Having a career in surfing is a surreal thing. I first realized that it was possible when I was 15 years old. Back then, once a year in Bali, we had a big international world junior contest at Kuta Beach. I won the under-16 division, and that was the moment I realized I was a good surfer. At that time, pro surfers from all over the world were starting to come to Bali every summer, and I wanted so much to be a part of that.
The friendships you make are the most important part of surfing. My first sponsor was Quiksilver, and I rode for them for 10 years. Then, in 1999, when Bob Hurley started Hurley, Paul Gomez called me up and said, "We want you to be the first international team rider for this brand, and you can just be who you are. Surf, have fun and keep a smile on your face." That was a good deal. [Laughs.] Bob was my boss, but we got along super well, and we got really close. Now we're like family.
Trust is the most important thing in any relationship. When you can trust someone 100 percent, everything else will fall into place.
Bali has always had a lot of great surfers. But we've never had a local surfer make the World Tour. All of the surfing industry is here, we have surfboard factories and obviously we have great waves. What would really help Indonesia get a surfer on the CT is more government support of surfing. Look at Brazil: The government in Brazil got behind competitive surfing and helped make it one of the biggest sports in the country. Now they have highly rated Qualifying Series events, so the surfers from Brazil have more opportunities to compete at a high level and get big points. Now Brazil has two world champions, and a lot of successful pro surfers, because surfing is taken seriously in Brazil.
That same thing happened with surfing in Australia in the '80s, but it hasn't happened here yet. We have some of the best waves in the world, but not a single major [World Surf League] event.
Kids need to be open-minded. I always tell the up-and-coming surfers from Indonesia that they need to make friends overseas so that they have support when they are trying to travel and compete around the world. Traveling is expensive, but the next generation of kids from Indonesia should do what they can to go out and see the world. Home will always be here. When you're young and you have the opportunity to travel, just go. Don't look back.
The environment is the No. 1 concern here right now. Bali has exploded in the last 20 years. More rubbish. More traffic. More pollution. More everything. It's a huge problem.
People are aware of the issues the environment is facing now and are working to help. But this problem isn't going away easily. All of us need to act — the government, the local people and, most importantly, the big companies. They need to stop making plastic or start to pay heavy taxes that can fund the cleanup process. Companies that produce plastic bottles should be paying for the cleanup because they are a huge part of what's killing the environment.
It's important to remember that you are always voting with your money. These companies don't care about the environment. They care about profits. But we can let them know how we feel about that by not purchasing their products and cutting off the demand. That's the simplest way for surfers to make a difference.
Indonesia's problems go beyond the environmental issues. There are so many poor areas in Indonesia, and a lot of people without access to clean water at all. Waves for Water is a good example of another way people can help — just by bringing over water filters to help give people access to good drinking water.
Waves can disappear if you let them. All of the new development in Indonesia has definitely changed a lot of waves. A couple have been completely ruined. And that goes back to the government. They need to consult with the surfing association before they issue permits for big projects that could potentially ruin waves. We need to be able to offer insight. But they don't care about us. We're too small. They care about the money. Just look at Nikko Right: They allowed the Kempinski Hotel to build a seawall and destroy that wave. It happened just like that. Nobody even knew it was going to happen.
The lessons we pass to our children will determine the future. Now that I'm raising children, I'm trying to show them how to take care of their environment. For example, we have a place in Java now, and I've said to them, "One day this place is yours, so take care of it." I've learned from Bali, and now I want to preserve Java and make sure we don't make the same mistakes over there. I want to make sure we have better trash infrastructure and we don't overbuild. I want it to be a retreat, a little heaven.
Politics are so dirty. I try to just focus on what I can control at home. Surfing has given us such a great life, and we need to protect that where we can.
When you have power and influence, you should use it in a positive way. You should use it to make a difference — to speak up. One person can start a big change if they use their powers properly. Our surf world needs those people right now.
[Featured Image: Rizal Tanjung. Photo by Repozar]
[This feature originally appeared in SURFER 58.4, “Life & Death of Waves,” on newsstands and available for download now.]