On a sunny Sunday afternoon, close to 20 cars have pulled by the road side just over a mile inwards from the Lugu junction along the Muara-Tutong highway.
There’s a buzz of chatter, splashing of water and the sight of a tranquil freshwater lake with a uniquely turquoise-like sheen.
By eyeball estimates it’s some 300 metres in length, 80 metres wide, and has no official name or active supervising authority.
The aptest translation and the most widely used is Lugu lake. In the past 18 months, it has gone from an obscure borrow pit to trending social media topic to one of the community’s most favoured recreation spots and home of the increasingly popular water sport – stand up paddleboarding (SUP).
So how did it all begin?
RPN Lugu and free-diving
Construction for the cluster homes of the Lugu National Housing Scheme (RPN), spanning 193 hectares, began in 2014 with the earliest occupants moving in two to three years later.
However, RPN terrace housing in the area was already occupied several years prior, according to village head of Lugu and Katimahar Salim Adi, which makes the date of the Lugu lake’s formation somewhat unclear.
“What’s clear is that the lake wasn’t there before (prior to RPN construction),” said Salim. “When construction began, the land was level there. They dug into the area and eventually it naturally filled up with water.”
Excavating land for construction use is quite common for large-scale projects, and the resulting borrow pits often develop into mini lakes. You can see these in the vicinity of Brunei’s RPNs, although the water is usually stagnant and murky.
“The Lugu lake is very unique in that sense,” said Salim, who believes that there was a stream of water passing through the area before the area was dug into. “It may be man-made, but it so clear. It has a natural beauty to it.”
Residents began to use the lake after moving in – but it only received attention outside the Lugu community in early 2016, when a free-dive video by Ronin Lim (pictured below), which has since garnered over 6,000 views, was uploaded to YouTube.
Filmed underwater using a GoPro, the clip maps out the clear waters of the lake, with grass, tree roots and the occasional sight of a small toman (snakehead fish) – allaying fears of larger freshwater creatures.
Earlier in March, Pg Md Syahreen Pg Hj Metassan – simply known as Alin Kurapak to his some 22,000 followers on Instagram, moved into RPN Lugu.
With one of Brunei’s fastest growing bloggers and social media personalities in Lugu’s backyard, it was only a matter of time before the 37-year-old recorded scenic footage of the lake, married with descriptions in his signature personalized, Bruneian tone.
“Right after I moved in I drove by to check out the area,” says the 37-year-old, who jokes that he’s not much of a swimmer. “Back then the grass was still tall around the area, but the sight (of the lake) – it was really something.”
After shooting videos with a drone, comments from Bruneians poured in – some even in disbelief that the lake was in Brunei.
As more came, residents began to cut and clear the grass on their on initiative, building a small wooden jetty and a stall with zinc roofing to sell drinks and food.
But what would end up consistently bringing in the most visitors from outside Lugu would be an engineer from New Zealand with a passion for standup paddleboarding (SUP).
“I think we had our first lesson here in August,” says Stephen Officer, who migrated to Brunei some 20 years ago. “This (Lugu lake) isn’t anything like we’ve seen in Brunei. It ought to be something we develop and preserve.”
In a nutshell, SUP sees one using a more sturdy, usually inflatable, surf style board to and a long paddle, usually a taller than standing height.
While there are competitive races abroad in SUP, the activity is usually enjoyed as a physical yet calming way for traversing and exploring open waters.
“The Lugu lake is perfect for starting SUP,” says Stephen. “There is only a slight current, which is a bit different than going to the beach, where you have to paddle beyond the initial waves before the water is calm. We now host (the majority) of our classes, especially the beginners, here.”
Commercialization: a community & private partnership?
Efforts to develop Lugu lake, while laudable, have been piecemeal so far. The banks are now getting increasingly muddy with frequent use and parts of the jetty can be seen falling apart. There is a zinc shack, which acts a makeshift changing room, but there are no toilets.
Stephen recently sat down with Salim, to seek out a way to develop the area into a recreational site that will preserve the area and open up opportunities for small businesses and the community to gain income.
“One of the main challenges is that we do not (currently) know which is the authority that we need to refer to (for approval),” admits Salim, who is planning to approach a list of agencies including the Public Works Department, District Office, Land Department, Housing Development Department and Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation.
“I believe that partnership between the village consultative council (MPK) of Lugu and the private sector would be the best way forward. Proper infrastructure (toilets, parking) needs to be built, along with cafe or food stalls, with lake is used for water sports and lifeguards for safety,” added Salim.
“This could open up opportunities for the residents to sell or be employed to take care and maintain the area. Even without (proper development) it has already proven that it can draw visitors. We should do something about it.”
If you’re interested in standup paddleboarding visit www.sup-surfari.com or get in touch directly by contacting +6738713019.