IN PLAIN SIGHT - THE UNSUNG SONGS OF KUTA REEF



The fisherman knows not how old he is, but he is feeling every bit of it. He pulls the blue nylon anchor rope tight, knots and snugs it against the bow and then opens and closes both his hands a few times, looking at what his age has done. His palms and knuckles are as calloused as the pads of his bare feet. He readies his boat in the pre-dawn dark with the rest of the surf taxi’s. His friends and enemies all rigging and prepping and praying that their bastard outboard motors will work for another day. It is August and a swell is running and the day is sure to bring plenty of business. Surfers of all colors, faces puffy with sleep but with eyes keen as owls as they peer out into the darkness of the surf they can hear but not see yet out on the reef.

He bends backwards with his hands on his hips and then stretches his arms toward the sky and breathes deep. It’s something his wife had him do a few times every morning. He opens his eyes and looks for her in the stars that are just starting to fade with the coming dawn. He knows she is watching and he sighs with a loneliness that he hides. An airplane roars onto the runway to the south. More surfers, he thinks. And they never get any older. He thinks about it. The Fisherman figures he must himself be in his mid 60’s by now. Still strong of back and taller than most and unbent, but with more aches and pains these days.



is where its power will always lie. A friend whistles, another boat is ready and loaded. He walks over with the others to help push it into the sea. The surfers help too. It’s easy with all these strong backs. The surfers clamber in and his friend rips the cord once, twice and the outboard catches on the third and they are on their way out into the dark. He walks back to his boat. The eastern rim of the sky is blood red, like a blanket being lifted to light the stars are winking out one by one from east to west. The sky is purple now. His grandson arrives with his group of surfers in the big white van. His grandson now a guide for the Japanese. The fisherman’s boat is smaller than most. But more dependable. He likes it that way. Less room, but easier to handle, less gas and more money to go around.

The surfers are so excited they look like fleas jumping around. The surfboards are loaded into the boat and he whistles and his friends come over to help him get his boat into the sea. The surfers help too, always in a hurry, desperately looking over their shoulders at the other boats filling up and striking out. The fisherman’s outboard, the new one, catches on the first pull and he adjusts the choke and then puts the spurs to her. The bow lifts and parts the sea and the surfers smile and hang on to anything they can find. The sky is pink now. He feels his way through the reef as he has done for 40 years. The medium tide helps. He steers with his foot and starts to prepare a handline and he looks back at Bali and the jetties and the airport and the skyline that is about to burst open with the sun. The salt spray comes in over the bow and slaps the surfers awake and they smile and joke and run wax on their surfboards and gaze out into the sea. It’s a big group today and so the grandson is smiling too. His grandson smiles at him and the fisherman nods and smiles back.



They round the corner of the reef and the fisherman cuts the speed and they glide for a while. All eyes are on the sea. The sky is yellow now with enormous clouds and you can see the waves with a few surfers bobbing and waiting for them. The fisherman cuts the engine and glides his boat expertly to his mooring, three algae covered empty plastic water jugs, and his grandson fishes the line out and ties off. That quiet that only a boat can give falls over everybody. Then a group of waves come in and the surfers see them break in unity and the surfers howl and smear sunscreen on their cheeks and dive overboard with their surfboards.



The fisherman watches the waves march in and break in perfect unity hard against the freshening trade winds. The waves crack and hiss and roll and the surfers scramble toward them on their bellies like insects to sugar. His grandson smiles again, the tips will be good today. And then the sun bursts over the eastern horizon and the fisherman looks back and can see the first rays hitting the top of Mt. Agung. It is the start of another day on earth. Yet the fisherman knows not how old he is. So he baits and drops his handline over the side and watches it sink until the line goes slack, and he hops it up and down slowly as he waits and watches the shadows form on Mt. Agung, hoping for a coral trout.

Photography by Thiago Okazuka

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