1: green bowl
it was the end of a 38 hour travel marathon, starting in the mountains above denver colorado and ending in bali indonesia. despite being as worked as we were, I could not help but get stoked at the sight of the runway-side surf break lighting up with overhead swell. I was so excited to get in the water. after making the trip south to the tip of the bukit peninsula where we would be staying, we unloaded our bags, got the keys to our rental motorbike ("yes, of course I know how to drive one of these" I lied unconvincingly), and rallied for a desperate food mission before dark. the next morning we awoke before dawn courtesy of the massive time difference from home. we sipped bali coffee, screwed our fins into our freshly unpacked surfboards, and studied the map to the nearest surf break. the spot, called 'green bowl' was a short drive from our guesthouse. after weaving thru monkeys and feral dogs in the road, we parked the bike and nearly ran to the cliffs edge to check the waves. 300 feet below, a nicely defined channel split a beautiful coral reef producing symmetrical right and left hand waves. we grabbed our boards and headed down the hundreds of stairs to the beach. the wave was a nice hollow reef break, breaking overhead on the sets. there was no one out yet at this early hour. we paddled out to the lineup. a good looking chunk of ocean hit the reef a hundred feet out from where we were sitting and stood up tall. my heart was in my throat as I paddled for the first wave I'd surfed in many months. i felt the burst of acceleration as I caught the wave, scrambled to my feet, buried the nose of my board in the water, and promptly fell out of the sky in an ungraceful tumbling wipeout. welcome to indonesia.
it was probably the tenth time we had paddled out at balangan, a spot where we had enjoyed some really nice surf sessions. the wave here begins at the tip of a craggy peninsula, where the swells crash off the cliffside before unfurling along a long beautiful reef. on this day, at a dead high tide, the waves were rebounding off the cliff and rendering the main take-off area a jumbled warbly mess. because of this, fifty yards away at the second take-off spot, a big crowd had gathered. here, 20 surfers or so were waiting their turn to catch one of the head-high waves spiraling down the reef. we waited in the lineup and I managed to get a few waves. bnna however wasn't enjoying fighting the crowd, so she paddled up the point to the messed up first take off spot at the cliff. after sitting alone outside for a few minutes, a beautiful set wave approached and 20 heads turned to watch bnna paddle into what looked at first like a warbly mess of a wave. in the perfect position, she made the drop grabbing the outside rail of her 6'4". a few shouts of "yew!" came from the watching crowd. the wave hit the reef properly cleaned up into a perfect blue cylinder framing bnna as she zipped down the line. she stood tall and took a high line out onto the face of the wave, which carried her well in towards the beach before letting her off a few hundred feet from where she started. needless to say, she wasn't alone at the takeoff spot after that as I paddled quickly over with a handful of other surfers to try to follow bnna's example on the wave of the day.
our "south african bru" friend from our guesthouse offered to show us the way to uluwatu, the most famous wave in bali. here, in the 60's and 70's, pioneering surfers from australia and hawaii had put bali surfing on the map by discovering one of the best surf breaks in the southern hemisphere. today, the area is developed to an insane level but the waves are just as nice. we buzzed along on motorbikes on back roads, avoiding the chaos and traffic of the main streets of bali. we arrived in uluwatu, grabbed our boards, and started down the many stairs to the ocean. here, over the course of the last 50 years, a small town of ad hoc surf shops, restaurants, trinket stores, and bars has been built literally into the cliff to service the hoards of surfers and wanna-bes who flock to this incredible area. the waves pinwheel along a reef forming several setups: racetrack, main peak, outside corner, bombie, and temples. each of these waves along the reef was teeming with wave-starved surfers. there were probably 100 surfers in the water. we reached the bottom of the stairs, where a cave opens up to the ocean. we paddled out into the hoard. the waves were nice, and we got our fair share, but we wouldn't come back to this crazy scene for the rest of the trip.
a few hundred kilometers up the coast from balangan and uluwatu, we were in a fishing viliage called medewi. we had come here to check out a long left point break. the wave was big and nice, breaking well overhead for hundreds of yards, but a crowded vibey lineup had left me feeling a little bitter towards the area. that evening we sat in our small guesthouse with the 4 other surfers staying there watching the beach break thumping on the sand in front of the house. the day before it had been far too big to surf at that beach, closing out the entire horizon and rejecting my attempts to even paddle out with massive walls of whitewater that sent me back to the sand with sore muscles and broken spirits. twice. this evening the swell had dropped off a bit, still quite big, but with a defined channel to paddle out in. after watching it for a few hours, the wind backed off, and it was time to surf. alone, I paddled out to the peaks. the waves were shifting, powerful, and heavy, but I managed to get some nice rides. after an hour or so, two local kids paddled out and started gleefully pulling into unmakeable barrels. hooting and hollering, we cheered each other on for making waves and goaded each other into heinous closeouts despite no common language. eventually dwindling light and tired arms sent everyone in. I remembered what was so special about surfing.
we had been waiting for an hour or so in the one restaurant in the tiny fishing village of gerupuk. together with our canadian friends we had met in medewi, we slowly sipped our bintang and watched the outrigger boats coming and going delivering surfers to the waves. after being frustrated by crowds the previous days surfing this spot, we had decided on a strategy. we would wait in the cafe for as long as necessary, watching the comings and goings of surfers, until the lineup had emptied and we could enjoy the surf without the crowds of sketchy beginners and aggressive wave-hogs. we knew the swell was prime, and we needed to keep reminding ourselves to be patient. eventually, the number of boats returning started to outnumber the boats leaving and we knew the lineup was clearing out. when there were only a few motorbikes left in the parking lot, it was time. we stacked our boards in the front of the outrigger and paid the boatman. twenty minutes later, we tossed our surfboards off the bow of the boat and dove in after them. we joined only a handful of other surfers in the lineup. the sets were pouring in. beautiful green walls of water were rolling across the reef, serving up speed lines and turn sections. the consistent swell meant that after riding a wave thru to the inside, I then got to enjoy watching bnna and the canadians riding waves as I paddled back to the peak. we hooted and cheered each other on for wave after wave. It was hours of perfect surfing.
after a month and a half in indonesia, bnna and I had settled on 'impossibles' as our favorite wave. a nice chunk of coral reef halfway between balangan and uluwatu, impossibles is a somewhat obscure and difficult to reach surf spot. after descending some stairs off of a back alley, a long paddle out thru a lagoon and over the reef brings you to the main peak. here swells hit the reef and stand up before racing off down the line in hollow sections. sometimes the sections are makeable, and sometimes the sections are impossible. because of its more remote nature and intimidating name, this is one of the least crowded waves on the bukit peninsula. by the end of our stay in indonesia we had surfed this wave a lot. we had surfed it on big scary days where the blue wall stretched out for hundreds of yards of heavy water, leaving you buzzing with adrenaline as you kicked out. we had surfed it on tiny days where we convinced the beginners from the house to paddle out and catch the longest waves of their short surfing careers. we had surfed it on medium days where the head high waves peak up in a friendly way. the last day of our time on bali was one of those days. together with just a few people in the lineup, we enjoyed the zippy rides across the reef. savoring the warm water and the beautiful sunset, we traded waves into the evening, resolving to return soon.