A brief and peculiar history of Nusa Dua surfing

Ah the joys of surfing Nusa Dua. Heaven on the half-shell, hell with a half-nelson. One session, Nusa Dua offers some of best waves you’ve ever surfed, three hundred yards of big blue walls; the next session, you are teased and tormented and trashed. You know those dreams of trying to paddle to gorgeous waves but never quite getting to the peak? That’s Nusa Dua, for real. The nightmare come true.

Nusa Dua is the place where you can master the art of drift surfing. On spring tides, you paddle out at the temple keyhole, and then put your head down and stroke into the current hoping to nail one of the three or four peaks along the big arena before the current sweeps you to the Hilton channel. Three waves in three hours of non-stop paddling is a common count. Or you get caught inside…almost just making it out the middle keyhole…when a little two foot reform slaps you back…and that’s that…it’s either back to the beach or the circuit around Chicken Wings.

Not to mention that a lot of times it’s just crap, small crap or big crap, but crap, too peaky or walled or washed.

Even so, your blog writer was one of a bunch of regulars who surfed decades of wet seasons at Nusa Dua, back when the received common knowledge about Bali was that the wet season had no waves. (I never surfed the Ulu side of the Bukit much– Middles, Airport Lefts, low tide Impossibles, secret Dreamlands being the exception in the 80s–mostly because that time of year me and friends were doodling along outer islands).

A bunch of people could tell you about Nusa Dua from the seventies until now. What I remember is just a little part of the whole, and maybe not accurately. Peculiar to me.

I don’t know who was the first to surf the place, but it would have been around the same time as “Morning of the Earth” in the early seventies. A bunch of Australians, the Kedin Connection you could say, were exploring, seeking what could be found, Kim Bradley and Steven Palmer and Robert Wilson among them. There was only one old Dutch road in terrible condition from the top of the Bukit, going down to Bualu village. Then you had make your way through the coconut groves and the peanut fields (where the Hilton is now) to the beach. I can imagine how it was, on the empty forlorn beach with a board under your arm, not a person in sight, and a kilometer away these blue water waves grinning white, unknown reef, unknown water, an ocean stretching clear to Antarctica. Just you and the sea. These days of instant video and boat service and crowds, I think we tend to forget the courage, and the gut-wrench excitement, of doing something like that. I never was one to get all touchy-feely mother womb mystical about surfing but there was truly something magical about such experiences.

Anyway, the government plowed through a limestone road, which is the main road now, and warungs for surfers sprung up at the field by Mushroom Rock, where a lot of surfers surfed (a crappy C grade wave). Not too many hoofed it around to Nusa Dua: long hike, long paddle, as there was as yet no boats. As I recall, more surfers were chasing Sri Lanka at that time than Nusa Dua.

Then the warungs were kicked out and moved south to the other side of Mushroom Rock. That’s when boat service started, surfers begging outrigger fishermen for rides, and the fishermen realizing they could make a living off surfers.

Then those warungs were shut down for the hotel development. Nusa Dua fell off the surfers’ radar for a good deal of the eighties. There was basically just one shack owned and run by a crusty veteran of Sukarno’s revolution against the Dutch. If you were a Nusa Dua regular, you had many, many solo sessions during those years. A couple of the regulars would warm up for the surfs by strolling through the meadows above the beach looking for golden top mushrooms sprouting from cow pies to munch.

Then entrepreneurs, with some Westerners thrown in, opened another series of warungs half-way down the beach, where the banjar now has their brick building and rows of beach lounges and umbrellas. Those warungs-slash–restaurant shacks served truly excellent food, from tofu burgers to fresh-caught tuna sandwiches to fresh baked cakes and pies. A young grommet-y Lee Wilson paddled into 6 ft surf, three times over his s head, and then disappeared, but his father remained unconcerned, saying the kid had been earlier eyeing a warung’s chocolate brownies and was probably on the beach eating one before they were all gone, or more likely eating them all himself. Ganti Yasa and Budin were among local regulars. One day the water got very cold, the coldest I’ve ever experienced in Bali, what a Balinese would call frigid. Ganti rode out on the outrigger, threw his board into the water, and dove off. I swear, once his fingers touched the water, he realized just cold it was, didn’t want anything to do with it, and walked on his finger tips back to the outrigger.

At that time, developers threw up housing in Siligita, and expat surfers began to settle down in the area, many of them on “Kook Hill” (a inside joke, because these guys were serious surfers–Curt and Fred and John and Johnnie and Stew and others, including a shady bunch of nefarious characters — but for many years a sign by the road side said KOOK HILL, and I swear I don’t know who put that sign there). Nusa Dua got busy again.

Then those warungs got kicked off so the village could have its own gig going, and the Nusa Dua Beach Bar and Grill migrated further south toward the temple. I haven’t been to Nusa Dua much the last ten years, because of the traffic. It’s bad enough to only get three waves in three hours without having to put another two hours driving in nerve-wracking traffic from where I live. I hear the Russians have taken over.

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21 Responses to A brief and peculiar history of Nusa Dua surfing

  1. Dennis McGrath says:

    Hi I was there with the guys have some great “non professional” SLR photos of the era exactly as you described.
    “I can imagine how it was, on the empty forlorn beach with a board under your arm, not a person in sight”

    Dennis McGrath

    • Thanks for chiming in, Dennis. Yeah, there’d be a ton of history out there and underground. I just read Peter Troy’s obituary in an surf boat left on a boat, and there was a photo of map standing before a map of his travels. A line is marked clearly through the southern shores of the Indonesian archipelago.

      • I mean surf magazine left on a boat–ASL?

      • Dennis McGrath says:

        Do you want a photo which your word describe beautifully form 1973-1974 Nusa Dua had never been surfed at that point from what we could work out from the locals.

        The shot I took sees Stephen Palmer waiting for the perfect tide on the beach with Robert Wilson on the shoreline busting to get out there and in the distance huge waves pounding the reef.

  2. Sure, I think we’d all love to see it, you don’t mind sharing it

  3. Sil says:

    I got the photo Dennis, thanks mate.. In fact thanks so much for all of them which you recently sent [ I haven’t see Dennis for over 30 years ! .. Let alone ANY of the photos.. You were a legend mate for having a bloody good camera in the first place, let alone taking photos. It actually looked like a pretty small day that day however I thought the photo of Steve sitting with the girl and the ‘ Yin Yang ‘ sign scrolled in the sand next to them was was priceless mate. Cheers, Robert

  4. Sil says:

    As I recall.. The first time we [ Steve, Dennis, myself ] looked at Nusa Dua was in November 1974, it was from Mushroom Rocks. The view was distant. The Vision in my mind still very clear. Large black balls rolling down the reef from the South East.

    The next day we surfed it for [ our ] first time and it was 2 to 3 times overhead.

    We surfed it full time for quite a few seasons to come, always had to find a crew. Our local mates included Bobby, Gede, Fly, Gringo, Wily, Tim, Rex, Noel [ Mitch ] and ‘ Mike B ‘..

    For at least two or three seasons we started paddling out from half way up the beach [ Hilton ] all the way against the current.

    Later on we paddled out from the point.

    That’s how we learnt.

    • I wish we could roll back time. Now we have to deal with traffic. Nusa Dua was always a low wave count sort of place (for the most part) — now, unless we live on Kook Hill or thereabouts, we have to add a half hour to an hour’s worth of driving for each wave we ride.

  5. Pingback: First of the Season « bukitbear

  6. Sun-Ra aka Goggleman says:

    Nice bit of writing and history there dude…. I got in late but still milked a good 10 or so wet seasons before taking a back seat due to a number of reasons. Enjoyed most of the peculiarities of the place always gott a certain “kick” out of the current that often kept the pack at bay (or at least working and/or worn down for the sets when they arrived) *heh heh heh*
    My final final words, paddle out, and don’t let the goobers spoil your session!

  7. Curt says:

    Great stuff – thanks for letting the new generation/wave of invaders know what it was like. It’s carnage now, you can barely find the beach.

  8. Gringo says:

    Good little story . Billy Badra and myself used to sleep in the warung at Sri Lanka in the 70’s when it was pumping and the names at Nusa were different . What is called the Peak was Outside Nusa Dua because the middlef Peak and Chickens were the main venue as you were going there from down the beach . Fly just loved Chickens and even today most punters don’t understand when it’s good . We even used to surf the right at the end of the reef at the channel when it was huge . Still lots of fun days to be had no crowds ….thank god for traffic jams and 5’10” fishes

    El Gringo

    • Chicken Wings on a big swell is, as you say underrated. I had tons of great sessions out there — a little trick was that on the dropping neap tides, the slight and unnoticeable current would pull others toward the temple (not the way the current usually runs out there) and they’d be out of position when the sets came. Not to mention that a lot of guys would sit too far inside and get cleaned up.

  9. Fly sat way inside at Chicken Wings, ready for the biggest sets when everyone else was scrambling away for the safety of the shoulder. To me that’s the real Nusa Dua, but no need to tell the newbies who just surf straight out from the new warungs and boat base. At least that spreads out the crowds. They’re even surfing the left you pass on the new boat route off the southern cliff.

  10. sil says:

    The second peak [ CW ] at the mid tide going out on a big day was often insane, something akin to a mix between Airport Rights and Sanur. Back then though [ even without crowds ] the temptation to get to ‘ The Peak ‘ was well, like waving a flag to a bull :]

  11. I loved Chicken Wings. On some swells, it was the best peak on the line-up, I reckon. Inside could get really hollow too…

    Why am I saying this in the past tense?

    Once the new toll road is open, maybe I’ll start drive to ND again.

  12. Kepin P says:


    • Hard to say if my leg is being tugged, pulled or yanked here, Kepin, but in case this a genuine comment, ND isn’t exactly a spot for beginners…Google and ye shall find

  13. robert says:

    D’day Kepin, well ND these days I guess has a lot of venues, maybe even surf schools…
    What we are talking about is where Mr Sunset [ Hakman ] even had to work hard back in the day. The only guy I know who has ever dared to ‘ Learn to Surf ‘ at Nusa Dua [ at all sizes ] was Mike B and while his state of mind might have been questionable, his body fitness wasn’t. He took off on anything ..

  14. Pingback: In which a prodigal son makes a somewhat sacrilegious return to Nusa Dua | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

  15. Pingback: A historical photograph of Nusa Dua surf | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

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