How Balinese Skaters Poured Their Own Concrete and Built a Scene

It's the island version of "Dogtown."

by Nat Kassel
Feb 10 2017, 9:10pm

All photos by Batax

It was Julian Bergougnoux, a French guy, who built the first bowl in Bali. He came to the island in 1998 looking for contacts who might be able to cheaply manufacture clothing for his skate label. It wasn't much of a label, really—he'd just been selling stuff out of his garage in France—but on his first trip, he met a Balinese woman who would later become his wife. He moved to Bali and seven years later poured the first concrete to be used exclusively for skateboarding.

Bergougnoux said there wasn't much to skate when he first arrived. "It started out with just street skating on homemade rails or little curbs, and people would just set them up in a parking lot or a quiet street... it was pretty cool. Definitely better than nothing."

It wasn't until 2005 that Bergougnoux and some friends decided to build a four-foot bowl in his backyard in Sanur. He said he was just bored of skating the few parks and street spots that were available at the time. He hadn't intended to turn it into a public skatepark, but said the bowl quickly became "the neighborhood's playground." Although it wasn't technically public, there was no fence, and Bergougnoux welcomed pretty much anyone who wanted to come and skate it.

Since then, he's extended the bowl twice, attached a hotel called Eat Sleep Skate, and built a little bar and restaurant with a pizza oven. He charges a small entry fee for visiting skaters, and there's an established crew of locals who shred it for free.

At around the same time Bergougnoux was building his bowl, another guy by the name of Afandy Dharma was working on establishing Motion Skateboards, which has now become the island's biggest skate brand. Dharma said, "I just bought like ten boards from China and sold them to my friends. Then I bought like 20 more, then 40, and then I started printing them." In 2007, Dharma opened Motion Skateshop and was supplying the majority of boards to the local scene. At that point, the best places to skate were Bergougnoux's bowl, the Globe bowl in Jimbaran, and a DIY street setup at Simpang Siur.

In 2012, the government destroyed the park at Simpang Siur and used the land to upgrade Sunset Road, leaving the skaters who lived in the area without anything to skate. Dharma invested most of the money he'd made from Motion into building a new indoor skatepark. He rented some land in Kuta and built a massive warehouse with a plywood street-style course inside.

These days, Motion is doing pretty well—not only as a shop, a board brand, and a skatepark, but as a contractor for other businesses that want to build skateparks. And while skateboarding has been growing steadily in Bali since the 90s, it's really exploded in the last two years. Dharma said this is partly due to the success of Pretty Poison, a venue in Canggu that's becoming kind of infamous. Maree, the owner, describes the place as "a creative arts bar that's got a California-style pool to shred."

Set among rice paddies, Pretty Poison is just a single room venue with blank concrete walls, cheap Bintangs, and one of the gnarliest bowls on the island. There are three local skaters—Sukma, Pipping, and Donny—who are paid a salary to skate the bowl three nights a week. In addition to them, there's an interchangeable mob of foreign rippers who score a couple of free beers here and there in exchange for entertaining the crowd. On party nights, the place is so packed that it's difficult to get a view of the bowl, with masses of spectators coming down to get drunk and watch the skaters.

Maree is a middle-age mother from Bondi who's obviously passionate and personable enough to have overcome the taboo of running a skate-related business without actually being a skater. "I don't do interviews," she told me when I meet her at the bar. "It's not about me; it's about the guys who skate here." But she soon agrees to talk to me, slipping easily into a passionate rant about the space, her deep respect for young people, and what she's learned about skateboarding since she opened Pretty Poison. The bowl, she said, is a replica of the pool they skated in the film Lords of Dogtown.

"You've got to understand that I had no idea of the can of worms that I was about to open," she said. "I didn't realize that it was going to take off like it has." And for a place that's been open for just over a year, it's been wildly successful, not just as a business, but in establishing skateboarding as something that people can accept and enjoy watching.

Dharma told me that Maree has pushed skateboarding into unprecedented popularity through Pretty Poison. "In the beginning, when we were building [the bowl], she had her own idea of what she wanted it to be," he said. "I was like, 'I know the kids around here, and they like to skate mellow stuff,' and she was like, 'Nah, I want to built something gnarly, something hard to skate.'"

It really could have gone either way, but luckily there were scores of shredders, both local and international, who were ready for such a steep and unforgiving park. Dharma said, "Props to her, she fully did it her way, and she made it work. I think a lot of people see that and kind of want a piece of it."

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