SEX DRUGS AND SURFBOARDS
THE TRUE STORY OF THE SURFERS BEHIND AN INTERNATIONAL DRUG RACKET AND THE COPS WHO HUNTED THEM ACROSS THE GLOBE. THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS WERE TAKEN FROM KATHRYN BONELLA’S HIGHLY ADDICTIVE NON-FICTION BOOK, OPERATION PLAYBOY.
ONE: MAKING BLOW BOARDS
Around 2 am, Jorge left his mum’s apartment and drove across to the lake area for an intense night of making magic in a surfboard factory. As he walked through the metal gate, the place was still and quiet, the secretaries and shapers and lingering surfer clients long gone home. Only Jorge’s good friend, the boss, Igor, was here, waiting for him. Tonight, they were going to turn blow invisible.
Jorge loved this place. Shiny, colourful boards lined the walls and equipment like saws, sanders, scissors and foam blanks was scattered everywhere. The distinct, intense aroma of fiberglass and resin hung in the still air. It was a surfer’s heaven. Jorge saw the newly shaped bare foam board on the table. This would shroud his blow. He was switching to using boards since Cafiero’s bust a few weeks ago had ruined surfboard bags. For a while at least, the linings of the bags would be given extra scrutiny at São Paulo airport. Using surfboards was an old way of smuggling blow that came in and out of vogue, depending on busts. Jorge was here to help with the meticulous job. He knew blow and Igor knew boards. He was a top shaper with a busy client list, including some of Brazil’s top pro surfers, even one on the World Tour. Tonight was just for a bit of extra cash. Surfboard shapers were the poor cousins of the surfing world, making little money.
They quickly set to work on the first board. Jorge sliced a kilo brick in two, then they figured out where to insert each half. For balance, the blow needed to sit either side of the stringer, a thin strip of wood that ran down the centre of the foam. These boards would never hit the water but had to look and feel genuine – a lopsided board could send a horse down as fast as a customs officer picked it up. Horses’ lives were in Igor’s hands, and he knew it. He had to custom cut the cavities in the foam for a perfect fit for each brick. Another crucial step was laying carbon fibre across the entire deck of the board for camouflage during X-rays. It was slow work, but the hours flew. The sun was rising and soon Igor’s staff would arrive. They finished off by spray painting the clear board with crazy bright colours, then called it a night. They’d come back that night to fibreglass and sand it, and start all over again on the next board.
“I spent about five hours on each surfboard from cutting the blow, to measuring, finding the right position in the foam, cutting the hole, putting in the blow and putting a little layer of foam on the top. After that you put carbon fibre on the top and then this glass-like resin, and wait for it to dry, then put resin again, it’s a process that takes hours.” – Jorge
When the three boards were done, Jorge gave them to Darcy, who was set to do his first blow run to Europe after only skunk runs to Brazil. “I finally thought why not? It was the beginning of the end.” – Darcy Unlike Cafiero, Darcy would look a natural carrying surfboards. The only thing working against him was the destination. Taking boards to Bali was normal, a surf trip to Amsterdam was not, but if anyone could talk their way through, it was Darcy.
TWO: CLOWN SHOW
As Darcy limped through São Paulo airport, it felt good to be flying again. Cafiero, Marco, Bernardo; none of these busts gave him pause to look down from the high-wire he danced on so elegantly. He had no doubts today he was going to pirouette through airport checkpoints with his smile and slick repartee. But at the federal police headquarters in Florianópolis, Darcy’s name was suddenly flashing on the radar. One of Caieron’s agents had just taken a call, an anonymous tip. ‘Chief, a guy named Darcy Santos is flying to Europe with cocaine today.’ ‘Darcy’ rang a bell for Caieron: he’d heard it in wire-taps. ‘Call Florianópolis airport,’ he said. Soon the agent came back reporting there was no sign of Darcy at Florianópolis airport. ‘Okay, call São Paulo airport.’
Darcy was checking in at São Paulo, refusing to give space to negative thoughts: the rough surfboards, the fact his ticket was via Portugal, or the perennial hiccup when carrying blow boards to Amsterdam – its lack of waves. He breezed through, walked to the gate, showed his boarding pass and was ushered onto the plane. With his slight limp from torn ligaments in a bad wipeout, he went down the aisle to his seat and collapsed into it, glad to be resting his sore leg.
On the ground, Caieron’s agent was alerting São Paulo airport police. As they started searching for Darcy’s name in passenger manifests, he was buckling up, ready and waiting for the tilt upwards. The plane undocked from the jet bridge, rolled back and swung around. Within minutes, it was hurtling along the runway, lifting off into the big blue. Darcy felt happy and relaxed. He watched out the window as puffs of white clouds started obscuring the sprawling metropolis, soon making it vanish completely. Darcy lay his head back against the seat, enjoying a glass of wine and ready to sleep, unaware how close he’d come to running out of luck.
Ten hours later, he was wide awake. As the plane landed in Lisbon, he was ready for his usual routine; walking across to immigration with his contagious smile. When he handed over his passport something was up – he didn’t get the usual return smile.
“The lady says, ‘Oh, can you wait just one minute,’ and she left. All the other lines kept moving, but I was stuck there. It was really weird. I knew something was wrong. Then, five minutes later she comes back with my passport. ‘Okay, that’s fine.’ She stamps my passport, and I felt ‘that was weird’ but since she let me in, ‘everything is fine’, and I went upstairs to get my flight to Amsterdam. I was hungry, so I had a slice of pizza and a beer in a café, bought a big Toblerone and went to my gate. I saw ‘Amsterdam’ and stopped at the gate, and was relaxed, sitting, eating a slice of chocolate and reading a magazine . . . and then two guys came, one said, ‘Mr Darcy Santos?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I see your passport?’ ’Yes.’ So, he looked at it.‘Okay, can you stand up?’ As soon as I stand up, two guys put my hands behind my back and handcuff me. I go, ‘Fuck, oh my god.’ They start walking me out, and one guy says, ‘You know what this is all about, don’t you?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ He says, ‘It’s all about your little surfboards’.” – Darcy
Darcy’s heart was racing. His life, his future, his family flashed through his mind. He didn’t notice if people were watching. He didn’t care; he was consumed by his predicament and in a whirlwind of confusion, a rushing in his head, a sense of vertigo, spinning off balance on the high-wire. For the first time, he was forced to look down. They frog-marched him, two cops, two officials, through Lisbon airport. ‘Oh, I was feeling bad. I had my hands in handcuffs, and wow – I felt like shit.’ He was barely conscious of the steps or his sore knee as they led him downstairs to an official area. Inside the room, Darcy first glimpsed a row of plastic seats stuck to the wall like a bus stop, one occupied by a black guy. Then his eyes flew to his surfboard bag on the floor. It struck him that it was still padlocked shut, so how did they know? Why was it even here when it was checked through to Amsterdam? He shut down these thoughts. There was no time for analysis now. They sat him down, but didn’t go straight to his bags.
They started focusing on the other guy, trying to interrogate him, a Nigerian who’d been busted on the same flight with half a kilo of blow
in his suitcase. He didn’t speak Portuguese, they didn’t speak English. Darcy offered to translate. As an English teacher it was his instinct to help, but it might also win him some points. It did. ‘Take his handcuffs off,’ the boss ordered. Darcy began translating, his own bag sitting two metres away like a ticking time bomb.
It was at least 90 minutes before two more cops arrived. Darcy watched as they started twisting and banging one of the surfboards with no hope of breaking it despite the board’s natural fragility. It was like a clown show. Under other circumstances, Darcy might have laughed at their slapstick performance, but right now he was just hoping, ‘Maybe I’ll get free if they can’t open it.’ But they weren’t giving up, and finally got a prop for their unintentional theatrics: a sledgehammer.
“They started boom, boom, just strong hits with the hammer, ruining the board, but still not breaking it. It was surreal. Then they figured it out – one held the nose of the board up to his stomach, and the other boom, boom, boom. After three, four, five hits, they finally broke it and then the fibreglass was sticking out of the foam and they almost got hurt, and whoa! A bunch of powder comes on the ground.” – Darcy
Darcy felt as inversely miserable as they looked happy. One cop dipped his finger into the blow, licked it, then grinned at Darcy: ‘Wow, your shit is good, isn’t it?’ Darcy shrugged, not wishing to inflame things by being rude, but thought, ‘Well, dude, I’m hardly going to bring bad shit all the way to Europe, am I?’ He saw again the reality that he’d dismissed at home in Jurerê, that the boards were badly made – unsanded and rough, an obvious red flag to anyone with the vaguest clue about boards. But this Laurel and Hardy duo clearly knew something long before they’d opened the bag. Employing their newfound skill, the pair quickly broke the other two boards. They carefully extracted the blow bricks from the foam and swept powder spillage up off the floor, picking out the bits of dirt and fibreglass with their fingers. Then they put the lot into two plastic supermarket bags, and weighed it in at 3.49 kilos. Darcy watched from his wall seat, feeling as shattered as his boards.
“I felt like shit. I felt depressed, I felt angry, I felt bad, I felt stupid, but there was nothing I could do. There was no way out.” – Darcy
THREE: ON THE RUN
... Jorge and Dimitrius were having dinner at Made’s Warung in Seminyak, the place where they’d had lunch on Jorge’s first trip to Bali. Tonight, they were anxious. Rodrigo should have already messaged that magic word, ‘goal’. It was after 7 pm and he’d been due to arrive in Jakarta at 3 pm. The message still hadn’t come by the time they finished, so they split up. Dimitrius went back to his villa and Jorge on to Ku De Ta, agreeing to call each other with any news.
At Ku De Ta, Jorge was soon partying with a Russian babe, splashing out on cocktails, sharing generous lines of blow in the bathroom and sitting on lounges perched on the beachfront, where the club cast out lights that made the water glow. Jorge loved this stylish bar, but tonight he was edgy, constantly checking his watch, looking at his phone and trying to get through to Rufino or Timi in Florianópolis. Around 3 am, walking out of the toilets with the Russian babe after sharing some more blow, his phone rang.
‘We’re fucked, we’re fucked. We’re all fucked,’ yelled Rufino. As music blared around him, Jorge tried calming him down so he could find out what was going on. He needed facts, not hysteria, despite his own rising panic. ‘Cool down. Tell me what’s going on.’ ‘They’ve busted Rodrigo and the two kids at Jakarta airport.’ Jorge was high and drunk and now seized by gut-wrenching terror. He’d been suppressing fear about Marco’s fate, but now it compounded the panic tearing through his body. He had one instinct. He said goodbye to the Russian babe and some friends, raced out of Ku De Ta, and fled to his nearby villa. He grabbed his passport, threw essentials into a bag, left cash for the bike, car and villa rentals, scrawled a note for two friends staying with him, then grabbed a cab to Denpasar airport.
“I was very scared. I thought that Rodrigo could talk, I didn’t know. I felt that he wouldn’t tell my name, but you never know.” – Jorge
It was 5 am by the time he arrived at the airport, still high and drunk, dressed in head to toe black Gucci, and a pair of black D&B aviator sunglasses to mask his eyes. He quickly bought a ticket to Singapore. From there, he’d book a flight to Amsterdam to break his trail. The airport was ghostly, and he was facing six hours here as he’d just missed a flight. This was the last place he wanted to be, but he had to get out – if Rodrigo talked, he’d be a sitting duck in Bali. With his long blond ponytail, dark glasses and the usual bling, he was hardly invisible, but he was trying to blend in and appear calm. Attracting attention could be fatal. He skulked in and out of shops, occasionally sitting down. His heart was pounding, a mix of blow and adrenalin rushing through his veins, the blow exacerbating his paranoia. He was in constant fear of the clutching dark hand of an Indonesian cop coming from the shadows and nabbing him.
“It was terrifying. I didn’t even call Dimitrius. I got so scared. I switched off all my phones. I was sweating, and hiding my paranoid eyes with my aviator sunglasses. Waiting to get on that fucking plane was the longest six hours ever.” – Jorge Operation Playboy by Kathryn Bonella, published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $34.99 trade paperback, available from your local book outlet
Busted – stripped, ‘custom-made’ surfboards reveal an alternative purpose.
Above: Joaquina Beach in Brazil, a key location for the major players in the cocaine network examined in Kathryn Bonella’s, Operation Playboy. Inset: Maryeva Oliveira, the sister of one of the surfers caught up in a major drug racket, on the cover of ‘Brazilian Playboy’.
Above: Despite the heavy penalties, Bali provided one of the major markets for a major drug ring operated out of Brazil. Respondek