David Rastovich – tube rider, activist and head of the monkey liberation army at the scene of Kingy’s worst nightmare. Lagundri. (Masters)

SW’s Indo Edition: Man’s Attempt To Free Nias Monkey Ends In Disaster

“It was clear that if given the chance, the monkey would eat our faces.”

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Our first visit to Nias wasn’t exactly layered with surf travel romanticism.

Unlike Peter Troy we weren’t on a three-year pilgrimage of self-discovery. We hadn’t travelled overland across Sumatra to get there. We hadn’t seen a map of the island on the wall of a losmen in Lake Toba and asked the old bapak, “Where’s that?” And we certainly hadn’t ridden a motorbike around the corner of the bay at Lagundri and been greeted with a perfect airbrushed wave framed against rows of palm trees without a surfer in sight.

No, we went to Nias on a charter boat full of pissheads.

It might have only been 20-odd years since Troy had stumbled across the wave at Lagundri, but it had been discovered several thousand times in the years since. Much had changed. We sailed into the bay on an 82-foot fully appointed surf charter boat, fresh off a week of surf in the Mentawais and having broken the boat record for beers drunk. If Troy wasn’t well and truly alive at that point he’d have rolled over in his grave. He would have kept rolling when he discovered we were also in Lagundri for a surf contest. The place was crawling with pro surfers.

But what it lacked in mysticism and adventure it certainly made up for in beer.

The first night began predictably with a drinking contest. I got sat across the table from a big truckie from Queensland, and in front of a baying audience we took turns quaffing shots of a particularly vile, sugary local liquor that I think has in the years since killed several tourists. The last thing I remember was taking one last shot, and then nothing.

I opened my eyes the next morning and I was in a concrete room, on a bed. This was good. I ascertained I’d at least made it back to Uni’s losmen where we were staying. When I went to lift my head off the pillow however the pillow was stuck to my face. My eyes slowly came into focus and I saw that my pillow was not white, but red. It was soaked in blood, most likely my own. I started checking out my arms and legs. Nothing. Ripped my shirt off. Nothing. It was then I started patting my head and immediately felt a stinging sensation around my eyebrows.

Or at least where my eyebrows had been.

I immediately stormed out into the adjoining rooms and conducted a Spanish Inquisition of everyone in our group.
All of them of course flatly denied it. A young Mick Fanning – the chief suspect – not only denied it, he claimed that he’d actually saved my life by holding a towel around my head while I lay there unconscious, bleeding like a struck pig.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the worst casualty of the night. A bunch of surfers who’d flown into Guningsitoli on the other side of the island had been driven the rest of the way in the back of a truck. They were thrown in together on the metal tray, no seats, no suspension, on one of Indonesia’s worst roads for four hours. All they were told was to not stick their heads up. Avalon’s Matt Owens stuck his head up just as a low hanging telephone cable passed overhead. It collected him across the mouth, flipped him out the back of the truck, and split both sides of his mouth so he looked like The Joker.

The following afternoon the opening ceremony for the event down on the beachfront. Being Indonesia the dignitaries were five-deep and the whole thing took hours. Meanwhile the waves were flat, so the surfers had all posted up at the restaurant nearby and proceeded to pound beers. There was also a ceremonial display of Niasian stone jumping, where the young men from up the hill in the old village of Bawomataluo prove their virility by clear-jumping head-high stone plinths. Building jumping stones on the beach for the opening ceremony was deemed a bit excessive, so they’d made them out of marine ply instead. By the time the formalities had mercifully ended, the Aussie guys were totally mongoed and emerged from the restaurant and one after the other began trying to jump the wooden “stones”. They could hardly walk, let alone jump, but then one of the judges – the late, great Froudy – took one last run at it. Froudy however forgot to jump altogether and simply ran straight through the wooden structure, his head busting through the other side like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

By the time the contest started we’d all been moved up the point to the newly reopened Sorake Beach Resort. Built with dodgy money by Suharto’s son to capitalise on the impending surf boom, it had long been abandoned as surfers simply stayed in losmens down the point for a dollar a night. In the centre of the courtyard at the resort stood what once had been a bird aviary, in the shape of a giant globe. The birds were long dead, and the globe’s only resident was a single monkey chained to a stick in the ground. We wondered why they’d chain this thing up when it was already caged, but as we stepped closer to the cage we discovered why. The creature lunged violently toward us, hissing and clawing, only to be jerked back by the length of chain. All of us jumped backwards, because it was clear that if given the chance, the monkey would eat our faces, starting with the nose and eyeballs.

The monkey, it turned out, belonged to the local military commander, who walked around the compound with the creature on a lead, beating it mercilessly with a long cane every time it even looked like stepping out of line. Even though the monkey was ready to tear us apart, we began to feel sorry for it as the equatorial dictator in military fatigues flogged the shit out of it.

In between all this we got surf. In fact, it pumped. We had a 10-foot afternoon at the top of the swell, plenty of six foot days, and tons of waves for the contest. I forget who won.

And so it came to the last night, and in the early hours of the morning and with a thousand beers in us someone came up with the bright idea to liberate the monkey. We snuck silently over to the cage and in the faint moonlight we could just make him out, sitting there motionless, fast asleep. There was the one small matter however of who was going to crawl in there and set him free. We looked at each other in silence before Andy King, the man with the strongest moral compass of all of us nodded that he was going in. Kingy walked over to the entrance to the cage and silently slipped the bolt on the door. Meanwhile the silhouetted monkey hadn’t moved. It was 3am and dead silent as Kingy silently crawled into the cage on his mission of mercy. He edged his way in slowly, silently, and reached toward the clasp on the monkey’s chain. His hand was shaking and he was sweating profusely in still of the night. The monkey sat there, hunched, unmoving… and at this point we were faced with no option but to slam the door closed, bolt the door and scream at the top of our lungs.

The monkey’s eyes popped open and the creature sprung like a demon. Kingy’s scream echoed into the night, and I can still see his face pressed against the bars as the monkey, chain pulled taut, attempted to chew through his Achilles tendons.

Sean Doherty