On an island of surfers that have already had to stand by and watch two months of empty, dry season perfection peel by, the Bali locals have been remarkably well behaved.
The pandemic lockdown here has been strict, with beach closures casting a ghost-like atmosphere over the wave-saturated southern end of the island. Dealing with the shuttered businesses and abandoned streets of the Coronapocalypse is tough enough for a population for whom 80% of income is dependant on tourism. Let alone staying off the beaches that inspire the lion’s share of that seasonal haul. But the local boardriders clubs have not been idle, with many of them creating their own grassroots efforts to help out those most in need during the extraordinary time.
Although the surfers of Bali deeply respect the rules put in place by their neighborhood to neighborhood system of local governing, the fourth significant swell of the season drove an elite crew to flashpoint. And to a small group of the in-the-know, indicators suggested that a rare, heavy, and very remote righthander was set to kick off. In the early hours before dawn a small exodus of locals was underway to find this small corner of jagged, shallow reef on a remote stretch of coastline known to break boards and hearts whenever ridden.
Dawn revealed a wave not many would want a piece of. Dark lines marching out of the mist from one of the deepest channels in the world were heaving with crushing power through a line-up potholed with seething boils. There were surfers back in bed with pins in their legs, still healing up from the spiral fractures of the previous season. This was a wave that takes complete commitment from take off to improbable kick-out. Not a matter for the faint of heart, but a matter for those with the heart to ride it at all.
What made this secret session so unique was that maintaining social distancing was easy. This was a line-up of a small group of surfers that, although from all points of the island, like a boxing club, all knew each other by first names and punching power. This made for a line-up with a built in pecking order in place. Respectably a few of the riders even started out in masks.
Which is why this remote experiment worked so well. Like Australia, it is time for the rule-makers of Bali to open the line-ups. To limit the beach activities to social distancing and allow the surfers of the island the healthy physical outlet of surfing, and outrageous sessions, like this. After all, another built-in social distancing element of surfing is the length of our six-foot boards. And there is no shoulder to shoulder clunking of rails on a day like this. Even the photographers, equally familiar with the surfers, made a deal before they swam out.
Despite the harsh challenges of the lockdown here on the general populace, the surf vibe in the air in Bali makes it feel as if open line-ups are right around the corner. And many local surfers are leaving offerings at their local Hindu temples in hopes of to speeding up this reality. But for now secret sessions like this one, respectfully approached on the remote, mostly unridden stretches of island coast, are as good, and certainly as heavy, as it is going to get.
// MATT GEORGE