Interview by Ni Luh Maya / Balibelly.com
Mega Semadhi is slight, standing at maybe 5’8 and 59 kilos soaking wet with a board under his arm. In one of the most famous photos of him taken at Pipeline, he looks like a small child peering into the darkness of a drainpipe, when in reality he’s deep in a double overhead barrel. Having established a presence abroad early in his career, he’s the consummate Balinese surfer- preternaturally talented and humble with a personality as unfailingly warm as the equatorial sun.
He’s also very smart, or very present, or both- you can tell because unlike a lot of people, surfers or not, when he looks at you he’s there and he sees you. Sometimes it’s kind of unnerving on his home island, where it’s more likely to see masses of people who checked their mind at the airport in exchange for cold Bintang and a good time. Maybe it’s because he is a little different from your average Wayan or Made.
There have been a lot of rumors about Mega, that he’s been chosen to become a priest one day and he’ll have to stop surfing to serve his congregation. Unlike in the western world where surfing is a pseudo-religion activity, there seems to be a disconnect with surfing and religion- Balinese former pro surfers who become priests are more likely to lose their interest in surf than use it to evangelize new members. Made Kasim, the Godfather of Indonesian Balinese surfer, is now a priest and has exchanged his Padang-Padang guns for a canoe. If surfing is a religion, why does it sometimes start to resemble a distraction? Or an unwanted addiction? We sat down with Mega to tease out answers to some big questions and see if the rumors about the Bingin Prince were real.
Balibelly.com: How did you learn to surf? Bingin isn’t exactly the easiest place in the world to learn.
Mega: When I was little my uncle asked me if I wanted to come to Bingin on the weekend, I saw him surf and it looked fun. I borrowed his board and after that first try I was addicted till now.
Now that you surf for a living, where was the first place you traveled outside of Bali, and what was that like?
My first trip I went Lakey Peak. I was thirteen, and it was with Cabul and Bukit. We went there by a nine-hour ferry ride and three-hour drive but it worth. We scored good waves. It was really fun surf first for time outside Bali and we even got to take a plane on the way home.
When was the first time you traveled outside Indonesia to Hawaii? Was it intimidating?
I was fourteen, and I traveled with Garut, Dedi Gun, Dede and D-Hump and Mira. So stoked to go there, meet all the pros, surf the famous wave and travel overseas. My dream had come true. I had always dreamt of going there and finally it was happening. I stayed there for a month. I was shitting myself at first because it was the first time I’d seen 10 foot-plus and but after a few surfs I got used to it. At that time me and Garut stayed at the Ripcurl Grom house. We didn’t know about the house for three weeks though and we no have place to stay. Both of us were crying, but lucky we meet a lot of friends. One of them is Bill Martin and he offered us a place to stay. We were so happy. Fourteen years old, first time overseas by ourselves in the middle of nowhere. By the time we had to go home I extended my trip one more week and Garut went back home earlier.
I’ve been to Hawaii eight or nine times now and really like it there. Almost like Bali, the people, place. But the wave is a bit heavier, ha.
Above & Below: Mega charging Pipeline, Hawaii. Photos: Naoya
Do you travel a lot these days? How hard is it for an Indonesian to travel?
I usually travel with Garut, Cabul, Bol, Dedi Gun and Mus. But lately I’ve just been doing the Indonesian and Asian surfing tours so I travel mostly with all the Bali boys. Visas are really hard to get, most places in this world we have to get a visa and it’s so expensive. Some Indonesians struggle with food and get homesick fast.
How did your family feel about you learning to surf at the time? Why?
They were fine, because my family grew up in Bingin as fishermen and farmers. Long time ago my great-grandfather was lost in the ocean with his small boat (jukung) for several days. All the family already thought he was dead but a miracle happened. He was found near between Canggu and Seminyak. And he was ok. From that time on my family always think the ocean never gonna do bad for us.
From your perspective, how does the Balinese community feel about surfing? People always say that previously, the ocean was considered dirty and dangerous because of spirits. Is it still that way today? Is there a split between the younger and older generation?
Surfing is a lifestyle now and lot of people are making their living from surfing. Long time ago maybe some people thought the ocean is a dangerous place and maybe still now. But in my family we respect the ocean a lot, to us it’s not a dirty or dangerous place.
I interviewed the mangku (priest) at Petitenget Temple, he said he thought surfing was a great sporting activity, a great business, and a good way to cleanse. Do most Balinese agree?
I think surfing is a different kind of sport. We learn a lot about the environment and communicate with people. It’s also a business now. People make a living from surfing, like me. Like here at Ulus, Bingin or other spots near here. Before it’s not like this, it’s just a bukit (hill) but now most of the people come here to surf and it’s changed the place.
I hear a rumor that you’re going to become a priest one day. Why is that? Are many people in your family in this line of work?
Yeah, because I got chosen. My mum told me in my family there is the mangku (priest) uluwatu bloodline. A few people in my family have been mangku’s.
Does that knowledge change your behavior, knowing one day you’ll have to become a priest?
Not really, I guess I’m just another kid right now. I want to make the most of it. So when already as a mangku, I’ll just focus on that and do more yoga, I suppose. There are going to be a lot of thing that I’m not ready for now.
How long before you have to make that decision?
Until I’m ready.
Will you have to stop surfing once you become a mangku? Why is that?
I don’t think so, I still definitely want to surf.
Does this seem like a sacrifice to you (to stop surfing), or are you happy to make the transition?
If I have to stop surfing, I’ll be still around in the community. Helping the younger generation and giving my knowledge to them.
I interviewed Mangku Made Kasim, and he was happy to be canoeing. Is there a point in your life when surfing becomes silly and too crowded and crazy here in Bali?
I think what I’m gonna do is still surf when its perfect. Balinese have a lot of respect. So for sure when I’m 40-50 I’ll still get some bombs if I can. I’ll probably do more fishing or hanging out with my kids on the beach.
Are you looking forward to working as a Mangku?
Slowly. It’s not an easy choice. I have to be really committed.
How would you describe your relationship to God/Gods?
We must have a good relationship with each other and nature first.
Everything must be balanced. That’s how I describe my relationship with God.
Do you pray every day?
How does religion fit into every day?
I think all religion in this world tells us to have a good relationship with everything. I’m always learning how to respect everything and be grateful for what I’ve got. Karma is the best lesson.
What is surfing mean to you, is it just a career or a way of life?
It’s my way of life. Surfing is everything for me. I’ve learned a lot of things from surfing.
What are you most grateful for?
That I was born in Bali. Being Balinese. Have this amazing culture and land and be able to surf.
What’s next for you, and where does your personal and spiritual journey go from here?
You know, I’m always trying to be a better person, I want to travel more and surf. Be more happy.