Balawista, the name given to Bali's troupe of ocean lifeguards, had it seminal roots in 1965. At that time, a loosely-knit group of boys who patrolled the beach to help locals and foreigners in distress while swimming in Bali's surf, were known as the Waja Surf Life-Saving Guard.
Quoted in BeritaBali.com, I Gde Berata, a founding member of the group, said: "In the beginning we were just a groups of young guys who loved sports and nature. Beginning around 1965, we began to frequently do physical exercise outside in various areas, including Kuta Beach, which at that time was still very quiet. "
In 1970, while exercising on Kuta Beach, Gde Berata met a foreign tourist. Initially, he assumed the man was just one more of many "hippies" making Kuta his transitory home. "Kuta Beach was then very quiet, not like it is today. There would only be one or two tourists, and they almost always looked like hippies," explained Berata.
After awhile, the foreign tourist was teaching his young Balinese friends ocean life-saving techniques. In time, Gde Berata came to know his foreign friend as Kevin Weldon, the president, at that time, of Surf Life Saving Australia.
After completing a course of training from Weldon, on October 28, 1972, the Balawista Pantai Kuta was formally established.
When it was first founded, the Balawista Kuta Bali were trained by professionals from several countries, but mainly Australia. The central skill was the ability to swim in the ocean while providing emergency assistance to those in difficulties.
"He (Kevin Weldon) pitched in on the actual training. At the time, we were told to prepare people for training as beach lifeguards. The first detachment of lifeguards totalled 75 people and was taught by Australian coaches in 1973. A couple of the newly trained lifeguards had the opportunity to received additional training at Palm Beach on Australia's Gold Coast," explained Berta, who will celebrate his 72nd birthday on June 20, 2011.
Year by year, the life-savers of Bali developed and progressed. Today, they number 147 members working from 18 watch stations along 63 kilometres of beach in Bali's Badung regency.
Now in their 39th year, the importance of Bali's Balawista to the island's tourism industry cannot be overstated. Poorly paid but deeply dedicated, they keep a watchful eye of the now many thousands of visitors to Bali's beaches and are credited with "coming to the rescue" for scores of people every year.
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