The anonymous Kuta surfer of 1970, or, my first surfboard

A day in July, 1970. Home from boarding school for end year break, I left our Ginayar home early to catch the bus to Denpasar, heading for Kuta Beach for a day of swimming and bodysurfing. During the long ride, and three changes of buses and bemos, anticipation built as usual. Would I find waves when I got there? Would it be flat and boring? Big and stomach-churning “oh boy, get out there and ride a few” or friendly?

Jumping off at Bemo Corner, I trotted down the dirt lane to the beach. At the the little rise at the end of the lane, I could see the blow-back of offshore spray peeling off a wave, and not the wave itself, meaning it was going to be fun surf. I picked up my pace—and came to a complete and utter halt. It wasn’t so much I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

A white guy was out in the surf. He was standing on a red thing and shooting across the face of a breaking wave.

I wasn’t the only one standing there and watching. Dozens of locals were also mesmerized.

It’s unbelievable to think of it now, but despite my bodysurfing and familiarity with the waves, I had absolutely no concept of the sport of board surfing. None. Nada. What that guy was doing was at first beyond comprehension. I might as well have been watching him spread his arms and do barrel rolls through the sky.

I hooted and cheered with the others on the beach. We watched for an hour. The guy finally rode into shore, and with the other local kids I crowded around to have a look at this red thing he was riding. I shyly asked to touch it, and he let me lift it. So light! So perfect! So sleek and strangely compelling! And what was this white sticky stuff on it?

“What is it?” I asked.

He gave me a strange look. I was a tanned blond-haired white boy just like the grommets at his home beach—didn’t I know? “A surfboard,” he said.

Next day, I went to the local carpentry shop near my house. Picking out a six foot length of teak, I asked the carpenter to round the nose, curve the long straight edges, and to nail a fin on the bottom by the tail.

My first surfboard. It weighed like a hundred pounds and was only good for proning the white water. But I was hooked. I wish I had a photo of it, but I don’t.

I don’t know who that unknown surfer was. Perhaps a flight attendant. According to Matt Warshaw’s ENCYLOPEDIA OF SURFING, in the late 60s American and Australian flight attendants began to surf Kuta, with the first documented (modern era) surfers paddling out to the Kuta Beach breaks in 1971, including Nat Young.

Flash forward twenty years or so. The photo below is of the Hati Murnih at anchor off Periscopes at Hu’u in Sumbawa. This was several years before the bay was “discovered” and ridden “for the first time” (according to surf magazine articles that screamed of a new surf spot found). I don’t think me and my friends were the first to surf the break, but it was still such an odd, compelling sight to the locals that they gathered by the hundreds on the beach to watch us, hooting and hollering.

And I knew exactly how they felt, their amazement and incredulity, because as a young teen, I’d been right there.

(Again, a photo of photo–scanner still broken. That’s 6 to 8 foot Nungas in the background–my buddy Rob Nichols who took the photo surfed out there and said he did an awful lot of leash climbing after long hold downs)

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2 Responses to The anonymous Kuta surfer of 1970, or, my first surfboard

  1. vidasoul says:

    Great story! is nice to go back in time and reading your story is like seing a movie in my mind.

  2. Pingback: No Fear and Unloathing trip, Part 5: Ashmore Reef to Savu Island | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

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