The Degradation of Surfing–but first, a cheer for cyclone swells

I was going to write a post on the degradation of surfing (bottom line: surfable swells are a limited resource, with exploding demand), but two days of 6 foot plus swell from Severe Tropical Cylone Bianca, off Western Australia, proved a distraction, despite the exploding demand. So postponed until next day.

Over the years Bali has gotten some mega swells. A friend of mine surfed Uluwatu’s Outside Corner during the fabled swell of 1979 (or so, I’m bad with dates), the one that Jim Banks famously surfed. My buddy paddled out from Padang Padang and said the barrels were as big as Sydney buses. A few years ago another huge swell hit on a spring tide, causing panic along Indonesia’s southern coasts, the locals thinking it was a tsunami.

But the biggest swell I’ve ever seen was in May over twenty years ago, 1988 or somewhere around there, from a cyclone off WA so huge and powerful that all offshore rigs were evacuated. This is a cyclone that is still remembered in Papela village on Roti island, because over 50 of the traditional, sailpower only fishermen who by historical rights legally fished the offshore reefs in Aussie waters were never seen again. A short lived swell, only two days, but Nusa Dua was massive, breaking way further out than I’d ever seen it, and over on the Kuta side the offshore bommies from Kuta Reef up toward Canggu were connecting up and closing out. Me, I nearly drowned at Sri Lanka, paddling over a wave that hadn’t even feathered yet and sucked over the falls and held under for three cycles, came up dizzy and boardless in the chaos of mid channel.

These wet season tropical cyclones do give Bali great surf from an unusual eastern direction that for a long (and Internetless) while threw surfers for a loop—Sanur pumping in January at 6 foot and Kuta flat—another reason why Bali is such a year round surf magnet.

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