"No surfer's experience is complete until they've made the pilgrimage to Bali." Those were among the last words spoken to me before heading to the airport on a thirty-six hour trip to Denpasar, so I had plenty of time to think it over. And after two days in Indonesian paradise, it's become pretty obvious why.
It doesn't hurt that I've been lucky enough to stay at Hurley's True Performance House in Canggu – a short walk between the terraced reflections of rice paddies, friendly warungs, and variety of reeling peaks at the famous black-sand beach. The location alone was enough to drive the point home, but this place has a waterfall…so it's pretty much paradise incarnate.
In step one of my Indonesian indoctrination we headed over to Keramas, which has been referred to as Bali's version of Lowers. I didn't really know what to make of that analogy at first- especially after parking in a tiny dirt lot ensconced by bush and tip-toeing over a rickety bamboo bridge onto an ostensibly deserted black sand beach, but after walking about a hundred yards to the shade of warung #2, I understood.
Fifteen shutters clicked as Dusty Payne launched a huge air reverse across the face of a peeling right. Like sprinkler spigots, the cameras reset to the peak as Bali's surfing ambassador, Rizal Tanjung ambushed the following set wave. Tanjung was followed by Kieren Perrow, then Nathaniel Curran, then Marlon Gerber, and the list goes on. The roster of World Tour surfers and professional talent peppering the lineup was impressive, but even more so was the number of cameras documenting the madness. There may have been a 2:1 ratio of lenses to professional surfers on an otherwise insignificant day in Bali, in what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere.
But this is anything but the middle of nowhere; if anything, it's the epicenter.
"I've never seen Bali this crowded," says Balinese pro surfer Betet. "It's almost like the North Shore in wintertime. I see Canggu and Keramas and they look like Rocky Point."
And they did. In more ways than one. The level of surfing was as progressive as the most envelope-pushing surf film available today, and for good reason.
"In the last six years, Bali has become the epicenter of modern high-performance surfing," says Hurley's Saxon Boucher. "Then Taylor Steele started making his movies from here, and it became a stop on boat trips, and then Keramas was discovered and it opened people's eyes. Probably 85% of Stranger Than Fiction was shot at Keramas."
Each of those variables contributes to the spectacle of Keramas – both in welcoming a another surfer to Bali, and announcing that meaningful transformation to the sport of surfing wants to start right here.
Look for more dispatches from Bali on SurferMag.com in the coming days.