The Ups And Downs Of A Surf Photographer
I can't remember what year it was but while we were shooting free surf one morning just before the contest started our Zodiac was hit by a wave and capsized throwing another photographer, the driver and me into the surf. We were all ok but the Zodiac was swamped and it turned out the Indonesian driver couldn't swim. I had to push him back to shore using my waterproof Pelican case as a floatation device which saved my cameras and our driver.
In another incident I had a boat break down on me while I was shooting the contest which luckily drifted out to sea and not into the lineup. The jet ski sent to rescue us also broke down on the way back to the beach. Eventually after another ski came out, I finally got back to land. I was missing crucial heats at the time and I was pretty upset about the whole drama and the time wasted but it turned out there was an upside. I was offered a chance to shoot the pumping surf from a helicopter that had just brought Quiksilver Executives in from Bali and was just sitting in a jungle clearing waiting for their return trip. That fortunate outcome produced some classic aerial images of pumping 8'-10' G-Land.
Life In The Jungle
When the Quiksilver G-Land contest was announced efforts were made to clear the jungle enough for the much needed accommodation. I can remember arriving at my hut for the first time to be greeted by a black and red snake about 40cm long crawling though the grass at the bottom of the steps. Before the day was out I'd watched a deadly green mamba snake slither from a tree and into the thatched roof of my hut. As it turned out, seeing snakes was a daily or nightly sight and if the stories were to be believed, tigers still roamed freely.
Then there were also the noises in the night. High pitched screaming from the monkeys, loud grunting from feral pigs and other sounds that you couldn't place and didn't really want to think about. The banners for the contests had a tiger head on them and while there were never any sightings, we did find big cat prints in the low tide sand one morning. Enough to help keep you alert walking around during the day or the mind racing as you tried to sleep at night.
Kelly Vs, The Tour Veterans
Kelly Slater had already won four World Titles by 1997, (he would win his 5th in this year) and had won the first G-Land Pro in 1995 but the Tour was still a mixture of the Momentum Generation, Tour veterans and guys that had started around the beginning of the 90's.
The Tour vets had years of tough heats and were not going to let the young guys just step in and win heats. Kelly had a strategy of starting each heat with the inside position so he could get the first wave and make his opponent play catch up. The older guys had figured this out and some let him have his way while others learnt to hassle him for that inside spot. During the 1996 event, Gary ‘Kong' Elkerton really took it up to Kelly, the defending event champion and the hassling that went down in their heat really rattled Kelly with Kong knocking him out of the event. In the 1997 comp Luke Egan used the same tactics against Kelly. The advantage that Luke had was he was on his forehand and could get deeper than Kelly. It was a classic heat which Luke won.
Quiksilver Pro G-Land 1998, Cancelled
The win in 1997 was Luke Egan's maiden World Tour win and he was the defending Event Champion leading into the 1998 Event until it was cancelled just days before the surfers and media were due to arrive. Political unrest, the threat of terrorism and the Asian Financial Crisis had finally got the better of the ASP and Quiksilver and the event was called off.
About a decade after Quiksilver had to cancel the G-Land event, they went through the motions of holding the event again, even to the extent of booking out the Camps to put it back on the Tour. When Luke who had retired from the Tour heard, he joked that as defending Champion he should get a Wildcard entry. Unfortunately his idea didn't get tested because the Event didn't go ahead.
In 2000 Luke added another Quiksilver Pro Title to his name with his second World Tour win after Quiksilver had moved their G-Land event to another world class left-hander, Cloudbreak in Fiji. Basically Luke was the back to back winner of the Quiksilver Pro - 3 years apart and in a different country.
G-Land was back for 2020 but now has a postponed tag against it's name on the WSL Tour Schedule.
I covered all three Quiksilver Pro G-Land events and it was always an adventure to say the least. To get to the jungle was a mission and reinforced when everything arrived by boat from the village of Gragajan, a 20 minute boat ride across the bay. The only track or trail around the Camps was a narrow dirt track that led to a break called Tiger Tracks, about a 20 minute walk along the coast from the main surf camp area.
One morning when I was shooting the Event from an alternate judging tower near where this trail entered the jungle I heard a big commotion below. Low and behold
About 30-40 Indonesian cyclists, all in lycra had exited from the jungle track. It was totally bizarre, here we are in the middle of the jungle and a group of cyclists just turned up. They were fascinated with the contest and an hour later they all got back on their bikes and disappeared back into the jungle. It was a surreal moment that still gets me smiling because I have no idea where they'd come from or where they went.
The G-Land Playground Is Huge
During the 80's and 90's you would constantly hear the name G-Land in conversations about surfing in Indonesia but the wave rich area of the Mentawais and boat trips took over and G-Land as a surf destination seemed to fall out of favour. One thing that didn't stop were the waves. G-Land is one of the most exposed coral reefs in Indonesia, sometimes called the ‘catchers mitt' as it catches more swell than most other breaks in the island nation.
To add to that, G-Land is one of the longest lefthand point breaks in the world clocking in at 1.5 kilometres or just under a mile in length. The break is made up of 4 different spots. Starting right up the point with Kongs, which then leads into the spot in front of Bobbys camp, Money Trees, while further down the line is Launching Pads which is aptly named as an entry point for the infamous intense barrel end section of Speedies.
Without seeing it first hand, it's hard to visualise how long the wave is and size of the area of water you're dealing with. The playing area here is huge and to get to the different take off spots can be a long walk around the point to a key hole jump off spot or slow walk across the reef at low tide or boat or jet-ski trip to the line up.
The contest area at G-Land was so high that they had to build two judging towers, well two and a half if you count a make shift one down in front of Speedies that came into use when the action was focused right at the end of the wave. For all of the three Events, Quiksilver constructed two substantial multi-level judging towers with one on the beach for the media and surfers and the other halfway out on the reef for judges, officials and photographers.
This tower was out of the water at low tide and even though it was secured by heavy cables it would rock from side to side as walls of white water rolled though its pylons on the high tide and big swells. They were impressive structures that took a long time to build but were dismantled once the contests were finished.
More Than A Surf Event
In 1994 Quiksilver executive and former pro surfer Bruce Raymond approached the ASP's Graham Cassidy with the idea of running a pro tour event at G-Land on the south east corner of Java. The standard contest format at the time of Wednesday to Sunday was never going to work in the jungle of East Java. Bruce asked if the ASP would consider a 12 day window for the contest knowing that you'd need a waiting period that long to guarantee at least one swell. It was a wild idea from Bruce and a major investment from Quiksilver but in the heady days of the 90's when surf companies where all cashed up nothing was off the table. The plans became a reality with the first Quiksilver Pro G-land kicking off in June 1995.
The format of a waiting period and concept that you didn't need spectators on the beach created the basics for era of pro surfing that eventually came together in the late 90's. Named "The Dream Tour" which ran with the mantra of taking the best surfers in the world to the best surf locations during prime swell season and having an extended waiting period for each contest. As USA Surfing Magazine said at the time about the 1995 event "...the Quiksilver Pro G-Land redefined professional surfing."