I first met Balinese ripper Wayan “Betet” Merta at a mysto left-hand point-break in Malaysia. The discovery of those 2-foot-high glassy tubes peeling along the sand bottom left-point set-up made me feel like I was living a day in the life of intrepid surf explorers Craig Peterson and Kevin Naughton. The spot also served as my gateway to go to Indonesia for the first time. Betet and Bali-based filmmaker, Pete Matthews, were cool enough to invite me to visit their home. “Come to Bali,” said Betet. “We’ll go surf. Wave are so good.”
Within a couple days of arriving in Bali, Betet’s father passed away. The heaviest thing for me was Betet really wanted me to come to the cremation ceremony. We had only known each other for a matter of days, but he welcomed me into his family’s home to participate in the elaborate observance.
Donning a traditional sarong and headdress, the all-day event was one of the most intense and culturally enlightening experiences of my life. The culmination of the ritual was the open casket, open to the public, cremation at the beach in Kuta. Assorted sunburned, fannypack-toting Euro tourists pushed their way though the crowd of family members and friends and proceeded to shoot video and snap digital photos of the cremation – literally taking photos of the flesh being burnt. The weird thing is that nobody from the family seemed to mind these apparent intruders. That’s when I began to realize I was among an extremely welcoming and tolerant culture.
After a few days, the solemn aura of the funeral subsided and I began noticing nearly everyone in Bali had this great habit of flashing huge, beautiful smiles -just like Betet did that day while surfing the left in Malaysia. I began experimenting with it – trying to find someone who wouldn’t smile back at me. Four months went by and all I could find was isles of smiles for miles.
It’s been a pleasure hanging out with the current generation of core Bali locals – or Bali Boyz as they call themselves – guys like Betet, Rizal Tanjung, Lee Wilson, Made “Bol” Adi Putra, and Marlon Gerber who all grew up surfing together. Along with an army of stoked local groms, the Bali Boyz are unquestionably pushing the progression of surfing via their abundant natural resource of highly-shreddable waves. Additionally, a steady flow of visiting international A-list surfers provides unparalleled inspiration. “I’m pretty stoked with Bali Boyz now,” said Betet. “We have great waves and all the pros come here and hang out with us.”