The curious case of Kommune’s Keramas Surfing Park Resort

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.)

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12 Responses to The curious case of Kommune’s Keramas Surfing Park Resort

  1. Mumma says:

    I think you are a grumpy old surfer. I bet you live in a flash house in Bali that overlooks the sea as most expats do. I bet you like to keep the surf all for yourself.

    • Nope, not in Bali. But on an outer island, yeah. I’m old and grumpy, yup, but I’m not the traditional expat. Born and raised, lived here all my life. No choice in the matter. Seen first hand how uncontrolled development is ruining this island, and that’s not being grumpy, but realistic.

      • Mumma says:

        Not being the traditional expat still makes you an expat or were you somehow able to get Indonesian citizenship? I have been an Indonesian expat and thought being born there gives you no rights at all. As a grumpess, I have sympathy re development which brings with it the masses who invade what we consider to be “our space”.

        However, It is hard to walk in others’ shoes. The other side, the young and those who encourage development, would probably see things quite differently, in terms of jobs and a reasonable standard of living for more people. Everyone aspires to the same good life. It is just a pity, really, that the “good life” has been defined by America.

        Your “addendum” probably cuts to the core of the problem. Only if the Balinese people view development as a problem will change occur. Right now, it seems they see it as a way to a better life.

      • Indonesia is my home. The only home I’ve ever known. It’s not a second home, or home away from home. I don’t have a second home. Over the decades here I’ve given my country blood, sweat, tears through revolutions, riots, earthquakes, terrorist bombs, refugee camps, tsunamies, militias hopped up on crystal meth…but something far greater than that, brother, taxes. All my adult working life I’ve filled out the forms and paid central government and local taxes. Taxes, dude: nobody owns the ocean, but I reckon if I’m a good tax-paying citizen, then I have a little bit more rights here than you might think.

        Many Balinese are greatly concerned about the effects of uncontrolled development. Just read the local paper. The trouble is the lack of political will to even enforce existing laws.

  2. bewareofthefish says:

    great story and great blog you have by the way. concerning this matter, I sincerely understand your concerns! it’s probably (and unfortunately) something we can hardly stop, but the one thing is for sure Mumma, all this development is NOT sustainable to the island Bali. It all might look so great with money for local farmers and more jobs and tourism for the Indonesians, but sooner or later the bubble WILL burst… New problems will arise (or are already) soon.. You only have to look around in the world of economics to see what it will end up like (yes, I’m from ‘Europe in crisis’..)

    I first came to Bali in 2003, almost empty with hardly any tourist (due to the bombings of course), second time in 2007 and stayed for longer periods during traveling all over Indonesia and saw how quick it was becoming busier and more developed. 3rd time in 2009 and the development and increase of chaos went so quick I was shocked. Now I haven’t been back yet and I’m almost afraid to what I’m gonna see, as what I’ve heard from stories from friends who were there recently…. For example; Canggu used to be a sweet almost unknown surf spot in 2003. Then I experienced a nice friendly not to busy surfspot in 2007. In 2009 it already was a ‘cool and hip’ and ‘videocamer’s everywhere’ surf movie spot in 2009. Now I heard the shit just hit the fan and locals are even charging fee to enter the ocean at Tugu……

  3. Pingback: An owner of Bali’s Komune Resort and Beach club responds… | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

  4. Pingback: An owner of Bali’s Komune Resort and Beach club responds…Part II | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

  5. This comment is not by the real Luke Egan. We respect the Balinese people and do not endorse any of the above comments and have requested this post be removed. We have offered the owner of this blog to interview us directly on Komune.

  6. surfbuds says:

    One person above wrote “Everyone aspires to the same good life”. This is at best a very naive Western view, and at worst, a completely ethnocentric, ignorant, insulting, condescending and typical of the colonialist mind set that has diluted cultures and destroyed the autonomy of a people time and time again.

    Bali has become a hotbed of foreign investment with local entrepreneurs and politicians having only one thing in sight: Money and more money! The hell with everything else! I was once talking to a new hotel owner in Bali, and mentioned how the current pace of development is unsustainable and detrimental to the people and the environment, and how it would be interesting to develop a more eco-conscious tourist industry. He didn’t seem to understand the concept of sustainability and wasn’t interested one bit about the environmental degradation currently facing Bali.
    This is understandable, considering most Balinese didn’t have electricity or plastic not so no long ago. Now wherever you go in Bali, be they mountain streams, villages, farms, you’ll see tones of plastic trash burned and disposed of the way they’ve done it for generations and generations, with one main difference, all they had then was biodegradable.
    The lack of civic education regarding trash disposal may seem shocking to Westerners, but in most parts of Asia, including Japan, there is almost none. Some might argue countries like Japan cannot be compared to South East Asia or Indonesia in terms of environmental awareness, but if you go anywhere in the country side in Japan, almost everyone still burns their plastic next to their rice fields! Others just dump them from hill sides!
    Bali obviously has this problem but times 1000!! There’s very little awareness about sustainability and the kind of issues that a rapid pace of development can bring. They’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s easy therefore for foreign investors to come there, privatize the land, destroy the ecosystem, distribute a little bit of cash here and there to silence the locals, and hire enough of them to make sure dissidents don’t voice their opinion. In most of Asia, when a few people in a village are given a job, it’s considered taboo within the village to criticize the company that hired one or two of the villagers.

    If politicians and local entrepreneurs, as well as banks, can profit from the privatization of most farm land, it’s not in their interest to educate the Balinese about sustainability and the importance of preserving their culture and land. In fact the contrary will be encouraged. The education they receive at school is mostly dictated by and standardized on the Indonesian model, as opposed to a Balinese one.

    At the moment, Bali still remains an attractive destination due to its culture, various art forms and craftsmanship passed along since time immemorial: From beautiful gardens, temples, dances, rice fields, and spiritual rituals. As people sell off their land and lose their economic independence, and as the price of goods and land rises, people will become more and more dependent on work provided by foreign owned companies (hotels, resorts, factories), up to a point where exploitation of cheap labor will become so rampant that even the remaining Balinese traditionally making a living from farming and crafting will feel the economic necessity to join the “slave labor”. This turning point is already taking place and will accelerate, making Bali another one of those places where locals become either destitute souls who’ve lost their arts and culture, or “successful” entrepreneurs who’ve joined forces with banks and foreign investors to kick out farmers off their land and privatize everything for profit.

    Sadly the end result will be the dilution of the rich Balinese culture, only existing as a historic tourist attraction and for entertainment purposes, but of course in exchange of cash (Think Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, labeled by Haunani-Kay Trask as “the prostitution of the Hawaiian culture” ). And as social inequalities keep accentuating, so will the crime rate.

    Welcome to the future of Bali and a “better way of life”, indeed. I have hope though, the Balinese will be able to integrate capitalism and globalization while somehow preserving aspects of their rich culture.

    • Thanks, surfbuds, for the astute analysis.

    • Mummma says:

      I dais: “Everyone aspires to the same good life. It is just a pity, really, that the “good life” has been defined by America.”

      And you chose to ignore my second sentence?

      I stand by my statement. Anyone who writes on this blog and can afford access to a computer and internet is supporting the “american way”. We are all its puppets, including Surfbuds.

      There is another side to Asia, which people choose to ignore. Asians were ‘civilised’ long before ‘westerners’. They are highly intelligent and very astute in business. Their cultures are much older than ours and we would do well to put the western cultural development in the context of these much older Asian cultures.

      When, as an expat Australian, I lived in Jakarta for many years, I used to reflect on whether the Indonesian lifestyle was ahead or behind ours in Australia. The Indonesian way of life, even in Bali, was clearly driven by wealth and corruption. I came to the conclusion, back in the 1990s, that Australia was lagging. Now in 2013, here in Australia, we are beginning to see similar corruption from government down, and services that formerly were top rate are now much poorer, driven by the dollar. Just as it was in Jakarta in the 1990s. I think you greatly over-rate the impact of foreigners on Bali development. I believe It is being driven internally by extremely wealthy Indonesians.

      Money drives everything. To me, that is the saddest, most regrettable thing about life. Perhaps it is the nature of the human race, driven by our instinct for survival.

      What you describe is a world-wide problem and needs to be dealt with accordingly. For example, it would not be hard to focus on environmental protection via the extensive Aid programs – even Japan gives Aid to Indonesia! And Australia puts huge dollars into Indonesia, into their schools, building and management but where are the educational programs that pay attention to preservation of culture and the environment?

      Now here’s a question for you and a challenge, Surfbuds. You say: “I was once talking to a new hotel owner in Bali, and mentioned how the current pace of development is unsustainable and detrimental to the people and the environment, and how it would be interesting to develop a more eco-conscious tourist industry.”. Great words, but now I want you to tell us exactly how you would go about doing what you say would be “interesting”. And then try to think through all the hurdles you would meet along the way and how you would deal with them. And then do a cost analysis of your plan. I would really like to see what you coma up with. From there, new hotels may be able to frame their developments such that they meet your specs.

      Words and ideas are so easy. Trashing on blogs is so easy. Implementation of good ideas is where the challenge lies.

    • Mumma says:

      I said: “Everyone aspires to the same good life. It is just a pity, really, that the “good life” has been defined by America.”

      And you chose to ignore my second sentence?

      I stand by my statement. Anyone who writes on this blog and can afford access to a computer and internet is supporting the “american way”. We are all its puppets, including Surfbuds.

      There is another side to Asia, which people choose to ignore. Asians were ‘civilised’ long before ‘westerners’. They are highly intelligent and very astute in business. Their cultures are much older than ours and we would do well to put the western cultural development in the context of these much older Asian cultures.

      When, as an expat Australian, I lived in Jakarta for many years, I used to reflect on whether the Indonesian lifestyle was ahead or behind ours in Australia. The Indonesian way of life, even in Bali, was clearly driven by wealth and corruption. I came to the conclusion, back in the 1990s, that Australia was lagging. Now in 2013, here in Australia, we are beginning to see similar corruption from government down, and services that formerly were top rate are now much poorer, driven by the dollar. Just as it was in Jakarta in the 1990s. I think you greatly over-rate the impact of foreigners on Bali development. I believe It is being driven internally by extremely wealthy Indonesians.

      Money drives everything. To me, that is the saddest, most regrettable thing about life. Perhaps it is the nature of the human race, driven by our instinct for survival.

      What you describe is a world-wide problem and needs to be dealt with accordingly. For example, it would not be hard to focus on environmental protection via the extensive Aid programs – even Japan gives Aid to Indonesia! And Australia puts huge dollars into Indonesia, into their schools, building and management but where are the educational programs that pay attention to preservation of culture and the environment?

      Now here’s a question for you and a challenge, Surfbuds. You say: “I was once talking to a new hotel owner in Bali, and mentioned how the current pace of development is unsustainable and detrimental to the people and the environment, and how it would be interesting to develop a more eco-conscious tourist industry.”. Great words, but now I want you to tell us exactly how you would go about doing what you say would be “interesting”. And then try to think through all the hurdles you would meet along the way and how you would deal with them. And then do a cost analysis of your plan. I would really like to see what you coma up with. From there, new hotels may be able to frame their developments such that they meet your specs.

      Words and ideas are so easy. Trashing on blogs is so easy. Implementation of good ideas is where the challenge lies.

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