Stab Magazine | What the Bali executions mean for surf tourism

What the Bali executions mean for surf tourism

Story by Lucas Townsend Today, Australians woke to news that Bali Nine pair, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were among nine foreign nationals executed in Indonesia. The pair were arrested on drug trafficking charges and sentenced to death in 2006, and this morning at roughly 3:30am were shot by a firing squad on the island […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Story by Lucas Townsend

Today, Australians woke to news that Bali Nine pair, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were among nine foreign nationals executed in Indonesia. The pair were arrested on drug trafficking charges and sentenced to death in 2006, and this morning at roughly 3:30am were shot by a firing squad on the island of Nusakambangan.

The Australian Government called a press conference in Canberra this morning and took the unprecedented move of withdrawing its ambassador. To say relationships aren’t super right now between Australia and Indonesia is an understatement, after clashes over border policies, asylum seekers, an espionage scandal and now this.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop tasked with trying to negotiate clemency, earlier this year said if executions went ahead, “Australian people will demonstrate their deep disapproval of this action, including making decisions about where they wish to holiday.” And since news broke this morning that’s exactly what’s happened on social media, with calls to boycott Indonesia (#boycottbali #boycottindonesia).

But not in our feed.


Tai ‘Buddha’ Graham, perched beneath Keramas. Photo: Jason Childs

Stab’s most recent survey revealed that 51.81 percent of Australian readers intend to travel to Indonesia this year. And, according to Tai ‘Buddha’ Graham, and a number of locals we spoke to, that number won’t change.

“Without being disrespectful, give it a week and I think it’ll be forgotten about (by most of the world),” voice-of-reason Tai says. “Oz is pretty amped on it all, I can see that. But to give you an idea, I had dinner with a Frenchman last night and he didn’t know anything about it.”

Tai is part-owner of the Single Fin bar at Uluwatu and works with surf companies like O’Neill, so his clientele check through Denpasar Airport with three-plus boards every time. But Tai says surfers are of a different mentality to the remaining Bintang singlets making up a million tourists each year from Australia.

“You know what surfers are like… they’re hoping people stop going so they get emptier waves. It’s like after the bombs (Bali Bombings ’02 and ’05), surfers kept this place alive, not normal tourists. They’re like the saviours of this place, no matter what happens.”

Stab spoke to a surf travel company who asked not to be named and said they’d had no bookings cancelled.

Photo: Scotty Hammonds

“The execution will have no impact on the surf season,” says Lee Wilson. Photo: Scotty Hammonds

Freesurfer Lee Wilson says the only people who should boycott Bali are the drug dealers. “First of all, my heart goes out to the mothers and fathers who lost their precious children today,” he says. “But in my opinion it’s the drug dealers and mules who should boycott transporting drugs to Bali and value their lives more.”

“I don’t agree with the execution but the rules are beyond clear to everybody… If Australians wanna boycott (Bali), others will fill their spots real quick. The execution will have no impact on the surf season. The waves are too good and the beer is cheap.

“If you wanna come and be a drug kingpin, it might come with a blindfold and a shower of bullets. That is the reality. It’s not a threat, it’s a promise from the leaders of the country.”

Local Volcom rider, Muklis Anwar, says there’s a risk the country’s image could get damaged. “I think it’s bullshit,” he says. “I don’t like the image it leaves, because it sounds very scary. I think if the Indonesian Government is very serious on this drug thing, they also should be serious with the terrorism that happens in Indo, because some of the terrorists are out of jail, while the drugs are dealt with by death penalty.”

Punishment versus crime is the contentious issue, say Tai.

“There’s two points of view here. Indonesians in general don’t think death is that big of a deal. They have funerals and births every other day… It’s not like the West where someone dies from a motor bike accident here and you have a memorial surf comp every 12 months.”


Worse political, legal or social factors haven’t stopped surfers travelling for waves worse than this. Photo: Nate Lawrence

“Then there’s the expats and educated Jakarta crew who are against the death penalty… From my perspective, and the chat among the town is the penalty for the crime doesn’t match death. No one kicked up a hoo-ha when the bombers got executed because of the people they killed.”

But, it’s a two-way difference of opinion. Where The West see capital punishment as a barbaric, outdated decision, Tai says their stance on drugs doesn’t align with local Indonesians either.

“That’s on the other side of things. The West’s perception of drugs is that it isn’t that big of a deal.”

Asked if the heroin problem in Indonesia is as severe as President Joko Widodo says, Tai agrees.

“The heroin problem is bad,” he says. “There’s four million people, and there’s a huge aids epidemic from the sharing of needles. Jump over to Sumba or Sumbawa, where you think they don’t get on drugs, but shabu shabu (methamphetamine) is huge in the remote areas. There’s nothing to do and they get hooked on it.”


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