Stand-up paddlers denied at Uluwatu? Plus a historical note on Sanur surf

Yesterday, during the “Sanur Bersatu” festival at Sanur beach (Big Boys of Sanur on Big Bikes, plus lots of other stuff — me, I’m on a crappy scooter), I ran into an old Sanur surfer local who’s mostly retired from the waves in favor of fishing and making money brokering land deals. He told me that he’d taken two European clients to Uluwatu for them to have some fun stand-up paddling. But, my friend said with some indignation, “tidak dikasih!” (not allowed).

Oh, the irony! Any stand-up paddler who la-di-da’s out to the Sanur surf when the locals are out will be rather emphatically ejected. Ordinary joe and joesse surfers, too. In fact, my friend was during his day one of the Chief Enforcers.

I was so quietly & amusing distracted by the irony that I didn’t ask for clarification. Did the SUPers make it out to the Ulu surf and then were told to out of the water? Did the lifeguards stop them up on the cliff? Was this just a one-off thing, or is this crystallizing into an official lifeguard policy? I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter because a) Uluwatu is one of the premier surf spots; b) on most days (not even the most crowded days but most days) there aren’t enough waves to go around for even the surfers; c) SUP boards can be really dangerous things in a crowded lineup. As I write this, I haven’t called up folks to ask, but maybe somebody could chime in here.

Sanur has long had a history of “galak” localism. Sanur was Bali’s first heavily localized surf break, and still remains that way (for the most part—see note *). The “heavy localism” has a long history that’s more than just the surfing. On 27th May 1904 the skipper of the 90-ton trading schooner “Sri Kumala” shipwrecked his vessel on Sanur reef**. Claiming local salvage rights, Sanur locals (including Lembongan islanders who’ve long used Sanur as a ferry port) salvaged the shipwreck. The owner of the vessel complained to the Dutch, who then used this as a pretext to invade Bali right there at Sanur, which led to the famous Puputan massacre.

I reckon this sense of “reef rights” extended to the surf, too, once the locals started surfing.

old sanur 3
(From Leonard Lueras’s “SANUR: The Birthplace of Bali Style”; the caption on this drawing reads The Dutch artists WOJ Nieuwenkamps’s drawing of the 1906 landing of Dutch invasion force at Sanur Beach–reproduced courtesy of Bruce Carpenter. Note the out-rigger jukung’s carved prow, done in antique, extinct style)

old sanur 1
(Dutch calvary on their way through Sanur to Den Pasar and the subsequent Puputan slaughter)

old sanur 2
(Sanur Beach, 1960s, the beach of your blog correspondent’s boyhood days–this was a the end of what is know Jalan Pantai Sindu)

*This isn’t to say you can’t surf Sanur, just that prime time and conditions belong to the locals, which includes a fraternal order of Sanur expats. And in the interest of public service, here is a tip for the traveling surfer: if you’re not a known face, but you want to surf Sanur, don’t paddle out through the breakwater keyhole, because then you will be paddling down to the top of the lineup, giving the locals plenty of time to stink-eye you. Paddle out through the channel and sit down at the end.

** At low tide at Sanur you’ll see scattered along the reef big square chunks of rock that look like huge sacks of hardened cement. A couple elders have told me these were from the Japanese occupation days, when they tried to build a breakwater, but I reckon it’s more romantic to think that they are ballast stones from the “Sri Kumala” shipwreck.

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