Some waves seemed tailor made for pro surfing events. The Bells Beach stadium, the J-Bay racetrack, Pipeline’s gladiatorial pit. But regardless of the developments and the pollution and the overcrowding and yes, even the World Surfing League’s Cirque Du Soleil come to town, Keramas will always be the people’s break. One reason being is that it is one of those rare breaks where the locals who surf it are actually more in tune and quite often better than the big pro’s who get to paddle out alone for a few heats now and then. Perhaps this is due to the toughness of the Eastside surfers.
A toughness handed down from their ancestors who had to struggle to survive in this region of Bali. Had to earn the right to live there.The Eastside of Bali, particularly around Keramas, holds a very dark past. A past most would like to forget. An estimated 80,000 Balinese were murdered in an anti-communist purge after the 1966 military coup that failed to unseat President Sukarno. A full 5% of the population of Bali was eliminated. And many of the bodies were thrown into the waters off the Keramas area. It became shark infested for years. It made the WSL’s Shark problem at Margaret River this year look like pre-school in comparison. It took even years more for the Eastside fisherman of Bali to get a handle on it. To say nothing of the violent Japanese occupation of Bali in the early 40’s that was based on the Eastside, mainly due to the harbors.
Following Japan’s Pacific surrender in August 1945, the Balinese took over the Japanese weapons. Safe for a few months. Then the Dutch returned in 1946, mainly to control the harbors for trade and re-create their crushing colonial dominance. That really upset the apple cart. The Balinese had finally had enough of foreign invaders. At this point you might recognize the namesake of the airport that we all drag our board bags through: Colonel Gusti Ngurah Rai. It was he that scrapped together a Balinese ‘freedom army’ to rid the island of the Dutch Colonial overlords.
At the same age as Julian Wilson is now, Ngurah Rai and his force, just up the hill from Keramas at Margarana, attacked and were then trapped by heavily armed Dutch troops. On a Wednesday morning in 1946 the Battle of Marga was underway. Ngurah Rai and his battalion, in a brave but hopeless effort, were wiped from the face of the earth by the superior numbers and firepower of the Dutch. And we might not even mention the 1963 Mt Agung eruption that killed thousands of Eastside Balinese. That created economic havoc that lasts to this day and forced many displaced Balinese to live in other parts of Indonesia altogether. No, the Eastside has not had such an easy time of as, say, the dry Bukit, or the former pirate nests of Kuta Beach.
And so today, Keramas, a gem in the royal crown of Indonesian surfing, hosts far more than just hotels and big pro contests. She hosts a group of Indonesian surfers, of Balinese surfers, who have the same blood running through their veins as the very same people who survived a tough-as-leather past. The very blood that eventually gave us, and the World Surf League, the freedom to revel in the waves that have forever been there. And hopefully always will.
Survive that is. Thanks to the toughness and the thriving spirits deep within the local surfers of these very waters. Surfers who will always be thankful for what they are now. Surfers who will carry on the struggle for what they want to be tomorrow. It’s in their blood.