Surfing nostalgia and surfing history–with a Balinese cockfight thrown in

Your blog correspondent is sniffling and snuffling and blowing out chunks of phlegm that could possibly be used for ding repairs.

What’s the difference between surfing nostalgia and surfing history? I’ll admit it’s hard not to indulge in wishful daydreaming of the good old days, when the traffic jam on the drive to a surf spot was a flock of ducks being herded along the road. When a crowded lineup was two other guys you didn’t know.

But we’re starting to lose pioneers, both famous and unknown, foreign and local, of Bali’s and Indonesia’s early surfing days.

One of the goals for this blog is to hopefully prod anyone with a story, some photos, to share their story, whether here or elsewhere. History is more than just the standout tales about the legends, as interesting and necessary as they are. It’s also all the layers, the background, the whole context of a generation of surfers opening up the doors and setting down the paths.

The late Clifford Geertz, an anthropologist who made his name doing work in Bali and Indonesia, was a brilliant man who ended his career occupying an ivory tower at the Institute for Advance Study, the joint where Einstein also worked. In his classic paper that had a profound influence on the field of anthropology, Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight he presented the principle of “thick description”. Everything is noted and described to provide a context for proper understanding for any smaller part of it. For example, why in a cockfight, are huge sums wagered on one bout and very little on the next? Why don’t winners celebrate and losers wail?

We need a “thick description” or a “thick history” before all we’re left with are the tales and legends of the famous pioneers, recorded for posterity, and constantly told and retold because that’s all we know or can Google. They’re important—they provide the foundations to the history, but we’d also like to know how the house was decorated, you know? (And by the way, pioneer Peter Neely of Indo Surf and Lingo has penned a a great articleon Kim Bradley for

I recommend reading Geertz’s paper. The first part is a classic and hilarious essay accessible to anyone. In the second part, Geertz starts firing some serious intellectual cannons, but his analysis of what’s going on at a cockfight is fascinating, a look into something that flies under the tourist radar.

I reckon that if Bali’s culture is indeed being eroded away, the part that will last to the very end will be the cockfight, a couple hundred men gathered at the pura dalem graveyard, with the cops coming around for their payoffs. A burglar breaks into your house, you call the police hotline, and nothing happens. But they have a mysterious sixth sense for a cockfight being held secretly down some remote random lane to back field temple, rocking up within minutes for the payoff.

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One Response to Surfing nostalgia and surfing history–with a Balinese cockfight thrown in

  1. peterponkin says:

    Great point about the police in Bali. I remember going to the police station after witnessing two Javanese theives being literally beaten to death at Kuta Beach. The desk officer looked at us with a very uninterested gaze on his face and said he would look into it. We waited for a good while to see if they would go to the scene – and nothing happened. If I told him there was a cock fight on?

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