It's been 10 years since the WSL ran an event at Uluwatu, the peeling lefthander on the southwest tip of Bali's southern peninsula. But this week, the Championship Tour (CT) surfers will be back, to wrap up the rest of the Margaret River Pro. Renamed the Uluwatu CT and Uluwatu CT -Women's, the event's next call is Friday at 10:00 a.m. local time (or 7:00 p.m. Thursday for American fans on the West Coast), and picks up exactly where the action in Western Australia left off.
For the surfers still in the draw, the event will be pivotal for the World Title race. But the contest is also a return to a place that packs beauty, history (both surf and local) and a potentially high-performance wave all into one place. While the Uluwatu will be something of a homecoming for some of the CT men, for the women, it will be a historic, first-ever event at the famous Indonesian point.
"This is something we're pretty proud of to be able to do for the surfers," said WSL Deputy Commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer. "To go to Uluwatu and finish an event and make sure those points for the World Title are distributed."
Among the men, the last time the WSL ran an event there was a Rip Curl Search contest, in 2008. At the time, people like Taj Burrow and Kieren Perrow (the latter being WSL's Commissioner) were still on Tour, and Kelly Slater was still winning just about everything. Which is why it was groundbreaking when Portuguese surfer Tiago Pires, who was a rookie at the time, defeated Slater in Round 3 in pumping conditions. Slater took it in stride, but among those who were there, it still stands out.
"The last time we were there we had a whole scope of swell," said Deputy Commissioner Renato Hickel. "We had from 2-4 feet to 8-12 feet, so we had all facets of that wave in front of us, and for the surfers to explore, with incredible barrel rides, and that historic heat where Pires beat Slater." That event at Ulus also went on, Hickel noted, to be the contest where Bruce Irons earned his single victory on Tour -- just in time to retire.
Another element that has endeared surfers to Uluwatu is the sheer beauty of the place. "Ulus is the most iconic wave in Bali, and probably, Indonesia," Miley-Dyer said. "It was the first place that Australians came, then Gerry Lopez. It has a real energy to it, one of the big temples here in Bali is there, as well, right on the cliff. So it's a special place, for a lot of different reasons."
There's also the spot's unique path to the wave. Surfers, Miley-Dyer explained, walk down stairs to a long path and, finally, arrive at a cave from which to paddle out. "If it's high tide you can pretty much paddle straight out there," she said. "But when it's low, you're looking at a massive massive stretch of coral you've got to walk across. So if you ever look at the photos in Indo of people standing on dry reef to go out, it's there at Uluwatu, backlit by the sun."
Then, of course, there's the actual wave: "Uluwatu is actually a series of breaks on the southwest tip of the Bukit Peninsula," according to Surfline's Spot Check. It includes (from the inside out) Racetracks, the Peak, Temples, Outside Corner, and Bombie. Racetracks is where the wave barrels, and can produce its performance sections, while Outside Corner works on bigger days.
"The challenges go hand-in-hand with the cool aspects of the place, which are the cliff situation of that venue, and the arena that it forms when everybody can be watching the event form the warungs and the bars and the restaurants, hanging off the cliff," said Hickel. "It's pretty special - especially in the afternoon with the sun setting."
The setting sun behind the break, however, is also one of the challenges for judging. "Pretty much half of the day you have the sun in front of you, which is tough on the judges," Hickel continued. "You have to deal with the glare. And also the fact that the wave is so long, especially at low tide, when Racetracks starts working.
"You have that scenario in J-Bay when the wave is big and long and passes Supertubes through Impossibles to the tube section," Hickel continued, "and the judges from the actual tower see the wave from the sideways and from behind. So we do have a couple of cameras already set up at the end part of the point [at Uluwatu] to help the judging, to better analyze the rides, especially at low tide."
And yet, it's still paradise, alluring in every way. "It's always been a dream destination for surfers, with the tropical appeal and Balinese culture," said Hickel. "That made this place one of the Meccas of surf, worldwide. So it's really good to go back there and have a chance to finish this event. As that experience, it's definitely a first."
The first call for the Uluwatu CT is and women's CT is 8:30 a.m. local time Friday.