Convinced the world won’t let him starve, Bugs believes that life should be lived
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Ryan Heathcote
While most of us are on a mission to better our PBs in the modern day rat race, Ryan ‘Bugs’ Heathcote is quite happy to tread water. And instead of worrying about trivialities like having a job and making money, he’s made it his life mission to play the music that’s inside his head, inside of Bali’s perfect barrels.
Bugs has lived in Bali for five years now, a trip that initially started with him winning a scholarship to study the traditional music of Gamelan, which he describes as “transcendental from start to finish and totally foreign from all Western rhythms.”
The goofy foot from Slummies has always been a bit strange, even by East London’s standards. However, this new fixation with dragging a little acoustic guitar with him into the lineup and then pulling into pits at waves of consequence such as Desert Point, Padang Padang, Supersuck and Lakey Peak – all so that he can record what he calls ‘wave music’ – well, it’s up there with that time he was convinced that he was a merman. After you hear him explain it you realize that maybe you’re the crazy one…
Surfing’s pretty hard, so is playing the guitar, how much more difficult is it doing both at the same time?
Getting the shots is always the hard part with me, as cameras have been known to spontaneously combust! I’m used to surfing with the guitar now, it becomes an addiction because it gives you that 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' sensation… where he wakes up in the desert and doesn't know where he is… I like this feeling. When you’re playing a tune on a 6ft wave and then you look up and you’re like 'What is this? How did I get here?' it gives new ecstasy to old customs. It’s a phase shift.
And people are starting to take notice. You were in a Johnnie Walker short movie thing, Go Pro used you for an ad, you’ve been featured in Surfer magazine… Does this recognition help in any way with keeping your dream alive?
It’s cool and I’m glad I’ve finally found an original platform to work from. It was starting to bother me, from the time I first started using social media, how surfing was becoming so pigeonholed and how it was represented by people using it as a tool for personal gain. The spiritual act of surfing is what the world is hungry for. People who aren’t stickered up to be corporate banners, but instead are struggling to keep the dream alive. So yea, I want to struggle for this dream, because that’s the key.
Are you not worried though, like, shouldn't you have a bond, a wife, some kids, medical aid, retirement annuity, savings and an ulcer by now? Surely you can't just continue to keep living a holiday, right?
Huh? That stuff sounds like beep baap beep... I just don’t know if I’m alive unless I'm really living. That stuff you mentioned seems like a self-inflicted obstacle course. But hey, that’s just me.
Are you really living one long holiday, or is it like The Beach where there’s a darker undercurrent?
If you can get used to scoffing rice and a super loose plan of action, and stay calm, then there’s no end to the rabbit hole experience. Like now I’m in Lakey Peak and just heard of a mad swell next week. A couple of days ago I was banging my head against a wall in Bali. I had just enough cash to get here so now I better sell water shots, even though I’ve never really shot before and just have a plastic bag that I use as a housing!
So you sell water shots? You're also a surf coach, right? How else do you pay for rice?
I’ve made this anti-ageing product from fermenting honey and seaweed, which totally Photoshops people. I’m hoping that will catch flame.
You toured with legendary 90s bands like Squeal, The Springbok Nude Girls and Wonderboom back when you fronted the band Munk. Do you miss rock n roll, or are you happier playing music by yourself in the water?
Bali has been unbelievable for music. Like you’re jamming at a friend’s place and the next thing a cellist, violinist and a harpist pitch up. I have a portable studio so any time I meet someone I can record with them.
What advice do you have for a corporate drone like myself?
We can all learn to inspire each other to be mermaids and mermen. Build a tail for yourself, its easy, and then wear it to a party because everyone knows mermaids have more fun.