Reflections from Bali: Waves, the Great Equalizer

Dustin Turin // Bali, Indonesia — All surfers embrace exploration: ‘the search,’ as it has been called, is ingrained in every wave rider’s DNA. It means ‘the search’ for better waves, ‘the search’ for empty lineups, ‘the search’ for places untouched and unknown and waiting to be explored. ‘The search’ is a point of pilgrimage with no final location, always moving one bend at a time up the coast.

Bali is most definitely a point along the well-trodden path of surf pilgrimage, a mecca surrounded in an accompanying myth and mysticism. It is certainly not unknown, or — unfortunately — untouched, but for every surfer who has never been, it is still waiting to be explored. The waves here feel unreal to the experience of surfers raised in the cold Northeast. Long period groundswell is nearly constant, the coast is ringed with reefs that produce perfect waves in practically all conditions, and the wind amazes with its ability to disappear for days on end.


Surfing in a place like Bali, in the crowded and competitive lineups of Uluwatu, Keramas, or Bingin, can be a humbling, inspiring, and frustrating experience, or more likely, all three simultaneously. But being in the water here is also a reminder of one of surfing’s best qualities: that is, waves are the ultimate equalizer.

There are few places of such diversity as a lineup here in Bali: men and women of every nationality, from every social background and economic class, of all ages and ethnicities; all sit side-by-side here. There is only one thing that matters in the water: the waves and your ability to ride them. Tattooed Australians next to the sun-burned Irish next to frothing Japanese, all floating through throngs of smiling locals. Doctors paddle out next to the unemployed and an occasional scooter mechanic schools your financial adviser on the art of riding waves. Respect is the only currency that matters and it is earned in the purest meritocracy on the planet.


This little lesson in equality is certainly at the heart of ‘sport’ as a fundamentally human act, but there is something about surfing that makes it feel even more special. Perhaps it is the fact that the arena for this sport is so vast and totally outside our ability to control, or the fact that although we may all be sitting next to each other in the lineup, we’re really always surfing alone. When the horizon transforms from serene calm to thundering might, when the rest of the world fades into irrelevance for the brief moment of each passing wave’s final breath, it is hard to feel anything but small. And when we see ourselves as small, the differences between us become all but imperceptible.

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