Book Excerpt: The G-Land Tsunami – From The Big Sea by Richie Lovett
June 3, 1994
We got up in Bali the next morning, and Neal Purchase received a distressing call from his girl back home in Australia. I’d gotten to know Purcho pretty well – we’d grown up competing together on the Australian domestic circuit and we had a good rapport – and he came to my room and I could see he was rattled. He said, “I just got a call from my girl and she pleaded, ‘Don’t go to G-Land!” She had a really bad feeling about it, like something was going to happen, and Neal announces, “Guys, I’m out. I’m going to call Meldrum and tell him I’m sick and that I have to go home.” We’re all looking at him going, “Mate, you’re kidding, aren’t you?” We tried to talk him out of it, and the boys were pretty brutal, but he couldn’t be swayed. Neal is a spiritual kind of guy and he was spooked by the phone call and flew straight home.
It’s a long hike to get to G-Land. A bemo ride to Benoa Harbour, then a ferry over to Java, then more bemos across Java on bumpy roads until you finally reach Grajagan village. From there a boat takes you across the bay to the camp. We left Kuta at 3am in the morning and arrived at G-Land at 2pm that afternoon. Catching sight of the wave at G-Land for the first time was breathtaking. There was a decent swell running and suddenly there it was – a long lefthand wave reeling down the reef. It looked like it broke for a mile before tapering off as the reef gave way to open water. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.
We jumped off the boat and started the mile-long walk up the narrow stretch of beach to the camp. To my left was a green brick wall of jungle; and to my right was this incredible wave. It was hot, humid and the sweat was making my clothes stick to my body. As we’re walking up the beach ‘Dog’ and ‘The Law’ pulled me aside – they’d been here a few times and had a plan. “Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to rock up and grab the huts down in front of Speedies.” Speedies was the last and best section of the wave at G-Land, and the three “Speedies huts” were a couple of minutes walk down the beach from the main camp, and regarded as somewhat exclusive. “We’ll get up every morning and hit Speedies before anyone else.” So the rest of the crew headed to the main camp and we made a beeline for the Speedies huts. Dog and Law shared one, two guys from Newcastle were in another, and I was in the last one on my own as Purcho was supposed to be sharing with me.
Not having ever really roughed it before, and being a clean freak with a borderline OCD complex, I knew this whole jungle experience was going to be a test. My hut was a little thatched bamboo dwelling sitting about two feet off the ground in a shallow clearing carved out of the jungle. There was no electricity, just a mattress and a mosquito net and that was it. I’ve walked in, upended the bed, checked for snakes and scorpions, and like any new place I visit, gave it a thorough spring clean. I’m quietly fighting every natural urge to freak out on the whole situation, but I took some comfort in unpacking all my clothes and laying them out on the wooden floor, all neatly folded and colour coded. I unpacked my boards and laid them out all parallel and in ascending order of size, and then I stashed my little grey briefcase containing my passport, money, credit cards and plane tickets under my mattress. Once my hut was set up I stood back, surveyed my new abode, and now satisfied that everything was its right place, it was time to go surf.
It was 3.30pm by the time we paddled out. It was overcast and the ocean had a weird vibe to it, the surface was bumpy and there seemed to be a strong current running through the water. The water was also unusually cold by Indonesian standards. Yes, we were surfing G-Land, but we weren’t surfing G-Land as I knew it from the movies, it wasn’t perfect by any means, but the forecast was good and the waves were only going to get better during the week. Dog had shown me all the sections of the reef – Kongs up the top, Money Trees through the middle, and Launching Pads and Speedies down the end – I’ve paddled out and taken a moment to look back at the surrounding jungle, my anxiety quickly being washed away by an overwhelming sense of adventure and the prospect of perfect waves. We ended up surfing for a good two hours that first afternoon, washing off the long trip and becoming accustomed to the wave. My initiation was okay – I didn’t hit the reef, I didn’t get slapped, and I had my fill of the long winding lefthanders. I still felt intimidated by the wave, but a lot of that initial fear was gone. I’d survived… time to have some fun!
We toasted the surf with a few beers as the sun set over the break then we walked up to the main camp for dinner. The camp itself sits on a little limestone rise, maybe 10 feet above the beach, in a small clearing that’s been carved out of the thick jungle. There’s a large split-level pagoda set back against the jungle wall that houses the restaurant up top and a small games and lounge area underneath. There are huts scattered around the edge of the limestone rise, a few storage huts, and that’s about it. I had a plate of spaghetti for dinner washed down with a couple more beers and everyone was pretty pumped at the prospect of a week of great waves.
With dinner done, I grabbed my torch and started walking back to my hut. The jungle swallows all the light, especially down near the Speedies huts where it’s pitch black and you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. The only light is from the billion stars above. The jungle also takes on a new personality after nightfall and everything seems sinister. There had been talk of recent tiger sightings and stories of locals disappearing. Once in bed my mind started wandering; on the other side of this skinny wall of bamboo were snakes, scorpions, tigers and whatever else was out there. I was bummed Neal wasn’t there for company. The need for sleep took over, I read a few pages of my book under torchlight, flicked the switch, and I was out. Life wasn’t too bad, here in the jungle on the edge of the world.
I slept like the dead for a few hours, but woke with a start to the sound of animals in the jungle. And it wasn’t typical playful screeches you’d expect to hear in the night. The animals sounded like they were in distress. There were birds squawking, pigs squealing and the monkeys were hooting to each other. They were all worked up about something. The pigs and the monkeys in particular stood out in my mind. I dismissed it as life in the jungle and wondered if I was ever going to get back to sleep. It was around 11 o’clock.
I woke up again a few hours later, I figured it must have been about two in the morning, the animals were still going ballistic, but this time I could hear something else, a low rumbling hum… What was going on? I’m thinking maybe there’s a monsoonal squall coming in and it’s the canopy of the jungle moving about in the wind. The noise started getting louder and louder, and it was then the animals went quiet. The noise switched its tone and became an audible rumble. I thought to myself, this is it, the sound of a tiger getting closer and closer, the rumble was very low and I could hear the growl. I was scared, frozen in the darkness just waiting for something to happen. It was going for what felt like minutes and as the sound intensified it became clear it wasn’t a tiger, the noise was too constant. It had to be heavy rain, but that theory was also dispelled as the noise level continued to rise. My next thought was of a plane… a plane coming toward us and going to crash at any minute.
By now I’m sitting up in my hut and still very much in a sleepy haze. It was pitch black and I couldn’t hear any voices. Dog and Law were only a few metres away from me. My hut was the first in a row of three and lower than theirs, in what I’d later discover was the mouth of a natural watercourse. The noise meanwhile got so loud that my thoughts went from tiger, to rain, to plane, to who knows what? Just then the ground started to shake. Was it an earthquake? I wasn’t sure but I could feel the ground moving, reverberating through my hut. WHAT IS GOING ON! I had no idea what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good…
That’s when it hit. An almighty wall of water smashed into my hut. The force was like nothing I’d experienced before. I felt like I’d been hit head on by a train. My hut was ripped from its foundations and tossed towards the jungle behind, with me inside not being able to see a thing. My head hit something and I felt the water starting to consume me, and it was at that point I knew we were being wiped out by a tsunami. Within seconds my hut began to disintegrate, the bamboo thatch wall next to my mattress wrapped around me and for a moment offered some protection for the chaos. I screamed in terror as I went tumbling in a wash of whitewater, trees, sand and reef. This wave was taking everything in its path, including me.
I’d never felt water so strong and moving with such purpose. I’d surfed big waves in Hawaii and Australia but this felt different. This was ferocious and forceful, it was churning and it was relentless. Instinctively, as if I was wiping out on a wave, I went into a ball, tucked up in the fetal position and tried to protect myself. As I was travelling under the water I could feel sticks and logs and reef hitting me, scraping at my skin. I had no sense of which way was up or down, but all I knew was that I was heading into the jungle, bouncing off trees like a pinball.
Then it struck me; I was never going to see my family again, this was how I would die. For the second time in my life I felt I was going to die and I was completely at the mercy of the situation. The first was the shark attack, but at least I was a player in that game. But this time there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do to exit from my predicament, and for a control freak like me that was truly frightening. The force of this thing was incredible and it just kept pushing. I had no choice but to go with it.
I was completely submerged and I’d been underwater for at least 30 seconds, maybe a minute. I was searching for breath and because the wave was churned up and foamy I was taking in just enough air to keep me going between mouthfuls of seawater. I wasn’t sure how long I could last, but I had to try and get above the water so I could at least breathe.
As the wave slowly lost energy and started to slow down I realised I was pinned underwater, my legs wedged under a log. I had to get air or I was going to drown. I reached down and pulled at my legs until they were free. All I was thinking was air. Already I was stinging all over and I became aware I was cut up pretty bad. Nothing appeared to be broken, but I had sticks and splinters stuck in my skin, and my legs were both in serious pain. By the time I’d righted myself I was up to my shoulders in water, and the only thing I could see amongst the darkness was white foam and the silhouette of trees around me. I could hear branches snapping and the sound of water churning, and amongst it all there was a lone scream in the distance. It was dark, cold, and I was scared, but at least I was alive.
I had no bearings. I knew I’d been driven back into the jungle, but I wasn’t sure how far. The water surrounding me began to calm down, I was still submerged up to my chest, I was coughing up water and by then my eyes had started to adjust. There was white foam everywhere it looked like snow. The water became still for a moment, but then it started drawing back out of the jungle, back towards the sea. Oh no, here we go again. I thought about the reef, thinking the wave might drag me back out across the lagoon, which would be disastrous. I had no choice but to go back out with the flow of water, but at least this time I was prepared. The water drained away pretty quickly and I tried to hold onto trees and whatever I could to avoid being dragged out past the beach. I screamed but no sound came out. I grabbed onto a tree and hugged it until all the water had drained away and left me there. Then I heard a woman’s voice scream in Bahasa, a local woman, and my immediate thought then was, where are the other guys? I started yelling out, “Dog! Dog!” Then after a few seconds I heard him screaming my name.
Those guys had all found each other and then Dog had come looking for me. I was the last one because I had been dragged the furthest into the jungle. I’d copped it the worst. The water had funnelled down the bay to where we were at Speedies, and more particularly straight through my hut. Water finds the lowest level, and that was me. We kept yelling and I followed his voice until we found each other down on the beach. Relieved, we hugged. Dog asked me if I was okay and I said, “I think so.” He’s a good man to have in a crisis situation and soon took charge, told us to stick together, and head for higher ground back up at the main camp. Our huts were gone, swept clean so that only the stumps were left. The trees were gone. Everything was gone. All my stuff was gone.
And then the rumble started again. “Another one coming,” someone said.
Just in time for Father's Day – This week, 12 month subscriptions to SW will receive a copy of Richie Lovett’s acclaimed tell all story.
Richie Lovett is more than just a man… he’s a true blue walking miracle. How else would you describe someone who survived being washed into G-Land jungle by a tsunami? How else would you describe a bloke who not only survived one of the most lethal and rare forms of cancer on the planet but who would bounce back to full surfing health with a new bionic limb and rejuvenated outlook on life? How else would you describe someone who survived having a fellow WQS competitor drop a human poo into his suitcase which he then unknowingly carried through most of Europe without a single inspection at customs.
These are just some of the stories from the remarkable life of WCT legend Richie Lovett. A guy who not only ripped like a madman during his days on tour, but inspired people all over the world durfing his smack down of the big C.
This book is co-written by SW Editor At Large, Sean Doherty, will make you laugh and cry, give you an insight into one of Australian surfing’s most loveable characters and give you a new appreciation for every single day.
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