Interview by Jof Sering
Born to a lineage of priest and priestesses, Diah Rahayu was groomed to be a traditional Balinese dancer who would keep their culture and rituals alive. Between dance classes, she also learned how to surf in her beach town. At a young age, she became Bali’s first female professional surfer.
A young pioneer proudly representing her home island and country, she became an inspiring voice for Indonesian girls to follow their passion. At 26, all grown up and into her own self, she opens up to Jof Sering about her spiritual awakening, and why sitting down in silent meditation is her new passion.
Jof: What was life like growing up in Bali?
Diah: I was born and raised in Seminyak, Bali. So it’s my area. I still live here. My relatives all live around here so we are very close with one another. We would do the rituals together, we still do. Growing up, my sisters, friends, cousins, all of us would play out on the streets. We would bike, run around, and go to the beach. I love going to the beach. It was really fun growing up here. My cousin and I used to fly kites in my backyard that was surrounded by rice fields. We would run around like crazy trying to lift our kites.
Sometimes, we would go to find sweet potatoes in the fields, make a small fire to roast them and eat it right there. It was simple yet fun. On the weekends, my Dad would take me out to go fishing for eels – oh, those were the most memorable times! Now, the rice fields around my house are gone. It’s mostly hotels and other buildings. It’s changed a lot and I hope they stop the construction as there are just too many. But I’m grateful that regardless (of continuous development), our culture has remained intact. We still honor our ceremonies, we still believe in the creator and we continue to feel gratitude and blessings for this life.
Jof: What about now as an adult, how’s life going for you during the quarantine and the cancellation of surfing events for the whole year?
Diah: I still love it here though recently it’s been quiet due to the lockdown. The only thing is we weren’t allowed to surf for about two months, the government was really strict about it. But they recently lifted the ban, so, now I’ve been surfing a lot. I also own and run a café with my family called The Cabin. It’s a small place. We serve coffee, juices, Western food, lndonesian food, local Balinese food like a typical Warung. We’re going to open again as they’re reopening the island too. I’m lucky because I don’t need to pay rent as the Café is right beside our house (laughs) It feels good being here in the café in my area. This is where my cousins and friends would get together to hang out.
Lately, our family has also been focused on my Grandma. She passed away recently, so we’re doing our rituals for the dead. We cremated her then returned her to the sea. After a few days, we wait for her soul. We do rituals at home until her soul comes back to our house and then we help send her back to Brahma. It’s a two-week process.
Jof: I’m sorry to hear about your Grandma. I saw the video in Instagram of you going to the water and sending her off. That was really beautiful. Could you tell us more about your family?
Diah: My parents are priests. Whenever we have a ceremony, my parents lead the rituals and even make the Banten, which are the traditional offerings to the gods. You know, the ones you typically see on the temples and on the street that are placed in the coconut leaves. Sometimes, people in the village come to buy the Banten from my Mom. This is what they do for a living. Aside from that, my Dad come help me with the café. I have two sisters, my older sister sadly passed away about three years ago and my youngest sister she’s a talented Gamelan player like my Grandfather (the father of my Mom) He was a talented player of this instrument. It’s hard to play! My sister recently played like a presentation for the government in different towns. It’s an important event, I don’t know how to translate. Anyway, she’s very good. I’m so proud of her. You should listen to it when you can. It’s really good this music.
I am also very close with my other relatives. My Uncle, the brother of my Dad, was the one who taught me to surf. He was a professional surfer. He’s a very good surfer. Actually, he was the one who taught me to surf in Double 6 in secret.
Jof: Why did you surf in secret?
Diah: Because my Dad, even if he was a surfer when he was younger, said surfing is a dangerous, extreme sport and not for girls. But my Uncle didn’t mind at all. So, I would sneak out my Dad’s surfboard and head to Double 6 to surf (laughs). It was the best time of my life. No worries. All play. It was all for fun, I didn’t even know surfing was a sport.
Jof: Do you remember the first time when you went out to surf?
Diah: I was about 12 years old, it was with my Uncle and the first time it was for fun. I was feeling joy and happiness. You know? I didn’t know it was going to be my passion. I fell in love with surfing that day. Everyday it was the same. School then surf. School then surf. I would be in school excited to go out into the water. I never think about anything else just surf and go to school.
Jof: And did you eventually tell your Dad about you surfing?
Diah: One day my Dad asked me, “Why is your skin darker?” (laughs) That was his way of saying ‘I know you surf’. I would play, bike and go to the beach everyday but he figured out I would take his surfboard. I got caught. So, I try to assure him I’m okay with surfing that it’s not dangerous for me. My mom wasn’t happy because before surfing, I was a traditional Balinese dancer. I was attending the classes but because of surfing I had to drop it. For them being a Balinese dancer is a source of pride. It was also more girlie, like feminine. My family is deeply rooted in the culture so it was important for them, for us — their children to be a part of it. Also, having dark skin traditionally wasn’t considered to be good.
Jof: Why is being dark skinned not a good thing?
Diah: The trend in the city was to have lighter skin. Most girls follow this trend and try to keep their complexion as light as possible so being out in the sun wasn’t really a good idea for them. So, surfing, staying out in the ocean for that long, most Balinese girls weren’t going to do it. But I see being tanned or dark is a reflection of being strong and sporty.
Also, at such a young age, I loved surfing so much to even care. With the help of my Uncle I joined some local competitions and I focused on doing good in the water. My friends were mostly boys, we were the ones out surfing except for one girl who was twenty-nine years old at the time, she was a good rider and she really helped me build my confidence. Later, a big company (Ripcurl) came to sponsor me at 14, they started to pay for my school and competitions.
That was when my family accepted the idea of me continuing to surf (laughs) Now, it’s my job. I don’t think any of us would have thought it was a possibility. My Dad gave up surfing to focus on his livelihood of being a priest to take care of his family. But I choose to do what I am truly passionate about and living from it is really something I am proud of.
Jof: It’s amazing to be so aware of your passion at such a young age! Aside from surfing, did you do other sports?
Diah: Yes, in high school, I used to play futsal, you know, indoor soccer. Then after University, I also played football with a club and we played for fun. I loved being able to do all these sporty things. I’m an athlete and I feel very strong.
Jof: How much have you changed since then and now?
Diah: My perception of surfing, rituals, and family have changed. Slowly, slowly I was learning about our tradition in a more meaningful way. Hinduism has a strong culture especially in Balinese culture. If you’ve been here (to Bali) you’ll see the same coconut leaf or Banten that we put in temples or altars as offerings to the gods. I do this daily. Every time I do this offering, I really feel the gratitude and blessing – it’s so strong inside of me. Last year in 2019, I had a spiritual awakening. Another Uncle from my Mom’s side, he became my guru and he taught me about meditation. My Mom’s family is very spiritual and deep in meditation. Since last year, my meditation practice has become deeper and stronger. In the morning when I wake up, I would sit down in silence and meditate for an hour. At night around 8pm, my family and relatives gather together and sit for an hour to meditate in silence. In my meditation, I will imagine the let it fl ow for one hour and not think about anything else. No attachment to the mind and to flow like that.
Jof: Has your surfing changed since your spiritual practice?
Diah: I used to think I can’t live without surfing. Now, I know surfing is not forever. Right now, I still have the same purpose, same goals with surfing like winning competitions as before but I feel my life is more balanced. I have this great job I get to do everyday. I am grateful for it. I do couple of events for fun and I’m really enjoying what I have accomplished through the years. I feel like my surfing has changed. It’s become better I think.
Jof: I also noticed you normally do a prayer before you enter the water, is this some sort of ritual?
Diah: It’s not only before I surf, but whenever, whatever, wherever before doing something, I submit my body to the creator (God/Brahma), to guide me and to always believe all of his will.
Jof: What has your spiritual practice taught you?
Diah: I learned from my guru that us humans, we have egos and we have a lot of ego. Because of our egos, many painful things happen to us. Our attitude is always trying to fix everything, to analyze or to blame — ‘I have problems’, ‘This happened to me’, ‘It’s because of you’. When we realize it’s all about our egos then there is no attachment to anything. We become free. We focus more on the gods and being thankful for everything. One reason for living is to live our karma. Find out who you are. Find your soul. Connect it with the gods and ask to be guided to where you’re supposed to be.
When we let go of our ego, a lot of problems can be fixed. Life is about being peaceful and happy. To also accept and be. Everything I didn’t get before I’m okay with it now, the practice really changed my life. This one I wrote in my journal, “As we heal, we start to notice the situations that used to bring us tension and fear, are now the ones where we feel calm and at peace. The more we free ourselves, the more we become aware that what we give is a reflection of our inner world. Instead of taking things personally, can easily choose to keep our hearts more open and move on without resentment or anger. We are embracing our own power to heal and transform from within.” In the end, we all die. So do what you are passionate about, fi x your karma, heal and live your life happy and peacefully.
Jof: Wow, that was amazing to hear. You’re so young yet so conscious. Terima kasih, Diah! It was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you in Bali soon when travel is allowed again. We will surely visit your café!
Diah: Yes! It would be a pleasure to see you here! Let me know. Terima Kasih!