Tedi Kurniadi is born and bred in West Java, where the surfing industry is booming as traditional 'Indo' destinations like Bali are suffering from the excesses of mass tourism. His village is home to a new breed of local longboarders, the 'Batu Karas boys'. At 20, Tedi is casually making waves beyond borders.
In the early 2000s, a five-year-old Tedi decided that he too would surf, after spending hours watching people glide in the waves at the village's beach. Boards were few and far between and foreign surfers tended to leave shortboards behind, the default quiver brought over for 'Indo trips'. But Batu Karas is unlike the rest of Indonesia: the village is located on a point which creates a perfect right-hand break, with enough reef for consistent walls and a sandy-bottomed bay to churn out soft and very long rides ideal for loggers and sliders. This consistency earned Batu Karas comparisons with Noosa, Australia, 'the only other longboard wave I know' muses Tedi, who has never been there. After shortboarding most of his life, Tedi switched to longboarding three years ago and 'absolutely fell in love with it'.
'The Batu Karas Boys', as they are known in international longboard surfing contests, seem to all share an exciting faux-aloofness and regal class in the waves, topped with a dash of flamboyance: Deni Firdaus, Arip "Mencos" Nurhidayat, Dean Permana, Mas Tio Nugroho and Tedi are from the same village and generation that embraced classic surfing and ran off with it. 'We all surf classic but we each have our own style' insists Tedi. 'Maybe looking from the outside it looks similar but we all have our own tricks in the water'. Tedi certainly has a healthy mix of hang-tens, soul-arching and hang-heels in his bag, with a signature hang-five-cross-kick giving his forays onto the nose a Billy Elliot quality: 'I’m in love with classic boards, I love riding slowly while dancing on the wave.'
It is all the more extraordinary Tedi was able to develop such style in under three years, as he doesn't have access to a quiver of classic boards. 'I only have one board', says Tedi. 'It was given to me by Suket (“Handmade & heartfelt custom surfboards from Canggu, Bali"), and I am so grateful to them. Sometimes tourists let me use their boards. I was able to test a classic Bing surfboard and a Mctavish and I totally felt the difference in the water. I would love to have one of those fantastic boards from a legendary shaper, but they are just too expensive for me.'
As many of his country-fellows, Tedi is a free surfer and securing sponsorship is elusive. 'It’s very difficult to demonstrate that you are maybe better than people who are competing. It happens to lot of Indonesian surfers who surf as well as the pros, but nobody knows them because they can’t compete because of lack of funds'. When brands have supported his travels in the past, Tedi made the most of it. At the REnextop Asian Surfing Tour (RAST) contest in neighbouring Bali in 2017, Tedi learnt from competing against the best, including Harley Ingleby, 2x World Longboard Champion. "I hope I can do it again, but I need to save a lot!"
Back at home, Tedi is seeing his own break undergo massive change. As surfing in Bali in now under serious threat with large scale property developments in Serangan (access to the break is now closed) and Canggu (jetty construction has started), Java suddenly has a lot of appeal for international surfers whose behaviour often seems to consist in rushing to spoil a place first in order to be able to leave it behind, claiming 'you should have seen it 5 years ago...'
'My village has changed a lot. Before, it was almost empty, only a couple of nice locals sharing the waves. But now you can find about 50 people in the same spot, sharing the space with a lot of swimmers and it sometimes feels like a competition.' Tedi and the boys certainly appreciate the opportunity to meet talented foreign surfers, exchange notes on tricks and gear, and they will gladly hang out for a Bintang or Sampoerna. Some are trying to start small businesses and Tedi is lending his services as a surfing instructor. But they do not welcome the 'carefree' attitude that tourism too often breeds. 'The worst thing about tourists is that they throw lot of trash, everywhere. This makes me sad.'
Surfers around the world are taught about the importance of respect. It is our duty as travellers to honour the trust that locals bestowed upon us and the beauty we are privileged enough to fly to and share. In Batu Karas as everywhere you surf in, vote with your dollars and support small scale responsible tourism, use water sensibly, say no to single use plastic, #take3forthesea and do everything in your power to be able to tell your children 'I am looking forward to surfing Batu Karas in 5 years'.
Follow Tedi Kurniadi on Instagram.
Chief Storyteller at Swellbound