Seen and Heard in Bali

Whether you’re out in the water waiting in a lull between sets, hanging at the warung after a surf, or relaxing after a day of chasing waves across the island, you see things, hear things, notice things. Things the coconut wireless is abuzz about, things mentioned with a knowing look, a chuckle, things some prefer to forget or have forgotten.


But this is Indonesia, where the truth is never really hidden. It may lurk in the shadows, but over kopi tubruk and kretek or a cold Bintang, conversation flows, and ngobrolan leads to the very stuff of the epic stories that prevail in our archipelago. Honour. Jealousy. Loyalty. Trust.

A contest in the Mentawai Islands last year saw most but not all competitors returning from the epic surf. The winner remains incarcerated in Padang, and the dubious circumstances surrounding this have never been publicly discussed or addressed. A 17 year old abandoned in the jungle; not your usual rite of passage….

At a major competition last year a particular surfer was not contacted by the organisation to be notified of his heat so that another could replace him. Luckily word got out and the initial surfer made it down in time in spite of efforts which appeared geared toward preventing him from competing. So much for sportsmanship….

In the land of lefts the biggest surfing organisation runs a tour of rights. Apparently the rents of locations at lefts are too steep in comparison; it’s all about priorities….

Bodyguards and hired thugs are not just for Russian millionaires, Hollywood starlets, Mexican cartels and Mafia movies. It’s an expanding business in Bali with more and more reports of tourists paying for surf-guides to not only take them surfing, block waves, sometimes even push them into waves at the most unlikely spots, but also to prevent others from paddling out or even verbally or physically assaulting anyone who interferes with the “client”. Free market economy indeed….

How come these stories never make it past a hushed conversation and their way into print? Are there gag orders, a prevalent fear of saying what’s what, or worse: outright internal back-scratching and white-washing around a sport that in its essence is so very self-serving (let’s be honest: we enjoy floating about the water on bits of plastic)? Let the dirty laundry be taken to the laundromat around the corner rather than letting it fester and rot, the water can be dirty enough after it rains here.

By T.




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