Bali - Surfing in Paradise
Written by Peter Neely
First came the bohemian artists of the 1930s, travelling to the enchanted island of Bali on steamships and freighters. Then the hippies in the late 60s as air travel became cheaper. But it was the surfers who flocked to Bali in the 70s and 80s who really spread the word that Bali is ‘the world’s best holiday island’.
New York Travel & Leisure magazine readers have voted Bali ‘the world’s best holiday island’ seven times over the last eight years – and with good reason. Despite decades of tourism development, the lush greenery
and incomparable beauty of the Balinese countryside remains unspoilt. Palm-fringed sandy beaches lead inland to hillside terraces of jewel-green rice paddies. Thousands of centuries-old temples are scattered across the island
in every rice field and family compound. Twice a day, handsome sarong-clad men and women can be seen placing offerings out-side their homes, with the scent of flowers and fragrant incense wafting their prayers upwards to the heavens.
But more than the beauty of the countryside, the enduring spirituality and colourful culture of the island’s three million Hindu people make Bali such a compelling, authentic, and utterly unique destination. Add the fact that Bali’s fringing coral reefs boast some of the world’s most perfect waves, and Bali truly is a surfer’s paradise.
As well as the proliferation of hotels and restaurants, surfers encouraged the establishment of hundreds of specialty ‘surf shops’ selling surfboards and surf clothing. These days there are actually more surf shops in the Kuta area than in all
of Hawaii, the spiritual birthplace
of surfing. Young Balinese surfers joined their foreign surfer friends
to set up franchises for all the major international surf brands, from Quiksilver to Billabong, Rip Curl, and dozens of oth-ers. The massive employment and income generated from these surf shops has become a major portion of Bali’s thriving economy.
Of course, with development often comes problems, and Bali has seen more than its fair share of overcrowding and environmental damage. But among the first to recognise these problems in the early 1990s were the local Balinese surfers who established the GUS Association (Gelombang Udara Segar – ‘Breath of Fresh Air’), a non-profit organisation financed entirely by the surfing industry in Bali, to help clean up Bali’s beaches and protect her coral reefs.
Cool in the tube
I was lucky enough to surf some beautiful uncrowded waves back in the 1970s and 80s with all the original Bali surf-ing pioneers, people like Ketut Menda seen here so relaxed inside a tubing wave at Padang-Padang that would terrify most average surfers. The first generation of Balinese surfers were rebels, breaking with centuries of Balinese tradition, venturing into the ‘evil waters’ their fishermen fathers had feared. So their joy at discovering the fun of surfing was so inspiring. They are incredible fun to surf with, always joking and laughing. And they bring an element of Balinese dance to their surfing, very graceful, smooth and flowing.