Thursday, October 28, 2004

Jakarta Surfing - Pelabuhan Ratu, South Java

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach

Surfing in Indonesia is fun although getting there can be quite an adventure – getting to the surf that is ... getting here, to Indonesia is easy, relatively, depending on the airline, and “the port of embarkation/disembarkation” (I never know which is which on those airline departure/arrival/custom cards) and whether or not you get an aisle, middle or window seat. I prefer the aisle seat for the long haul as it allows for easy roaming access – something that becomes very significant in hour 6 of a 12 hour flight. For shorter journeys I enjoy the privacy, view and headrest option that a window seat provides. Middle seats are stupid. And then of course if you end up sitting next to a screaming child forget about it. Crack open the tranquilizers or whatever other mind numbing devices are immediately available.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach and Board on the lawn of the place we stay

On my last surf weekend to the Indian Oceanside town of Pelabuhanratu, my friends and I tried a few new spots that some locals told us about. It was suggested that we pay one of the scooter taxi guys to drive ahead of us and show us the turn off to the beach access “road”. He led us up some ridiculously steep hills and around some equally ridiculous curves until we reached the beach entrance “road”. We dealt with the guys who control access to the road, which involved a transaction of a few thousand rupiah and then peered over the ledge of the entrance way into the steepest incline of a “road” I have ever seen. I felt like an extreme skier on the edge of a lip peering down an almost vertical drop into oblivion. But the surf beckoned and Brandon and Scott encouraged so we dropped in. My brakes did well and we made it to the bottom only to come face to face with what made the hill I had just descended the second steepest road hill I had ever seen in my life. It began with a bridge upon which was a broken down four wheel drive Jeep with 4 guys lounging about and 2 more guys under the hood working on what we found out later was a “steep hill induced blown transmission”. So up we went hoping we would not tip over backwards – it actually had the look and feel like that was a definite possibility.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach Sunset

Isn’t there some physical law that determines the limits of the steepness of a road? Some “angle of repose” or something where stuff collapses upon itself – like when you try and dig a whole in the sand at the beach and eventually it is so steep that the sand begins to slip into the whole faster than you can excavate it out? I know they had this difficulty when building the Panama Canal. The more they dug the faster the hole filled. It was one of the greatest challenges engineers faced when cutting through the highlands of the continental divide during the canal construction. Fascinating engineering fete is the Panama Canal. It took ten years to build, from 1904 to 1914. Actually it was begun about 20 years before by the French, a venture organized by the same guy who was the inspiration for the Suez Canal, but they did not yet have the technology to deal with the geography of Panama. During the creation of the canal, mosquitoes were recognized as the carriers of various tropical diseases and eradicated on the Isthmus. The water flow for the lock system operates entirely on gravity. Water from the huge man made Lake Gatun at the top of the lock system provides for the water elevators. Lake Gatun has its own “perpetual” source of water. The incredibly dense tropical rainforest surrounding the Canal Zone and evaporation from the lake itself are responsible for about 80 feet of rain annually which falls throughout the year consistently replenishing Gatun.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Kids

The country of Panama was created for the purpose of the canal construction. The US realized the importance of naval superiority for world domination via the history lesson of an Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. This explains the existence of the letters “US” in parenthesis under the names of various tiny islands sprinkled throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They were used as supply depots and bases for the US naval and mercantile fleets. The Panama Canal was essential to the quick movement of goods and troops from one coast of the US to the other and beyond. The US approached Colombia and asked for a zone in the Isthmus of Panama to build a canal. The Isthmus was part of Colombia. The government of Colombia had no interest in giving the US such a privileged position on their land. So the US took the Isthmus, by means of a US backed revolution carried out by wealthy Panamanians. Panama broke away from Colombia, became its own country and the US had its Canal Zone. The canal takes about 8000 miles off the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of rounding South America. Ships pay a hefty toll, up to 142,000 dollars for cruise ships. But it is worth the huge fee demonstrated by the fact that builders construct ships specific to the size constraints of the canal itself. Such ships are referred to as Panammax size. They still have to deal with that angle of repose thing as the land surrounding the canal continuously makes its way downhill but other than that the canal has seen very few modifications in its 90 years of operation.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - at the Ocean Queen - Pool Surfer Girl

Like the Canal Zone workers we dealt with the angles of incline and made it to the beach. It was strikingly beautiful; vibrant green hills, rocky cliffs cascading into aquamarine water, local fishermen baiting hooks in technicolor boats prepping for the all night shift, the sand burning the hell out of our soft, pink bule` feet ... The surf was mediocre but as is the case with many adventures, the journey was as remarkable as the final destination.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Ocean Queen Beach

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Ocean Queen Surf


Brandon said...

Awesome story - you write so much better than I do!

IndoIan said...

thanks brandon. that was quite the adventure - i need to get some of the photos you took and post them.

JB said...

Hey Man,

How far is this spot actually from Jakarta? I am going to be moving there and wondering if there are any surfable waves close to the City?



indoian said...


This spot is in the area of Pelabuhan Ratu. It is about a 4 hour journey from Jakarta - depending on traffic and lots of other mitigating circumstances! Most just take the hour flight to Bali for surf but there are plenty of good spots near Pelabuhan. Not much else around Jakarta surfwise.

nawaf said...


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