Bob Koke, the Man Who Brought Surfing to Asia

Have you heard of Bob Koke before? His name doesn’t come up very often about surfing, but Bob is credited with popularizing surfing in Asia. More specifically, Mr. Koke has made Bali one of the most famous surfing destinations in the world. It’s worth knowing his story – and we can share a little bit about him.

Bob Koke
Bob Koke | Kuta Beach Hotel | Balinese surfers with alaias | Photo: Surfer's Journal

The Story of Bob Koke

Bob Koke was a photographer and film industry employee from California. His roots in surfing are from an assignment to Hawaii in 1932 – where he discovered the activity. He became fascinated by how surfing was ingrained in the local culture – and how enjoying it was.

Bob and his wife Louise also had a great passion for travel. Outside of moving around for his work, they would visit as many countries as possible. Every sight and sound had to be taken in before returning to their home. After the Hawaiian assignment, they traveled through Japan and China – and subsequently Singapore. A friend recommended visiting the beauty of Bali. Considering there weren’t many tourists at the time – it was quite a unique holiday spot.

Bob landed in Bali in 1936, where there were only a couple of hotels and tourist amenities. After adopting a love of surfing, he immediately recognized the potential as an ideal surfing spot. The opportunity couldn’t be passed up to ride the waves – and Bob and Louise fell in love with the island. They decided to stay and open a hotel to share Bali as an ideal surf spot, and the rest is history.

Bob Koke as the Origin of Asian Surfing

Bob employed local staff who initially had no idea about surfing, where he taught them to ride the waves on boards to share with his guests. Enthusiasm quickly spread between the locals and guests alike – the sport as enjoyable as it was rejuvenating. Surfing acted as a positive for Bali – introducing new culture and showed the island’s potential in a new light.

In 1942, World War II had destroyed the original hotel that surfing began on, and Bob had to flee. Surfing culture was halted in its development – but the passion and memories stayed alive. The surfboards Bob had brought to the island remained – an homage to the start of the surfing revolution in Asia.

Bali acted as an inspiration for Asia as the spiritual home of the continent’s growing surf culture. Bob Koke was seen as the first surfer in Indonesia and the man credited for its popularity. His legacy remains in the area today as the father of surfing in Bali – unbeknownst to many.

The Legacy of Bob Koke

Bali is undoubtedly one of the most popular surfing locations in the world today, and it may not be what it is today if Bob Koke hadn’t introduced his passion for surfing here. Visiting the island and riding the waves always brings Bob’s legacy into a positive light. Local surfers recognize how he transformed the island and made surfing a culture within the Southeast Asian continent.

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