Bali: First Impressions of The Promised Land

More sneak peeks from SURFING'S upcoming "Bali and Beyond" issue

After five years of endless travel to almost every corner of the globe in search of waves, I still hadn't found it. Sure, I had visited and scored a host of locations boasting some of the best waves on the planet, but I had never tasted the repetitive mechanical perfection that I dream about; the one the magazines flaunt in front of you issue after issue. Most all of my friends had experienced it and loved to rub it in. Laughing, still drunk off of the days spent getting barreled over and over and over and over...

"You mean you've never been?"

"NO, Dammit, I want to go!" I would plead to my editor, "It just looks sooo easy."

Finally, I am getting my chance. Sort of.

Sure, Bali might not be Indies IV in the Mentawais, but this happy island was close enough for me. First you have to get there, and coming all the way from the East Coast of the U.S. nothing short of a mission. Thirty six butt-numbing, leg cramping hours of joy. Mira, Dustin Humphrey's wife and our saving angel, scooped us up at the Denpasar airport, wisked us thru customs with nary a hitch, and delivered us in air conditioned bliss to Castle de Humphrey.

Jet-lagged and basking in the scent of too many hours in the same shirt, I am met with the unrivaled Balinese hospitality but I can't get over the feeling that I have just accidentally walked into a skit for the upcoming Campaign 3. Sprawled around the room, Taylor Steele, Mikala Jones, Hank Gaskel, Dion Agius, Peter Mendia, Yadin Nicol, photographer Pat Stacy, and Surfing Editor Nathan Myers all voice their welcome. Weirdly feels like am in pro surfing's twilight zone, its home away from the mosh pit of the North Shore or the corporate chaos of Orange County. Bali is the "it" location for all forms of photo sluttery and I've just joined in the feeding frenzy.

We have moved south to Sumbawa to get away from at least a fraction of the hordes. Thank God this flight was short because the leg room was even shorter. With the A.C. out and knees pressed into his chest, big Peter Mendia might have suffered the most, but all of us were right there with him. On a multi-mission for Globe, Surfing's Bali and Beyond issue, and Taylor Steele's Campaign 3, this was a big production that really couldn't have happened without the vast Indo experience and logistical support of Dustin Humphry. While the rest of crew had all been to Indo numerous times, this was everyone's first time to Sumbawa, and we were all frothing to score. Evidently, so were a lot of other people, because the line-up has seldom been anything other than crowded.

Surveying the early morning scene at Canggu only reinforces my thoughts from the prior evening. The line-up is as choked as any winter day on the Seven-Mile Wonder, photo crews spaced down the black sand beach, and riders for every major company fighting for waves. Promised Land or Paradise Lost?

Remarkably, in spite of the flooding tide of Westernization, the face of the average Indonesian here seems to remain unchanged. Nowhere in my travels have I ever been welcomed with so much warmth. Straight up perma-grins that are a window into the cheerful, carefree hearts of this amazing culture. Forget what you've heard on CNN or remember about the infamous Bali Bombings, the Indonesian people are one of the wonders of the world and you can't help but feel happy when you hang out with them. In the water, the energy of the groms is infectious. I envy their flashing white toothy grins and shakas. Hooting each other into waves, they are having the time of their lives. Makes me wonder when the last time was that I had that much pure fun.

The wave has yet to really do its thing. We've seen glimpses, and the promise of a larger swell in a couple of days has us buzzing, but it has been anything but easy. Tides, rips, and the crowd factor have all complicated our efforts to get photos and clips, but we press on. Groundhog day number four. Up at 5 am to shoot remote flash. No coffee...grrrrrrrrrr... Surf till the wind blows it out, then gorge ourselves in the restaurant like a pack of hyenas. Pass out or watch movies, then shoot from 4pm till dark, dragging ourselves back to the hotel so exhausted we pass out before 9pm. Sound glamorous to you? It is pure hard work, for photographers and surfers alike. Indo is proving to be a lot harder to score than I would have ever predicted. Its waves might be perfect, and it's people remarkable, but the rip currents have my legs feeling like I got run over by a semi-truck, and have turned the surfer's arms to jello.

But, I am the Photo Nazi, and I have a work ethic and reputation to uphold, so tomorrow, aching and exhausted, we'll get up and do it all over again.CLICK HERE FOR ALL THE PHOTOS