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

A Customs officer finds 6 kilograms in Rodrigo Gularte's boards in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: AP/Dita Alangkara

Soon after the 1971 film Morning of the Earth first revealed the transparent-blue perfection of Uluwatu, surfers the world over began venturing to this newly discovered warm-water oasis, returning home with their own tales of long, perfect, empty waves. Word spread fast. In the ensuing decades, hotels, stores, and restaurants popped up to cater to the thousands of surfers making the pilgrimage to Bali. A surfer could arrive with surfboards and some cash and stay in the finest hotels, eat decadent meals, enjoy long massages, and surf the best waves on the planet for an entire week on little more than they’d pay for a few bags of groceries back home. Today, Bali is more popular than ever. Conservative estimates put Indonesia’s annual surf tourist population at nearly a quarter of a million people each year. And for good reason—there are few places a surfer can enjoy the world’s best waves all day, and if they’re interested, one of the best nightlife’s in the world. It’s become a tropical paradise where any hedonistic pleasure can be satisfied—legal or otherwise. Although Indonesia is notorious for having some of world’s harshest anti-drug laws, it’s widely known that the nightclubs are teeming with dealers, ready to make a quick buck on tourists out to have a good time.

Since the 1980s South American surfers have smuggled cocaine to the island, alternating methods depending on which was not being closely scrutinized by authorities. Paying a surfboard shaper $5,000 to embed coke into a board was the preferred method until 1994. That year, a surfer named Frank de Castro Diaz was arrested at Bali’s Denpasar Airport with 4.3 kilos of cocaine hidden inside two of his surfboards. He’d created suspicion by also carrying a saw to cut open the boards. His publicized arrest exposed and temporarily halted that popular method of carrying drugs to the island.

But Bali is an ideal tourist gateway from South America to Asia, where drug traffickers can carry surfboard bags or sports equipment and blend in among the ever-increasing number of real tourists—2.9 million last year. But the expat and tourist markets in Bali are only part of the equation; the real cash comes as the cocaine makes its way further to Japan or Australia, where it maintains the highest price tags on the planet.

The cocaine trafficked to Bali by the western dealers like Renato is usually pure, coming directly from South America. Every border it crosses, it jumps in price. In the cocaine-producing countries of Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia it costs about $1,000 to $2,000 per kilogram. Across the border in Brazil it costs around $5,000, and by the time it reaches Bali it fetches anything from $20,000 to $90,000, depending on how much it is “snowing”—that is, how much coke is on the island. Recently, after a couple of big busts, the price briefly shot to around $300,000 per kilogram.

Part of the reason there are so many surfers incarcerated in Indonesia’s prisons is because surfers are ideal candidates to run drugs to the islands. The Bali bosses mostly use runners who are well traveled, good-looking, multi-lingual, and sporty. Details are everything, and the slightest oversight can result in dire consequences. Brazilian mule Luis Alberto Faria Cafiero, 27, departed Sao Paulo for Bali in 2003, carrying a large surfboard bag. Cafiero’s pale complexion immediately caused Customs officials to be suspicious—no surfer would possess such pallor. They did a full search, and found 7 kilos of cocaine hidden between his two surfboards. “He did not look like a person who’s always out on the beach,” Federal police officer Isaias Santos Vilela told the media.

Despite the huge risks, there’s no shortage of drug bosses and willing runners. After all, it’s a business that seemingly puts the dream within reach: surf all day and party with hot babes on vacation all night—often in plush villas or five-star hotel suites—while dealing drugs to pay for it all. Surfers are regularly propositioned with the seemingly simple task of taking one round-trip flight in exchange for $10,000—a stipend that would easily allow them to maintain the dream of surfing perfect barrels and never returning to “reality” back home.

  • 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 ???