One of the benefits of being with a man who is a surfer on a surf island, is that he can meet some very colorful locals and bond over this passion. Over the years, Marc has met many Balinese surfers and come away with some wonderful friends. One in particular is Koyo. He is young (22 years old), energetic, intelligent, and quite articulate in English.
He started his own surf adventure company about a year ago and is now Trip Advisor’s top rated surf guide (Bali Surf Adventure). We feel lucky to know him. So when he asked us to come help with his community’s local surf competition, we did not think twice about it and arrived at Seh Seh beach (pronounced like the vowel in ‘head’) at 6:30 in the morning. Seh Seh is a little known surf beach that has several wave breaks at varying levels of difficulty (“The Nursery”, “Playgrounds”, and “The Pros”), and it is the hub of local surfing and fishing activity. It is the home of where some of the greatest surf guides on the island learned to surf.
Koyo is a pillar of the community and had taken on this annual competition all on his own this year. The previous coordinator of 16 years explained how he mentored Koyo to this position, and his pride at seeing Koyo reach this level of leadership. In fact, the theme for the day was really male bonding and mentoring, like watching men teach young boys how to play soccer in The States. Only these men were not the fathers of the children, they were the elder surfers passing on a skill that might offer these young islanders jobs in the future!
By 7:30, Koyo was ready to start the competition and asked Marc and I to be judges along with the Australian expat who was a sponsor of the event. All the local kids – both male and female – had come out for the event, along with a good number of young adults to help with coordination.
Since many Balinese work 7 days a week, there were few parents, but this is a ‘takes a village’ culture, so there was a sense of family among everyone present. Before they started, all the village youngsters – from about age 6 to age 14 sat in a row and Koyo explained that they were going to take a moment to pray to the sea God for safety and blessings. Offerings with incense were placed in front of them and I was touched by how seriously these young children took their prayer time.
There were 5 heats of 4 – or 20 surfers in this teen to young adult competition. And the surfing was pretty amazing. While we were judging, Koyo passed out some traditional
Balinese lunch to us all – rice and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf n (the “to go” package!) with plenty of their spicy sambal sauce. By the end of the first round, however, high tide had come in and they had to break for the afternoon. We returned at 3:30, for the beginner’s competition, but the wind had picked up and the water was so choppy that I was sure they would have to postpone. But these are Balinese! There would be no postponing. Again, 5 heats of 4, but when I looked at the competitors, I had to do a double take. There was no way these were the competitors – some of them looked to be 6 years old and stood barely (if they were) 3 feet tall! Then I looked at the churn of the ocean and thought for sure we would have a casualty on this day! Koyo told me that the youngest was 8, so they could handle themselves. Even though we moved to the Playgrounds wave break, on this day it seemed treacherous. The first heat was sent out and it became immediately apparent that these kids were well seasoned in this type of ocean churn.
They jumped on their boards and duck-dived through the white water like champs. The youngest and smallest even rolled his board over himself as he approached the foam, so that his fins were in the air for less drag! My entire body tightened as I saw the waves – almost a full body higher than they were – coming toward them. . . and yet they caught them with great skill and with no fear. AND WHAT SURFERS!! I had to laugh thinking about what the Dept. of Social Services would do if this took place in the United States! All of the mentors would have been locked up and the kids taken from their homes! But these kids were thriving in the challenge. The little one, who rolled his board, was struggling to catch a wave (heck, he was barely 3 feet tall so of course he didn’t have the strength to create momentum on his board). Koyo’s mentor jumped into the water to swim out to him – but without a board himself! “Great”, I thought – “now we will have a drowning of one of the community elders”.
Seriously, the water was really angry and the currents were no joke. With no struggle at all, he swam to the young contestant, righted the young surfer’s board to the angle of the incoming wave, and gave him the push he needed. The little munchkin (called a ‘Grom’ in the surf world) jumped up, dropped in, and even executed a slight cut back! I was in awe. The elder stayed in the water, floating, for the remaining 15 minutes of the session. All four of the young surfers caught waves, and the crowd, now consisting of the older previous competitors and many villagers as they returned from work, went wild in support. This being a village competition, money was tight, so as the competitors came out of the water, they stripped off their shirts and handed them to the next heat’s competitors! Each session was equally as harrowing and impressive.
With the youngsters having wrapped up their competition, the sun was laying low and time was of the essence to execute the Finals of the older competition. We walked the 100 meters down to the bigger wave break, and were pleased to see that the wind had died a little, bringing in glassier waves. And these young adults made the best of it. They carved, floated, and switched back with amazing passion and ability. I passed off my judging skills to another expat and was able to truly enjoy the performance of these athletic guys. As the sun set, we had been part of this
community for a full 12 hours, enjoying their company, their quality of character, and their charisma! We were honored to hand out the awards along with the Australian sponsor and were truly pleased when Koyo won the older division and his brother won the youngster division (there was no bias – they both tore it up!).
It was dark when we scootered back home. Riding through the 2 kilometers of rice fields, with the stars shining and the bats flying around our heads was the perfect charmed ending to a magical day. Being around the Balinese people and their karma-based culture reinforced our love of this place and our commitment to remain as long as possible.