The legend still loves his throaty caves! Riz at home. (Ridenour)

The Spirit Of Old Bali Survives If You Know Where To Find It

Just Ask Rizal Tanjung

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Rizal Tanjung was the bridge between Balinese and Western surfing. Before Riz, there were a handful of Balinese guys who dominated places like Padang and Ulu, guys like Kasim, Menda and Lana, but guys we never saw surf outside of Bali. But then 20 years ago this tall, skinny kid popped up on the cover of Surfing magazine inside a huge wave at Pipe, and we never looked at Balinese surfing the same again. Rizal was soon adopted by crew in the States and in Australia, and through him we got a better understanding of not only Balinese surfing, but Bali itself. Riz is no longer that tall, skinny kid, but a father himself. His boys Varun and Sinar both surf well, and with their houseguest, young shredder Bronson Meidy from Lakey Peak, the group travel the length of the Indonesian archipelago chasing surf. It’s a vastly different world to the one Riz grew up in, where he and Made Switra would knock mangoes out of trees before a surf, where Kuta was a coconut grove and Canggu was just rice paddies. Bali has completely transformed, but through the development, the traffic, the Seminyak expats and the Kuta bogans, the spirit of Old Bali survives. As Riz points out, you just need to know where to find it.

SW: How do you fill your days, Riz?
RT: Okay, so I have two sons. I have a 15-year-old and one is turning eight in June. So 15 and 8, Varun and Sinar, and then Bronson Meidy from Lakey Peak, he’s been living with us for almost two years now. He’s best friends with my son Varun, and they travel and surf together. It’s good having Bronson living with us, and they’re pushing each other to go big. They’re very competitive in and out of the water, you know.

Man, they surf so good those kids.
They’ve got no muscle yet but they’re getting the basic technique and working on their surfing. I’ve been filming them a lot, showing them the ropes and introduce them to all my friends and all of that.

They look natural in good waves.
Yeah, of course. Every day here somewhere is pumping and perfect. We go to Keramas a lot. We hardly go to Ulu because there are so many people there and things have changed. Even though we live just up the hill, 15 minutes away, we drive more than an hour sometimes to Keramas.

Does watching the boys getting so into their surfing take you back to you being a grommet in Bali?
For sure, it reminds me of when I was a kid at that age. When I was 15, I had Made Switra, like my older brother. We travelled everywhere with the motorbike back then. In the morning we were in the Bali Barrel, watching the shop and selling surf gear and doing ding repairs and stuff, then every morning we’d drive to Canggu on the bike and surf all morning at Canggu. Then on the way back we’d say, “Let’s go to Ulu.” Back then it was so easy. You can surf in the morning at Canggu and with Ulu, you don’t surf Ulu in the morning anyway because the tradewind is not there yet, you have the morning sickness, so Canggu is perfect in the mornings. That was our program; go to Canggu in the mornings then go to Ulu on the dropping tides in the afternoon and get barrelled. We’d just trade barrels, try and do the snap under the lip to get barrelled Tom Carroll-style. See who can do the super late drop straight into the barrel. It was all about who gets the latest drop into the barrel and the full spit out. It’s so good to have partners in the water for your surfing. It’s healthy.

Do you see that same kind of bond with your boys and Bronson?
Exactly. Reminds me so much of me as a kid. Like seeing myself in a mirror. But back then nobody was filming, now it’s totally different. The whole thing has changed since I was a grom. Everything has changed. Now like everything, the media, content, magazines and film, everything is instant. You create your own content. How you want the world to see you. You’re in control of that.

At that time when you were a grom we’d hardly seen Balinese surfers at all outside of Bali, and even in Bali there wasn’t a big crew of you guys. Then we saw you on the cover of Surfing at Pipe and it was such a revelation. It’s such a different world these days. Like, I see clips of your kids surfing all the time now.
Oh yeah, the Bali I grew up to what it is today is crazy. Kuta Beach when I was younger, there wasn’t one person selling drinks and not one beach umbrella. Nobody. You had to bring your own snack and water. Back then I used to walk in there with Switra and all the Bali Boys from Legian, walk from Bali Barrel. Kuta used to be all these fields with coconuts and mangoes, all different fruit trees, papaya, banana. We had all this stash. We know which tree… this tree, that tree, this mango will be ripe in a couple of days, this papaya is ready now. We were like jungle boys, you know. We’d walk around, climb coconut trees and throw rocks to knock mangoes out of the trees. Now it’s full beach umbrellas and people selling drinks and renting surfboards and surf schools everywhere. Full mainstream. Mainstream tourism is there, international and domestic. All the buses coming from Java go to Kuta Beach, everyone takes selfie photos and it’s chaotic. This why we moved to Balangan. I’ve been living in Balangan almost 15 years up on the hill. It’s quiet. Old Bali style. The old grandma walking around with no bra on. You walk out from the house and there’s cows. It reminds me of old Bali. That’s good for my kids to see that. For me to show them how Bali used to be. And we’re just five minutes from the turn off to Balangan, so we’re just right there. We’ve got a good view and you look down at Kuta and it looks like LA with the lights and the airport and all that. Good to always step out from the madness, you know.

When you first started travelling outside of Bali as a kid how much of an eye opener was it for you?
It was definitely an education. Travelling is the best education. You see things and you learn quicker. It was an eye opener for me, travelling to Australia for the first time, meeting people and seeing the different culture compared to Balinese and Indonesia. How the Western culture and people treat their beaches and take care of their environment better is so different. I think they knew better than we did back then. When you go to Hawaii, America, California, every place you go you try to take whatever is good from each country and bring that home with you. You learn a lot. It’s a shortcut education. In Indonesian school you don’t get anything like that.

What were your first thoughts of Australia?
Australia was my first time overseas. I was tripping. To see people working! You see all the white people on TV and it’s all high-class living, like Hollywood, but you forget they’re still digging holes and making roads. I left the airport and I’m like, “Whoa! Is that guy digging a hole!” I was tripping out. It blew my mind away. And the big cars and the trucks, it felt like in the movies. It felt like a movie set compared to Bali. I was 15 back then. I went to Australia for the Pro Junior in Narrabeen and stayed in the caravan park. I stayed with Danny Wills and Mick Campbell. We were on the Quiksilver team and Murph was the team manager.

Obviously Bali has changed a lot. In many ways it’s unrecognisable from what it was 20 years ago. How does that sit with you?
When I was 15 we’d come to Canggu and it was a rice paddy and one warung. I’m sitting here right now in one of 30 warungs and there’s music and ice cold coconuts and beach umbrellas and people laid out getting tanned. Bali has become mainstream tourism. It’s a melting pot. I think people who come here want a mix of the new Bali with all its comforts and the old Bali with all its tradition and ceremony. That hasn’t changed. They’re after the Bali medicine; smell the air, eat the spicy Balinese food. For all its modernisation Bali still doesn’t feel like anywhere else in the world.

What about what you can’t see or smell or put your finger on, that magic of Bali that just intoxicates people?
Bali still has that magic and that energy. You can feel it in the air, even though things are changing. Not too many places have that. When you arrive you feel, “Wow, I’m glad to be back.” Or when you leave you go, “Damn, I’m leaving.” Some places you can’t wait to get out of there, but Bali… man, you want to stay longer. There are not too many places in the world where visitors keep extending their tickets. “I want to stay one more week! Then one more week!” then next thing they’ve been there three months. Then they go “Well, I may as well move here.”

The place is crawling with Aussie expats who’ve totally forgotten to go home.
In Bali you don’t have to be a millionaire to feel like a millionaire, that’s the thing. In Bali you have a choice of living; if you want to be high class you can, and if you want local style, you can do that too. It’s all there, just depends on how you manage your money. If you want to go big then you get the most expensive villa and stay for a week. If you want to go cheap you can live here for months. The thing is you can choose how you want to live. You can’t do that many places. Definitely not Australia. It’s so expensive, especially if you eat out.

The land of the $50 breakfast.
That’s it. Coffee, breakfast, 50 bucks.

But the magic you can’t put your finger on, that even with all the development doesn’t seem to disappear. I think Westerners get here and tap into it straight away because they don’t have anything like it at home. Back at home any spirituality or faith or belief is almost hidden away and secretive, whereas in Bali it’s everywhere you look.
That’s right. The mana, the energy, it’s around everywhere. You see it in Bali everywhere you go, people put offerings on their bikes, they put offerings on their warungs, they put offerings at the beachs. People have so much respect for the gods and what they gave us. So that’s the thing with the Balinese; they’re very respectful with every part of their lives. They pray on their motorcycle, they pray at the beach. The belief. The Balinese have that energy you don’t have anywhere else in the world. Even the demons… you have good demons and bad demons. Good barong and bad barong, that’s part of life here. The white magic, the black magic and the belief in both of them. Full moon, new moon. To be Balinese Hindu is one of the hardest religions to follow… and the most expensive. All day the women make offerings, all day every day making offerings, buy the offerings, buy the flowers. That’s expensive. They have to be ready every day for the temples, then once a month on the full moon you have to make bigger offerings, and then there’s Nyepi. Then the Balinese every six months you have a birthday, not once a year, so you have all these kids and all these birthdays. To be Balinese Hindu can be expensive.

“Kuta used to be all these fields with coconuts and mangoes, all different fruit trees, papaya, banana. We had all this stash. We were like jungle boys. Now it,s full of beach umbrellas and people selling drinks and renting surfboards and surf schools everywhere. Full mainstream. Kuta looks like LA.”

Could Bronson be the first Indonesian to qualify for the World Tour? Kids got mad skillz! (Hammonds)

And hard work.
And a lot of sacrifice in time. I mean, it’s good, the Hindu religion is good, but a very hard religion, very disciplined.

Tell me about your place up in Java.
I have a place in Java, in Pacitan, Watu Karung. We’ve been there maybe nine years already. But slowly we’re building a getaway. People come to Bali to get away, but I go to Java to get away. Over there too I have special connection with that place, the energy there… when I go there even my wife feels it, she says it’s so nice and calm there. This is good, almost like a recharge, and more laidback because it’s a small fisherman village and everything is so green and nature is so beautiful there. The air fresh and you eat really well there. We get fresh fish every day and the village is very sustainable. Everything is there; vegetables, fish. We’re lucky to go there and bring up kids there. We try and build our getaway there, our retirement. Nice small bay, green water and blue, waves are pretty gnarly though. Depends on the tide; the left works on the lower tide and the right on the higher tide. I like it there because you don’t need to drive anywhere, just walk out the front of the house to get barrelled and the waves are gnarly. Almost like slabs. The right is almost like Soup Bowls in Barbados.

How often are you surfing Padang these days? That’s the wave we associate you most with.
Whenever it breaks and I’m in town. Padang is still one of my favourite waves in Bali. That’s where back in the day me and Switra just traded barrels all day… but now we share it with 150 people! But you know, when I go there and surf I just need three or four waves and I go in. I get my share from the boys. I just cherry pick. You don’t need a hundred waves, just three, but the good ones.

What about Outside Corner? You had the big boards out lately?
Last year I took my son to Outside Corner but we don’t surf it a lot because when the waves are good at Outside Corner we’ve already surfed Padang for four hours. But last year we paddled out there and I ate shit. It was eight-to-10 foot and I rode my 6’1” step-up and I was taking off under the lip. I was thinking I can take off under the lip and just do turns, but I forgot that Outside Corner has a lot of water moving, you know. Definitely you need the longer board to get in early. But Outside Corner has that vast feeling. When you look down from the cliff then you paddle out, you see all the corduroy lines, all the lines coming in from the ocean and you see the Uluwatu temple, it just has a different energy. The vibe of Uluwatu and Padang is totally different. It has this special beauty.

How much are the kids taught about old Bali?
We get taught history. In Indonesia we have 17,000 islands and five different religions and they taught us about all the other religions so we get respect for them. We get taught about old Indonesia and what it used to be. Java used to be the main island, everything comes out of Java, the temples… the biggest Buddhist temple is in Yogyakarta and that’s where it all started, before Indonesia was Indonesia. We get taught about all that history and get taught well in school. But these days the kids forget about their roots and the culture is starting to fade away. I think that’s the problem with global youth with the gadgets, because back in the day we had one TV and one channel, we had no choice to watch anything, but now kids watch whatever they want to see and no kid is watching TV these days. They’re watching their phones.

How’s fatherhood been for you?
It’s really good for me, taught me to be a better human, more patient. You don’t have a super short temper and you just need to breathe and let it all out. Especially with teenagers, man… they forget you used to change their diapers and wipe their bum and now they start talking back. They never listen to you and they think they’re smarter than you! They forget that we made them cool. We taught them everything. And we pay the bills! (Laughs).

How much of the year do you guys travel?
Yeah, we travel all over Indonesia, but we’re overseas a lot. The boys love the Gold Coast, love Snapper. There’s a lot of people at Snapper but they know if they want to be top surfers they have to deal with that bullshit, you know. The crowds and the cold, the bad waves. But to just expose them to different things, different cultures, different situation at an early age is good for them. We like Australia. We have been already this year, generally twice, three times to Australia every year.

Old Bali. (Hoole)

We hear a lot about the rubbish and plastic problem in Bali. Are you optimistic the Balinese can turn it around and clean the joint up?
Oh yeah, I think it takes time. Everywhere in the world has these problems, but the media like to put spotlight on Bali. Even Australia has it. Sure Australia is beautiful, but plastic is a global problem. We create the problem with plastic and single use plastic, but slowly the Balinese are figuring it out. They make the effort. A couple of months ago they made the biggest movement in Bali, they got everybody together on one Sunday and cleaned up the whole place. The problem is not the beach though, the problem is the streets and the rivers. It starts there, the beach is like the toilet, it flushes out into the ocean and that’s why you see the plastic in the ocean. Slowly we can fix it. Right now starting dry season, so the beach is getting clean again. Slowly the Indonesian people, they start understanding and the new government is really good too. They try to make big change. They’re cleaning out corruption and they’re arresting people and sending them to jail.

I like the style of Widodo.
He’s good. He’s going to places like Roti that no president ever go to, so the money is spread, so the love is spread. It’s not just Java or Bali. He don’t talk a lot but he’s out there doing it.

In amongst all the madness of Bali today where do you find little magic moments of Old Bali?
Those moments always there. Especially if you live there you know where to go. You watch the wind and just go. Me and my kid surfing on our own. We get barrelled. You still get them. No one paddling around you. No one hassling you. Just the moment you go to Uluwatu and the moment the old grandma remembers you from all those years ago. The classic moment, that’s all still there.

How’s your scooter game?
I’m really good at scooter; that’s my whole life before. I remember I start making money from surfing I put all that money into my scooter to make go faster – 120cc to 150 to 180. Just extra boost. I was crazy with the scooter; new engine, paint it different colours. Back then the road was not much traffic, not like today, so you can go really fast. Today every hundred metres you stop in traffic. Back then you could go as fast as you like and the only problem was the dog. Dog cross the road and you eat shit. Now you have to watch Aussies and backpackers and hipsters with all their pimped up bikes and bad tattoos.

What’s next for you guys?
We’re going to Roti next week. My son Varun is shooting a big movie about surfing. It’s the first movie in Indonesia in the cinema about surf and this guy is one of the biggest directors. He’s making this movie called Saya Berlari Ke Pantai, which means I’m Running to the Beach. The story is about two family; this girl who grew up on the beach on Roti, and one live in the city in Jakarta. The girl from Roti visits them and takes them on a road trip from Jakarta to G-Land. They stopped at our place in Pacitan to film and it’s going to be a beautiful movie. My son Varun is one of the actors. That’s his first movie. One of the girls has a crush on him. He’s teaching her how to surf.

Sean Doherty