Review: 'The Chronicles Of G-Land' by Dian Hadiani
What was flying under the radar is now well and truly upon it. First the World Surf League scheduled a contest at G-Land, locking it in for a further three years of maximum webcast glare, and with our curiosity suitably aroused now come the books promising to tell all about this most mysterious and storied wave.
First to market is ‘The Chronicles of G-Land’ by Indonesian author Dian Hadiani. Hadiani has many bows in her writing quiver: children’s books; copywriter; marketing; and contributing writer to many magazines, however this is Hadiani’s first time writing for a surfing audience.
She was commissioned to write the book, and others that are set to follow, by Bobby Radiasa - he of Bobby’s Camp fame - who was the subject for a magazine feature Hadiani wrote in 2011. Seven years later, in 2018, Bobby approached Hadiani to tell the real story of G-Land. In his foreword, Bobby writes that G-Land’s history is “vague due to lack of research”, inferring that it’s even vague to himself, and he was there.
What he’s done then, is not simply commission a book, but an investigation. How much you’ll enjoy it depends on how much interest you have in G-Land's history.
That said, 'The Chronicles of G-Land' is a surf book like no other. In parts it’s flawed, it could do with tighter editing, less digressions, and the leaps of logic don’t always land true, but the level of research is astonishing. After receiving the brief, Hadiani worked on the book for four years, tracking down long forgotten employees and many of the early surfers who passed through the camp.
The narrative begins far earlier than that, however, with Hadiani delving back into the various histories of Java’s eastern tip, what it represented to the Majapahit Kingdom and how it became Alas Purwo National Park - a secluded outpost on the world’s most densely-populated island.
Much of the early story is based around Sunar, who was Mike Boyum’s Boy Friday until Boyum was run out of Indonesia. Sunar has had nothing to do with G-Land or surfing since then and just finding him allows Hadiani to piece together large tracts of the story. While reading it I wondered if a non-Indonesian writer would have thought to track down Sunar, and if they had, would they have been able to coax the information out of him that Hadiani did.
At any rate, those stories provide a view from the other side of the kitchen: the perspective of hired locals, not paying Western guests, and that alone is a novel inclusion in any surfing book.
On the Western guest’s side: Hadiani tracks down now-elderly surfers surprised that someone's taken an interest in their misspent adventures of youth. Notably absent are explanations how so many young Westerners were able to travel without visible means of support. The answer to that may cause some readers to second-guess the timelines and recollections, yet Hadiani takes it all at face value. Much trust is placed in distant memory.
A big question is how Mike Boyum, a charismatic grifter and smuggler, managed to ingratiate himself into Indonesian bureaucracy and make money off a patch of land where even locals weren’t allowed to live. A first-rate American hustler comes up against the overly-officious Indonesians, and somehow gets his way, if only for a time.
Eyewitness stories about the early trips to G-Land criss-cross, they double and triple up - see earlier note about editing - till it gets to the point it becomes hard to follow. It wasn’t till I’d finished the book did I realise an actual timeline is included to cross-check the (many) stories.
Obviously, no investigative book is going to dodge the answer to who first surfed G-Land. Accepted wisdom says it was Bob Laverty, yet his mission always felt apocryphal, perhaps not questioned because it added to the mystery of the place - the big discovery and then the sudden death.
Hadiani’s research took her elsewhere and it’ll create more questions than it will answer. Perhaps it’ll never be settled, or perhaps the Laverty story will endure, the same as people believe Lance Knight was the first surfer in the Mentawais despite longstanding evidence to the contrary. Myths can be more powerful than truth.
The ball now falls to other writers. Later this year Jack McCoy and Mike Ritter have a book on G-Land coming out, and word is Monty Webber is continuing his purple patch of prose with an extended piece on Grajagan.
Suddenly it’s the 1980s again and everyone wants a piece of the jungle.
PS: Dian Hadiani is currently researching and writing the next book in the series and recently requested photos or stories from anyone who was at G-Land during the 1994 tsunami.
// STU NETTLE