Bali was never geared for skating. The government has only ever built two skate parks, while the streets are filled with traffic and potholes. So to get the scene to where it is today, Bali's skaters had to build their own parks and generally do some pushing. This makes their story something of a triumph, and a small miracle.
The following photos are all by legendary Bali skate photographer Batax. They're shot around the island. You can follow him on Instagram here.
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 he poured out the first concrete to be used for exclusively for skateboarding.
Julian says there wasn't much to skate when he first arrived. "It started out with just street skating on homemade rails or little kerbs 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 Julian and some friends decided to build a four-foot bowl in his backyard in Sanur. He says 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 says the bowl quickly became "the neighbourhood's playground." Although it wasn't technically public, there was no fence and Julian 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 Julian 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. Afandy says, "I just bought like 10 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, Afandy opened Motion Skateshop and was supplying the majority of boards to the local scene. At that point the best places to skate were Julian'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. Afandy 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 who 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. Afandy says 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 in amongst 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-aged 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 tells me when I meet her at the bar. "It's not about me, it's about the guys who skate here." But actually 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 tells me, 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 says. "I didn't realise 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.
Afandy tells 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 built," he says. "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 skate feature. Afandy says, "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."