soul talk

Bobby Gómez California, 1977

Monday, March 16, 2015 2 Comments 10 Likes
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Bobby is a thirty-five-year-old surfer from Corvallis, Oregon, United States, who‘s been living in Bali for two years. He has a degree in marine fisheries resources management and has worked with teenagers at a Wild Life Refuge. In Bali he earns his living by tutoring kids. He also has an innate desire to help people in need as well as a restless penchant to be in the wild and to pursue a simple life devoid of luxuries like cell phones. Both passions have taken him on stand-up paddle tours around the Moluccas and around Bali. We sat down for a coffee and to hear his insights on bali – surf – life, God, Love, Human Nature and paddling from sun up to sun down.

Bobby, when did you arrive in Bali? August 2010. What did you know about Bali before coming? I had been here in 2008. I knew it was a place I wanted to come back to. I knew it was full of energy and life and that attracted me to it. The place I was living in the States was getting a bit dull and monotonous for me so I wanted to come somewhere that felt more alive and had some good surf too. What made you come to Bali the first time you came in 2008? The first time I came I was motivated by surf. I came to check Uluwatu, and I took a trip to Sumatra. I just kinda wanted to check the whole scene, because I have a couple of friends that had lived here since then. So they were kind of my guides and showed me around the place. What did you feel that first time you came to Bali? Did Bali meet your expectations? I’d say, all I was thinking of was surf when I came here. I wasn’t thinking much what the culture was going to be like or any other things so I guess I didn’t have much expectations in the way of culture or the people. As far as my surf expectations, I was stoked but I was also a bit disappointed at first because it took me a while to get used to the wave and I lost my board a couple of times on the rocks. But I could see that the longer I was here, the more I got to know the wave so the more competent I became. How long did you stay in Bali that first time? A month.

You said you had no expectations about the culture or the vibe or the way of living here in Bali; did you see, in that month, anything that you didn’t know you were going to find, or that you didn’t expect, or that surprised you in anyway? Pretty much everything. It was almost overwhelming at first, the activity… I came from the countryside in the US, so coming here where it is more densely populated was a bit of a shock for me. And of course the Hindu religion struck me as being so full of color, so complex… I guess what stuck out the most to me was all the temples with its cool carving and the stone designs. That’s probably what struck me the most. Are you a religious person? Yes. Do you follow any denomination? Yes, I’m catholic. How do your catholic religious views coincide or not with Hindu religious views? Well, before I get into religion, I just want to comment that I am only a human and I don’t have a perfect understanding of my God or my religion. But what I do know is that God asks us to love one another, whether we are from the same religion or not, and that’s what I put before everything else when I meet people that are from a different background or religion and I try to see the beauty in what they worship and what they believe in, and I just try to see the beauty in each person and try to love everybody for the beauty that they have.

Where do you stay in Bali? I live on the Bukit, in Uluwatu. Why did you choose to stay in the Bukit? Well, I started out in Jimbaran, and I got a lung infection as I was driving out to Uluwatu to go surfing. I got a cough that lasted for about a month. At that point I thought it might be healthier for me to live close to the ocean where the fresh breezes blow to breathe in. I also like to live closer to the ocean and walk down the beach to go surfing. To have that closer contact with the ocean seems to be really healthy for me.

A few months ago you went in a stand-up paddle adventure around the Moluccas Islands; can you tell us a little bit about it? Yeah, I did a little bit of research about the area asking friends about it and what attracted me the most was that not many people knew anything about it. So I bought an airline ticket, then a long ride on a taxi, and landed on a beach where I launched my paddle board and then started exploring the region. How many hours a day would you paddle around the islands? In that trip, I could paddle from sun up to sun down most days. Usually in the middle of the day I would find a nice beach where I could pull up to and I would take a break and rest under a tree, or also find some mangroves where I could tie up to and rest. How did you manage with basic necessities as food, fresh water, keeping warm, place to sleep and so on? Dry bags are the answer. It’s important to keep your stuff dry even in the tropics so that at night you always have a dry tent to sleep in. Very rarely on paddling trips have I gone more than one day without coming to a coastal village that has food and water. It’s no problem if you don’t mind living on “biskuat” for a couple of days at a time. Fishing is an option too. I’ve enjoyed a couple of awesome meals on the beach with fresh fish. Did you take any health precautions before your trip, such as vaccinations? I brought some first aid items like band aids and Polysiporin, Having lived in Bali for a couple of years already, I felt like doing this trip wouldn’t be too much of a shock on my immune system, so I didn’t go overboard with medicine. How were you received by the locals? All of the locals were very curious and also very friendly. Always wanted me to stay at their house and eat with them, and always full of questions about my life and about what I was doing. Did you find any surf spots? Yes, I did. Located where? Well, I personally wouldn’t have a problem telling everyone where they are, but because there were other people there, I want to respect those people and I don’t want to tell. Where there many people? The place that I ended up, there was a very cool fifty-year old Australian surfer camped out for about a month and he said he hadn’t seen anyone [surfer] show up there for about 12 years. So out of respect to this man, I think I want to keep it under wraps.

Would you say those islands with surf spots are surf paradise in a way? For me, personally, yes because I like solitude. There was no one around except for some locals harvesting coconuts. But there were no cell phone signals, no warungs, no stores to get snacks. It was all camping on the beach. The one thing that there was, that made it easier, was a fresh-water well. So you just said that it was in a way Paradise; why did you come back to Bali? That’s a good question. I think what drew me back here were some of the luxuries like simple things like Dunkin Donuts (laughter)… I really did miss some of the luxuries that you can get in Bali that you can’t get in other places of Indonesia. But I’m not proud of the fact that I came back because I miss those things. One of my goals in life is to slowly learn how to live life without those luxuries that I grew up with in the United States. Coming to Bali was kind of the first step. My hopes are to, in the future, kinda shed more of these things that I have in life that I think that I need and live a simpler life. Maybe I’ll end up in a place like I just visited and live there long term and not miss any of the things that you can find in the States or in Bali. And why do you want to do that? Because I feel like in a way I’m attached to those things that seem to bring me comfort in life, but every time I am able to get rid of something that I thought I needed, I actually feel a load off my back. I feel more at peace.

During your trip to the Moluccas you met a little girl with club feet and you came back to Bali determined to help her. You organized fundraising events. What made you do that? Mainly I felt that I have a desire to help people – something I was born with, usually when I see people and the need that they have. Also I was stuck with trying to help this girl, because I had told her mom, I had promised her, that I would do everything that I could to help her daughter. So I was kind of bound to my word at that point. So I came up with ideas about what I could do to help her, because I didn’t have the money myself to help her. What kind of ideas to raise money did you come up with? First I had a fundraiser where I made some big thing of refried beans and invited some friends to come over and buy some burritos. So I had a bunch of beans and salsa and Gourmet Garage donated a bunch of tortillas. That was the first one which was enough to get x-rays for Putri, the little girl, and then I needed more money. I decided I would paddle around the island of Bali and get people to pledge donations for the distance that I travelled – I think it was 400 kilometers. So I gave people the option to make a lump-sum pledge or to pledge for every kilometer that I paddled. It was a successful trip. I was able to raise almost enough money to cover all of the costs for the treatment.

So you SUP toured around the whole Island of Bali, can you share that experience with us. Sure, it was a really cool trip. I moved to Bali a couple of years ago, and I felt I still only knew a little part of it. So I’ve been wanting to explore it more and I thought that would be a good way to do it. I started in Jimbaran Bay, I made my way westward and in ten days I was back in Jimbaran Bay. I circled around the island, so I got a good knowledge of the beaches, surf spots… I felt better oriented. Were you also paddling from sun up to sun down? Most days. I was in a kind of schedule on that trip, so I would paddle really hard from early in the morning until after sunset, sometimes. At one point, I spent the night on a floating structure out in the water, woke up at two in the morning with the moon rise and paddled through the night into the day and into the next night. It was a very grueling day of paddling because there was a head wind as well, but I made a lot of distance that day. That was the point when I knew I was going to make it back in that ten-day goal that I’d set for myself. Floating structure? Yes, they are called fish aggregate devices. They are moored down to the ocean bottom and they are rafts made of bamboo that attract fish so the fisherman fish around these fish aggregate devices. I found one of them. They are nice flat platforms. No waves in the north of Bali, so I was able to pull my paddle board up there, throw my sleeping mat for about 6 hours or so and got up with the moon rise. Very impressive! Did you find any surf spots around the island?


How is the south of Bali different from the rest of the island? Well, the south of Bali is the tourist center, so you will see a lot of foreigners and tourists. Also a lot of the ex-pats are concentrated out here as well. So there is more of a western influence on the south. The rest of Bali seems a little more sparsely populated, quieter, not much traffic. Did you ever doubt of being able to accomplish your plan? Yes, when I began planning the trips in February and March the weather was really crappy with heavy rain and west winds. It wasn’t very motivating for me to do a paddling adventure at that time, but I knew in April the weather would improve and I would be glad that I had made the decision to go. Sure enough, the morning I left on April 10 it was beautiful and calm. I could see all the big mountains on Bali with no clouds around.

What would you tell people in the States if they wanted to come to Bali for the first time? Try to find a contact here before you come, if you have a friend of a friend that lives here. It’s good to have somebody that you’re going to connect with when you get here. It can help you through a lot of the frustrating things that a traveler for the first time here might confront.

At one of your fundraisers you mentioned that you weren’t sure if all of this that you do to help little Putri was out of a selfless act to help her or out of a selfish act to fulfill a personal desire; any more insights on that? Well, this whole fundraising and helping little Putri has been one of the most satisfying things that I have done in my life and made me feel really good. So I’m getting a lot of it too. So in a way you could see it as a selfish act because it’s giving me a sense of well-being to help her out. But I guess the two go together. A selfish act can also be a selfless act because the better we feel about ourselves the better people will feel around us too. If we, ourselves, have a sense of well-being, that can be almost contagious to all of us around us too. It’s a mix between a selfish and a selfless act. Would you say there are selfless acts, or just selfish acts with a selfless outcome? Probably so. But if you look at the bigger picture and see how we are all connected to each other and how our actions affect each other… It’s like we are a giant being where our actions affect each other’s actions. It’s hard for me to explain. It’s the first time I’m thinking about it. But I guess all acts are selfish but they can affect others in a positive or negative way.

So how is Putri now? Putri is good. She is healing, her feet are straightening out, but she still has a ways to go before she is completely healed. I just visited her in Jakarta. She is a really up-beat little girl. Even though it’s tough for her and her mom, they’re going to stick it out; she’s going to come out healed and she’s going to have a better life because of this.
Are you planning any other fundraiser event? I do need a little bit more money to help pay the doctor bill. There is a one-night stay at a fancy villa donated to me so I may be auctioning that off pretty soon on my facebook group dedicated to Putri. It’s called “Paddle for Putri”

Where do you surf in Bali? Mostly near Uluwatu, anywhere that’s walking distance from where I live. How do you deal with the crowds? I have a sticker on my surfboard that says KIND. Every time I get frustrated I just look at that sticker and try to smile at people and that usually gives positive results. Nice. Have you had any memorable surf session in the Bukit?
April sticks out in my mind. That whole month was magical. That’s when I caught the biggest wave of my life, at “The Bombie”. But there are probably more memorable sessions to come.

Has Bali helped you grow up as a person? It definitely has. It’s made me a more patient person. I’ve always struggled with being patient and waiting for things. Here in Bali if you don’t learn to be patient, you won’t be able to survive, you will have to leave. I just make a conscious effort to be patient when in traffic or waiting in line. It’s helped me a lot.

What are your plans for the near future? I’m going to the States for my brother’s wedding and then back to Bali. What would be your advice to others you might inspire to go on SUP tours? Go for it! There are tons of awesome islands to explore in Southeast Asia, and if you just want a camping/paddling experience and aren’t interested in surfing too, then there are some awesome places to check out that are a lot safer than coastline exposed to heavy surf. If you want to surf too, then make sure you learn about the currents and ocean conditions in the area by talking to local fishermen. They are about the best source of information. Any other plans for your life in Bali aside from tutoring?
Yes, there are other things I want to do, but I don’t have a clear vision yet.

Matur Suksuma Bobby. Sama Sama.

Bobby would like to thank all the support received from friends and friends of friends and a special thanks wave hunter bali as well as nusa and debali.

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  1. Updating on Bobby and Putri: Bobby has recently gotten married and relocated to Jakarta. Putri couldn’t take it any longer and has stopped wearing her foot braces. Since she is still growing her feet have started to bend inwards again. Life doing its thing.