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For three decades travelling surfers have been awestruck by the waves of Indonesia, some of the best breaks on the planet. When five-time world champion Kelly Slater won the 1995 Quiksilver Pro at G-Land (Grajagan), the waves were described as the most consist¬ently perfect waves in WCT history. "I could retire now and be happy," gushed Slater. "The waves have been so big and perfect. It was just beautiful to be intimidating. Uluwatu and Padang Padang in Bali are also rated by the pros as among tie world's best.

The first recorded surfer in Indonesia was Robert Koke, a Hollywood film cameraman who settled on Bali in the late 1930s. This beautiful tropical island titer came to the notice of the surfing community worldwide when Australian surfers arrived in the late 1960s. The friendly locals, beautiful climate and cheap lifestyle was heaven for the surfers, who en¬joyed endless waves to themselves. In 1972, Albie Falzon's classic surfing movie, Morning of the Earth, blew the Bali scene wide open, inspiring surfers all over the world to come. Although Bali's reputation was sealed, adventurous surf explorers such as Americans Bob Laverty and Mike Boyum (who es¬tablished the surf camp at G-Land) started to seek out the many other legendary surf spots Indonesia is now famous for.

Most locals were initially bemused at the sight of strange white men walking on water. Indeed, few Balinese could swim, as the sea was traditionally believed to house evil demons, sea snakes and sharks. Nevertheless, in the 1970s, a group of local Bali boys including Ketut Kasih, Wayan Suwenda and Made Kasim broke the mould and developed into top-class surfers — much to the chagrin of family and friends. Yet instead of trying their luck on the world stage, this original generation of "hot rats" preferred to stay at home with their perfect waves, and set them¬selves up as businessmen in the island's developing — now booming — surf industry.

In the early 1980s, a tourism study was done on Bali which resulted in the government getting the is¬land off the "hippie trail", cracking down on the ac¬companying drug scene, and instead making it more upmarket for middle-class tourists. Nevertheless, surfing is welcomed in Indonesia as a way of bring¬ing trade and business to poor and remote regions.

This was illustrated in Nias, home to a legendary right-hand barrel in Lagundri Bay. A surfing competition was held there in 1993, and it resulted in the island being supplied with electricity and water. Nias now hosts a US$60,000 ASP Australasia event, is a stop-off point for other islands, and the locals enjoy a much improved lifestyle.

The first local competition in Indonesia was the Bali Grommet Titles in 1990. The annual event - as since been used to develop Indonesia's brightes-2 r¬ents, such as 1991 champion, Rizal Tanjung now, Asia's top surfer. Tanjung and others such as Mode Switra, are part of Indonesia's second generation of top-level surfers perhaps a unique situation in in Asian surfing. Indeed. last year the Bali surfing Association organized its first annual competition circuit. It looks as though Rizal, Mode and the next generation of hot rats are ready to take full advantage of the opportunities their predecessors never had.

Balinese surfer Rizal Tanjung is headed few the top Picture a traditional Balinese dance on a moving wall dwater, and you'll get some idea of the unique grace d Bali's top pro surfer, Rizal Tanjung, in action. On land, 21-year-old Rizal carries himself with an easy air of quiet confidence. But on water, like a dancer awakened by music, Rizal transforms into an ener¬getic, dazzling blur of swooping arcs and inno¬vative tricks. It's an aggressive, refreshing style that looks set to take him to the highest level of professional surfing.

"I think he's destined for some glory and great¬ness," says Hawaiian surfing legend, Gerry Lopez, who first recognized Rizal's magical talent during a trip to the Javanese surf camp, Grajagan (G-Land), in 1991. So impressed was Lopez that he organised sponsorship for Rizal from Japanese surfboard la¬bel, YU, and invited the young prodigy to stay in his magnificent beachfront home at the famed Pipe¬line in Hawaii.

In the past few years, Rizal has more than re¬paid Lopez's faith. Three years ago, he rode the best wave of the winter at Pipeline, which resulted in his picture being plastered all over covers and posters in the world's surfing magazines. For the past two years, he has been a wildcard entrant in the prestigious Quiksilver Pro at G-Land, and has scored perfect 10-point rides both times. He has picked up sponsorship from surtwear giant, Quiksilver, and embarked on the gruelling mission of trying to quality for pro surfing's World Championship Tour (WCT). It's a monumental task that requires battling it out with hundreds of other pro surfers from all over the world on the World Qualifying Series (WQS). His calendar this year will take him across Aus¬tralia, Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America in search of sufficient points to qualify.

In 1997, he proved he has what it takes with a spectacular win in the Dompu Indonesian Open, a WQS event at Lakey Peak, Sumbawa. His greatest challenge, however, lies in adjusting to the rigours of international travel, and learning to surf in cold-water locations like England and South Africa in the restric¬tions of a full-length rubber wetsuit. If he succeeds, he will be become the first-ever Indonesian —in¬deed, Asian — to earn a place in the elite top 44, who contest pro surfing's world title each year.

Bali's surfing elders, like Made Kasim, have taken a keen interest in Rizal almost since he first got on a board at the age of eight. Balinese surfers area closely knit group partly due to a culture that's deeply fearful of the ocean and still regards surfers as renegades. "When I was a kid, people always told me the legend about this woman who was a witch that would take people who wore green shorts in the water," Rizal recalls. "I think some people still believe it today."

In Bali, where his family run a successful shoe-factory, Rizal spends most of his time abiding by his tattoo: "Surf All Day". But the real love of his life is his attractive, half- Indonesian, half-Swiss girlfriend, Chandri Dewi — which means "Queen of the full moon" in Balinese. The two are inseparable when they're at home, maybe because of their enforced separation for much of the year - when Rizal com¬petes on the WQS and Chandra attends school in Switzerland. "I miss her so, so much," Rizal laments. Chandra rationalizes: "It's good that I'm away, too. otherwise Rizal would want to come home, and I don't want to stop him from succeeding."

Indeed, there's a quiet composure abet R22L a simmering drive beneath the serene lithe ft get the sense that if he's going lo mm a tern at Padang and be apart from Irms beloved lo travel to contests, he'll make it count.

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