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  • Writer's pictureEmmy Ciabattoni

A Pedacito of Webbed Hands in Canggu, Indonesia

Updated: May 20, 2021

I rented a surfboard and wandered down to the beach break in Echo Beach, Canggu. The last two times I tried surfing I got pummeled and died, I mean frustrated and cried. Weary from the last couple of days, I thought I’d just walk the beach and look at the waves. I met a local surf instructor who said he saw me the last two days (embarrassing). He told me not to go out (awkward).

Local farms intersperessed between the homes of  Canguu, Indonesia
Local farms intersperessed between the homes of Canguu, Indonesia

His name was Andy. He was the one who told me that Echo Beach is not for beginners. Although Canggu was listed as a beginner-friendly place to surf online, I didn’t realize that both easy and expert beaches could exist in the same city. Thank God Andy said something because honestly, I had considered giving it another go. I was going to prance out there like ehhhh the waves aren’t that big. When in actuality, they were expert level. I learned later in life that it can be difficult to judge the height and power of a wave from shore; it’s almost always bigger and stronger than it looks.

Our surfboards at Echo Beach in Canguu, Indonesia
Our surfboards at Echo Beach in Canguu, Indonesia

When I went out a couple of hours later, Andy watched me from the beach. He pointed me in the right direction, cheered, laughed, and everything else from the sidelines. It felt like he believed in me. This guy was the classic, crazy, local surfer dude just full of passion. He’d spent his childhood playing in the Echo Beach waves where he injured his finger pretty badly; he showed me the palm of his hand, where all of the fingers lined up long, perfectly close together, except for his pinky. The tip was bent, protruding almost horizontally, into his ring finger.

Canguu, Indonesia also has some pretty great waves to surf
Canguu, Indonesia also has some pretty great waves to surf

According to Andy, Canggu was still somewhat new to the world of tourism about 10 years ago; there were no shops, boutiques, or hotels. He’d run out to Echo Beach with his friends and they'd have the whole beach to themselves. When tourists started coming and crowding the lineup, they dropped in and cut off locals. Andy asked for respect but the tourists didn’t seem to care. They continued dropping in and then smacked one of his friends in the face. Andy punched him back. Also, in the face. It made the front page of newspapers. After the fight, he posted signs around the beaches that said “Respect or Go Home”.

Canguu's Echo beach as the sun goes down
Canguu's Echo beach as the sun goes down

Ironically, tourism became Andy’s business so he learned to tolerate international people crowding his beaches. He made enough money renting surfboards to fly around Indo and its islands. He didn’t need Echo Beach anymore because he’d discovered divine and untouched spots elsewhere. “They’re better than Canggu anyways,” he smirked.

The next day, I came out of the surf with a swollen, bent, protruding pinky finger, just like Andy’s. I ran to him and said, “Look! My finger looks like your finger!” But he responded, “No, it doesn’t.” He flashed his hands and spread his fingers - they were webbed!

Thin skin rose to just above the first joint of his fingers. Some fingers were held closer together while others stretched farther apart. His thumb was attached, too. "How did I not see this before?", I thought.

I realized I had never seen him separate his fingers. He then showed me his toes, which were also webbed. He explained that his brother, father, everyone (according to him) has this. He said that he was “born in the ocean”, which I interpreted in an ancestral sense, where his family was so connected to the ocean that evolution gifted them with this genetic trait. “I’m a mermaid,” he laughed and smiled at me.

My friend was born to surf the waters off of Canguu
My friend was born to surf the waters off of Canguu

I wish I had a picture; as I try to look for a photo of “webbed hands” online, the fingers are usually crumpled and morphed together. They don’t look like Andy’s. I found the whole idea beautiful, honestly, of being so connected to the water. It was like the ocean was a part of him and he was a part of it. Yet there was he was, also able to walk on land. I began to understand why Andy was so upset about the tourists taking his childhood waves; those waves ran in his blood.

Almost anywhere in the world, Andy’s webbed hands could’ve been seen as a disfigurement. But his story, and the way he understood his condition, made them beautiful. Coming from the United States, I’d bought into the very specific idea of beauty shown in movies, magazines, billboards, and picture books. Andy taught me that beauty isn’t so black-and-white. Beauty is more than appearance; it includes the stories and meanings attached to what we see.


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