. That’s how I discovered it. I was the only person there and went out and surfed it, no leash, by myself. I was 20 years old.”
Just like the island, its reefs, its neighbours and its waves, Dave wasn’t the first person to see, or even surf Padang Padang. But that’s the beauty of discovery: to him, the break didn’t even exist until he crested that rock and laid his eyes on it. He didn’t know it was there, no one told him it was there - one minute he was looking for his board, the next minute he was staring at one of the best waves on the planet. Discovery is as real as you make it.
So it was that, almost a decade later, Dave returned to Bali with his wife. He had already discovered so much of Bali for himself, though Canggu was a far outpost - reachable by motorbike straight along the sand from Kuta - with waves still to be discovered. Far beyond Canggu, Medewi revealed itself as a small bump on a map to pique Dave’s sense of adventure and, with a random Australian he had met on more familiar waves, he trekked north-east to discover Medewi’s iconic left point for the first time, at least to his knowledge.
“One year we went off on this great adventure,” Dave shares of another of his many Indo exploits. “We had no idea what we were getting into; there were ten surfers, five crewmen and my wife, and we all got onto this forty-foot turtle boat, sailed out of Benoa Harbour at midnight and saw Mount Agung as the sun rose. We turned across the Lombok Strait and one of the crewmen started tying everything down - I had no idea we were going to be going out into these radical ocean currents, with whirlpools and raging rivers in the middle of the ocean like you could never imagine.
“We had everything on that trip; there were three fires on that boat, we had a mutiny… a mattress caught fire and they couldn’t put it out so they just threw the whole thing over the side!
“But that’s when we discovered Desert Point. It’s actual name is Bangko Bangko - well, it looked a lot like a desert to us and it had a perfect point wave, so we named it Desert Point.”
Like some blissful, beneficial parasite, the memories of those idyllic four months percolated continually in Dave’s mind and soul. He regaled friends with tales of his experiences, he mind-surfed the empty, tropical, crystalline waves over and over again and he knew he had to return.
“I was just a young, broke surfer at that time, so it took me seven years to save up the money to go again.”
Change is inevitable, but for Bali it has been more impactful, more damaging in some ways and certainly more all-consuming than almost anywhere else on the planet. Dave’s 1976 exploration must have been incredible and, were it to Australia’s Gold Coast, the hallowed shores of Waikiki or even the perfect point at Malibu, perhaps the change - the heartbreak - would be too much to bare.
Yet Dave has returned 24 times more to Bali, and is in no hurry to relinquish those visits.
“I can’t wait until they reopen so I can get back - I’m still striving for the same thing I always have since I was a young man.”
Each trip back uncovered a new corner of Indonesia to Dave. First, Bali, but soon after, Nusa Lembongan, Lombok, Nias and Desert Point would follow. The destinations changed little, though as time progressed and Bali’s tourism industry and infrastructure boomed - along with its traffic, crowds and trash - the journeys in between became more, not less, challenging.
In 1983, Bill Heick and a collection of his seafaring, equally-wreckless buddies took to the seas of the Indonesian archipelago only a year - maybe even as little as a couple of months - prior to Dave’s nail-biting, mattress-incinerating quest.
It is Bill’s name, not Dave’s, written in the metaphorical sands of Lombok’s Desert Point, his recent movie, The Secrets of Desert Point, documenting the excitement, adventure and life-threatening challenges bestowed upon the earliest surfers to draw lines on the now-fabled point.
The film, like the attribution, could so easily be associated with Dave’s name - you can almost count the days between the two visits. But Dave had no idea what was out there, let alone that one of the world’s most glorious left-handers lay in wait, and so, for all intents and purposes, be it in parallel or half a year later, Dave did discover Desert Point in a manner of speaking.
As Bill Heick states in his film, “no talk, no maps, no photos… we became really good liars!” If something is unknown and undocumented, it can still be discovered, even if not for the very first time.
“That was a great tale and experience; my discovery of Desert Point. It’s become one of the greatest surf spots in the world, as far as a draining point break goes. The kids that go there now… it’s unbelievable what they do!
“I couldn’t say I was the first, but I was one of the first. We wouldn’t know; we were the only ones there and never saw someone else. Through the years I’ve heard other claims, and I don’t know for sure, but I was definitely one of the first.
“All the things I did in Indonesia, I was one of the first. I’ll never claim to be the first, but I know I was one of the first in all of these experiences.”
We can’t go back in time. We can’t claim discovery of G-Land or Lakey Peak or Lance’s Right. Like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, these breaks have the names of those that went before us indelibly embossed into each and every glassy wall that breaks upon them.
But that’s not the way discovery works. It’s a personal journey and one that, as long as we remain true to ourselves, none can take from us.
Dave ‘pioneered’ Kuta just a couple of years ago. It’s a laughable claim - even to him - but he stands by it. Migrating from boards to SUPs and now to foils, Dave, to the best of his knowledge, was the first to discover inside Kuta on a foil. He had never seen anyone do it before him, nobody had given him a map or a visitor’s guide - he discovered it, all of his own volition.
Discovery exists outside of our comfort zone, away from suggestions and rumours, beyond the hours and minutes we plan in advance and into the realms of the unknown. It doesn’t have to be unknown to the world for it to be our discovery - only unknown to us.
If we stumble across a perfect wave, a stunning headland, even a populated point break we never knew existed until we rounded the corner of a six-lane highway, we have experienced, and can claim discovery.
Discovery is not about being the first, it’s simply about discovering what you never knew existed.