Des touches down in Denpasar just after lunch, and we use the afternoon to make some final preparations for the trip. Then it’s off to the beach to have a few sunset beers while we fend off a lady offering foot massages. Ketut, our beach bartender, keeps the Bintang flowing as he simultaneously feeds a small family of squirrels in the tree above. Soon we go in search of dinner. The boat leaves at dawn the following morning, and there’s fresh swell on the way.

The boat trip to G-Land lasts a bumpy two hours. We arrive just in time to watch a very large set wave run down the reef. It would be at least three times the size of anything I have surfed in months, and I can’t help feeling that I’m hopelessly unprepared for what is coming.

It doesn’t take long to settle in at the camp and stuff down a late breakfast. We organise boards and catch a boat out the back where the sets are pushing triple overhead. The conditions are a world apart from the beach breaks I was surfing back in Sydney, and the whole thing is pretty damn intimidating. A smaller wave rolls through, and I catch it to get my confidence up. As I’m paddling back out, I get caught inside by one of the biggest sets of the day. I’m mowed down by a wall of white water that almost blocks out the sun, then my leash snaps and I’m washed right over the reef. I spend the next 20 minutes swimming around trying to find my board, only to be flushed out and dragged into the bay before being picked up by one of the photographer boats.

After being dropped back towards camp, I continue searching for my surfboard. Being a board down this early in the trip would be a bad way to start things off. Luckily it’s laying in the shade near the camp jetty. Clearly some Good Samaritan has paddled it in. I consider sitting the rest of the afternoon out but know I will probably never forgive myself.

I spend the next two hours paddling around trying to find gaps in the crowd while dodging mountainous sets. I catch two more waves, and one of them is up there with my best. But my small victories pale in comparison to what I witness out there. Really amazing and composed barrel riding and frightening wipeouts take place non-stop for the whole afternoon. The list of serious injuries at the end of the day is surprisingly small. One fellow is transported to the hospital in a neck brace with several large lacerations to his head. Other than that, it is mainly reef cuts, some requiring stitches from the camp doctor.

Early morning finds a small group of us gathered in the camp yoga area. The sounds of the jungle are all around, as rays of pale sunlight filter into the Shala. Monkeys chitter in the trees amongst singing birds, as our angelic yoga teacher flawlessly executes the most challenging pose of the session so far. There are suffocating sounds of struggle from those nearby. Glancing around, I notice that most people are having trouble with the flexibility side of the exercise. One guy has completely given up, and another is making a valiant effort, but it appears his head may explode at any moment. I give some thought to mounting a sly webcam in the ceiling and starting a YouTube channel. I’m guessing it would get a few hits.

The swell drops over a few days, but we still have some great sessions up at the top of the reef towards Kongs. Just me and Des, picking off fun peaks that occasionally link up into long walls. At the end of another great day, we sit down to dinner with Mick, the relaxed Californian. A casual discussion takes place. Mick cultivates marijuana for a living and has been doing so for many years. I ask him about his smoking habits, and he readily admits to hitting the billy pipe just after breakfast and keeping it up for much of the day. I mention that I once tried this back in high school, then make it clear that I don’t remember it as a day of productive learning.

He looks at me with a new intensity and responds... “It’s all about the strains bro. You need to be smoking an Indica strain during the day, it has a more energetic and alert high. You are still on the ball and can get shit done. Then, later on, you switch to a Sativa strain. The high is more cerebral and introspective”. I nod thoughtfully and don’t really feel I’m in a position to argue.

The monkeys had been a constant presence around the camp during the trip and appeared to be stepping up their efforts at being a general nuisance. Surf gear had been pinched and hung high in the trees. Lunches had been stolen, and glasses had been smashed. They would often lounge around the walking paths grooming each other, only making token efforts to remove themselves when you approached. You had to be especially careful of the large males; they showed no fear.

I wandered down to check the surf one afternoon, and a particularly large group had taken up residence across the main path. Most removed themselves as I approached, but the dominant male stood firm. I gave him a very wide berth, but it wasn’t enough. The minute my back was turned, he started screaming and reared up. This seemed to fire up the rest of the group. I panicked when I realised I was surrounded, so I started swinging my surfboard to keep them at bay. They backed off only briefly and then began to close in again. Luckily there were some nice palm-sized rocks nearby. Once I let fly with a few of these, the spell broke, and the retreat began in earnest.

Another large swell arrives just as the end of the trip draws near. It comes in thick and from the west. Lumps of raw ocean charge out of deep water before slamming into the reef, then turn abruptly into wide open spitting barrels. Waiting for the more user-friendly sets is an exercise in both frustration and patience. I make some frantic attempts at paddling into bigger waves, but when I don’t make the drop, the result is disconcertingly familiar. A few moments of suspended fear followed by one of those floggings that leave you rattled and gasping for breath in the channel. Later, I stagger in across shallow rock pools bathed in the afternoon glow. My confidence is completely shattered, but I begin to feel better at dinner that evening. Everyone else had a difficult time of it too. The shaken looks on those seated around the dinner table more than tell the story.

We pack our gear and say our goodbyes as the trip draws to a close. Departing G-Land and taking the boat back to Bali is a bittersweet experience. Leaving the waves and the jungle behind is never easy. And watching the late afternoon lines wrap perfectly down the reef while sipping a cold beer will also be dearly missed. But heading home safe, with your boards mostly intact, is a good reason to be thankful.

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The writing above is an excerpt from a recently published book…

Eyes To The Horizon

One man’s psychedelic journey into dating apps and perfect waves on foreign shores

Written by Ben Simon Smith

Available on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play and with other good eBook retailer