We didn’t know what to expect, when we arrived at Pulau Merah. This beautiful place sits at the edge of East Java and is among surfers known as Red Island. Instead of an eight hours bus ride, we treated ourselves to a bit of luxury by taking an 45 minutes flight from Denpasar to Banyuwangi airport. Well airport is almost an exaggeration. A small house with a street for landing would be a more appropriate description. After less than two hours taxi ride we got off directly at the beach. Just in time to see the sunset. The stunning view and the sound of the waves splashing was enough confirmation that we did everything right in leaving the surf hot spot Bali and going for a less popular surfing place. Now was the time to find a good place to sleep and some food. That is how we found Big Daddy’s surf camp, run by Agus Prihandoyo, or as his Hawaiian friends call him “King Kong”. But Big Daddy suits him much better, as you will find out in the interview.
Agus, it seems you have found the perfect place to settle. What brought you to Red Island?
For me there are three places in the world, where I could imagine to live. One is on Morotai Islands, North of Maluku, the other one is Manokwari in West Papua. And the third is here in Pulau Merah, Java. When my son Aan was born in 1998, I knew I had to take responsibility. So I settled down and built a house for us. Red Island was a good place for him to grow up. He has many friends here and thanks to the daily surfing he soon challenged his old man and already won some surf competitions. I myself grew up in a village near Banyuwangi, close to some of the volcanoes of Java. So I was more of a trekker first which led me to my job as a mountain and adventure guide. Surfing back then was just a hobby I sometimes tried out with friends.
But still you run “Big Daddys Surfcamp” today, how come?
That wasn’t really planned. The mountains weren’t an option to live as space and also jobs are limited. At the beach it is much easier to run a business, so I opened King Kongs Surfshop and just had my house to live with Aan. Bali was my home for quite a while before I settled down. There I really got into surfing and I still have many surfer friends from that time. Most of them are running a surf shop, are shapers or pro surfers. When they began to visit me here at Red Island I had to enlarge my place and I started to build guestrooms. Around 2000/2001 surfing really took off in Red Island and I sold my VW car to build more rooms. Some of my friends would also leave their boards here, so I got a nice collection of surfboards to rent out. And this is how Big Daddys Surfcamp startet.
So how would you describe Pulau Merah as a surfing place?
I think it is a really beautiful place. There is a long beach right in front of “Big Daddy’s Surfcamp” with lots of spots to surf - a gentle right hander but also some faster A-frames. Basically, there are waves for all kind of levels. It's easy for beginners to learn how to surf here. And if you are really looking for a challenge I can also take you to the world famous G-Land, which is a nice one or two day trip, depending on how long you want to surf. But at Red Island you find less crowded waves. Even if the spot is getting more and more popular, there is enough space for everybody.
Big Daddy isn’t just the name of your surf camp it seems to be your mission?
You know I am very grateful with what I have and I am grateful that I could follow my passions, still as a single parent. I am really proud of Aan who is following his dream of surfing. So in this town I am the Big Daddy for the local surfing kids. I teached them and they come to my place to borrow a board or just to hang out. And in the water I give them advice from time to time. For Gabriel and Chundra this is their second home. Those kids were left by their parents and are now raised by their grandma. It is a really sad story, but they love surfing, it makes them happy. So I let them hang out here and they can take a board whenever they want, we are a big family. Everybody is welcome at Big Daddy’s Surfcamp!
What do you like about surfing?
What I like the most surfing, is that it connects people all around the world. And speaking for myself, that I could turn my hobby into a job. It was the same with hiking. I loved hiking and therefore being a mountain guide was a dream job. But, as I mentioned before, opportunities in the mountains are limited and tourism is much bigger at the beach. I have 16 years of experience as a guide for trekking, hiking, surfing and kayaking and I am passionate about all of it. And last but not least I love travelling and to explore new surf spots. The low season still allows me to go on the road and I am so happy to live my dreams and do what I love.
Your most scary experience in surfing?
I was surfing on my own. There was a big swell and nobody else was in the line up. A strong current too. One wave hit me hard and my leash broke. I knew I couldn’t call for help, nobody would have heard me. So I tried to stay calm and not to worry too much about it. I was swimming for nearly an hour. The current had dragged me out and it was almost impossible to swim back on shore. I got really tired and with each stroke my arms felt heavier. I even took off my lycra that seemed to get heavy on me and I was afraid to drown. Somehow I managed to get out of the current and it finally washed me back on the beach. My board was already waiting there for me. I was totally worn out but so happy to have my feet on solid ground again.
What is your next big project?
I will do a big kayak trip. The plan is to go from Sumatra to Flores all the way with the kayak. With that project I like to raise funds for homeless people. There are many people with mental disabilities which have no home and nobody who takes care of them. But those people deserve it that they are look after. I am so happy for what I have and I really appreciate it to have been so lucky in life. I got everything I need for my son and myself so I want to give something to the people who aren't that blessed. I know that people do such things with the bike and raise awareness for certain projects. So I thought I will do it with my kayak. I already got sponsors to finance the expenses for the trip, so all the money donated will go directly to the people in need. The plan is to start in the middle of January 2016 in Sumatra. Strong winds and big swells need to be taken into consideration, so that will determine when we can start. Sometimes the sea can get really choppy and strong currents don’t make it any easier. We will stop on every island and sleep in a tent at the beach. If I am tired of paddling I will set up a sail. It’s going to be a great adventure. The trip will take around 1 year. So the fun never stops and the travel always continues.