By Peter Neely, author of Indo Surf & Lingo.
1989 Periscopes Sumbawa. Photo: Peter Crawford
A lot has been said about the late Kim “Fly” Bradley since he passed away on Nyepi Day 2009. The first Aussie surfer to make Bali his home. The first to regularly surf big days at Nusa Dua, Balangan, and his own private secret spot Dreamland. What isn’t commonly recognized is that he was probably the first person to shape surfboards in Bali. Foam, fibreglass and resin were not easily available in Bali at that time, so Fly was the first to import his own supplies, and battle through the airport customs department bureaucracy.
The board in the photo below was painted in the classic Ubud “young painter” style. Holding the board is Pak Manis, Fly’s long-time friend and caretaker of his Bukit home. When Fly was cremated on Kuta beach, a uniquely rare honour for a westerner, two of his surfboards were placed next to his cremation tower – one of these first Balinese painted boards, complete with “Buddha dupa Bali” incense wrapper under the glass, and one of his balsa “classic replicas” which have now become highly valued collector’s items.
Fly first moved to Bali in 1973, and often spent a few months of each year shaping in Japan. Due to the hassles of importing materials, Fly didn’t produce a lot of boards in Bali, and then mainly for himself and just a few friends. In his later years, when his skin cancer progressed so far that he was forced to stay out of the sun (and the surf) he took great pleasure in hand-shaping balsa replicas of the classic surfboard shapes from earlier generations.
Pak Manis with Kim “Fly” Bradley’s board, painted in the Ubud “Young Painter” style. Photo: Neely
Where did the nickname “Fly” come from? Well, we’ve heard that as a young grommet back in Avalon in the mid 1960’s, Kim was always buzzing around the older surfers, trying to hitch rides to wherever the surf was happening. “Hanging around like a fly”. He had an enthusiastic high-energy personality, always keen for a surf or a chat, and to be where the action was.
I remember one night, sometime around 1980, enjoying a quiet beer with Fly and Gringo at the old Kuta night markets when they were outside the Kuta bioskop. Two of the most beautiful Balinese girls I had ever seen strolled past, catching everyone’s eye as they giggled and laughed, arm in arm, lost in a world of their own. Fly shocked us by leaping up and chasing after the girls. With a huge smile on his face he yelled back to us “I’m going to marry that girl” – just a few years later it came true when he married Made Ringan and went on to set up a dozen “Bali Design” clothing stores in Kuta. And then help set up the first surfer’s bar in the world – Tubes in Poppies Lane two, back when it was still a lane and you could rent a house there for $500 a year.
The other photo of Fly surfing at Periscopes Sumbawa in 1989 is by mercurial photographer the late great Peter Crawford RIP. It’s a shame both these dynamic individuals died far too young.