A most sensible way to stand in line (or on line, if you are from New York City)

Waiting in line, or queuing as our British friends would say, is not something that has ever come naturally to Indonesians. I speak from a lifetime of living here. Airline counters, bus stations, ferry terminals, market stalls selling hot cakes…the process that comes to mind is not queuing, but more akin to mobbing. Shove your way to the front and shove your money at whoever has the goods. A good-natured mob, hardly ever any snarling or dirty looks, but most certainly not organized. Kind of like the local traffic, come to think of it.

I remember some 20 years ago when I entered my bank (now defunct, thanks to corruption) and lo and behold, all the customers were seated! Waiting their turn! Some new electronic ticket gizmo system! And it was working! The security guard showed me to to get my ticket from the dispenser, and since I was number 28 and I no longer could shove my way to the front of the line, I left and returned in the afternoon, when there were only a few customers.

Apparently this photo was taken in Hawaii. It works just as well as a fancy electronic ticket system, I reckon.

wait in line

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Ketut Denda redux, Canggu, 1982: What we had once upon a time, what we’ve lost

After last week’s post on Denda, Peter Neely of Indosurf fame and early Bali pioneer sent me this photo of Denda at Canggu, early 80s, solo session (that means alone, by himself, nary another surfer or surf school in the water, with only cows and Peter with his camera in attendance — although Peter says Denda wasn’t alone for too much longer, for shortly after this photo was taken the crowd doubled in size).

denda canggu

PS Peter has a terrific 1.2 meter map/poster of the Indonesia archipelago, done by artist Guy Hastings, for very reasonable price.
Check it out

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Ketut Denda, early Kuta surfer and one of Bali’s first aerialists

In the mid-80’s, I used to work for a friend’s home-grown Bali clothing company with its main office located in a Kuta Balinese family’s compound on Gang Poppies 1. Ketut Denda was one of the sons, a local beach kid with a big smile who ripped in the surf. He did things I hadn’t seen before, like shooting his board high over the lip, grabbing the rails while he was in the air and somersaulting backwards with the board and landing it back on the wave and on his feet to keep riding. He wasn’t copying anybody, or imitating any video clip, he was just having fun.

I only have one photo of him in my albums, at Labuhan Haji in East Lombok. Mike, me and Denda were getting on the good ship Hati Murnih (which we’d sent ahead and then flew to Mataram and rented a taxi for the cross-island ride to Labuhan Haji). This was pre-forecast days, and as I recall, we didn’t score big, but had fun waves here and there.


denda hm

Denda lives in Japan now.

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In which a prodigal son makes a somewhat sacrilegious return to Nusa Dua

Your blog correspondent has always been an east side guy, and for decades from the early days was a regular at Nusa Dua (Some time ago I wrote this). I stopped going because of the traffic and the creeping incrementalism of age wreaking havoc upon my bones, principally my back.

After vertebra surgery, I rehabbed on a SUP and stuck to that for a year or so before venturing forth again prone on a long board close to home in Sanur. Then the other month I finally took the toll road to Nusa Dua and much to my amazement was at the Nusa Dua Bar and Grill parking lot overlooking Geger beach in about half an hour or so. Half an hour! Compared to the gridlock days, that’s akin to instant teleportation.

The surf looked kind of small, and the paddle out kind of long, so I opted for the SUP, and learned again the lesson that at Nusa Dua, the surf is always larger than it looks. Some very attractive overhead peaks were breaking blue and clean at Chicken Wings (I don’t know what it’s called these days) but with ten surfers trading off and me being on the SUP, I resolutely stuck to the inside wrap (Chicken Feet?) where there weren’t any board surfers.

However, those outside peaks were too irresistible and I sneaked up for a taste. Just one I told myself. And in came a peak larger than the rest, and I was in perfect position (SUPS are almost always in a perfect position for the best waves, it must be said, it’s a matter of whether the SUPer is going to be a selfish hog). Then, just I stroked into it, the wake from a passing boat rippled across it and threw me off balance and down I fell and I am sure the surfers on the inside were grinning. This was the end of my session.

SUP legcut

A minor injury but lordie did it ache deep to the bone. Those SUPs are battering rams.

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Only in This Country of Indonesia Department

We’ve all been behind this truck at some point or another. This video is classic Indonesia and its roads.

UPDATE: the Youtube video has been removed by user.

However, you can still watch it here

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Bali Wave Ghost

It’s certainly not Serangan. Your correspondent popped down the road early this morning, figuring at low tide with reef exposed the surf schools would not be flocking and frolicking. True, but there were already twenty on the one peak that was working best, with more cars and bikes rocking up by the minute. Veni, vidi, non vici: I came, I saw, I did not conquer. Nope, I turned right around.

Bali Wave Ghost is the title of a novel-in-progress by a friend, artist Stephen Black. You can check out an excerpt here.

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The Curious Case of Serangan and Its Surf

For many many years, from pre-landfill days, your blog correspondent has been a regular at Serangan, considering it is close to home (although it wasn’t close at all prior to the landfill). These past few months, the hordes have descended upon the place in seemingly greater numbers than ever before, every visitor and surf school blown there by the steady west winds. I have often taken one look at the surfers in the lineup and driven away. At any rate, I am behind schedule today and so offer a repost of something I posted several years ago:

There here is a verse in the Surfing Bible, “All we like sheep have gone astray and surfed Serangan Island.”

When a stiff westerly blows under polished blue skies, and an easy swell saunters through after a flat spell, then the whole surfing world, or the fraction thereof in Bali, jaunts over to Serangan Island, from local rippers who can flip a rotation over your head, to a vegan full beard hippie with fried brain who uses a cloud as a lineup marker, to the surf school chick flounder who paddles out not to learn how to surf but because her Balinese surf instructor is hot hot hot and she is hopeful for some après-ski cross-cultural interaction.

Such as today, gorgeous weather and steady offshore and the swell tossing up an intermittent head high wave, with fifty plus surfers, on various surfcraft, assembled on the one peak that was breaking, barely offering enough surf for five polite surfers taking turns.
I came, I saw, I did not conquer but turned around and left on what is probably at present the crappiest road to a surf spot, although it’s a highway compared to the old Bukit tracks to places like Greenballs.

Before 1998, the closest surfers got to the Serangan reef breaks was on their airplane’s final approach (if landing during west winds), a half mile straight up in the air. Even then, to check the swell they were arriving to, they’d either be looking south to the distinctive curve of Nusa Dua, or to Sanur up North. Not straight down at a jumble of white water.

The reef back then was nearly 1.5 kilometers from Serangan beach, and to get to Serangan island itself you had to take a boat, as there was no bridge.

Consequently, the Serangan breaks were only sporadically surfed by expats with boats in Benoa Harbor, who’d take a dinghy ride. Only rarely would exploring surfers bother chartering a fishing outrigger to take them there. You couldn’t see from the break from anywhere, and judge whether the time or money would be worth it. If there was a swell, then Sanur, Hyatt, or the breaks down Nusa Dua way were no brainer options.

That 1.5 kilometers between beach and reef was Bali’s largest and most pristine sea grass lagoon. Then in 1997 a business consortium of powerful Jakarta people, in cahoots with the military, decided to landfill the lagoon, bringing in big honking sea dredges to pump sea floor muck. Pipes big enough to siphon whales, or a surf charter vessel, gushed and gushed and gushed, the flood visible from the far distance of Sanur’s shores. It was an ecological disaster of almost Biblical proportions, and then it turned into an economic disaster as well with the financial meltdown of 1998, leaving behind a moonscape of gray grit and goop.

But it did provide a land bridge to the island and driving access to within easy paddle distance of the reef. There wasn’t in those early days any sandy beach, just gray seashell muck. Took a while for the sand you see there now to gather. Those in the know bribed the Turtle Island Development Corporation guards and cruised right on through for solo surfs. Yeah, sure, Serangan is your basic B grade spot with A grade moments, but the lack of crowds, surfing by yourself or a few mates, more than made up for that (although I personally would take one Nusa Dua blue beauty over ten Serangan peaks, even with that notorious Nusa Dua current—except living where I do up Sanur way, I can’t stomach the traffic anymore. Serangan is much closer and easier on the nerves — UPDATE: the toll road has changed this situaion).

Despite the easy as pie access, Serangan was a secret spot for years. There wasn’t even a warung on the shore, not until one of the Serganan seagrass farmers opened a shack on close to the breakwater.

But there seems to be a “tipping point” law for secret spots—one day you’re surfing a place with say half a dozen others, maybe a stranger in the mix, and the next day, bam, it seems the whole horde is on the beach. It happens that fast. I’ve seen this occur over and over again on Bali, and it happened to Serangan in 2004 or so (my memory for dates is notorious, but I do remember the day I first saw a van-load pull up, and that sinking feeling in the stomach, knowing the place truly was history).

At any rate, Serangan Island today is surely one of the most unique surf breaks in the world, not for the surf, but for the cosmopolitan crowd that it draws from all over the world, at all stages of ability and talent and ages, on various water craft. The easy reform rollers, and the smaller peaks off the main arena, attract the surf schools as well.

I’ve seen from above air photos of places like Rincon or Kirra, the caption mentioning the crowd, and I’ve counted boards in the water in the photos. And I tell you, it’s not a patch compared to some days out at Serangan—I think my highest count one mid-morning was at 136 in the water, with about the same on the beach.

And to think it used to be the most inaccessible, and un-seeable, break on Bali.

That whole landfill is private property. If it gets turned into a marina, or hotel development, access might be shut down. Then the break might once again belong to those who put the time and effort to getting to it.

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