Bali - Surfing in Paradise

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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.

If you could flashback to 1969, Kuta Beach in Bali was a quiet seaside village set amongst swaying coconut groves. Fishermen lived in grass shacks lit at night by kerosene lanterns. ‘Hippies and surfies’ slept under the stars on the deserted beach, or in simple 50 cent-a-night ‘home-stays’. But then an international airport opened in 1969, and news of the fantastic surf spread like wildfire throughout the surfing world, as films and magazines exposed the perfect waves of Kuta and Uluwatu. The first major film was 1972’s Morning of the Earth, soon followed by scores of others over 
the next dozen or so years. Soon, flights into Bali were packed with surfboards, as tourist arrivals escalated from less than 60,000 in 1969 to more than 2.5 million by 1990. Many surfers returned numerous times each year, making them the most frequent repeat visitors of all. Hundreds of hotels 
and restaurants were built to cater 
to these surfing tourists.

As these maturing surfers began to bring their wives and young families to Bali through the 1980s and 90s, increased demand for comfort and luxury improved the standards on offer. Nowadays, Bali boasts some 
of the most luxurious hotels, villas and health spas to be found anywhere in the world, at prices far less than similar holiday destinations. Five- and even seven-star luxury hotels such as Bulgari, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Aman, Sheraton, and Grand Hyatt resorts are all firmly established in Bali.

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.

Many of these first-generation Balinese surfers have now become respected and responsible elders in their communities – from politicians to priests, teachers to businessmen – and they understand the importance of preserving the clean environment and sparkling waters so their own grandchildren can continue to enjoy the stoke of surfing as the third generation of local Balinese surfers comes along.

When the Bali bombs of 2002 destroyed two nightclubs in Kuta, with over 200 fatalities – among them many visiting surfers – the 
Bali tourism industry collapsed overnight. Balinese leaders responded in typical style with a series of peaceful prayer sessions, joined by leaders of all religions who have always co-existed peacefully 
in Bali, be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist. This surprised some international observers who expected anger or thoughts of retaliation, but that has never been the Balinese way.

The leaders of the surf industry then raised the idea to hold an annual Kuta Karnival, a ten-day celebration of peace and togetherness, to remind locals and tourists of the unique spirituality and fun of Bali. The event has gone on to become 
a massive success, involving the entire Kuta community, with traditional art performances, sunset dances on the beach, surfing and skateboard contests, fashion shows, food festivals, beach soccer, and even a colourful kite-flying party with thousands of smiling children flying their home-made kites along the beach.

Over the last three decades, surfing has certainly helped change Bali. And in return, Bali has enhanced 
the lives of millions of visiting surfers by exposing them to the resilient Balinese culture and traditions.

Before any café were built at Uluwatu, 
with the white sands of Dreamland beach waiting ‘undiscovered’ in the distance.


The string of cafés catering to surfers 
on day trips to Uluwatu. Vegemite toast 
and peanut butter jaffles are a speciality.



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