Like all islands, the land mass that makes up Bali is in a constant state of collision with the surrounding ocean in a never-ending contest of the elements. And somehow, as with so many other natural phenomena on this dream-like island, this eternal collision between the land and the sea seems more dramatic and spectacular here in Bali than it is in other, less magical parts of the planet.
This ageless interaction is at its most intense on the Bukit Peninsula, a great, round lump of land that protrudes into the ocean on the south coast of Bali. The Bukit is an area of low hills surrounded by a formidable wall of cliffs towering up some 100m from the sea — like the defensive walls of a medieval castle. To the southwest the ocean is open all the way to Antarctica, and it is from here that great sea swells come rolling in to crash with unabated ferocity against these castle walls. It’s a coastline of thunder and tumult, stubborn land forms and a relentlessly pounding sea — all making for the spectacular discharge of powerful natural energies.
None of this has been lost on the Balinese who, being spiritually hypersensitive, have for a long time regarded the area as being of a very special religious significance.
One particular point on the Bukit juts out a little further than the rest, a jagged promontory that takes the first impact of the incoming waves. Balinese mystics and devotees have been coming here for centuries to meditate on the great force of the ocean, so inevitably it became the site of one of the most impressive temples on the whole island: Pura Luhur Ulu Watu.
Then, in the 1970s, Ulu Watu was discovered by devotees of a different type: international surfers. In what must have been a moment of near-religious revelation, a group of visiting surfers came to this desolate coast and saw to their amazement that rather than crashing bluntly onto the cliffs, the waves hit a submerged reef and broke in long, hollow, perfectly peeling lines. In what seemed no time at all Ulu Watu became a legend in the surfing world, synonymous with almost impossibly perfect crystal tubes, and the dream pilgrimage of wave riders from Malibu to Manly. It was soon discovered that the whole Bukit area of Bali had magnificent waves — though none quite matching the undiluted purity of Ulu. Indeed, the opening up of the Bukit led to surfer-explorers fanning out across the whole island, and up and down the archipelago.
It’s one thing to admire the power and grace of these waves, another to actually ride them. This is Indonesian reef surf at it’s most uncompromising. The rips and cross currents are strong, the impact of the waves is fierce and if you get pounded onto the reef you’ll receive very severe lacerations. Several very good surfers have died here. But if you’re up to it, you can pull into some of the most exhilarating, awesome tube rides in the world, and plug your whole body directly into the magically-charged energy that makes this place so special to the Balinese.