Take a good look at the headlines above from the 11 Feb edition of THE JAKARTA POST.
“Keramas Beach to have new resort for surfers” and across from it a smaller headline “Young entrepreneurs support hotel moratorium in Bali.”
This ironic (and perhaps editorially deliberate) juxtaposition highlights a current, hot button issue in local Bali politics. Governor Pastika and many Balinese politicians and cultural elders want a moratorium on hotel and resort building in South Bali as a measure to control rampant overdevelopment and environmental degradation. In fact, on Jan 5th, Governor Pastika issued a gubernatorial decree mandating a stop to hotel development. But the bupatis, the powerful chiefs of the lower districts, and others with investments in construction and tourism-related industries are disagreeing, saying they do need more development, arguing investors will look elsewhere, that their people have a right to decide their own economic future. True, but of course, and what everybody knows but does not say, is that development projects are a terrific cash cow, of the corrupt bovine species, for all kinds of under the table payments, not to mention a source of commissions to brokers and fat profits to tourist industries.
Now the Kommune Resort and Beach Club has bought (or leased, it’s not clear) three hectares of Keramas rice fields to develop into “an entertainment and accommodation club…catering to surfers and travelers who enjoy the beach lifestyle.” The Keramas Surfing Park Resort plans to provide “an variety of stylish options to suit all budgets of surfers and travelers, from share accommodation, bungalows, and luxury beach villas.”
According to one of the owners, Tony Cannon (the others are Andrew Ladd, Tony de Leede, Luke Egan, and Adrial Sjahfrin), “As surfers, we are here to combine and protect all the reasons international travelers love to visit Bali, for its culture, warm and friendly people, and of course the waves.”
Look, of course this is glossy ad-speak. But still. The best way to protect all those reasons is leave three hectares of rice fields alone. Not to mention that’s the most ecologically “green” thing to do. Over the last few years, surfers have been decrying the environmental destruction going on along the Bukit and Canggu coasts, and here are surfers—surfers!—bulldozing ricefields over at Keramas, and in the name of surfing, to boot. That area along the coast road is by law meant to be a green belt and one wishes that surfers of all people would be the one to obey the spirit of the law, even if the letter of the law is open to all kinds of envelope payments in order to get variances, to backdate the construction and building permits, etc etc. (I’m not saying that’s what happened with this Keramas resort—the fact they are going to start building when the governor’s issued his moratorium decree could be another one of those ineffable Bali mysteries).
And how is staying in a cosseted beach resort any sort of cultural experience? A Balinese waiter delivers you another poolside Bintang? Is that a cultural experience?
And Keramas as a wave park? Hunh? While there are a few other breaks in the area, the gem, the famed Keramas righthander, is hardly G-land. Its compact take-off area can’t handle much of a crowd. And there is quite often a crowd—nay, more than a crowd, for to pros and hot surfers, international and local, Keramas is one of their media bread-and-butter breaks.
Now there’s going to be another, what, another thirty plus surfers (to a resort owner, the more the merrier, with visions of hundred percent occupancy rates) who are staying right on top of it, being their own instant crowd? How is that going to provide a quality surfing experience? To all you surfers who know and love the place, and sneak there when the conditions are right, or hang around until the conditions do get right, for uncrowded sessions—tough luck, I guess.
(And frankly, the development sounds in part like a time-share, so in addition to the new insta-crowd, there’s going to be new insta-locals, thinking they own the break—I’m not exaggerating, I’ve seen this attitude over and over again throughout Indonesia.).
I can’t help but think doom and gloom thoughts here, that the Keramas Surfing Park Resort is a big concrete-and-asphalt step, with really high walls, toward the Canggu-ization of Keramas, once a pristine, natural, gorgeous agricultural environment.
Look, the owners have every right to do what they’re doing. Have to give them that. And they are promising to employ locals and share profits, although that’s very often a standard love song at the beginning of these projects, not to mention that many of these kinds of written agreements, which to Westerners is engraved in stone, is to Balinese villagers merely a starting point for future ad hoc negotiations.
But having every right to do something isn’t the same thing as doing what’s right.
Has the commercialization of surfing hit a new low?
(Addendum: I will add that outside developers are only part of the problem of overdevelopment in Bali. Balinese farmers are shrewd and know very well the value of the land they own. If in a tourist or urban area, it is worth more as a chunk of real estate, sellable for immediate cash, than they will make in a lifetime of hard labor farming the land. Also, Bali is infested with Balinese land brokers who make their money putting together these deals. Not to mention all that aforementioned cash cow envelopes to Balinese bureaucrats.)