By Phil Jarratt
Although the early morning surf sessions here have been marked by overcast skies and perfectly glassy ocean conditions, by mid-morning the wind would blow a dog off a chain.
Well, it is Bali’s windy season, and next week is the official opening of the two-month long kite festival season. Our little village, however, had the honour last weekend of hosting one of a handful of preliminary events held around the island to choose the teams to contest the big deals coming up in Kuta, Sanur and Nusa Dua.
Truth be told, not being the world’s biggest kite fan, I’d completely forgotten about it until I rode my scooter down to the beach for the dawn check and got stopped about half a kilometre from my destination by the parking cops, who had set up a vast temporary lot on the only big paddock in the ‘hood that isn’t a rice paddy. Clearly this was going to be big. I turned around and surfed my other spot instead, but we headed down on foot later in the day to find giant kites dominating the washed out noon sky and the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at our normally chill beach.
Like all beaches on the south-west coast of Bali, at ours Sunday sunset sessions are big, with hundreds of families from the inland villages piling in multiples onto their motorbikes to come down, suck on pink ice blocks, smoke clove ciggies and generally trash the beach alongside their coastal comrades while watching the golden orb sink beneath the horizon. This was 10 times bigger.
There’s a tremendous energy about big gatherings of Balinese, whether it’s a cremation ceremony or a rock concert or a kite festival or a riot. I know of what I speak: in 1985 as a reporter I covered the biggest royal cremation in Balinese history, which happened to coincide with a state visit by US President Ronald Reagan. In both cases, people thronged in near-euphoria, and in both cases the trash they left behind was metres deep.
But as I milled around at Pantai Pererenan last Sunday, trying not to be decapitated by the convoys of masked kiters carrying massive fish and leaf shaped aircraft to the starting line, I noticed that trash was scarce, people were hanging onto their plastic. And then I heard the Indonesian and Balinese messages over the PA system, exorting people to say “bye bye plastic bags”, and I saw the hand of Isabel and Melati Wijsen, those remarkable teenagers whose global campaign has in just three years begun to turn around the plastic pollution culture entrenched in Bali for more than 40.
Since the girls live in neighbouring Seseh Beach, it was only natural that they would have an impact on a Pererenan event, but it was beyond impressive. But let’s get back to the kiting.
Ever wondered how a kite comp is judged? No, me neither. But I asked the question so you’re going to hear the answer.
What started off as a seasonal agricultural festival thanking the gods for abundant crops and harvests, has become a fierce competition between teams from village banjar or council youth groups, with sponsors (including, of course, Gudang Garum cigarettes) providing trophies and cash prizes for the best “new creation” kites, plus best launch and longest flight.
The Balinese traditional kites are gigantic and have been getting bigger in recent years, now measuring up to four metres in width and 10 metres in length. Some have impressive flowing ribbon tails reaching 100 metres or more in length. These monsters are built over many weeks in village banjar halls and are transported to events held in place by the teams on the back of trucks, often with a motorbike escort.
Who won last weekend? No idea, but everyone sure had fun. By the time the kite crowd had reached frenzy level, we were drinking beers and nicking furniture ideas from our restaurateur mate, Nyoman Bagus, on his terrace above the madness.
Wilko back in yellow
Although I’m a huge fan of the wild-child goofy-foot of the pro tour, Matt Wilkinson – for his attitude as much as for his undoubted ability – I had mixed feelings watching the Outerknown Fiji Pro final in good but inconsistent Cloudbreak.
Connor O’Leary, the rookie from nowhere, (well, the Shire, but it’s almost the same) is another Wilko. He’s funny, he knows how to surf a heat and he’s stylish with a few rough edges.
What’s not to like?
But Wilko deservedly has the yellow jersey going into J-Bay where, when it’s solid, he can do those backhand vert slams as hard and as often as Occy. Great WSL tour so far this year, with half a dozen worthy contenders. Bring it on.