Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Surf's still up and rolling at Bali beaches

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, Contributor, Kuta, Bali

With a drastic slump in tourist arrivals since last year's bombings, Bali's tourist industry is facing its worst period in a long time. But surfboard repairman I Made Leter views the incident from a different perspective.

"Many foreigners who do not care about the blast keep coming, and most of them are surf lovers," said the 43-year-old Made who runs his small business at Bingin Beach in Pecatu, Kuta, about 30 kilometers south of Denpasar.

Board repairmen at Bingin Beach watch the flood of professional and amateur surfers from around the world visiting the island just to taste its great waves.

"While other tourists tried to avoid Bali, they were still enthusiastic and unworried by possible bomb threats. They just say a bomb could explode at any time anywhere in the world," said Sugandi Yasa, another board repairer.

Made said he received lots of orders to repair surfboards after the bombing.

"We kept wondering why these people still had the courage to come to Bali. The number of surfers has been increasing since Oct. 12, 2002," he said.

Before the blast, Made received between two or three orders to repair broken boards.

"But after the bombing, I was repairing at least six boards a day," said Made, a father of two.

For minor repairs, Made charges about Rp 200,000 (US$24). For a broken board requiring extensive work the cost is Rp 500,000.

In Australia or the United States, it costs twice what it costs in Bali to fix your board, he said.

Ketut Surama, another repairer, said there was no fixed price for repairing a surfboard.

"The price is negotiable. Sometimes our customers do not have the money and ask me whether they can trade for some equipment or tools I need for my business. I say OK, why not," Ketut said.

One day, for example, he got a tubular string in return for his services. The string cost about Rp 80,000. "I could resell it for Rp 150,000."

He said many of his clients had become repeat customers and even friends.

When he needs to import materials to repair a board, Ketut asks friends living in Australia to purchase the materials and send them to Bali.

Materials like fiberglass cloth and Q-cells are main materials for surfboards, which are not often found in Indonesia. A 7.5- square-foot fiberglass cloth costs A$5.99 (approximately Rp 33,000), while a kilogram of Q-cells may cost around A$80.

Each kilogram of Q-Cells, mixed with other substances, can be used to repair at least 25 surfboards, while Ketut only uses a small part of the fiber cloth for repairing damaged boards.

Made said his small business was quite lucrative. He can support his family of two children and several grandchildren. Moreover, Made has been able to save up to buy six cows.

"I usually take care of my cattle during the rainy season between November and December," Made said.

Marroke, 40, a professional surfer and photographer from Uruguay, said he and other surfers relied on the local repairmen.

"A professional surfer is usually well-prepared but many things can happen on site," Marroke told The Jakarta Post.

He said a good surfer would patiently wait for up to six months for the right waves.

Piping, an Indonesian surfer, shared Marroke's view.

"Bali is a surfing paradise. There are more than 40 surfing destinations on the island, each equipped with adequate facilities," he said.

Piping, the editor of Magic Wave newspaper, said there were more international surfers coming to Bali after the bombings.

"They do not consider Bali a dangerous place for surfing the waves. Surfers from countries other than the United States and Japan are now flooding Bali's beaches," he said.

A large number of the surfers, mostly from Spain and Latin America, are first-time visitors to Bali. The arrival of all these international surfers may bring hope and jobs to people like Made Leter and Ketut Sukarama.