We live in a world that has come to the realization that we can no longer use and abuse our planet without conserving our precious resources. We are learning about consuming at sustainable rates in order to keep what we have so that future generations can enjoy them in the same way that we do. It’s an idea that the younger generation of today embraces and thankfully the concept of sustainability has become common knowledge and practice throughout many communities. So what happens when sustainability isn’t common practice and overdevelopment and environmental sacrifices are made for short-term economic growth? I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and have seen a lot of diverse cultures in the past 10 years, but one country’s arrival stamp populates my passport more than any other – Indonesia. Over the last decade, I have seen the encroaching tail end of what can happen to an area when sustainability and planning take a back seat to “progress.”
My first time to Indonesia was in 2006 after seeing photos and hearing stories from the Space Monkey crew that had gone there in previous years. This would be my first time traveling alone in another country and upon arrival I was instantly shocked and awed by the difference in culture. I was terrified by the complete lack of value for human life on the roadways; it was the introduction to a world that I would become very familiar with over the coming years. At that time I really wasn’t surfing “the real North Shore” much anymore because of the crowded lineups and over inflated egos that come with the location. I started windsurfing when I was eight and within a couple of years the majority of my time was spent either windsurfing or kitesurfing, and on occasion, I would surf the lesser “B” and “C” grade waves that the North Shore has to offer. This made getting a barrel with a kite a bit like finding a diamond in the rough so when the initial stories of the setup in Indo surfaced, I was really excited by the potential of scoring a legitimate barrel with my kite. It was a major change for me, as kiting was transitioning from a flat water diversion to pass time on waveless summer days into an eye-opening wave discipline. This new direction was the beginning of a series of exotic kitesurfing trips I have been lucky enough to experience. The golden age of surfing Indonesia was long past, but in 2006 I found myself in the midst of a new era of Indonesian exploration, an emerging frontier for the discipline of kitesurfing. Those days would eventually become the “golden days” for the original kitesurfers. Over the coming years I found myself slowly transitioning from a rookie grommet, the young one getting lost driving around the local neighborhoods, learning the ropes of the lineups, to the hardened veteran handing down the local knowledge I’d collected during my travels to the islands of this Asian surf paradise. Much of the same advice given 10 years ago will get you through today, however Indonesia, especially Jakarta and Bali, has undergone striking physical changes. The steamroller of progress has been going strong, roads have been improved and land has been developed at an exponentially growing rate with each year. In some areas I can hardly recognize where I am; what was once a quiet rice paddy is now a massive hotel surrounded by restaurants and bed and breakfasts’. There has been so much development in such a short time, you can hardly believe that it has taken place, but with the ease of accessibility and word of mouth increasing every year, it’s only natural to see the growing pains of large-scale population growth and traffic. I’m not one for the hustle and bustle of a large city but despite this increase in development and people, Indonesia remains one of the best destinations for surfing and kitesurfing travel. To go with the expectation of scoring at least one of these activities is great, but the possibility of being able to do both is even better. Surf in the morning and kite in the afternoon when the wind picks up is a dream of every kitesurfer; this is the reason kitesurfing is so special and what brings me back to Indonesia each and every year. Because it is an extension of surfing, not a replacement, you’re not trying to figure out whether to surf or kite, but rather surf when it’s good, and kite when the surf blows out. This two-pronged approach to Indonesia will do wonders for your wave count.
Localism can become a factor when resources are not abundant, yet on the many days where the crowds are light and the swell is consistent there is rarely a problem. It’s only when there hasn’t been swell for a while, or it’s small and crowded that everyone starts to battle for what little waves exist and that’s when localism kicks in. Localism at Indonesian kitesurfing spots is an interesting animal because there aren’t any actual local Indonesians, except for one or two who kite. The people who claim “local status” are the ones who have been going there for the longest or have spent more time there than others. Despite the arguable benefits of localism, I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect. But I also believe that respect is earned and not just given to anyone who doesn’t offer it in return. So if you show up to a place you haven’t been before, take note of the locals and learn from them; see what the local right of way rules are and try your best to absorb them and blend nicely with those that have come before you. However long you’ve been surfing, it’s good to approach Indonesia and surfing with the concept that you’ll never become a true “local.” You are always a guest in someone else’s house and it pays to act as such. If you keep that mindset, arrogance levels are kept low and the amount of respect given towards others is high.
Problems occur when someone new comes in and fails to follow these rules, or treats others with disrespect. Those that come in thinking they know everything and disregard the natural flow of things typically clash with their surroundings. These people usually don’t last long, but are a nuisance while they are around. I’ve met a lot of kitesurfers through the years and many of them have become lifelong friends, but some of the more unique people I’ve met have been the Indonesian locals. Friendly, honest and caring, every year you can come back to each specific spot and somehow they already know you’re coming; you travel from halfway around the world yet the news spreads through these small towns quickly. When you arrive, the friends that you made in years past are anxiously waiting to say hello and catch up on what has happened since.
Much like when there is tension on the water, there can be a bit of localism between the Indonesians in the towns as well. Being a poor area, the traveling kitesurfer can provide job opportunities for the locals through transport hire, kite rigging, and de-rigging. The first kiters to this area taught a select few of the motivated locals how to properly rig and de-rig a kite and ever since it has become a seasonal form of income for these people. However, through the years, the increase in job opportunity has brought in more people seeking employment causing a hierarchy based on localism with the original “kite caddies.” But like the occasional surfer who clashes with the established few, their inability to blend well causes them to disappear fairly quickly. The locals that are honest and respectful seem to always have a place. Indonesia is a land that I will always hold close to my heart, but I have started exploring new areas of the world, taking chances like the original Space Monkey crew, in hopes of finding new surf/kite destinations that don’t clash with the Indonesian season. No matter how the island nation changes, one thing is for sure — Indonesia’s inner beauty is almost impossible to hide because it shines through in the face and spirit of its people. This, along with its flawless waves, will continue to bring people like myself back year after year despite its unrestrained development, until its waves are too polluted to surf and the Indonesian smile is long forgotten.
Words by: Reo Stevens
Photos by: Jason Wolcott