Snowfall in Bali

Dozens of surfers currently sit in Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison awaiting execution on drug-related charges. Here are their cautionary tales.

| posted on May 18, 2013
The siren song of Balinese surf has seen many surfers bend the rules to get there. Photo: Borghi

The siren song of Balinese surf has seen many surfers bend the rules to get there. Photo: Borghi

Originally published in our May issue.

In 2003, a South American surfer attempted to smuggle two and a half kilos of cocaine from Peru to the surfing Mecca of Bali in his surfboards. The payoff from the run could sustain his idyllic lifestyle for months on the island. Instead, he sits on death row awaiting execution. And he’s not alone. Many surfers have been lured into trafficking drugs to Bali—a quick trip in exchange for endless perfect barrels with cash to burn. Author Kathryn Bonella spent years interviewing inmates in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison for her recent book Snowing in Bali. Here she recounts their cautionary tales:

Brazilian surfer Renato steered his motorcycle through the crowded streets of Canggu. He was on his way to meet a Balinese taxi driver whom he’d paid to collect a couriered package—a backpack loaded with nearly 1 kilogram of cocaine. It was the type of pickup Renato had performed many times without incident, but at this handoff on that sultry afternoon last June, his freewheeling life in paradise disintegrated. Police, dressed as surfers, burst from behind the gates. He wheeled his bike around, trying to escape, but a cop grabbed his shirt and put a gun to his back. He accelerated. The cop fired a shot into the air. The surfer revved harder. Then it was over. Renato was struck on the back of the head with the butt of a gun.

Renato regained consciousness in his bathroom where the cops had handcuffed him to a shower pipe. They were in the process of ransacking the two-story home he’d recently leased using drug money. His girlfriend, the gardener, and the maid were also locked in the bathroom as the cops searched his phone, his computer, and his photos for details on other dealers. They tore the place apart looking for more drugs.

For the next few days the cops lived in Renato’s house, walking around in his floral boardshorts, floating in the swimming pool on his surfboards, drinking beers they’d bought with cash from his safe, and watching sport on his new plasma TV. Renato, his girlfriend, and staff remained captive in the bathroom. Intermittently, he was un-cuffed from the shower pipe for questioning: “Who sent the cocaine?” “Who do you work with?” “Who are you going to sell to?” When he refused to talk, he was beaten. Cops questioned the others too, even hitting the uncooperative gardener in the face and giving him a black eye.

The news spread fast. Another Brazilian expat who lived across the street had watched the bust through his window and quickly made phone calls. Panic set in among the surfers who’d worked with Renato. The bigger dealers fled the island—it wasn’t worth gambling on Renato’s silence.

The police flew Renato to Jakarta, but even after he was gone, they continued to question the extensive circle of surfers he’d come to know. While most evaded the police, one of his Singaporean business partners agreed to be interviewed. When he arrived to meet the cops at a Canggu beachfront café, he watched in disbelief as one of the policemen pulled up in Renato’s new car, with Renato’s stash of surfboards piled up beside him. While Renato used his powerful contacts in Bali to retrieve most of his belongings the cops had taken, they would be useless to him in prison.

  • Walter Sandusky

    Poor little surfers…my tears fall like snow, oh no, make that rain……..

  • ciccio

    Holy Guacamole

  • Seabass120


  • SR

    easy life does not exist

  • Patrick Smyth

    Sad waste of young talent.

  • squidley

    Brazilians, not the sharpest tools in the shed LOL. Do the crime, do the time.

    • Seaman

      At least honest brasilians are well received any and everywhere. Cant say the same for gringos…

      • jiblet65

        well you’re right about the gringos but not so sure about your assessment of the Brazilians. I’ve met a few very cool ones but I’d have to say the majority of the ones I’ve been around are very egotistical and obnoxious. you could say the same about gringos but maybe you see my point about sweeping generalizations. I’m a FL cracker but when I go places I make a point of learning some of the native language. I’ve taken plenty of Spanish classes, taught myself how to speak some French and Italian. for all the horror stories I’ve heard about traveling in France, especially Paris I had no problems with attitude. respect and manners go a long way on the road.

      • John Littel

        Yea I hate the gringos as well and I am a gringo. Hows that mate for a little gringo bashing…

    • minime

      haha, another anonymous repressed gringo that lost his girlfriend to a brazilian… poor squidley!

    • Ray Caruso

      I think it’s not that sharp to judge a whole nationality, especially a racially and culturally diverse one, by the actions of one individual.

  • BaliSucks

    Bali is an overpopulated 3rd world country. It’s a shithole filled with muslims and a corrupt government that doesn’t care about anything. Bali has nice waves, but that’s all. Nothing else.

    • wyatt

      Bali is Hindu. They have a beautiful culture, not just perfect waves. It seems like you haven’t even been there!

    • grey

      you seriously know nothing about bali. 1) bali is an island consist of several cities (not a country, DUH! ) the country is indonesia. 2) Major religion/belief in bali is hindu.hindu and islam and other religion live harmoniously side by side

      corrupt government? dude every country has it… and now we literally fight the corruption.

      and you still use the “muslim” issues..? wow that is so 2001..

    • Chris Cottington

      Bali and Indonesia have much more to offer than “nice waves ” you idiot…unfortunately it is a lack of education on your part that prevents you from knowing any better…

    • john mobley

      bali; good. Fiji; good. Jakarta; not so much.

  • bparno

    The love of money, the root of all evil. Drugs, whores, ah the fast life, but how short it is when you are riding a wave a half a mile long one day, and six months later you are one day away from being executed. The moral of the story is……………………………

  • JailBreaker

    For a fee…we can get him out

    • Santi

      screw him

  • ScoobyDude

    The waves and exoticism of Bali should keep you feeling stoked enough you shouldn’t want or need coke. Cocaine isn’t even a fun drug. Nor is heroin (not that I’ve tried but it sounds insanely destructive), for which there was a bust next door to me there. No sympathy for these stupid people.


    E Agora,sua vida acabou,so lamento pela sua escolha foi bom enquanto durou agora vai ser executado para pagar as vidas que tu e seus compangheiros desgracaram com sua maldita atitude de traficar entao sorria teu fim chegou o CAPETA te espera de BRACOS ABERTO.

  • fatsobruno

    f that coke.just drink like a man n go gotta be reallystupid to use drugs in bali,or anyplace just stay drunk.

    • John Littel

      If I ever meet you remind me to buy you a drink….

      • Wurst

        “The use and sells of drugs is very harmful to all of society and there should be no tolerance for such actions.” – John Littel

        “If I ever meet you remind me to buy you a drink….” – John Little

        well then… please show no tolerance and go kill yourself, you fucking hypocrite

  • John Littel

    There is an old saying that goes something like this; do the crime do the time. The use and sells of drugs is very harmful to all of society and there should be no tolerance for such actions. Justice is severed the old fashion way in most of Asia and Southern Asia and that is with a swift sword removing the criminals head. Best advise is grow up and quit while you still have your head… J.L.

  • John Littel

    I read all the comments related to this article and it’s not about government, religion, race or culture, (no wonder I don’t like surfers in general and I surf). It’s about the use of, possession, selling and distribution of a narcotic in a foreign country. Indonesia, Thailand and as well a few others in that region of the world do not tolerate foreigners much less the locals using, possessing or distributing drugs in or through their countries and the sentence if found guilty is usually life in prison or worse death. I am a main stream American so to speak but I personally feel our drug laws are way to lenient in our country and most of western society. If we did what they do in Indonesia and other countries do in that part of the world I think we would have less issues with drugs and drug wars. Additionally a hell a lot of people who do use or sell drugs would stop. Even more so I think we would be saving the tax payers a hell of a lot of money as well. I’ve seen and been through the down side of what drugs can and do to peoples lives and even if these people were a friend or relative, even myself in their shoes I’d say off with their f__king heads… J.L.

    • Scott needham

      And what of the corrupt police and customs who profit.and what of the judges found to be on the take in so many of these cases.meanwhile cigarettes and alcohol ,though sanctioned,have horrendous results in these very “anti-drug” Asian countries too.Whilst completely aware of the scourge of heroin and ice etc..the death penalty does little to reduce the war on (untaxed) is drinking coca cola with unspecified cocoa leaves any different ..other than commercial in confidence..and taxable at point of sale.

  • John Littel

    My daughter read my post and this article. She as well is very pro active with sports and doesn’t use any drugs nor ever has. She is very compassionate and understanding but asked me why Dad concerning what the individuals did and the consequences. My reply; It’s not a perfect world, lifes not always fair, the best team doesn’t always win, and sometimes bad things happen to really nice people.
    Bottom line more so than just bad verse evil, right or wrong, It’s about making healthy decisions and healthy choices. “In doing so you will form your destiny…”
    Obviously these people didn’t make healthy decisions nor healthy choices.

  • squidward

    Dude Brazilians are not well received in any country. Everywhere Ive been the sentiment is the same among every surfer. Nobody likes you. Stop back paddling and hassling for every wave. Two things every surfer can agree on: It’s too crowded, Brazos suck.

  • Mike Mihata

    Interesting story I always wondered how cocaine made its way to Asia, now I kinda know. It’s a pretty circuitous route for the crap to get to Asia and very risky I would assume as this story points out.

  • Bali Travelo

    Snowfall in Bali ???