If you surf we will shoot you
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
FOUR Byron Shire men were told they would be shot on a surf trip to Indonesia if they rode waves 'reserved' for an Australian businessman.
Steve Booth, of Huonbrook, John Tindale, of Byron Bay, Darren McCallister, of Brooklet, and Sean Court, of Newrybar, were on a boat near Panaitan Island three weeks ago when five rangers with machine-guns approached their captain.
The surfers, who had been travelling to the previously uninhabited island for four years, were ordered to stay out of the world-renowned break known as Napalms or risk being shot by a ranger.
The group was later told the waves were strictly for surfers staying in a camp being built by Australian businessman Matt Rumley on the island, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage national park.
Darren said he was in the water when he saw the rangers arrive on an unmarked boat and begin speaking to their Indonesian captain.
"They surrounded him and started intimidating him," Darren said.
"Us, not being able to speak Indonesian, couldn't get out of our captain what was said, except that if we started surfing they would start shooting.
"It was difficult for us to understand what was going on, because it was all to do with politics outside of our control.
"We'd heard this guy was trying to start a surf camp, but we didn't know it was starting that day and we wouldn't be allowed to surf."
Steve said his immediate thoughts were to pack up and leave the surfing mecca.
"I was tempted to take a photo, but I thought I had better not because they had machine-guns slung over their shoulders," he said.
"We were the only boat out there, and I was scared for our well-being because there was no-one else around."
The surfers said they spent the afternoon confused about the incident until they received a phone call from the owner of their boat, Jakartabased Australian Bruce Waterfield.
Mr Waterfield said Mr Rumley claimed he had negotiated an exclusive surf management plan with Indonesian National Park authorities.
Mr Rumley could not be contacted yesterday, but told Australia's Surfing Life magazine the development was in partnership with the National Parks of Indonesia.
However, Mr Waterfield said the rangers who confronted the surfers were working for the surf camp and had not been targeting illegal fishing boats.
The local men surfed the following day, after Mr Waterfield brought them previously-issued national park entry permits which were granted by rangers who had never heard of the surf camp arrangement.
Steve said that after the initial shock of being threatened, he became concerned about the environmental aspects of Mr Rumley's plans.
"People have never lived on that island and they never should," he said.
"It's classic tropical rainforest."
Sean said he was worried Mr Rumley was disguising his development as eco-tourism that had the potential to ruin the area.
"There are rumours of surf contests starting over there, and helibases, jetties and pontoons," he said.
"Why is an Australian businessman being allowed to exploit a World Heritage area? It's pristine over there."
John said he would not let the incident deter him from visiting Indonesia again next year.
"I had a great time on the boat and I think every surfer should jump on a boat and do the same," he said.
"This guy can't take that surfing experience away from us.
"He's about money, not about surfing.
"We'll be going back."