There’s a bar on the west coast of Bali where beers cost $3 and an eight-foot bowl is surrounded by rice paddies.
The bowl itself is super steep and tight, with pool coping, a death box and a stair set in the shallow end. In the afternoons, it’s an idyllic and quiet little spot to go skate and drink beers with a few friends. Then, three nights a week, the space becomes a full-blown party, hosting skate sessions, live music and Bintangs aplenty. It’s standard to see a hundred people crammed in around the bowl watching the local shredders and foreign visitors hold down a session.
The venue is called Pretty Poison and it’s one of many skateparks that have popped up in Bali over the last few years. The skate scene here is exploding and pool-style bowls seem to be particularly appealing. While street skating in Bali is really difficult—mostly due to the deathly traffic and rough streets—bowls and skateparks are at the heart of Bali’s rapidly burgeoning scene. Surprisingly, none of these parks has been government funded; they’re all privately owned and operated. Which makes you wonder: who’s building them?
His name is Afandy Dharma and it’s hard to imagine what Bali’s skate scene would be like without him. Over the last 15 years, he’s gone from importing skate supplies to running his board company, Motion Skateboards, and more recently, to the skatepark construction trade.
“I was scared to build [Pretty Poison],” Afandy laughs, explaining that it was the first time he’d ever attempted to build a bowl. “But, I mean, I wasn’t going to turn it down.”
That’s been Afandy’s approach the whole way through: he steps up and learns as he goes through the process. These days, the 32-year-old Balinese skater spends his time overseeing his skate shop in Legian, running Motion’s online presence and travelling around Indonesia designing and building skateparks. He lives in Kuta with his wife and three kids.
While Bali’s skate scene is probably healthier than ever, it wasn’t long ago that skateboarding was really difficult here. Back in 2004, the only place in Bali that stocked skateboards was a surf shop in Kuta and they were pretty expensive. Afandy decided to take things into his own hands: “I thought I’d try ordering 10 boards [from China] and I just sold them to my friends,” he says. “The quality was pretty good so those 10 boards turned into 20 and then 40 and so on.” This was Afandy’s first foray into the skate industry and the natural beginning of what would later become Motion Skateboards.
In those days, Bali’s skate scene revolved around a DIY spot at Simpang Siur, which was basically just a vacant stretch of road next to a highway. “It was pretty rough but it was good, it was ours,” Afandy says. “At first we’d just built wooden ledges and rails but they kept getting wrecked.” Eventually, an Australian concreter found his way to Simpang Siur and he showed Afandy and the rest of the boys how to lay their first concrete ledge. “We learned how to use trowels and we built a bunch of shit,” Afandy explains.
By 2009, the DIY spot had been destroyed and converted into a highway underpass. Afandy had recently been to Australia, where he’d started a business with his girlfriend (now wife) selling Balinese jewellery at Robina Town Centre on the Gold Coast. They’d managed to save a little bit of money and since Bali’s skaters had been left with nowhere to skate, Afandy set out to find some land and build his first skatepark from scratch.
“We didn’t have much of a budget,” he recalls. “I had like $20,000 [AUD] to build the whole thing.” So when a contractor quoted the job at $50,000, Afandy and his friend David—a soft-spoken guy from Sumatra who is now a partner in the business—had to rethink the project. They decided to try to do the job themselves with less than half the budget. This meant laying a concrete slab for the floor themselves, which was a giant leap from the DIY concreting they’d previously done at Simpang Siur.
“We had no experience with laying proper concrete floors,” he laughs. “A month before the build, I was just on YouTube and Google, looking up how to do it.” The final product is a plywood street course in a warehouse that’s home to Bali’s core skateboarders and the guys who ride for Motion Skateboards. It’s still the OG place to skate in Bali.
Afandy has built “about 15” skateparks and there’s been a running theme of figuring-it-out-as-you-go. For every park, there’s a little anecdote about when things went wrong. Like when they were building a 500-square-metre park in Java in wet season: “We’d pour a section [of concrete], it would get rained on and then we’d tear it out and start again the next day.” Or Pretty Poison: “With pretty much everything we built in that bowl, it was our first time doing it. There were parts that we had to tear down and restart.” Or the Amplitude bowl in Kerobokan, “It was the deepest bowl we’ve ever done… It was all learning.”
Building skateparks isn’t an easy or well-established career path, especially in Bali. The prerequisites are to have been riding a skateboard for at least a decade, the ability to teach yourself how to use design software and the practical skills to lay concrete. It’s a pretty tall order for your average contractor, which partly explains why the government are yet to build any great skateparks in Indonesia.
“To me, it’s sad when I see a shit park,” says Afandy. “The communities in those cities have been waiting for a park for so long, and finally when one gets built they’re so stoked, but then the transition is shitty or the coping is sticking out too far,” he says. “These little things can fuck up the whole skatepark.” Afandy says he’s made bids for contracts to build the government skateparks multiple times but they usually give the work to a family member or someone they know. This is frustrating, but in Bali, privately owned businesses—like Pretty Poison, Konkrete and Amplitude—are providing plenty of space for the scene to flourish.
Afandy wants skateboarding to be more accessible to everyone in Indonesia, not just Bali. He explains, “If there was a situation where the government was going to build a park that was free for anybody, we would help them, no matter what budget they have. I don’t care, I’ll go in there with my team and I’ll build it and I won’t make any money. I don’t give a shit.”
While Indonesia’s big cities could certainly benefit from better skate facilities, it’s no longer an issue in Bali. The days of being limited to a single DIY are long gone. “I hadn’t seen a quarter pipe until I was like 15,” says Afandy. “Looking at everybody now, they don’t know how lucky they are.”