Guest Post from Robert Wilson: Mates in Surfing, a tale of survival at Uluwatu 1975

Note: Robert Wilson was one of the Morning of the Earth Aussie expats who came to Bali back when it was coconut groves and pushbikes and brazen extracurriculars involving hollow papaya leaf stems and other leafy substances on the losmen porches. Not saying that Robert….

Here he is, a photo of the young lad as a curly haired Greek God at Nusa Dua in 76 (surfers those days be too busy surfing to take photos; no point and shoot cameras, required that dinosaur procedure of film and processing):

And the one of Steve Palmer, the other mate in the tale, I couldn’t figure out how to process out of a PDF image. So click below and don’t stare too long at the Dev, and those “come follow me” eyes…

Steve _ Bali 76′


June 1975, Steve Palmer, Dennis Mc Grath, Mike Boyum and myself surfed Uluwatu for most of the afternoon, great day surfing 4 – 6 ft perfection with a building swell and just a handful of guys out. That’s just how it was in those early, heady days surfing in Bali.

The guys had gone in and I was still out waiting for that ‘ last one ‘ , might have been 2 or 3.. ha ha ! .. Anyway just as the Sun was starting to set I took one from the peak then straightened out and headed for the cave. It was just after the full moon so the tides were extreme. Unfortunately I’d left it too late and the tide had become so high that the top of the entrance to the cave was being hit by waves.

No choice but to turn around and paddle back out, just as I did this a series of set waves came roaring in with the tide, the boards we rode in decent waves those days were around 7’9” by around 3” thick ‘ Duck Diving ‘ was yet to come… I rolled under 2 or 3 waves O.K. the next one smashed the board into my throat and momentarily stunned me. I lost my board and could not get a breath, somehow my larynx or wind pipe had become blocked.

I calmed myself knowing that if I panicked I would die. I swam under 2 or three more waves and then finally popped up and could take a breath.

By this time the sweep had taken me around to the North, Steve later told me that they had seen me coming in and then trying to paddle back out but in the fading light I had disappeared.

Steve immediately got concerned and was getting ready to come rescue me, Mike Boyum told him ‘ He’s gone, drowned for sure ‘ ..

So here I was, pretty stoked not to have drowned but faced with the prospect of getting back in on a coastline with a building swell and sheer cliffs. Trying to swim
back against the rip was out of the question, at least I wasn’t going towards India !

At that stage we had only surfed Nusa Dua, Sari Lanka, Sanur , Uluwatu & Kuta Reef & Airport Rights, always with just a handful of guys, no need to go anywhere else with a choice like that !

I knew that Jimbaran Bay was North of where I was, I didn’t have much idea of what was in between. I think Padang Padang had been surfed by then but I hadn’t been there.

At the top of the cliff was an old Balinese man, he was pointing for me to swim North, which I did, thinking ‘ bloody hell it’s a long way to Jimbaran ‘

To this day I can close my eyes and recall the ‘ Vibe ‘ it was almost like I could hear it.

I felt like I had done something wrong, that maybe I had offended the Gods in some naïve way. I made a promise right there and then that should I survive this that I would never surf Uluwatu again.

The old man on the cliff waved me in, by this time I could hardly see him, luckily he was high up and there was still some light up there. The tide was extremely high by that time and I was able to swim right to the base of the cliff, right to where there was a huge rock, which I thankfully scrambled up onto. Right there was a rope and bamboo ladder which I climbed, then a rocky trail rising vertically.

I reached the top of the cliff and let the old man know how grateful I was. He led me for what seemed like an age along a rocky path, through cactus plants with a village hut here and there. Eventually, in the dark, we reached the main road, Phew !!!

About 30 minutes passed and who should pop out of the bushes right in front of me ?


He had ignored Boyum’s warning not to go back down the cliff and had come looking
for me, he had found my board being smashed against the cliff. He then had no choice
but to undertake the same trip that I had just been on, he climbed the same ladder, walked the same path. He even had my board with him, thinking that if he found me I might find it handy for the paddle North to Jimbaran Bay.

As it turned out we came in just South of Padang Padang, in hindsight only a few K’s from Uluwatu but back then, not knowing the lay of the land and in the dark I can tell you it was a trip..

That’s 36 years ago and I kept my word, never surfed Ulu’s since.

Made up for not surfing Ulu’s by concentrating on the rights, particularly Nusa Dua with Fly & Steve and then as Bali became more crowded all over the Indonesian Archipelago, keeping ahead of the spreading crowd. Usually with Steve, and a few mates including Dick Lewis & Mick [ Toast ] Mc Hugh.

Sure I’ve since had my scary moments however never anything like that early time at Uluwatu, which of course I never surfed again.

Terima Kasih Tuhan Yang Maha Esa

And of course my best mate, Steve..

Robert Wilson

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One Response to Guest Post from Robert Wilson: Mates in Surfing, a tale of survival at Uluwatu 1975

  1. waooooooo …
    What is …..?

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