The Search: Seven Ghosts

This is not just a wave.

In the local Malay dialect, “Bono” means “truth”. For the river people in this Sumatran backwater, as truly and surely as the sun rises in the east, they know the Bono will appear on the full moon. It will surge upriver. It will take jungle. It will take earth. Occasionally, it will take one of their own.

Tidal bores are waist-high novelties, hardly worth trekking up a wild equatorial river for. But fuelled by the biggest moon in 20 years, this Bono promises to be different.

The surfers wake up in the tiny river town to the wailing of sparrows, who nest near the local farm for food. The river mist hangs thick, eerie. “I think the locals were very superstitious about the wave,” states photographer Ted Grambeau. “I heard one guy explain the story of the seven ghosts. I assumed the seven ghosts refer to people who’ve been taken by the wave. There was quite a drama at one stage because one of the local guys had publicly described the Bono as ‘just a wave’ and it caused a big problem with the rest of the village. This wave has taken so many lives over the years he was in a lot of trouble for dismissing it as ‘just a wave’. This is not just a wave.”

The Bono snakes its way up the Kampar. An unbroken mile-wide line of white-water suddenly disappears into deep water, only to reappear a mile upriver as a conga line of 15 spinning left-hand barrels. It will transform further upriver into a pair of adjacent riverbank tubes. “Can I compare it to anything else I’ve surfed?” Tom Curren said. “It was a surreal experience. Unique. It was kind of cool. You’d be sitting there, and it’d be really quiet then you’d see it there off in the distance. It looks like a mirage”

The Sumatran bore hasn’t created waves since 2011. When will Bono reappear?