Divine and Semi Divine Surfing
I grew up on Sydney’s Bondi Beach as a scrawny redhead in an ocean of blonde surfies with golden tans.
I have always resented them for their good looks but aspired to their heaven-blessed lifestyle.
The closest I got to this was in Kuta in the glorious 1970s when, as a slightly toned hippy, I hung out with the film crew of ‘Crystal Voyager’, the world’s second great surfing film. I enjoyed the all-male ambience and camaraderie, the paddling and the vegetarian lifestyle, but not the Karma Kola nonsense. By some weird fusing of the hippy and the surfie worlds, surfies of that era, although essentially vapid and hedonistic, thought they were vessels for God’s word.
“We are the measure of things. And the beauty of our creation, of our art is proportional to the beauty of ourselves, of our souls” Jonas Meka, Surfie, 1971
My future on the waves was not to be; after 3 weeks as an aspiring ‘Widji’ I left my Kuta surfie mates for an apprenticeship as a rice farmer in the nearby village of Kepaon. In the 30 years since then however, I have never taken my eyes off them.
I have observed that the surfie culture is the one ‘introduced’ element that has gone down well in Bali; their environmentally friendly, health-conscious and colourful sportswear beliefs are all in tune with the Balinese way of life.
From my chair at Made’s warung, along Jalan Pantai (Beach Road), Kuta, during the 1980s, I watched the emergence of various surfie ‘tadpoles’, who would scurry around the ankles of the ikat dealers for scraps.
I remember Kuta’s first Brahmana surfie in 1982; he was enlisted by Sydney siren Wendy Whiteley to head her security detail during a decamp at the Yasa Samudra (Ocean Bliss) hotel. He was tall, bronzed and Brahmanic, a cross between surfie legend Nat Young and Krisnamurti, and was the nearest thing to a surfie demigod I have ever seen.
During that decade of discovery, when the uttering of names like ‘Tirta Gangga’ and ‘Lembongan’ and ‘Lovina’ had an ‘El Dorado’ quality because they were so impossible to reach, it was the surfies who opened new frontiers in places such as Nias Island in Sumatera, Grajagan (G-land), on Java’s South-eastern tip, and Padang-Padang Beach, on the far coast of Bali’s then impenetrable Bukit Peninsula; now the Gaza strip of ritzy real estate.
By the 1990s the surfies were everywhere. I remember stumbling into a primeval warung food stall on Lembongan Island, like Albert Schweitzer in darkest Africa, to find a surfie there demanding muesli.
Muesli, one should be reminded, is a surfie’s divine right, as are lithe women, a shaggin’ wagon (usually a VW Combi) and a duplex on some perfect beach.
During the late 90s I watched the emergence of ‘Billabong’ surf shops, the arrival of jumbo-loads of Japanese surfie chicks and I registered my pudgy English friends re-discovering Padang-Padang as born-again beach-bums.
It was to be 2002 before my path crossed the surfie world again. Last December I started to notice how some surfies in Bali were turning exclusive; and mean. Maybe it was just me getting pear-shaped and affluent; both anathema to the true surfie heart and in fact the local (Mertasari) pod of surfies had been sneering at me for years until their leader ‘scored’ one of my house guests.
More alarming however, was an incident on a project site on the Bukit quite recently. Some Australian surfies (pseudo-Trotskyite) led a band of local village surfies against the clients of a house I was working on, purely, it seemed, because they were seen as being wealthy. The Jakartan expatriate newcomers had restored the village temples, built new roads and sponsored local sports programmes. In fact, everything was going along swimmingly until the sun-loving union bosses introduced thuggery to a previously peace-loving populace. Villagers blocked the Jakarta couple’s access to their house and demanded ‘Ding Repair’ shop rights (ancestral) on their front lawn!
As a protest, I burnt my board shorts.
Now read on:
20 April 2003: A Bali Surf Pioneer pays a house call
The film ‘Morning of the Earth’ made in Bali in 1971, was the world’s first surfinge film.
ts director Albert ‘Albie’ Falzon, and its producer David Elphick (who won a Gold ‘Logie’ for the film from the Australian Film Institute) have remained friends over the years; Executive Producer Lissa Coote was the pin-up girl in my last column. The film’s music album, produced by David Elphick and G. Wayne Thomas, is still being sold.
Today Albie came to my studio to say “hi” and to give me a copy of his latest film ‘Globus - the meaning of light’ and a copy of his latest book; a tribute to the film ‘Morning of the Earth.’ It is a gorgeous book crammed with Albie’s inspired nature and surfing photography and old bleached-out Kuta 1971 snap shots with heavenly captions such as ‘Old Balinese mask dancer with flowers’. Included of course, are philosophical gems such as:
“The greatest thing that we ever learn is just to love and go surfing in return.”
There are a few scatter Buddhas, but not too many, on the lavishly designed pages and lots of long limbed semi-naked blondes, which are another surfie divine right. Most touching are the photos of the early pioneering days of surfing in Bali: the first sampan to Kuta reef, and ‘Albie with German hippie’ to name but two.Albie himself has weathered the years nicely; his knees are holding out and his third eye hasn’t glazed over.Both the new film and the book are a credit to Albie’s life and artistic creed, as expounded in the book’s introduction:
“I am always careful and considerate not to be intrusive when filming, in fact I almost find it offensive, so I try to use small cameras and avoid the film crew approach. I’m interested in capturing lifestyle and cultural differences in a very natural and uninhibited way.”
Its incredible to think how much Bali has changed and how much the surfing world in Bali has changed since Falzon’s and Elphick’s seminal film: Impossible Beach is now like Acapulco with the surfie huts like high‑rises up the cliff face (see photo this page).Bill Liembach’s recent update of his classic 1978 Bali Surf Film (see Stranger in Paradise ‘Carry on Kuta’, January 2003 for a review) featured many of the ‘tadpoles’ of the early 70s; most are now wealthy businessmen. The film showed one of them being towed out to a wave at ‘G-Land’ by an Ozzie ‘Silverback’ on an executive jet ski!Surfing business is big business; it has been twinned with snow boarding and has had its fashion adopted by Eminem. It continues to inspire the youth of today, in Bali and elsewhere, with its sun-loving, nature worshipping message. As Albie says: “When all is said and done ……..what else is there?”
24 May 2003. To Griya Kepaon, my adopted ancestral home, for a party to celebrate Ida Bagus Surya’s graduation from university.
Ida Bagus Surya’s birth was recorded in this column in 1979 as were his various rites de passages over the years.Today he graduates from university (God knows how) and there is a teenagers’ and family friends’ party in the village. He is a popular boy, a regular babe magnet and a fine young Brahmana; the courtyard is packed.
As I’m squeezing in the visit between a Bulgari hotel project meeting and a Sanglah hospital stop, I just greet and eat. The kind village patriarch, Gusti Made Oka, joins me at the dining table and I attempt to humour him by commenting on how his cousin, the King of Denpasar, Ngurah Manik (Ida Cokorda Pemecutan), should be the next governor because he’s so mediagenic, has ‘backing’ and ‘decking’ and is the people’s prince. “Nah” says my liege lord, “He’s joined P.A.N. (The Islamic centrist party).” Now this was a terrible shock to me, as I had embraced Golkar, as a groupie when Ngurah Manik was head of the Soeharto-backed party’s ‘Bali chapter. I had even sung. ‘I met a boy called Frank Mills’ (from H.A.I.R.), and hummed the theme music from the ‘Guns of Navarone’ at a Golkar Fund Raiser in 1984. I saw Amien Rais, the fire-brand preacher, A.N.U. political scientist,speaker of Indonesia’s Upper House and founder of P.A.N., in Jakarta in August 1999, and was not impressed; he was like Woody Allen without the humour. He was wearing mustard flairs, too long, so that the hems were all frayed and matted like certain government officials pre-reformation.I tried to disguise my shock and disillusionment by wolfing down great chunks of roast suckling pig (babi guling) but nothing worked.
Seeing my distress, my liege lord consoled me with the comforting words “You know that Majapahit (15th century) gate which you once restored at the main temple? Well, we pulled it down last month and replaced it with a shiny black marble one.
”I despair for my Balinese confreres at times like this!