In Search of the Great Waves

Published: Garuda Inflight Magazine, October 2010

Unlike getting to other “secret” world-class surfing spots, the road to Cimaja is by comparison a walk in the park

My excursion to Cimaja, West Java, was largely inspired by a documentary that films the life of an extraordinary surfer Dede Suryana, not only the first Asian to compete in the World Qualifying Series but also the winner of several international competitions. “Mengejar Ombak” (“Chasing the Waves”) took three years off the lives of the film’s directors, Dave Arnold and Tyrone Lebon, to make the 45-minute documentary. The film was so inspiring and I, too, wanted to chase my own dream and experience firsthand some of the sites featured in the documentary.

Unlike getting to other “secret” world-class surfing spots, the road to Cimaja is by comparison a walk in the park. A bus ride to Pelabuhan Ratu and another ride by public transportation to Cisolok was all it took. Despite its hype as a top-draw surfing destination, my first impression of Cimaja was not that of a popular tourist spot. Yes, there were some foreign surfers walking around with their surfboards or sitting around drinking beers, but that was pretty much it. The whole area is truly like a typical small village in Indonesia, albeit with a few more restaurants and hotels. Its main road, for instance, is small and occupied by very few motor vehicles.

That afternoon, I spotted only two surfers chasing the waves there. That was probably because the bigger and more challenging waves will come later, and the more experienced surfers know better than to hang back and drink beers while waiting for them, exchanging banters of their ultimate ride.

Not far from this place, also on the southern part of West Java, is a more popular tourist destination called Karang Hawu. Unlike Cimaja Beach, which is more rugged and fierce but nonetheless endearing, Karang Hawu has a different feel altogether. Heavily surrounded in the lore of Ratu Laut Kidul (the Queen of the South Sea), the beach exudes an unmistakable powerful mysticism. The lip of the beach is adorned with gargantuan black rocks which form a formidable cliff with several holes in it, standing guard imposingly, as if warning everyone about to enter her sanctuary to steer clear.

The cliff, which is one of Karang Hawu’s most notable features, takes the shape of a charcoal stove, which in Sundanese translates to “hawu”. The explosive surfs caused by immense and powerful waves perpetually hitting the face of the rocks sing in unison, warning the imminent danger of going farther out.

But humans are humans, and the idea of trespassing the forbidden always excites the curious humans. The bigger the rocks, the more determined they are to at least try to climb it. The more treacherous the obstacles, the more they will try to see if they can conquer it. To this end, don’t be surprised to find unsuspecting tourists climbing the rocks just to get a picture for their Facebook profile page.

Farther down I spotted a bamboo crossing which connects two giant rocks. The makeshift bridge is spartan and of simple construction, but looks sturdy enough to accommodate people. Still, as I slowly crossed the bridge, the roaring surf far below was enough to question the validity of my action. If viewing the beach from the ground is a sight to behold, then viewing the whole vista from up here on the wooden bridge is definitely a moment to remember.

“A while ago, the waves swept away 30 tourists,” informed one of the ojek drivers. Anger management problem, indeed.

After only a short time, the weather suddenly changed dramatically. The sun hid behind dark clouds as if being chased by some invisible hands. In a matter of seconds, the sky became very dark. The wind became intense—it was no longer caressing my cheeks; it was starting to whip my face. The waves roared up fiercely and the rocks, already exotic in their nature, became even more exotic with eerie lighting coming from the twilight sun. The group of tourists clambering the rocks quickly realised they were not going to win the battle. They hastily gathered their belongings and scampered away. Have they angered the Queen of the South Sea, who, according to traditional folklore, has anger management issues?
“A while ago, the waves swept away 30 tourists,” informed one of the ojek drivers. Anger management problem, indeed.

But then I found out that these stories are mere urban legends. Just like the story of how the waves sometimes transform themselves into a mini tsunami, covering all the streets in water just because the Queen is dissatisfied with the locals’ offerings. Or the eerie fate of a passerby who broke into room 308, the sacred room in Samudra Beach Hotel dedicated to pay tribute to the queen. These urban legends perhaps entered into the locals’ imagination partly because of the strong folklore about the Queen, and partly because they were somewhat good for tourism, too.

Back at Cimaja Beach, my theory about the experienced surfers waiting around for the best waves proved to be correct. On this very early morning, throngs of surfers were already in the water, wading and paddling this way and there like a colony of penguins. Enjoying the sunrise, I was also entertained by the sights of skilful men riding beasty waves. Among these surfers were local young boys with skills just as good, if not better, as the foreign surfers. And they should, considering that they are learning from one of the best; one of their own. Dede Suryana has opened a surfing school here in the hope of breeding future generations of Indonesian surfing gods. A goal which, in my mind, is of noble stature and very plausible, as he starts training these kids from when they are eight years old. I surely will return to Cimaja Beach some years from now, looking for the next Dede Suryana.

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