The perfect waves of the Bukit Peninsula have been drawing surfers from around the world for the past three
Kuta, Bali. An hour before dawn. Pak Nyoman Santosa of Poppies Lane 1 steps onto the cool sand of Kuta Beach, net in hand. The two dogs that attached themselves to the old man halfway down the lane run and splash about as he wades in and casts his net out over small, gently breaking waves. When he was a young man, Pak Nyoman fished for a living. Now he is a wealthy landlord, with rent coming in from a hotel, a restaurant, a bar and four shops, along with proceeds from sales of the coffee and oranges that grow on the land he owns up at Bedugul. He still goes fishing, but now it’s just for fun.
Half an hour later, Joni and Iqbal, two young men from Kediri, East Java, who share a small room in a house on Imam Bonjol Street, about three kilometres east of Kuta Beach, arrive pushing carts full of surfcraft and beach umbrellas. A group of young Timorese men jog by, a football team in training.
Six Japanese surfers, two of them young women, get out and check the surf.
Sunrise. A dark blue Toyota Kijang pulls up on Kuta Beach Street, surfboards piled high on its roof. Six Japanese surfers, two of them young women, get out and check the surf. Further down the road, two motorbikes carrying surfboards in side-racks pull up, the French surfers riding them bare-chested and wearing only thin plastic helmets and flip-flops.
By eight in the morning there are 50 surfers in the water and no spots left for cars on the side of the road. Pak Nyoman has gone home with a bucketful of ikan penpen (silver sardine) and plastic wrappers, and the traffic on Kuta Beach Street has begun to roar.
A Kuta surfer at home
A hot sun soars overhead and the morning passes. Down by the water, a solidly built, pale-skinned American stands before a long-lensed camera on a tripod, his eye fastened to the viewfinder and one hand twisting the lens as he moves it to keep up with a surfer on a wave. The surfer – a slight, dark-skinned Balinese – carves up and down the face of the wave until it closes out on the shore, where he performs a final flying manoeuvre before stepping off and running up the sand with his board under his arm.
The surfer is Made Dendi, sixth and youngest child of Nyoman Santosa. Made is 25 and a professional surfer who has too many surfboards to count, a Toyota Kijang of his own, and friends in many countries. One of these is Vanessa, his French girlfriend, who has been to Bali six times in the last three years and is coming again for a one-month stay very soon.
February 2000 Cover of Surf Time, ‘the original Indo surf mag’,
Made and the photographer, Jeff, greet each other and chat for a few moments. Jeff reaches into the backpack at his feet and pulls out a magazine: Surf Time, ‘the original Indo surf mag’. He thumbs the pages and stops at a spread in the middle, which he opens for Made to see. It is a two-page advertisement for the surfwear company Quiksilver, featuring Made riding a very big wave at Padang-Padang, the famous surf spot on the Badung Peninsula 40 minutes’ drive south of Kuta.
A Japanese-Hawaiian surfer, Jason, who spends six months of every year in Bali and a tall, thin Chinese-Indonesian surfer, Ivan, who was born and raised in Kuta, pass on their way to the water’s edge. ‘Made,’ Ivan calls, ‘don’t get a big head now!’ Made grins and raises his middle finger in reply. ‘Go home, tourist!’ he yells.
Made hasn’t always been so friendly with tourists. When he was a teenager, he had a reputation for hotheadedness. He often shouted in frustration and anger in the surf, and sometimes punched tourists who got in his way. ‘Go home, tourist!’ he would yell as he did so.
If Made’s brother Ketut Arta saw that Made was angry at a tourist he would paddle over and tell him to restrain himself: ‘Don’t embarrass us, Made! Don’t give us Balinese a bad name. Better for tourists to like us and want to be our friends. All that guy did was drop in on you once or twice – let him know it’s not right, but remember there’ll always be more waves.’
A Kuta surfer away from home
Less well-off Balinese boys still earn a little income carrying tourists’
Before he moved to Japan with his Japanese wife Sachiko, Ketut Arta ran a small surf shop in front of the family’s house on Poppies Lane 1. As a boy Made helped out and learned English and Japanese in dealings with customers. When he was 18, an Australian friend with a surfboard factory on Queensland’s Gold Coast bought him a ticket to Australia and took him travelling for a month, up and down Australia’s east coast, from Queensland to New South Wales and Victoria, surfing all the way. Back in Bali, Made won a major contest against older and more experienced surfers. This was the break he needed and in the years that followed sponsors showered him with surfing equipment and accessories, and gave him money to travel to Australia, Japan, Hawaii and California.
Over time and in the course of his travels, Made changed. ‘You’ve mellowed, Made,’ Ketut told his brother on a visit to Bali last year. In the travel stories Made told Ketut – of impossible crowds at Trestles in California and gigantic waves at Sunset in Hawaii – lessons in patience and humility figured prominently.
‘Don’t give Balinese a bad name!’
Now it is Made who reminds younger Kuta surfers to restrain themselves and to treat visitors well. ‘It’s not hard, is it, to be humble?’ he says. ‘After all in Bali we live from tourism. If there were no tourists we couldn’t live. Better for tourists to like us and want to be our friends. And who knows maybe one day we’ll be guests in their homes...’
‘Made!’ Jason calls from the shore. Made is still gazing at the advertisement in Surf Time. ‘Stop looking at yourself – your head’s getting big! Come surfing!’
Made grins and raises his middle finger in reply. ‘Go home, tourist!’ ii
Alex Leonard (firstname.lastname@example.org ) has been a surf tourist and anthropology student in Australia, Indonesia and Japan, and has been away from his local spot (Thirroul, New South Wales) for more than ten years.
All photo credits: Mark Newsham