Dirty Kuta getting a little of its old shine back. | Photo: Matt George

Dispatch from Bali #3: “Totally empty Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Impossibles, Keramas, all the bigs; the cops in Pandang, meanwhile, have the Mentwai charter world in a chokehold!”

"This is like the Bali Bombing all over again. But this time it's the Chinese. Are they going to pay us all back for letting this thing escape?"

Wave wise, you don’t have to imagine what Bali was like 100 years ago.

It’s like that right now.

Totally empty Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Impossibles, Keramas, all the bigs.

Shut down.

Although I am still trying to convince authorities that I am only trying to look after my health by going surfing. I have promised to run down the beach and into the water and then run home when I am done.

Which is as normal behavior for me as washing my hands a coupla times a day anyway.

And to say nothing of the cosmic connection of well being.

Imagine the authorities…uh…concern when I describe surfing thus: “Gentlemen, it just may be that through surfing, deep in the elemental magma of our souls, we have tapped into one of those rare acts on earth that allows man a true atavism; an opportunity to return and to touch, if just for a euphoric moment on the face of a rushing wave, the primal relationship man shares with the living mass of his origin.”


Yes, well.

Anyway, the authorities ain’t buying it.

Just like the cops in Padang, West Sumatra who have the entire Mentawai charter world in a chokehold.

I also took a spin around the Bukit Peninsula to get a vibe and figured out that the Bingin locals have got it made.

Unlike Uluwatu’s sprawling metropolis, the Bingin locals, who all live cliffside, may be suffering from lack of tourists, but certainly not a lack of waves. Hard enough to find for a tourist already, now that the road blocks are up around Bingin, locals like Betet Merta are surfing in a time warp on the most symmetrically shaped small natural wave in the world spilling over an absolutely flawlessly shaped reef.

Three guys out in that natural wave machine.

Man oh man.

Other than that, to get a take on what our top surfluencers are thinking about all this Covid 19 business, I reached out to them in their quarantines.

Here are a few of their thoughts.

Betet Merta, pro surfer, on individuality:

Why do we have to be like everyone else? We do it our way. Bali people have been though so much forever without this social media. Panic is not good. Why do we have to follow the rest of the world? If the surf pumps, nothing will stop us.

Marek Smith, surfer, bar owner, on philosophy:

Covid 19 is the wake-up morality pill of Morpheus. Transcendent in inept structures now left as paper shields.

Wayan Susiana, cafe owner surfer, on murder:

During the rainy season I am more worried about dengue with my family. At least with dengue you can see and kill the enemy.

Lorca Lueras, archivist, surfer, on breatholds:

The world is going through a two-wave hold-down right now. All we can do is persevere

Marlon Gerber, pro surfer, on conspiracy:

I think it’s a big hoax with a bigger picture behind it.

Sima Rai, pro surfer, on money:

I feel anxious about whether I will be able to protect my family. My money loss. And long-term lifestyle for poor people.

Name withheld, ding repairman, surfer, on blame:

No tourists no money. This is like the Bali Bombing all over again. But this time it’s the Chinese. Are they going to pay us all back for letting this thing escape?

Jannos Amsters, sailor, surfer, on vacation:

I just hope it all blows over before everybody gets whamm-oed. Nice being at sea though, away from it all.

Five different expats, surfers, on fear:

No comment for fear of immigration reprisals

Mick Curley, photographer, surfer, Father of two, on sex:

Nice to see the environment getting a break. Letting her catch her breath. Also nice to see this thing boost family values. Its your choice how your family handles this. I am staying positive, doing positive things. Like right now I am going to massage my wife. You understand that positive actions bring positive outcomes?

Rick Bison, musician, surfer:

Can only say that my one year old is priority number one. Should I send him up in a balloon?

Mustafa Jeksen, pro surfer, on prayer:

It’s pretty simple. Help your country, help your family. And pray for surf.

Pete Jackson, photographer, surfer, on risk:

Watch out for those goddamn street sprayers. What’s in that shit anyway? It’s like to burn the skin off the back of my hands.

Fabian, healer, surfer, on purpose:

Time to slow down and really reflect on what our real purpose her on earth is.

Mark Clift, surfing judge, pro surfer, on the Aussie way:

Fuck this thing.

Marshello, Lifeguard, surfer, on the modern world:

Whatever happens today has happened many times before. The only difference is we have newer technology. But is that a good thing?

Andy Johnson, hotel owner, surfer, on the obvious:

Livelihoods of millions sacrificed to make the one per centers even more powerful and rich. It’s so obvious.

Dede Suryana, pro surfer, surf shop owner, on fishing:

Rasa khawatir dalam setiap kegiatan yang melibatkan orang lain. Takut memberikan virus atau terkena virus corona dari orang lain. Tidak bisa berbuat banyak kecuali diam di rumah dan ini akan berakhir sampai kapan?! Sekarang saya memulai bercocok tanam sebagai bekal.

And fishing

Raditya Gondi, pro surfer, on self identity:

I am so scared I cannot surf. If I do not surf, who am I?

Eric Lee, boat captain, surfer, on Pangolins:

I don’t think I’m religious but Karma cannot allow the way humans treat the earth and each other. I say this on behalf if the Pangolin community that shares this planet earth with us.

Nick Auklor, Pro surfer, fitness guru, on surf media:

What’s BeachGrit?

Listen: “24/7 should’ve treated Kelly Slater as an insane person like Tiger King. Every year that passes he gets more and more weirdly fascinating”

One hour of levity for these troubled times…

I ain’t no broadcaster.

This you’ll learn very early in a weekly conversational piece Chas and I are kicking live every Sunday night, in Australia, Saturday morning in the US, called Dirty Water.

There’s no need to bore the reader with a litany of my public frailties, the weak voice, the unformed thoughts, for these become immediately obvious. Instead, we promise when you’re in our company although you may have moments of irritation you will never be bored.

And we hope that means a great deal.

We begin with discourse on the nature of the Emmy nominated Kelly Slater documentary for 24/7.

“We haven’t reached peak Kelly yet and every year that passes he gets more and more weirdly fascinating,” says Chas. “This HBO 24/7 should’ve been peak Kelly. And that’s the damn thing. They should’ve figured out, we don’t have an athlete on our hands, we have an insane person like the Tiger King.”

Note: Chas is yet to see film, although you can watch trailer here.

I preach to Chas the limitless thrills bodysurfing gifts and ask, “Have you seen the Keith Malloy movie Come Hell or High Water?”

“I mean, no!’ he says. “Bodysurfing is for four year olds and insane people.”

Watch trailer here.

We veer into Matt Biolos’ hunt for Commies, read this for background, hear Chas’ cuckold fantasies with Biolos’ bête noire Gavin Newsom and his “delicious dick”, we discuss whether or not Matt George will ever be accepted by BeachGrit readers, talk about our Filipe Toledo movie that’s never been released and bookend the conversation with a Kelly Slater singalong, including Trouble and Never.

Listen to the original below.

Before you press the button, beware that this will be an hour of your life you will never be able to retrieve; time that may prove vital in these foreshortened days.
*Also available to listen on Spotify and Stitcher

Chas Smith (left) and Erik Logan in happier times when touching was allowed. Very annoying.
Chas Smith (left) and Erik Logan in happier times when touching was allowed. Very annoying.

Coronavirus Miracle: World Surf League CEO Erik Logan recognizes error of his ways, buys a “shortboard!”

Congratulations are in order.

And it is now time, past time even, to consider the silver linings peeking out from the edges of this Coronavirus Cloud. We have established the disease itself, crafted in China, is neither funny nor fun but the ensuing chaos has created moments of gorgeous human tenderness, of self-reflection.

Regarding the latter, I know the times in my life that I’ve felt near death have caused me to question my personal choices. In Beirut, for example, during the 2006 war, I was wearing horrible jeans when my friend Josh and I were commandeered by Hezbollah, t-shirts over heads, Kalashnikovs to temples, bloody dungeon, extremely menacing interrogator etc.

From the exciting new book, Reports from Hell (pre-order here) when I was in that bloody dungeon, pondering my future…

I think about the state of my own jeans and am profoundly disappointed. It is not the look I want. I don’t want to be wearing bellbottoms, and now I’m wearing bellbottoms and a baby doll dress. I look like a well-to-do girl from Connecticut who snuck off to Woodstock.

The baby doll dress wasn’t my fault. That Hanes T-shirt fit well before the sweat and stress and stretching. The bellbottoms are, though, and it makes me rethink the boot cut entirely. I was all in on bootcut, my look of choice, but now that I see how easily they’ve been turned into bellbottoms I’m sad and disgusted with myself.

Imagine if this takes a hard turn and we do end up getting tortured. Imagine how horrible I’ll feel, blood gushing out on my bellbottoms. Blood spurting all over my bellbottoms. The afterschool special warning kids off of misguided surf adventures airing on Al Gore’s Current TV will feature Josh and me. He will be getting tortured in straight-legged black jeans, and I will be getting tortured in the next room looking like Benny Andersson from ABBA.

And in the same exact way, I think that World Surf League CEO has used these scary times to re-think his troubling embrace of the standup paddle board. You know, well, that he has been very proud of an embarrassing canoe-adjacent pastime, a colorful Instagram filled with self-portraits featuring standup paddle boards and other longer things.

That same Instagram, today, revealed Lord Commander Erik Logan took delivery of a 6’2 custom Electrical Ninja from very fine shaper Ryan Harris while also providing instructions on how to take delivery of surfboards whilst maintaining social distance.

Now, since our Erik Logan measures in at 5’6 his 6’2 is officially considered a mid length but still, pointy, proper and paddle-free.


Something we can celebrate alone together.


Very much yes.

The biz that never sleeps.

Dispatch from Bali #2: “I do not see one single Indonesian citizen, other than the hookers, male, female and in-between”

Meanwhile, at J-Bay, South Africa, two gnarly Afrikaner cops with bullwhips stand as a gauntlet in front of the keyhole…

So I am sitting out front of the Best Western Mini Mart, wiping my bottle of warm beer down with a baby wipe.

I happen to be looking through the rickety bamboo beach closure barriers and out at the empty line-up of “halfway”. The spot where every single famous Indonesian surfer in history rode their first wave (and to this day, much to the chagrin of funky visitors, still surf it with the same enthusiasm).

Near me is the most infamous surf photographer in the world. He’s working the neck of his bottle with a baby wipe too.

We are both thinking that it’s not such a bad thing, this lockdown. It’s like a Global Nyepi Day.

Which, by the way, just ended here on the island.

The ceremony where you must stay indoors, shut out the lights and reflect on your life for 24 hours or get thrown in the slammer. Except this year, as mentioned before, Nyepi was government decreed to be 48 hours.

Hence the need for a beer in front of the Best Western Mini Mart as soon as we were able to roll away the stones from our self-quarantined dwellings.

The first places to open were the mini-marts. Seems everybody could use a bag of potato chips and an ice cream bar after all that reflection. Warm beer too (The fridges were on self-quarantine as well).

This afternoon, the infamous photographer and I are watching a trickle of people making their way down to the empty beach past the Happy Face Surf School billboard. Some triathlete guy in a pair of sluggos and goggles, a super skinny longboarder (is this a pre-requisite these days, or is it because that kind of physique combined with those short shorts remind us of Stephie?).

A pair of Russians bodyboarders strolled by.


You know they are Russian because they carry their bodyboards like AK-47’s and are peppered with those scary tattoos you see in all those movies about Russian assassins. These guys never have to worry about social distancing, ever. No one wants to go anywhere near them on a good day.

There are a few pedestrians out, dodging antiseptic spray trucks and the hungry hookers who are zooming around on their scooters looking for the lonely. Both male, female and in between.

The hookers, I mean.

I do not see one single Indonesian citizen, other than the hookers, out and about.

The Indonesian devout know the rules, respect their beliefs and stick to them.

There is a reason this island has never fallen to a foreign power even though Bali has never had a military.

Unlike the asshole American the other day who wanted to “exercise his personal rights” by going to the beach on Nyepi day. He looked pretty chastened when he was roped in chains and thrown like raw meat into a cell of mouth watering criminals at the Hotel K.

The photographer six feet away from me was telling me about what was going on over at J-Bay in South Africa.

He owns some apartments there that he rents out to the LOST team during the contests (Hoping against hope they don’t burn them down or graffiti clever slogans on the walls).

Anyway, he’s telling me the a big J-Bay swell is coming but the beaches are shut down.

Now I don’t know if any of you have ever had to deal with South African cops, but I have and I can tell you I would rather face the Russian bodyboarders.

Aside from Afrikaner cops being among the world’s gnarliest bruisers they are also really, really bright.

So how to keep the surfers from a perfect J-Bay swell?


They shook down two surfers for the info on where the best place is to be stationed to stop surfers.

So there they are today, two gnarly Afrikaner cops with bullwhips, standing as a gauntlet in front of the keyhole.

Problem solved.

One can close one’s eyes and imagine Bruce Brown’s dulcet tones about all those millions of perfect empty waves breaking right now.


Unfortunately the surf in front of me was only ten inches.

An advantage in a certain sweaty industry, but certainly not in ours.

But taking it all in, all in all the photographer and I reckoned things were going okay here in Bali.

So fear not for us expat sinners.

All is as well as it could be in these troubling times.

After all, the sunset was beautiful, and the beer, though warm, was at least in hand and somewhere a speaker was playing the music of our mutual friend Jack Johnson singing about a monkey.

Excerpt: Do you recall, long ago, when radical Islamic terrorism was the west’s greatest fear?

Halcyon days.

Oh those halcyon days before this novel Coronavirus descended upon us, driving us into our homes, away from each other, anxious, suspicious, terrified, panicked. Back when we worried about climate change and, before that, radical Islamic terrorism.


Well, I have a book about radical Islamic terrorism + surfing releasing this coming summer, right when the Tokyo Olympics should have been. It is broken into three parts, Yemen, Lebanon and Yemen again, ambling along exactly as I did with my best friends Josh and Nate. Here is a small taste. If you like you can pre-order here and have it delivered to your door early and signed.

Part 3 Chapter 3

Josh pulls his Das Boot as tight as I am trying to pull my Wild One, and I can tell the glacial wind is getting to him too despite his growing up in rural northern Minnesota, despite his jacket being designed to protect its wearer from the frigid North Atlantic, not just the whips and chains of rival gangs, like mine.

“So how is Wahhabism not what we’re chasing here?” I shout. “How is it not the headwaters of modern radical Islamic terrorism that led to our current Global War on Terror?” A giant semitruck roars past, caravanned between two technicals overflowing with Yemeni troops in chic new desert camo.

Last time we were here, Yemen’s hinterland had been an untamed sandy wilderness. This time there are real roads, asphalted roads, and real semitrucks roaring who knows what to who knows where. The Global War on Terror had gutted oil production with improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers ripping giant holes in Vice President Dick Cheney’s dreams of energy dominance, and Yemen, previously thought to be oil free, was now puking black gold, its tribes seemingly purchased and compliant—or at least for the time being.

“What?” Josh shouts back, “You are talking at Nate volume!”

“I am not!” I belt, quietly missing Nate’s patently low, mostly inaudible voice and dour attitude. “But if I am, it’s because my throat is parched for those delicious headwaters of modern radical Islamic terrorism that led to our current Global War on Terror.”

Josh frowns. “I wish you’d stop calling it that because it really sells it short. What we’re after is the grandpappy of all transnational radical ideologies. The oldest, most durable factory of anti-state violent rebellion. The ideology that dandled on its knee every radical from Barbary pirates to Baader-Meinhof. The tiny little school that in three centuries has brought the British Empire, the French Republic, the Soviet Union, and finally the American ideal of freedom and crushed them each like a soda can—and it all begins here. Or that’s my theory.”

“Oh…” I shout, only hearing the words “Baader-Meinhof” above the wind and picturing the phenomenal stylings of the group that terrorized West Germany through the 1970s. “…and did you fix it yet?”

“I think so…” he hollers, climbing onto the seat and giving it three good kicks. It buzzes to life and he throttles it a few times while blue smoke fills the air. It sounds like a no-frills, older-model Honda Civic.

“Okay!” Josh hoots. “Let’s go find some lunch!”

“Tony!” I scream. He points his video camera from the camel to me and I wave him off. “We’re hitting the road again! Tell Mohamed we’re going to find a restaurant in Thamud!” He nods, and his brown corduroy pants scamper to the super microvan, where Mohamed al-Behlooly is sitting like a saint in a striking gray gown and skullcap combination paired with a perfectly baggy blazer, his green jambiya setting it all off nicely.

We had called Haitham, the son of Yemen’s ex-president and the owner of the country’s FedEx franchises. He was the man who made our exploration possible. Since we had survived our first Yemen blitz, Haitham decided we didn’t need Major Ghamdan al-Shoefy, who looked very wistful when we hugged him both hello and goodbye upon arrival, but we were going to need a chase vehicle where Tony could ride and film, plus our surfboards in their shiny Mylar coffin that we brought again, just in case, so he offered up a very respected elder from his tribe, Mr. Mohamed al-Behlooly, who worked in security at Sana’a International Airport and turned out to be a saint. The un-Ghamdan. He never forced his will, never ordered feasts, never pressured for illicit company, never questioned where we needed to go or why. He would get us through sticky checkpoints with his beatific smile alone, pulling intransigent guards aside and winning them over with grace.

He was the only Yemeni I’d ever met who didn’t carry a gun, which meant he never shot at sunbathing families. More importantly, it meant that Josh could carry a gun, and Sana’a’s gun market was our very first stop. Josh purchased a Brazilian-made Taurus 9mm and kept it stuffed in his waistband.