Surfing in Bali




There can be few islanders who have traditionally turned their backs on the sea as resolutely as the Balinese have done. The most sacred spots of the Island of the Gods are firmly fixed among the summits of the great volcanoes. The ocean was traditionally feared as a place of evil spirits and demons. Even the Balinese fishermen preferred to live up the hill so that they could be well clear of malevolent beachfronts by sunset.


When a surfing CIA agent named Robert Koke arrived in 1936 he found prime beachfront land going at a bargain at a seemingly endless beach that the locals called Kuta. He opened a hotel here and heaved his heavy Waikiki longboard into the surf. The locals were amazed to see Bulé (foreigners) who had the audacity to actually play among the waves. WWII and the Japanese invasion put an end to Koke’s idyllic playground, however, and it was not until the late ‘60s when Balinese surfing was reborn. Kuta was already known as the final, most eastern, destination on the ‘Three Ks’ hippy route (along with Kabul and Kathmandu) by the time word of un-surfed waves reached the ear of film-maker Alby Falzon. Forty years later his movie Morning of the World is still a poignant portrayal of unspoiled Balinese lifestyles…despite the signs of change that were vividly rung in by footage of naked hippies teaching smiling Balinese fishermen how to smoke ganja-packed chillums.


Legend has it that Rusty Miller, one of the stars of Morning of the World, was the first to surf the legendary left hand break that broke in the shadow of Uluwatu temple:    “We went down there and found this wave,” he said later. “We didn’t get hurt, didn’t smash up our boards…we all just felt that the gods really were with us.”


A veteran of Hawaii’s North Shore Miller was in now doubts of the importance of their discovery and Uluwatu is still consistently ranked as one of the ten best waves on the planet. The last of the hippy hangouts are almost gone from Bukit Peninsula however. Instead the dry, sunbaked hinterland south of the main island – considered by early travellers to be the ‘Balinese Mexico’ – is being over-run with a sprawling expanse of hotel complexes. Only a few ramshackle hamlets of stilted beach shacks hold out. At Balangan a seemingly endless series of perfect waves still peel, day after day after day, across the reef just in front of a row of high stilted huts offering bed and board for a price that would barely get you a cocktail across the Peninsula in Nusa Dua.


Bali is still the real Surfers’ Paradise however and it doesn’t take much determination to find a relatively un-crowded wave. A whole chain of perfect pointbreaks stretches out across Bali’s Southwest coast – Canggu, Balian and finally the wonderful freight-train river-mouth wave at Medewi. I once lived at Medewi for close to eight months and remember only a couple of days in that entire time without surfable waves. It is the clear-cut, perfectly-peeling consistency of those left-hand faces – along with the inherent friendliness of rural Balinese – that has lured me back here again.


There are those who claim that Bali is changing too rapidly, that the local people have lost their charm. But take an opportunity to head to Bali’s ‘wild west’ and you’ll find a beautiful rural landscape that has changed little over the decades. This is still the Morning of the Earth. Only the naked hippies have gone home.




You can get Bali included in the Navigator RTW


Published by Stuart Lodge