CANGGU Eat Pray F&#k
SOUND BITES FROM BALI’S FREEDOM FRONTIER
CANGGU IS ALL ON ITS OWN.
Once a surfing outpost, now a colony, it’s been cut off. The natural disaster known as tourism, combined with a total lack of civil infrastructure to handle it, has resulted in geographical isolation due to snarled traffic. From Kuta to Canggu, once minutes, is now a bad hour of breathing near pure carbon monoxide. This traffic is a result of a massive exodus of adventurers, scoundrels, criminals, dreamers and vegans who have forged Canggu into the most outlandish surfing community in the world. Astonishingly usurping the Holy Grail of Uluwatu as Bali’s prime surf destination. Canggu has morphed into a miasma of every surfing creed, colour and philosophy drawn to its perceived promised land of cool where any surfer on earth can re-invent themselves. Or get blown away by the cops in broad daylight. Just like a western madman did recently when he went troppo and attacked the police. The sun does shit to people here. And all of this action minus the symmetrical, blue offshore dream tunnels that have made Indonesia every surfer’s fantasy. Canggu, a steaming hot beach break zone with brown silty rice paddy run-off seas and dark, volcanic sand that can burns the soles off water buffalo. A surf zone that is a bouncy castle for aerialists and a Renaissance Faire for retro riders. Canggu, the petri dish of restored western grooviness, art, fashion, food, multi-nation sexual opportunity and rampant development. Complete with the subsequent environmental and cultural disaster that such prosperity demands. But despite it long being ground zero for the surfing hipster movement, the prime destination of the diaspora of those who long for “the way we were”, Canggu is now reaching critical mass. Like a run-over Ibiza with rice, a place like this can only maintain its cool for so long. Today, the business of Canggu is business. And the dark, cumulonimbus of over-saturation are fast approaching from the horizon.
DUSTIN HUMPHREY, DIRECTOR OF DEUS EX MACHINA INDONESIA, FATHER, PHOTOGRAPHER, FILM MAKER, PROVOCATEUR.
I talked to Dustin in his office which overlooks the Deus Ex Machina “Temple of Enthusiasm”. A nouveau rustic compound which accommodates a restaurant, a surf shop, an art gallery, a skate ramp, shaping bays, a surfboard factory, a photo studio, a barbershop and a custom motorcycle garage. A site that since its inception has been more responsible for the alternative surf scene in Canggu than any other. Mostly due to Humphrey’s vision of a gentler, cooler surfing world. One that belongs in the upper echelons of human achievement and art. And he’s damn near achieved it. Deus truly is a temple, complete with a royal courtyard that serves as both mini-music stadium and amphitheatre for such guest speakers who vary from Bob Mctavish to Alex Knost. From where I sat I could see people swanning into a retail space that looks more like a hall in the Museum of Modern Art. Elegant wine coloured alternative surfboards, juxtaposed against a phalanx of enviably customised motorcycles. The scent of surf wax and chain lube go hand in hand at Deus.
“Why has Canggu become what it is? Because it looks so easy to live here. But it isn’t. You gotta be somebody with something, anything, to offer or it just doesn’t work. Why is Canggu filled with so many so creative minds? A couple reasons. Ubud has always been Bali’s creative artist’s hub and there was a migration from there of people who wanted to surf here. Also, longboarding was possible in the waves out here so it attracted that crowd and then the alternative board crowd and these are generally creative people who make creative commitments way beyond the thruster crowd. Cool people just wanted to live here and do cool shit. Canggu holds that possibility. Like the American wild west back in the day. Adventurers came here to be self-made. And it happened”.
“Deus has had a defining influence on Canggu, sure. Basically because after years of documenting frantic surfing, the longboarding and the 60’s and 70’s influences of a slower, cooler surfing just plain appealed to me. Watching those different lines from back then for the first time made me want to get into what I was really into. A more artful surfing scene”.
“And the biggest influence of all is the waves. The waves here talk to more people than the danger tubes. It’s the waves above all that have dictated the creative vibe of Canggu. I mean, just this morning, Ayok, one of our local Balinese riders, just ordered a 5’2” fish and a 9’8” longboard. You wouldn’t find that anywhere else in Indonesia”.
I GEDE ARYA EKA WIRA (AYOK) DHARMA, DEUS TEAM RIDER, MEMBER OF THE CANGGU SURF COMMUNITY BOARDRIDERS, TOP LOCAL SURFER, SURFBOARD RENTAL OWNER, ACTIVIST, DREAMER.
I sat with Ayok in the Deus restaurant. Lunch hour was booming. From where I sat you could see the grooviest people on earth. My God, the hair. Braided, beaded, ponytailed, slicked, shaven, bunned. And the jewellery … love beads to tantric yoga river stones to diamonds and sweat stained leather medallions. And the pants, bell bottoms to peggers, tans to gossamer scarves. All thrift store-inspired and sold for top dollar. A beat up Fedora costs a local a month’s wage.
Ayok and I were sharing an organic Buddha Bowl salad, Canggu also now having established itself as a culinary Eden. With hundreds of innovative restaurants popping up like the very mushrooms they sauté over liquid nitrogen. Just where everybody finds their chia seeds in this world of rice remains a mystery, but over Ayok’s shoulder I could see a pair of developers, Italian shoes, architect plans laid out on the hood of a rover, pointing to and discussing the giant cafeteria pizza joint that was going up right against the wall next to Deus. It was to be built over one of the last rice paddy lots available and would change forever the emotional landscape of what is the hottest three-way corner in Canggu. Where Deus once ruled like a lone fort in a groomed rice paddy, now all the action on the strip has caught up and moved in right next door.
“It’s hard to talk about it. Talking about the bad things will never end, but it’s good for our local people business. Lots of money from everybody in the world. But at night, it’s a bit too much now. It disturbs the spirits. It’s harder and harder to hear the quiet and the voices from the rice paddies and the temples that are so important to the peace of this place. The spirits used to whisper; now they have to yell to be heard.
That is shame for me. I have a big hope that I was born earlier”.
“Now there is easier work than rice, more money. But I feel sad for the young local people that wake up in the morning and see everybody drunk trying to get home. Like that is normal life. Money life. We need their wallets … but this is my village? Drunk party people that speak many different languages but never ours?”
“We found naked people in our temple on the beach on top of each other. We beat them with bamboo poles. Or people peeing on the Temple walls. We bring them to the police. Would you find that in a church back in Germany or Russia or wherever they come from? Bali people are welcoming, but not to arrogant people”.
As we stepped outside after our talk, I thought of that necessary silence. Now the soundtrack to Canggu is club music and jackhammers. I looked across a dusty, litter strewn parking lot to yet another club. This one, with a cowboy theme that features sexy local women swinging from the roof on western saddles. Next door to that an old building is being demolished with a wrecking ball.
The rumoured site of Canggu’s first McDonalds.
It’s an innocent looking place. Until you look closer.
In Canggu, the urban, hotel, business, private and rice field drainage, a mini Roman aqueduct, is ancient and open and pungent and polluted and it runs parallel to most of the narrow roads here. There are no kerbs. These ditches run anywhere from three to six feet deep and wreak havoc with the endless flow of scooters, custom motorcycles, taxis, Ubers and tinted windowed SUVs that snake around what’s left of the rice paddies. Get beered up and get loose in some gravel as a first time rental scooter pilot and it’s over. A trip to the sketchy hospital and then home. If you’re lucky.
Gerhard Engelbrecht wasn’t. A friend of mine. A good natured South African photographer and full time philosopher. He was not a tall man, but he looked it. Long sunburnt hair, unkempt goatee, startling clear, blue eyes. And that strong accent. A good surfer and an even better photographer. He was loved here. He seemed to embody what Canggu was all about for the less wealthy live-in expats. Fit, cool looking, connected to the place. Good company. The kind of guy that no matter how tough you think you were, you could not help but smile when you saw him. The locals called him friend. Not boss, like the rest of us. Right down to his amulets and cutbacks, Gerhard was part of Canggu. And like most here, he was not afraid of late, late night beers at any of the late, late night clubs. Come to think of it, like most South Africans, I don’t think he was afraid of anything. Except maybe love.
He seemed to have been having a lot of trouble in that department. God knows why. He looked like a scruffy supermodel, just shorter. But on the twelfth of February, 2016, like a warning shot across Canggu’s bow, the dreadful news spread. In the very early hours, Gerhard Englebrecht had been found dead. Under his motorcycle, in the ditch that runs smack dab through the main drag. A catastrophic crash. It was easy to see how it could happen, considering the chaos of the nightlife here and total lack of road rules or signs. Part of the charm of the place. The thing is, nobody thought it could happen like this. Not in a place like this. Not to him. Not to them. Not to anyone. But it can. And it did. There was a brief flurry of dark rumours, of a love triangle gone bad, a promise unfulfilled, money issues with the wrong people, the booze, the sun, the weather, the language, the rules, the heat, the sweat, any number of things that can get any expat into real trouble here. The things that can drain you. The things that do drain you. From mosquitos to neck shattering motorcycle crashes. The things that can drain you, tire you, if you choose to settle far from your blood home and come to the equator. One has to remember that in Bali. Always. You don’t live here. You survive here. You don’t have any rights, just privileges. And any broken local trusts can send you reeling for the airport. Or worse.
None of these darker rumours stuck for long on Gerhard Engelbrecht. Memories of his smile diluted them within a week. Probably just another great night, full of laughter, sorrow and beer. And a drainage ditch on the way home. This ditch. Waiting like fate in the pink glow of another drunken Bali dawn.
So here I was, a year and a half later, just outside the Deus Temple of Enthusiasm. Surrounded by the traffic and the construction and the growth of Canggu going about its mighty business of chic commerce. I was looking down into an ancient ditch that has run through this patch of land for hundreds of years. The place where my friend died. That warning shot I mentioned? It slowed things way down for about a week. People went home earlier, drank less for a while. Oh, it was a warning alright. To everybody. Out here it’s not go big or go home. It’s go big and get home.
At about six feet deep, I suppose that ditch did resemble a grave.
I dropped a single flower into it. A handful of dirt.
Getting on my motorcycle, I kept to the middle of the road. Another law of the jungle.
MEN AND WOMEN
Unlike the “Hell Zone” of neighbouring Kuta, overseen by the 2002 bombing memorial, you won’t find many “working girls” cruising the streets of Canggu. For the darker, danker experiences of professional sex, one must make the journey to Bali’s ground zero down in Kuta. Cheaper too. Out in Canggu the pick up scene is much more European. Still, men don’t save any money seeking the end result. Canggu is an expensive date. Far more western couples out in Canggu as well. Surfing side by side on alternative surfboards, making a go of it. But Gary “Gazza” Kilpatrick, a visitor I ran into, had this to say:
“Yeah mate, plenty of one nighters out here in Canggu, mate. The party circuit. Euros looking to sleep with different accents and Aussies just scrounging a root. Still cost the same though, when you look at it. To scrounge a root here, drinks, the chit chat, the hours you gotta put in. Kuta is the release valve for that bullshit. At least there you pay up front and it’s all over in less than an hour. Hit the surf early, mate”. I ran into an old friend, Rod Robertson, a Qantas pilot out of Brisbane. A concerned father, he was paying his daughter a surprise visit for her birthday. He had this to say: “I show up and some long haired, giant Russian surfer with Moscow Mafia Tattoos is ploughing my daughter silly? What is this place?”
The sheer number of surf camps in Canggu can be dizzying. Most of them catering to a separate nationality. On any day it seems every flag on earth is represented out in the water. Flotillas of women on soft-tops, empowering themselves. There is a Korean women’s camp, a Japanese, a German, a Russian and even one that caters to lesbians. This influx of women active in the surf and clubs adds to the sexual opportunity. At a Korean BBQ joint, another element was explained to me by Mieni Khim, the foxy owner, bra-less, super-lite tee shirt, her breasts a startling challenge to anyone brave enough to take the shot.
“The women get the best of it out here in Canggu. Surfers are the best looking crowd in the world right now. And they are simple minded and single minded and totally accessible. We just show up and look like prey. But we are not the prey. They are.”
As an example of the bohemian lifestyle here, consider this conversation I witnessed outside of the popular new beach side open-air nightclub. A woman who appeared to be a Russian supermodel was locked in an argument with what appeared to be a French fashion photographer. His hair was done up in a man bun. You will have to imagine the accents. The photographer was on a scooter with two boards in the rack. A seven-foot single fin snout nose and a little chocolate coloured fish design with half moon fins. They were both this side of drunk. Woman: “I’m a creative! I need visuals to understand love! What is love? You want to sleep with me? Sleep? You go to sleep, I’m not tired! You wanna fuck? Give me a visual of it, I need the visual” Man: “Merde”. Woman: “What? What? Are you glupyy?” Man: “Non”. Just then two Aussies surfers swerve up on scooters. Probably there to take advantage of the three for one ladies drinks special that the couple had obviously been enjoying. Prime time for a hunter. The two Aussies, half drunk as well, are staring at the supermodel. It’s impossible not to. Her macramé outfit is way better than nude, her love beads hanging to her knees. She has small shiny stars glued to her face, increasing her celestial looks. It goes quiet for few seconds. The Aussies mouths were open. Then the woman addressed the Aussies.
Woman: “You like to fuck me? Give me visual. Visual. I am a creative”. To the Aussies it was like a shot of buckshot into a tree full of blackbirds. The short one recovered first.
Aussie surfer: “Outdoors? … in warm mud?… under tonight’s full moon?”. The woman looks at the photographer. Shows her teeth. Grabs her chocolate fish design from the photographer’s scooter and hops on the back of the Aussie’s scooter, slinging one slender arm around his waist.
Woman: “We go”. And they did.
DAMEA DORSEY, SURF PHOTOGRAPHER, BARBER
You gotta see it to believe it. Damea Dorsey has chiselled out one of the coolest places on earth. An authentic, old time barber shop and tattoo parlour. Complete with straight razor shaves and antique sailor tattoos. The go-to place if you are going to keep up with the latest tonsorial crazes that sweep through Canggu like wildfire. On the walls of the shop hang photos of famous movie stars, Marilyn, Bogey, Pacino. But each Photo Shopped with the tattoos.
“What is the draw for all the pros? Julian, Parko, you know, everybody? The variety of waves and the easy airs all within the area of a football field. I can shoot here every day. And you never know who’s going to paddle out. But it has been an avalanche these past few years. It used to be the place to get away from it all and get a few guaranteed shots. But now its so crowded … I mean, obviously when you work with great surfers, they know how to get the job done, but it’s work now. But so what? You know something is going right in a community when you see hundreds of beautiful girls from all over the world cruising around with surfboards on their scooters and flowers in their hair.”
Graffiti seen brush-painted on the plywood fence blocking the beach and a giant section of Canggu waterfront in anticipation of yet another super resort. Rumours are that a 25-foot sheer wall will surround the complex all the way to the water. Sand from Hawaii is being shipped in so that the beach won’t be a hotplate of black sand. Enormous fans are rumoured to be in place to emulate a sea breeze. All this to make a more comfortable beach for the resort’s strict, head-to-toe jihab wearing Sharia Muslim female clients and their families.
The graffiti reads: “Pardon the inconvenience but Bali is under construction.”
TAI GRAHAM PRO SURFER, BILLABONG AMBASSADOR, CLUB OWNER, MUSICIAN.
Half Maori, half British, all Bali, Tai is the hottest ex-pat surfer on the island and has been for some time. Frontside, backside, fearless in big waves. But it is the fact that Bali has figured so deeply in his life since his mother moved here when he was seven-years-old that gets most. Fluent in local languages and slangs, he has managed to carve out a realm like no other here. A part owner of two of the hottest clubs on the island, through his friendships he maintains his credibility by being the real deal when he hits the water. The main impression you get from Tai? This is a guy that knows exactly what he’s doing here and exactly who he is.
“Things change and people change with them. That’s the way of the world, mate. Canggu used to be jungle and people had to eat. So it was carved into rice paddies and people still had to eat. Now, it’s evolved into a great place to live and surf, and people still need to eat. It’s easy to sit there and complain about all that is going on here, but it’s just an evolution. And in many ways the best kind. Local kids are going to better schools, better hospitals, healthier, stronger, wealthier. A better future than back breaking work under the sun up to your knees in the mud for pennies? You wouldn’t want a better world for your kids? And their kids? Bullshit.”
“The Pollution is a big problem for sure. For all of us. I don’t think we’ll ever stop the development here. We live a great lifestyle. The pollution is something we can all deal with and stop. It will be dealt with. It’s just a matter of time.”
“My beach club, The Lawn, when designing it I wanted you to be able to look in from the surf and feel like it was meant to be there, like a nice Warung. I wanted it to feel like Bali. Not Sydney, not Mykonos, not Miami. I can paddle out in the water and look back at it and be proud. It blends in. At least some of us are paying attention”.
Main: Hard-partying hedonists, hipsters, hippys and pro surfing heavyweights – the black sands of Canggu play host to them all.
Inset Left: Full house at The Temple of Enthusiasm. Inset Right: Brand influence – Is it Canggu or Deus beach?
Above: Ayok is comfortable dipping his toes on any kind of craft. Inset: Like other locals, Ayok, must claim his place amongst a menagerie of Canggu interlopers.
Below: Girl on the grind.
Top: The chair of reinvention awaits at Damea Dorsey’s barber shop/tattoo parlour.Opposite: Marlon Gerber with a delicate blade shave of the upper lip.
Main: Dynamic operator, Tai Graham, out the front of his bar, The Lawn. Photo: Damea Dorsey Inset: Tai drifting off the bottom at his local – the sandbar lefts.