After entering the front doors of a villa located on the Indonesian island of Bali, a crew of five—John Hook, Kahana Kalama, Evan Schell, Billy Wickens, and Ryan Miller—quickly bypassed inviting day beds, comfortable couches, and surf relics spread throughout the room. Bolting toward a wall of sliding glass doors, they pulled them open in a frenzy, stepped outside, and gasped in collective amazement. It wasn’t because of the infinity pool.
Situated on a cliff, their villas overlooked the world-class surf break, Uluwatu. Long left-hand lines peeled endlessly across the blue expanse. Only a few surfers were visible, their bodies reduced to distant dots maneuvering on seemingly endless rides.
“I couldn’t believe a place like that still existed,” Hook said. It was the photographer’s first visit to the location. “It’s exactly how it looked in old surf magazines.”
It was in those magazines and the 1971 surf classic Morning of the Earth that most of the surf world first glimpsed Uluwatu. Vagabond surfers had stumbled upon the wave in the early 1970s, surely rubbing their eyes to ensure that the hot Indonesian sun wasn’t stirring a mirage of glimmering barrels. Pura Luhur Uluwatu, an ancient Hindu temple that has stood watch over the break for centuries and is inhabited by monkeys, only added to the area’s lore. In 1974, Hawaiian surfer and two-time Pipeline Masters champion Gerry Lopez witnessed the wave with his own eyes. “It was as magnificent a sight as any surfer could behold,” he wrote in his book Surf Is Where You Find It. “We had just walked up to the gateway of paradise.”
By the mid-1970s, images of the wave—and Lopez—were consistently featured in surf magazines. Experienced surfers from around the globe poured into the location. Surf contests followed. The first, the OM Bali Pro, took place in 1980. Since then, Uluwatu, which awakens in May and continues through October, has been the site of crowded freesurfs, regional events, and World Surf League events such as the 2008 Rip Curl Pro Search Bali and the 2018 Uluwatu Championship Tour.
For the five travelers, Uluwatu proved to be more than just one of the world’s most hyped waves. It became something deeply personal, a bridge connecting these men to each other and to the many other bands of surfers who had sought similar adventures in this place. The camaraderie was most apparent during their final surf session at Uluwatu, which featured long, adrenaline-fueled rides complete with powerful, spray-infused turns. Between waves, everyone kept an eye on the silhouette of the surfer who sat furthest outside. In a stroke of sheer luck for the crew, but what must have felt like fate, Gerry Lopez, the man heralded with pioneering the iconic wave, was in the lineup with them.