There was a time when Tony Cannon was always out on the waves. Then one day he encountered a white snake.
The trained civil engineer is an Australian surfer who spent the '80s and '90s chasing the perfect wave in Bali. Nine years ago, however, he became fixated on discovering the whereabouts of a fabled surf break.
For those who don't know, a surf break is a piece of topography (underwater or otherwise) that causes the sea to form reliable and surfable waves. These breaks are not always easy to reach, located far from civilisation, or far out to sea or else rendered inaccessible by cliffs. Others are simply kept secret by surfers wanting to hold the hordes at bay.
Throughout the 1990s, a Balinese surf break called "Keramas'' was one such secret – a rumour of an east coast wave-machine that pumped out super-fast six-footers breaking to the right. Better yet, the waves were said to spill onto a generous black-sand beach backed only by jungle and rice fields.
Then, in the mid-2000s, Keramas was photographed from a helicopter by a visiting surf journalist and published in Tracks magazine.
"And that's all I had to go on," says Tony Cannon. "A photo in a magazine and a name." Cannon used Google Earth to narrow down the location to a long stretch of coast near the densely populated district of Gianyar, about an hour from Denpasar.
"I took a punt with a local real estate agent and asked if she knew about Keramas. She said she did and drove me out to a stretch of beach in front of a temple. There was a small break there, but I wasn't convinced – and anyway you're not allowed to surf in front of temples, so I figured that was that."
During the visit, Cannon happened to see a white snake near the temple, slithering away.
"We returned to the car park where I asked if anyone had seen the white snake? This caused a bit of a commotion because the Balinese consider white snakes to be auspicious. Suddenly I had a crowd around me, getting me to explain what I'd seen.
"Once it had all died down, I asked if anyone knew of a break nearby called Keramas. One of the locals said, 'Sure – it's 400m up the beach!'."
Before long Cannon was sitting looking at the break: the legend of Keramas was true.
"The funny thing is, I found myself sitting next to this guy, and it turned out he was the owner of the land that looks over the break. So I asked him: 'Do you want to sell the block?'."
That was the beginning of the end for Cannon's days as a surfer. "Once you'd always find me out on the waves," he says. "Now I'm too busy running a resort."
Along with business partner and investor Tony de Leedes, Cannon built and opened the Hotel Komune Bali in 2012.
Five years later, and Komune is one of many resorts in Bali catering to cashed-up foreign visitors. It has all the same ingredients: a pool, a beachside bar and that rather addictive musk of vegetation, incense and smoke. It also offers relatively affordable luxury and a coterie of affable Balinese staff (160 of them to look after 182 guests).
But I soon realise there's something that sets this resort apart from Bali's extensive portfolio of fly-and-flop retreats.
It has a culture.
My suite in the new resort wing is $260 a night, which gets me a view over my plunge pool, over lawns and coconut palms and out onto the Keramas surf break. Inside, the suite is all pale timber smoothness with a generous bed plus an en suite shower so powerful that I dub it "the punisher". I especially like the Balinese coffee, which I sip at 5.30am each day as the skies begin to ripple with raspberry clouds.
From without, however, the new wing appears as a low-profile slab of utilitarian indulgence, a bit of "Bauhaus luxe". This is because Cannon was conscious of preserving the view – specifically the view you get from your surfboard while you're waiting for a wave on Keramas. He wants you to look back and see the coconut forest, not a chunk of Kuta-style concrete or an edifice of faux Balinese temple.
Komune pays lots of tributes to the original surf culture, much of it pioneered by Aussie wax heads. The resort beachfront is reached not by a grand drive, but by a shady jungle corridor with black sand underfoot, emulating the tracks taken by eager surfers looking for their big break. Behind the suites is a lovely mews-like row of $117-a-night resort rooms facing each other over tropical gardens, reminiscent of Kuta's intimate "gangs" (alleys). And locally-priced beers are on sale at an old-school surf shack that rejoices in its own dishevelment.
(Just to show the homage to surf safari is authentic, there's a small collection of crap books in my suite, a throwback to the swap-shelves loaded with lousy airport fiction, German philosophy texts and obscure self-help guides. I'm blessed with a James Patterson page-turner and The Wisdom of Menopause.)
But don't get the wrong idea, Komune is most definitely upmarket. The surfside Beach Club Bar and Restaurant has been seriously architected for contemporary effect, looking much like a giant saucer tilted against the surf. The restaurant menu is complemented with ingredients from Komune's vegie gardens, orchard and chook shed. And the gym is equipped with the sort of gear you might expect in the New York Hilton.
Komune's creators are also very serious about surfing.
Names like "Taj", "Joel" and "Bruce" get dropped frequently, and with justification. These world heavyweights have all surfed here, notably at the Komune Bali Pro surfing competition, first staged in 2014 and now attracting up to 1000 people.
So as a guest of Komune, you quite literally have a world-class surf break on your doorstep. In keeping with this, pre- and post-surf prep is encouraged.
At the heart of the resort is the Health Hub. Here, I partake in pre-breakfast yoga hosted by a lean American called Nicole who twists hammies and hips until her class sweats buckets. Within the Hub's gym is a gizmo called a Surfset, a surfboard with three soft, inflatable boards fixed to the underside. It has all the stability of a jelly, but it's ideal for those who need to improve balance and learn that explosive jump-up motion. (Cannon reckons doing a yoga session and 20 jumps on the Surfset is the perfect prep for a day on Keramas.)
Breakfast at the Health Hub is all vitamin-pepped power juices and the like of "organic baked bean trio with garlic, onion, tomato concasse and organic parsley". And if you're post-surf, then there's the massage centre, where $55 will get you two masseurs simultaneously working on your aching muscles.
Suitably warmed up with yoga and beans, I'm eager to trot over the black sands and enter the warm waters.
I've never had the gall to call myself a surfer but I've always loved the business of trying, in fact my idea of the "perfect wave" is the one that allows me to stand up for longer than five seconds. Regardless, I hire a ten-foot board ($30 for a day) and take to the beginners' area a little way from Keramas. Here, resident Komune surfer and lifesaver Wayan coaches me into some presentable form. The thrill is real and I only rue the fact I don't have longer at Komune to improve myself enough to try out the break itself. For now however, discretion is the better part of valour – and certainly the better part of the shallow, spiky reef that causes Keramas to work in the first place.
At evening, I take a seat at the Beach Club Bar overlooking the break. The music is pumping and the drinks are circulating among fit, tanned guests, but there's still a line of hardcore waxheads riding the relentless crash and curl of Keramas, determined to squeeze the last drop of daylight from the break.
I recall a surfer who once said, "When the surf's up, your life is too". And I realise I'm completely seduced by the notion of a surf resort – a place with a purpose, where luxury is underpinned by the spirit of surfers past.
At last blackness falls and there's only the sound of surf on sand… until someone throws a switch and two giant stadium lights flood the Keramas break and its long lines of spilling ocean.
The resort is a 40-minute taxi ride from the airport to the resort.
Resort rooms from $117, suites from $260, room only. Komune also has all-inclusive packages that are good value. The Eat Play Surf 5 Nights Package costs $950pp and includes five nights' accommodation (resort room), daily breakfast for two, five 30-minute massages, two night-surfing sessions, five yoga or fitness training sessions, two daily sunset cocktails and a dinner for two.
Max Anderson was a guest of Komune Resorts
SO YOU'VE NEVER SURFED BEFORE?
Don't worry, Komune can introduce you to the religion of the board.
The resort has a stash of longboards (perfect for beginners) and the small surf north of Keramas is pretty forgiving. Lessons can also be arranged with the crew at the surf shack (called the warung). If you factor in a daily Health Hub routine, you'll be upright sooner than you think.
If you (or more likely one of your party) doesn't want to surf, you're not left wanting. The Health Hub is multi-functional, with a beauty salon, private pool, dining area plus the Spa.
Children are also welcome and now have a dedicated skate park within the resort. Note however, definitely no PlayStations.
The Keramas beach is an attraction in itself, offering a mix of the ancient and the modern: local duck farmers still herd their long-necked flocks onto the black sands for a morning constitutional and locals can be seen burying themselves up to the neck for the sands' healing properties.
Komune is only half an hour from the stellar landscapes in and around Ubud, with the resort offering regular visits. Other activities can be arranged including white water rafting, visits to White Sands Beach, volcano hikes, rice paddy cycle tours and an elephant walk under the stars in Taro.