MEET: The Female Surfers of Bali

Matt George

by on

Updated 16d ago

You can see it in their eyes. The hunger these females have for progression, and the games they must play for it, here on Bali. Even though they surf better than most men, these young ladies still must fight for their standing in the lineup. One wave at a time.

In Indonesia, the small cadre of sponsored female surfers school together. On Bali, the leading ladies can be counted on one hand; Pua and Kailani Johnson, Diah Rahayu Dewi, Dhea Nastasya, Taina Izquierdo and Cinta Hansel. And they all have their own unique crosses to bear.

Kailani Johnson’s surfing is growing in power and grace. A favorite of surf photographers, her fireworks at Padang Padang and Keramas ensure that the cameras are always turned her way.

Kailani Johnson’s surfing is growing in power and grace. A favorite of surf photographers, her fireworks at Padang Padang and Keramas ensure that the cameras are always turned her way.

© 2020 - Federico Vanno/Liquid Barrel

For Dhea Nastasya, it is walking the tightrope between her Islamic beliefs and her own brand of sun worship. Like a stage player changing costumes, she is constantly in flux. A top competitor in both shortboard and longboard events, she is a rare gem in the predominately Hindu world of Bali, sometimes bearing the scorn of her fellow believers who would prefer her to dye her hair black when it shows even a hint of sun bleaching, and for participating in a “naked sport.” She often competes in XL men’s t-shirts, long boardshorts and full-length “burkinis.”

Her passion for surfing unquestionable, Dhea Nastasya is required to turn to the west and pray five times a day in proper dress that would present a challenge to any surfer living by the rhythm of the tides.

Her passion for surfing unquestionable, Dhea Nastasya is required to turn to the west and pray five times a day in proper dress that would present a challenge to any surfer living by the rhythm of the tides.

© 2020 - Matt George

For Kailani and Pua Johnson it is a battle for acceptance. Indonesian citizens, born and raised in Bali by a Hawaiian expat father and a Balinese mother, they are both surfing champions (Kailani is the Asian tour’s #1 ranked female surfer). But their mixed heritage and Hawaiian first names sometimes casts doubt on their Balinese provenance. Until they’re seen in action.

Indonesia’s top-rated female, Kailani Johnson managed an impressive debut at the 2019 Bali Pro at Keramas. It took the mastery of Stephanie Gilmore to end her run.

Indonesia’s top-rated female, Kailani Johnson managed an impressive debut at the 2019 Bali Pro at Keramas. It took the mastery of Stephanie Gilmore to end her run.

© 2020 - Federico Vanno/Liquid Barrel

After all, surfing big, powerful waves over shallow, sharp reefs does not intimidate the sisters in the least — evident every time Pua races through another five-second barrel at Desert Point.

The older of the Johnson sisters, Pua Johnson is courageous in surf of any size, and recently took 2nd place in an open men’s online surf contest with her five-second barrel at perfect Desert Point. “I love being a woman,” she says. “It gives me something to prove.”

The older of the Johnson sisters, Pua Johnson is courageous in surf of any size, and recently took 2nd place in an open men’s online surf contest with her five-second barrel at perfect Desert Point. “I love being a woman,” she says. “It gives me something to prove.”

© 2020 - Federico Vanno/Liquid Barrel

Diah Rahayu Dewi is the elder stateswoman of the group. Devoutly Hindu, a college graduate and a class act, Diah is always ready with a cheerful sound bite. She is often sought out by the Indonesian government for media purposes. The first female professional surfer on Bali, she is sponsored by Rip Curl, as well as Indonesia’s exotic pearl industry, complete with airport billboards. It hasn’t always been easy, though. She once had to hide her surfboard from her family in a tree by the beach. Now a successful entrepreneur, beachside bar owner and, still, the highest-paid female professional surfer in Indonesia, Diah remains an inspiration to the younger generation as the kind of woman that can play by the men’s rules, and still come out on top.

Diah Rahayu Dewi’s aggressive style is startling to most first-time viewers.

Diah Rahayu Dewi’s aggressive style is startling to most first-time viewers.

© 2020 - Federico Vanno/Liquid Barrel

Taina Izqueirdo is Puerto Rican by birth, but has been lighting up the competitive lineups of Indo for years. “I don’t pay attention to all the bullshit” she says. “I am my own island.”

Taina Izquierdo is outspoken and articulate and a damn fine surfer.

Taina Izquierdo is outspoken and articulate and a damn fine surfer.

© 2020 - Federico Vanno/Liquid Barrel

The movie star of the group is Cinta Hansel. Her father, Bruce Hansel, was one of the legendary “Pipeline Underground” of the ’70s before moving to Bali in 1999, bringing his Hawaiian shaping skills to the island. Cinta, once the first Indonesian Junior Women’s Champion two years running, has grown into a cultural force here in Indonesia. Now 20 years old and still powering, she has been a media darling for most of her career, snagging leading roles in locally made feature films and recently becoming one of the stars of the new international documentary “She Is the Ocean,” which tells Cinta’s story and even features her traditional Balinese dancing skills.

As a whole, this remarkable group of young female surfers form a force here in Bali that is sure to resonate through the generations. And maybe, just maybe, being located on the international crossroads of surfing, they may inspire all surfing women to press on with hope.