When Jim Banks set sail from Bali in the mid-’80s, he didn’t know he was charting the course for the rest of his life. “One of the guys on the boat had heard there were supposed to be waves on the tip of Lombok, but we basically rocked up with no idea…and no company. There was no one there, although we discovered later that there were three guys from Northern California who’d bought a turtle boat in Bali and converted it, and they’d already been surfing it for seven years. It was a dream come true. My whole concept of riding the barrel changed. I went back to Uluwatu to surf parts of the reef I’d formerly thought were unmakeable. Deserts changed my whole concept of what was possible inside a barrel, how deep I could be and still make it.”
Indeed, kneeboarder Peter Crawford, an old surfing buddy of Jim’s, once claimed to have been barreled at Deserts for over a minute, traveling through space and time in the process.
Deserts became hard to sail away from. “On my second trip back there, I went on another friend’s boat. We were just going for a couple of days and this was before the Internet so we had no idea if there was swell coming or not. There were just waves for days. We were sleeping in the boat, which we’d anchored in a small cove to the north, catching fish and buying veggies from the locals. We’d already stayed five days and we were thinking, well, we can’t leave now. We hit Day 10 and I was starting to think, well, I told my wife we were going for two days. There were no telephones or radio, so she was surely thinking I’d gone down in the Strait and I was thinking maybe I should go home. So on Day 10 we decided to bite the bullet and up anchor and sail back to Bali, but not before I had one last quick surf. The waves were tiny but fun, then all of a sudden I looked up the point and there was a shoulder-high set. Then within an hour it was head-high to double-overhead and every single wave was absolutely perfect. Just me and my two mates, and eventually they got surfed out and I was left out there on my own with 10 waves in every set.”
In the years and decades since, Jim has continued sailing east, island hopping through the archipelago from Sumbawa to Sumba to Timor. He’s camped on the beach at Nihiwatu. He’s found waves he’ll take to the grave. “They were magical times,” he reminisces. Jim lives in Bali these days, and is preparing to once again set sail. “There are still waves out there, there are waves everywhere…but I don’t think you’ll find another Desert Point.” —Sean Doherty