It goes without saying that Bali is not what it used to be. But I just went and said it anyway, and you’ll do the same if you return to Bali for a second time. I first visited as a teenager, back in the late 1990s, and even then “Bali’s changed” was a constant lament, complaint, mantra even, repeated by every repeat customer - even if they’d first visited the year before. Overcrowded line-ups, over-developed coastline, pure chaos in the streets of Kuta. I enjoyed the hell out of my virgin trip, but I couldn’t help feeling that I’d come to the party too late. Little did I know I’d look back on those years in Bali as a relative golden era - particularly on the Bukit Peninsula, with it’s crown jewel of Uluwatu. Compared to 2013, Ulus was empty and near-virgin back in the ‘90s.
With that in mind, go surf Uluwatu. Sure, it’s going to be packed. But judging by the exponential rate of change that defines Bali, it’ll be far more crowded in the future. You’ll be able to tell your friends “Bali’s not what it once was” by next year.
No matter the crowds, there’s undeniable magic left at Ulus. You’ll find it on your first paddle out, down those hideous cement steps, where the bamboo ladder used to be, and out the mouth of the cave. Time it right, and you’ll get a framed glimpse of a perfect section squaring off on Main Peak, with most of the crowd hidden behind a stacking set and volcanic rock. For a moment, you’ll imagine what Rusty Miller and Steve Cooney must have felt as they paddled through the cave in 1970 - the first time.
Time it right, and you’ll get a framed glimpse of a perfect section squaring off on Main Peak, with most of the crowd hidden behind a stacking set and volcanic rock.
Some things to keep in mind: Ulus is not a perfect wave. It’s a series of disjointed, often imperfect sections, which occasionally link up and offer perfection. Watch closely. Fluctuations in tide, swell, wind and crowd will offer constant opportunity along the reef. Main peak shuts down and suddenly Inside Corner starts working. A building swell will shift the gems to Outside Corner even as stubborn surfers stay on Main Peak. Often, if you’re willing to see the world through new eyes, there’s something there for you. But if you get hung up on how it was even thirty minutes ago - let alone forty years ago - you’ll be disappointed. Ulus is much like Bali, I suppose - in any given moment, it’s not what it used to be.