Core Commentary: Bill Boyum
On the freedom of SUP, adventure and aging well
This interview was originally published in our 2016 Winter issue.
Bill Boyum has led a more-than-interesting life. The 66-year-old made surf history when he and his brother started the first surf camp at Indonesia’s Grajagan (better known as G-Land). He got heavily into hang gliding for a decade, then learned to prone paddleboard with one of his sons before finding SUP surfing and downwind paddling on Maui 12 years ago.
In between his recent exploits he found the time to write a memoir about his experiences titled, “Journals from the Edge,” which deals with the aforementioned adventures and his childhood with an abusive, fighter-pilot father suffering from PTSD after World War II. We caught him on the phone as he was wrapping up a ding repair on his downwind sled at his home in Kula.
After traveling all over the world, how did you decide to stay on Maui?
My father was born and raised here. I traveled a lot chasing surf when I was younger and trying to escape crowds. I found standup paddleboarding and it’s a lot of fun right here so I don’t have to be subjected to all the things that happen when you travel. Traveling is full of adventure and rewarding times but it also gets more difficult as you get older.
Why have you been so attracted to this adrenaline-fueled lifestyle?
My father lived a career Naval officer’s life. When I was a kid, I was exposed to all these pilots that were testing speed and maneuverability in the earliest jets. I think that sense of pushing the limits permeated into my subconscious.
What do you like about downwinding?
Sometimes downwind adventures are pretty intense. Guys who are younger and stronger and faster than me are just as hooked on it as I am, so I don’t think of it as an old-man sport. Also there is none of the contention and crowds you have with surfing.
When did you start the G-Land camp?
Bob Laverty and I were the first ones to surf there. It was in ‘77 or so when we built the first camp. I read “Robinson Crusoe” when I was a kid, and thought, “Why don’t we camp out there like that first trip?” I’d met Gerry Lopez on the North Shore and then we ran into him in Bali and showed him the way to Uluwatu. We just hooked in and became really fast friends. He was instrumental in showing us how to best ride (G-Land).
What do you think about the proliferation of surf camps?
I think it’s a great thing, it’s a good place for a limited amount of guys to go out and enjoy (it). But it’s a science at G-Land now. Everyone knows when the best tides are and you can take a fast boat over from Bali, surf a few hours and then go back and sleep in a comfortable, air-conditioned room and have all the nightlife you want. At the first camp we had Igloo ice chests, brown rice, chicken and vegetables. Sometimes the surf was too rough for food to come (by boat) and we’d live on brown rice and water. If you put your hand out prematurely at the dinner table, you might get it chopped off.
Why did you walk away?
I had two sons and I was still going on surf trips and it was to the detriment of my marriage, which failed in 1979. Living and doing business in Indonesia is also really hard. It all disintegrated slowly and I realized one of the most important things in my life would be becoming a good father. I don’t know if I ever really became one but I tried in the best way I could.
You’ve known some pretty amazing people along the way. How important are those relationships in your life?
I’ve got a good cadre of longtime friends and that really feels good. But I also have a group of new friends, these standup paddlers, and they mean a lot to me too.
How are you handling as an aging athlete?
I can still move pretty well and I do a lot of stretching. My philosophy is that you have to just keep going and maintain slow erosion rather than a sudden avalanche.
How cathartic was it for you to write “Journals from the Edge?”
It created a lot of understanding and forgiveness. I talked to a lot of people who grew up with my father. They told me how friendly and gentle he was before the war. It made me understand more about PTSD. There was no information when we were growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so there was no understanding. When you deal with things like that you think it’s you’re fault. My story is really about that. The other stuff like surfing and the effect of the lifestyle my brother and I got into were reactions to my father’s PTSD, a kind of escapism. Our story is not unique, there were a lot of guys that were experiencing the same thing.
You have written about your abusive relationship with pot. How does that influence your mind today?
It was a coping mechanism. I would be stoned and my youngest son was always able to tell; that really snapped me out of it. Being able to access your own thoughts and words and how to connect with people is really important. You realize that after you dive into the hedonistic lifestyle like I have. The biggest thing is the relationships you have.
It sounds like you’re in a healthy headspace.
Right now are the best years of my life. Standup paddling is a huge part of it and I’ve found that exercise clears the mind better than anything. It makes all your relationships, communication and work a little more rich.
Check out Boyum’s memoir, “Journals from the Edge,” at Amazon.com.