Then, he spotted it – an impossibly long, smooth left breaking wave far below, a surfer’s paradise like nothing he’d ever seen. Bill frantically asked everyone sitting around him as well as the stewardess, and he was told they were somewhere over a bay and village called Grajagan in West Java, Indonesia.
He told his brother about it once they reunited on the ground in Kuta, and got Mike excited enough to take a journey out to try and find the epic wave. After an arduous journey, they arrived at the Plengkung Beachheadland across the bay from Grajagan village just in time to witness a majestic sunset over the Indian Ocean, as well as one of the most perfect barrels human eyes had ever seen.
Another account is that his brother, Bill, already knew about the place, and enlisted younger brother Mike’s help to get there and start surfing once he arrived in Indonesia with surf boards, as they were impossible to get locally.
Together with a friend named Bob Laverty, they traveled out to G-Land for the first time to show Mike before returning back to Kuta.
(Tragically, a day after they came back from that first G-Land excursion, Laverty drowned while surfing, his board – but never his body – washing up on shore.)
“My brother Mike and I spent our youth traveling because of our father’s Navy career,” writes Bill Boyum in his 2002 ‘Letter from G-Land.’ “Our focus in life became finding a place we could call home, or a ‘power spot’ as my brother’s favorite author, Carlos Castaneda wrote in his novels.”
The Boyums lived the typical transitory life of a military family, as Bill Boyum muses in ‘Letter from G-Land’:
“Join the Navy and see the world.”
“You were in the Navy?”
“Nope. But the Navy is in me.”
The family was stationed in Southern California in the early 1960s – the perfect time to be a surfer, as the wave-riding sport was just burgeoning in Hawaii and Cali and the iconic surf movie Endless Summer exposed a wide world of undiscovered waves,
It was also the time for The Summer of Love, teenage rebellion, and books like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that challenged societal norms, encouraging youth to question authority and make their own way in the world. It was also the time for drugs – a whole lot of them, and that went hand-in-hand with surfing and being a youth at the time.
After dropping out of college in the mid 1960s, Boyum, traveling all the way across the world to bop around Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand, surfing whenever he could. By 1969, he followed his brother, Mike, to Bali, Indonesia, and that’s where his story really starts.
Bill only knew that he could find his brother in a remote fishing village called Kuta outside Bali. It was there the elder Boyum had settled, followed rumors of a place with perfect white-sand beaches, temperate waters, consistent offshore wind every day, and great, cheap food – all perquisites for any true surfer.
Whichever version of events you believe about how Mike and Bill came onto G-Land, they definitely resolved to start surfing those waves.
Just getting there was no easy feat, as they had to ride their motorbikes for nearly two days to the entrance of the Natural Reserve of Alas Purwo. There, they ditched the bikes and go on foot, hiking for two days through jungle that is rumored to be vexed with spirits and demons, as well as plenty of real-life Java tigers, wild boar, Komodo dragon, and a whole lot of poisonous snakes.
When they wanted to return to G-Land, the Boyums and friends took local buses and hitchhiked until they arrived at Grajagan Village where the river met the ocean, and then they had to walk about 20 km up the beach carrying their surfboards, food, and all of their supplies. They even had to bring in their own fresh water supplies, and they set out old sails to catch more water when it rained.
It was well worth it, as G-Land is now considered the best left wave in the world. Although it’s in tropical Java, the waves from the Indian Ocean there actually originate with swirling low pressure systems in Antarctica, thousands of kilometers away.
Of course, back then, the different sections of the beach and reef breaks didn’t have well-known names like “Money-Trees,” “Kongs,” and the legendary “Speedies,” with up to 20-foot wave faces (Hawaiian scale) and single barrels they could ride for up to several hundred meters. The Boyums and friends didn’t realize at first that G-Land was best surf at high tide so the week after a full moon was insane, or that there was a “key-hole” within the shallow and unforgiving reef where it was easiest to paddle out. But they would learn that all – and much more – over the ensuing years surfing G-Land.
At first, they set up a makeshift camp, but soon, could stay for weeks and even months thanks to elevated bamboo tree houses (so the snakes, boars, and tigers couldn’t get ‘em at night), a cooking shack, and latrines dug in the bush. They had the whole beach to themselves, with not a single human being in sight other than some local kids to help them out, they caught fish, ate fruit, and traded for whatever else they needed, burning what little trash they had and surfing to their heart’s content.
Eagerly coming back after a few months when the rains had stopped and the winds were offshore again, their camp was still intact, like it was frozen in time.
The legend of G-Land grew among surfers from all over the world, and the camp became quite a commercial endeavor. By the end of 1977, surfers from around the world came and paid an astronomical $50-$100 per night or even $1,000 per week to stay there and surf in the rustic yet uncrowded elements, and the camp was cashing-in $250,000 per year!
“But much of this was my doing. The surf camp was a great idea but we should have known that something so spectacular was impossible to keep secret. I look back on it with a mixture of pride and sadness,” wrote Bill Boyum in 2002 about the eventual commercialization of G-Land.
The Indonesian authorities who had once granted Boyum permission to start a little surf camp wanted a piece of the action. And then, a bigger piece of the action.
I’m not sure if it was the police, local politicians, regional authorities, or just strong-arm thugs who put the pressure on Mike, but sometimes in these developing countries, they can all be one in the same.
While this is accurate, I found out that they actually burned the nipa huts and bamboo tree houses in G-Land at the end of every season to prevent rat infestation, rebuilding them at the start of the next surf season when they came back. So, this may have been less an act of arson than one of frustration and just ending the season early. Mike was less spiteful and more spiritually wounded by what happened, according to a mutual friend.
Forced out of the G-Land, his surf camp and every penny (or Indonesian rupiah) he’d earned over the years taken from him, Mike left the country heartbroken and jaded, with nothing but the shirt on his back.
Soon after, Boyum relinquished control of G-Land to a local Indo surfer, Bobby Radiasa, who built it up into a legitimate surf resort of the decades, and it still stands today.
But this story isn’t just about G-Land, nor is it only about surfing, because Mike Boyum started doing what plenty of other surfers did in the 1970s to fund their round-the-world adventures: he trafficked drugs.
And this is also where the story really gets crazy, with twists and turns out of a Hollywood movie, eventually leading him to the exact paradise island where I’m living now in the Philippines: Siargao.
This is just part 1 of 3 of this series documenting the legend of surfer Mike Boyum. Stick around for the rest, coming soon.
P.S. I'm not a surfer, nor do I pretend to be "in the know" or part of Mike Boyum's life in any way. I'm just a curious dude living on Siargao in the Philippines who wants to honor his contributions and pay tribute to his remarkable life, good and bad. If I got anything wrong or you have an issue with something I said, PLEASE contact me and set me straight - I welcome it!