Lora has been surfing for more than four hours straight.
His mother Elly is getting impatient to go home but he shows little sign of coming out of the water yet. Nine year-old Lora is about as stoked as it’s possible to get. He and his friends Rizky and Ahib (and several others) share a single surfboard and he needs to put in the time while he can.
The board is unbelievably battered. Some travelling surfer left it behind during a West Bali surf-trip years ago and since then the rocks of Medewi Point have claimed several inches of the nose and another precious fin. The deck-dings at least provide some grip because Lora and his friends have never had a fresh block of wax (at Rp50,000 it would be more than their day’s food).
Singapore-based yogi Shourov Kabir can see the surf-stoked grins that light up the kids’ faces even from the bench at Ati’s warung. Their enthusiasm is so inspiring that he decides he wants to do something to help them. Shourov first fell in love with Medewi as a guest of Low Tide Yoga retreats, which were set up as a way to draw people to this little spot of paradise (and bringing revenue into the community), way out on Bali’s south-western coast. He fell in love with the area and, returning a second time, was thrilled to learn about Low Tide Yoga’s beach clean-up work.
Shourov realises that it’s not necessarily the budding champion out there in the water who’s most deserving of help. It’s been said before that the best surfer in the water is the one with the biggest grin and – judging by the level of hoots and laughter – there are some budding surf-legends in the water today.
So Shourov and the Kitbaggers team put their heads together and come up with a plan to help Medewi’s groms in a far more meaningful way than merely giving them a new surfboard.
Indonesia is slowly drowning under the weight of plastic on its beaches and in its rivers. From Kuta to Mentawai to Papua the garbage is inescapable. In the last year I’ve been to deserted islands in Komodo, Malukus, Sumbawa and Sulawesi…and still found masses of plastic Aqua bottles, plastic straws, flip-flops and disposable diapers*.
*There’s a common belief in Bali that if you burn used diapers you are symbolically burning your baby’s bottom. Perhaps when disposable diapers first appeared
baby’s started to have nappy-rash which was attributed to the burning. Instead the majority of locals believe you should just throw them in the river (from where they
will eventually catch in the lip of a wave to wrap themselves around the neck of a horrified surfer in the line-out).
The little Balinese beach town of Medewi is far from the worst hit but it’s a growing problem. Fifteen years ago there were few stores here (even milk was unavailable) and most household trash was bio-gradable and could be thrown into the rivers as it had been for hundreds of years.
“It’s fine,” the locals would tell you, “it will all disappear.”
They say the same thing today but, with increasing amounts of daily plastic waste, it’s obvious from the trash on Bali’s beaches that it’s not disappearing. Every year the rains bring great rafts of floating debris down the rivers to wash up on the beaches. Surfers paddle through floating garbage-heaps where every arm-stroke catches in a plastic bag (or something worse), sun-bathers have to kick stinking heaps of fish carcases, jelly-fish (the only thing that seems to thrive in this condition) and plastic bags aside to make room to spread a towel.
Unless things change radically on a national scale the time will come when Bali (and Indonesia in general) sees the tourist dollars begin to seep away to less polluted locations.
Maybe we can’t change the world but if we all do something to improve the little part of the world we call home then it can happen. While environmental education is almost non-existent in Indonesia, a short talk with the Medewi groms shows that they are at least aware that there is a problem. Rizky, Ahib, Lora and the others understand that the plastic is getting worse: sometimes they get sick from the dirty water on the fishing-beach which is the preferred learner break and they can see that by the time they are old enough to have kids of their own there might not be a place to surf at all.
So the plan evolves for nine of the groms to attend a beach-clean weekend: a two-day (six-hour) opportunity not only to physically clear their local beach (working with the Kitbaggers/Low Tide Yoga crew) but also to view image presentations and listen to short explanations about why this is important.
Spanish surf company Trinity Boardsport** has been spearheading a revolution in state-of-the-art parabolic (side-cut) surfboards. While these boards are perfect for pros their wide noses offer easier paddling and take-off (and an end to nose-diving) which means that they are ideal boards for the groms to hone their skills on. Trinity comes onboard with the project and offers cost-price boards that will be shaped in Bali (saving on transport and carbon footprint) by talented Australian shaper Matt Hurworth at MH Surfboards.
**Shapers have been experimenting with parabolic (side-cut) boards for
decades but engineers at Trinity Boardsports have undertaken the most
indepth technical study ever put into surfboard design to refine the shape.
They used high-tech computer programmes,originally developed to design the
sails on multi-million dollar wind turbines, to establish the absolute optimum
shape for a surfboard.The wide nose makes the board easier to paddle and faster
into the take-off and the narrow ‘waist’ has the effect of channelling water to
boost speed and minimalise buffeting in white-water.
“We could be on the precipice of one of the most significant breakthroughs on
surfboard design in a long time,” wrote Surfing Magazine about the recent Trinity/Firewirepartnership to produce the revolutionary Cornice.
It’s late afternoon and Rizky is out in the water. As usual his mates are hooting and hollering. The old board with the snapped nose is still out there (the waves are perfect and the kids are out in force on anything that will float). Rizky kicks out of the wave on a new Trinity board that gleams almost as much as his grin and tugging the leash off his ankle, swaps boards again with Ahib. The board has a red nose, symbolising the red-and-white of the Indonesian flag. But the red appears to be bleeding, or seeping like an oil-slick into the white. You can make what you will of the symbolism.
The project has been a big success, the kids have their board and a better understanding about why we should all work together to keep our beaches clean. Another brand-new Trinity board is already lined up and – after another weekend beach-clean with a new group of kids – will soon be doing the rounds among Bali’s youngest environmental surf activists.
The rains will be arriving soon and Bali is going to need all the help it can get. If you want to make a real difference and play a part in this project, please drop us a line.