Matt Rumley: Surf Camp Director

Thirty-five-year old Matt Rumley first started surfing when he was 10 in Sydney, Australia. He hated his first surfboard, a Christmas  present from his dad, and was scared of the ocean. Today he has somehow managed to indefinitely prolong his boyhood by running a surf travel company with camps in Uluwatu, Medewi, East and West Java. Since the late 90s Matt has been running Gspot in Java’s far eastern Blambangan Peninsula. In 2005 opened another camp on Panaitan Island in the famous  Ujung Kulon National Park on the far western tip of Java.  
When did you first come to Bali?
My first trip to Bali was with my parents in 1983 when I was 13. I stayed only two days, just long  enough to fall in love with the island. On my second trip a year later, I fell even deeper in love. My first solo trip was at the age of 16. I stayed six months and had a ball surfing, partying, traveling around. I realized even then that I had found a new home. 
When did you settle in Bali?
In order to finance my surfing trips to Indonesia, I worked in 1987-89 in the mining industry in West  Australia. I would work in OZ half a year, and stay in Indonesia half year. While on one of my trips, I fell in love with my true sweet heart and best friend, Gusti Ayu Komang Sucita. In 1991 we married and moved to Australia to build some capital. I got a job as a manager for a stationary company in Sydney where we were also blessed with our first child, Reggae. We visited Bali every year for our holidays.
What was your first business in Indonesia?
In 1996 we opened Café Mai Malu in Medewi, West Bali. Ayu returned with Reggae full time, I went back to the mining business – half on, half off  but in 1997 I started running freelance tours to Gland, East Java,staying in Grajagan village and renting fishing boats to take clientsout to the surf. To finance this venture, I still had to continue mining inthe surfing off season.
What did you go through to open a surf camp? 
In 1999 we stepped up our Gland operation and leased out a homestay in Grajagan from the Department of Forestry. The numbers of surfers kept growing and I conceived the name Gspot with my  partner Trent Vigors. This was the year that my second precious child, a daughter, came into the world. Unfortunately, a lot of bad things also happened. I got divorced, my partner Trent died, and we had to temporarily close the Gspot Surf Camp. At the time I totally lost interest in surfing and everything associated with it. I was brought down so low from my divorce and Trent’s death that I had to borrow Rp750,000 from the Australian Consulate on Bali to fly home where I got back into mining. In 2002 I remarried and had my third child. We had another go at opening up my Gland camp, this time under the name  Matty’s Surf & Eco Camp in a new location because my old camp burnt down because of an electrical fault. That year was a mixed season with pretty good numbers, but my heart really wasn’t in it and I was happy for the season to end. In 2003 my luck finally changed. I joined up with Bobby Radiasa, one of the original camp owners in Gland, a great mate and someone I totally respect. Our paths, our struggles are very similar. I became his sales and marketing manager. That year I also served as the coordinator for the “Gland International Team Challenge”, catching the eye of several investors.  In 2004, I reopened the Gspot Surf Camp in Gland’s best location. It turned out to be a great year. We attracted even more investors which led to the opening of our second Gspot surf camp in Panaitan Island, Ujung Kulon. Between both camps, we now employ over 60 Indonesians. With our overseas marketing network growing rapidly, the future looks promising.
What are the differences between the camp in Gland and the one in Ujung Kulon?
The main difference in camps is that one is still a pristine untouched virgin Island (Panaitan Island) whilst the other Gland is more commercial and continually gets crowds each year (even though it has only three hotels). Panaiatan Island is World Heritage-listed and we are extremely fortunate to have been granted our permits. In a word, Paniatan is a more exclusive camp compared to Gland where everyone and anyone rocks in.
How do your camps differ from the competition in Indonesia?
I like to think our camps are more homey‚ than our competitors. We really go out of way to satisfy our guests, becoming “mates” with hundreds each year. Other camps seem to be more tightly run businesses, trying to maximize profit, and offering little in return. We are also the only camp 100% foreign owned who are surfers born and breed, so we know our market better than our competition, hands down!
What are the most difficult aspects of operating a surf camp?
Firstly, business insecurity. Due to Indonesia’s ongoing problems, tourism numbers fluctuate so much that we never really know how the next season is going to be. This is extremely frustrating as you work so hard in marketing abroad, the bookings start to roll in, then just as fast as it takes to delete a text message they are cancelled when the travel warnings are issued. We are lucky though compared to other markets as surfers are more bold and think  “Great! Few tourists mean low crowds in the line ups this year!” (line up = surf breaks) and they will still travel. Then there are the unforeseeable delays, as we must rely on public transport (ferries) and Mother Nature (washed out  roads in national parks), all of which can make logistics a nightmare. Also the guests can be very demanding, although I’ve become so used to it now that I look upon it as just another day in the Gspot office.
Have you experienced any natural disasters?
Gland has changed a lot over the years, mostly because of a huge tidal wave that hit in 1994 during the night and demolished the camps, washing surfers, still in their mosquito nets, hundreds of meters into the dense jungle. Amazing no one was killed. Since then the camps have been pushed back 100 meters from the high tide mark. As we have just witnessed in Aceh and Sumatra, this was nothing if Krakatoa decides to unleash its full fury again.
Have there been any interesting occurrences you can relate to us about life  at the camp?
As you could imagine, grown men living in the jungle for long periods of time can create some hilarious moments and frightening ones as well. I have seen surfers go “troppo” and want to seriously assassinate all my guests. The jungle also has lots of wildlife and I have seen a wild boar come screaming out of the jungle and dive into the ocean! I have no idea what was chasing it, but I’m just glad it wasn’t after me. You still regularly see leopard tracks on the beach in morning, sometimes leading into our CAMP!
We have had broken limbs, scalpings, dislocated shoulders and arms, helicopter rescues just to name a few, but the funniest and also the scariest was one night when one of our guests had an eye irritation. He dropped what he thought were eye drops into his eyes, but it turned out to be ACETONE! Luck, quick thinking and a lot of water dousing mended the problem immediately and there was no serious damage. So you want to own a surf camp, huh? It may sound like a surfer’s dream but believe me it’s a lot of hard work. Still, I wouldn’t change it for anything else in the world!
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Copyright@2005 Al Hickey
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