Craig Tansley uncovers the future of surf resorts in Indonesia.
'Surfers morphed into their 30s, their 40s . . . their 50s; they got good jobs, they got married, they had families," Tony Cannon speaks slowly between sips on the fanciest, fluffiest latte he'll drink this side of Seminyak.
"But then we can't stay grungy 20-year-olds all our lives, can we?" He grins and surveys all around him: the bouncy green turf under us that ends abruptly on an empty black-sand beach; the horizon swimming pool that looks out across one of the world's best surf reef breaks (Keramas); an open-plan bar and restaurant where surfers eat breakfast as they check their morning emails.
In the distance, Bali's highest peak, the active volcano Gunung Agung, is stencilled against a heat-hazed horizon, while soothing electronic music seems to ooze out of the coconut trees on all sides.
An enormous monitor lizard creeps across the narrow bridge leading back to my room, advancing slowly to hide in the choko vines beside the dirt path. Surfers stroll from the line-up, leaving black sandy footprints on the green grass; they wash off the salt and the sand in outdoor showers lined with volcanic rock, swim a lap or two of the pool and order fresh-squeezed fruit juices and coffees from the bar.
And out in front, barely 200 metres away - with a regularity that would border on monotonous if it wasn't the stuff of every surfer's fantasy - the kind of waves I sketched as a bored adolescent on my high school exercise books break identically ... perfectly ... across an Indonesian reef.
Komune Resort, the brainchild of a group of Gold Coast businessmen/surfers including Tony Cannon and former pro surfing champion Luke Egan, marks a radical departure from the blueprint of the typical Indonesian surf camp. As Australian surfers forged pathways into Indonesia from the early 1970s, the entrepreneurs among them established surf camps all up and down the Indonesian archipelago.
These were simple affairs, frequented primarily by groups of male surfers seeking one thing and one thing only ... the perfect wave; partners and families were mostly left at home lest they spoil the search.
Till now, that is.
"Every time I'd come to Indonesia I'd either be stuck in some big hotel in Seminyak or Kuta dreaming of surfing perfect waves," Cannon says.
"Or my wife would be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do while I surfed all day. That's why we started up Komune."
Komune Resort is a rare thing indeed - a genuine family surf resort, entirely devoid of the testosterone-charged atmosphere that too often characterises (and taints) surf travel; and though it may feel like it, Komune Resort is not on a far-flung island of the Indonesian archipelago.
Instead, it's conveniently located 45 minutes from Bali's international airport; and the same distance again from tourist favourites Seminyak, Kuta and Legian. Oddly, few Australians venture in this easterly direction.
In fact, this region of Bali was virtually unknown just two years ago before they built the tollway north-east past Bali's international airport. Even with the fancy new road, Cannon says you still have to create your own paths round here.
"You've still got to trail-blaze around these parts," he says.
"This whole east coast of Bali is littered with unknown surf breaks, with amazing beaches, with pristine spots; you can't even see them on a map, you just have to turn off and have a bit of hope and see for yourself. You can find anything you want to do around here, it's uncharted."
While tourist drawcards like Ubud and Sanur are just 20 minutes' drive away, offering non-surfers near-limitless shopping and activity options, Komune Resort's location on Bali's east coast offers the opportunity for guests to explore far, far beyond where the tour buses venture. I book a driver through the activities desk and soon leave the highway behind as we travel north-east towards Bali's most easterly tip.
We drive along a narrow road that cuts through rainforest and a series of hairpin corners where locals bathe in slow-flowing rivers and fruit vendors peddle their wares - durian, mangos, bananas - inches from the roadway.
There's nothing here but tiny villages where the smell of frangipani and overripe mango pervades, while vines from fig trees hang down onto our bonnet and 1500-metre-high mountain ranges peek through the foliage.
Schoolchildren wait for buses beside the road, dressed in white like tiny sailors, while their parents toil in rice paddy fields. The only signs for Westerners I see are for yoga retreats somewhere high up in the mountains.
We arrive finally in the tiny seaside village of Amed and negotiate a charter price with an old man to take his jukung (boat) for a sightseeing cruise along the coast. We motor through the waves, passing an empty coastline created by ancient lava flows that have left an intricate pattern of terraced cliffs and misty, green escarpments that drop into deserted bays and tiny valleys.
A pod of 20 or so dolphins join us as we pass pearling farms.
When the sea gets rough, our driver holds on hard to his wooden tiller, grinning till his eyes disappear entirely as each wave hits us. We make it to a smooth, pebbled beach near the town of Tulamben, and rent a mask and snorkel. Just 50 metres from the beach, US cargo ship Liberty, which sank during World War II, sits in just a few metres of water. I swim over it and see the stern of the ship rearing up, encrusted with coral and patrolled by fish, and hold my breath to swim through its chambers.
There are few other visitors and exploring here still feels wild ... unrestrained, uncharted and, importantly, about as far from the crowds at Kuta and Legian as I could possibly imagine.
The following day a driver takes me 45 minutes away to the Sidemen region north of Ubud - the epitome of rural Bali with its flooded paddy fields ploughed by teams of water buffalo. I can't see any tourists here either; instead I sit under a mango tree by myself and watch locals dry rice on sheets of cloth under the baking midday sun, and walk through quiet villages that descend hundreds of metres into dark valleys. I stumble upon an empty restaurant here at the end of a quiet road; it's so steep we're forced to leave the car behind and go on foot. White birds fly above us in this peaceful valley as I eat traditional Bakso soup and bask in the absolute silence of a Bali lost in a time warp.
After each excursion further and further into east Bali, I find myself longing to return to the homeliness of Komune Resort.
Modelled on a traditional Balinese village, Komune Resort is built within a large beach-side compound, providing an instant feeling of community. Between its suites and its restaurant/bar lies a large organic fruit and vegetable garden that provides produce for the kitchen.
It also has its very own Joglo where massages and beauty treatments are offered day and night, most for less than $20.
Right next door locals congregate to bathe and pray where the river meets the ocean - a sacred site for Hindus. At night security guards leave out tiny bundles of candy and cut flowers as offerings to the many spirits who they say occupy the resort.
On my return each evening - after I surf in the last remnants of daylight while apricot-coloured clouds swirl around the outline of Gunung Agung - I sit with families and couples at the bar watching the last rays of the sunset, waiting till the floodlights turn on above us and local surf stars take to the line-up at night (you can also book your own private night surf sessions).
There's movies on the lawn to keep families satisfied, and DJs play some nights under the coconut trees for those seeking a party, but most surfers seem to prefer to do not much but listen to the sound of the waves relentlessly breaking across the reef in front, retiring early to bed each evening in the hope they'll be the first out to surf them at dawn.
The writer travelled courtesy of Komune Resort.
Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Garuda offer daily non-stop flights to Bali.
It is a 6hr 30min flight from Sydney and 6hr 15min from Melbourne. Garuda is about $720 from Sydney and $689 from Melbourne including tax. Fares on Jetstar start at $445 return from Sydney including tax and $400 from Melbourne. See jetstar.com.au, virginaustralia.com.au or garuda-indonesia.com.
Australians obtain a visa upon arrival for a stay of up to 30 days. Komune can organise an airport transfer.
Komune Resort offers guest rooms with queen beds or two single beds from A$91 a night. It also offers free wireless internet, a beach bar and restaurant, night surfing, massages and beauty treatments, day tours, free yoga twice daily and other activities. Komune is opening a new health hub in October offering a day spa, fitness centre, yoga pavilion, 25-metre training pool, kids club and new suites and premium rooms. New luxury beachfront villas will also be opening in 2015.