Long-hailed as the surf mecca of the world, Bali has been indulging those with a passion for surf since the 1960s and ‘70s. The movement started when a small group of Australian surfers began to lug their surf gear up from Australia’s famous surf breaks to the up-to-that-point non-descript Indonesian island. And since the arrival of this rag-tag group of surf junkies, the sport has evolved into one of Bali’s most notable draws, and for good reason. With warm water, a range of breaks, cheap prices, and the always affable Balinese hospitality, Bali is a one-stop surf shop that plays host to annual surf competitions, a number of the best waves in the world, and plenty of spots to get the curious beginner involved. But with surfboards lining many of the beaches, and touts hawking pre-mangled rentals at steep premiums, it’s best to have some of the best breaks on the island mapped out before you arrive.
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
We all start somewhere, and Bali sure isn’t a bad place to start, thing is, pretty much everyone on the island feels the exact same way. This means that crowding in many of the beginner’s’ hangouts can become quite an issue when you’re out trying to stand up, but because of the well-established beginner statuses of these spots, you can rest assured that you won’t be hassled or pressured by more experienced surfers who you may have accidentally gotten in the way of.
Kuta/Legian: While there are a number of spots on the island where beginners can test their skill, it is along the sweeping strands of southern Bali’s Kuta and Legian that many will catch their first waves. With mild left breaks, these waves are perfect for beginners of all ages. However, as mentioned, crowding and surf schools in the water are aplenty, and this can be imposing at times, so your best bet is to beat holiday loungers by waking early and getting down to the beach while it’s not yet woken up. Here you’ll also have no trouble finding food, drinks and a spot to sun in, as such, the convenience is also top-tier. For rentals, surf school sign-ups and surf-related purchases, make sure to hit the streets of Kuta, Legian or even Seminyak first, as the beach-front rigs that are set up by some of the locals are far from honest. With notoriously bad boards and astronomically inflated prices on the beach, it’s wise to check some of the more reputable shops (Pro Surf School, Jl. Raya Pantai; Odysseys Surf School, Jl. Pantai Kuta; Naruki Surf Shop, Jl. Lebak Bene) that line the lazy boulevards of these small towns to get the best rates.
Bali has become the surf mecca of the world for a reason, and the reason is because of the absurd waves that call this slow-moving island home. With professionals and a number of surf competitions that stroll through Bali year-round, Bali’s surf, and in particular, these waves, are why people have been flocking here since the 60s.
Medewi: For those seeking out a less crowded and more isolated ocean experience, Medewi, on Bali’s western coast, offers waves that are fantastic for both beginning and intermediate surfers alike. Best left to the folks that are past standing up, the breaks here — mostly left — are long and easy, and can be caught without much wait. But if you’re just starting, and want to do so without the crowd, lessons can also be had here at surf camps or from local guides, and their prices come much closer to truthful than that of the beach touts and hawkers in the crowded Kuta/Legian area. And while Medewi offers some great isolated surf, visitors should keep in mind that this area is one of the few Muslim-majority areas on the island, as such, during the month-long Ramadan celebration (June 17 – July 17 in 2015), things such as food and beverages of the alcoholic variety tend to be harder to get during the day while locals are fasting, conversely, things are a bit more easy-going here on Bali’s holiest of days, Nyepi. With cheaper prices than the bustling strip that comprise Kuta and Legian, plenty of food and accommodation, and heaps of smiles, Medewi is certainly a place to remember if you’re stepping foot on the surfboard for the first time in Bali.
Playgrounds at Nusa Lembongan: Just an hour to 90 minutes by boat from Bali is a small surf island called Nusa Lembongan. Leaving from Sanur, you can catch any number of boats daily, but two recommended services are those of Scoot and Rocky Fast Cruises, which run a little under 15 USD, cheaper boats can also be had, but safety standards are minimal at best, and overcrowding can typically become an issue.g. The island itself, however, has got something for everyone, and while the waves are top-notch, so is the diving, snorkelling, and beach lounging. Out on Lembongan, perhaps the best beginners wave is, rightfully named, Playgrounds. An A-frame beginner’s break, this wave comes with a slow and shallow right-hand break and a steeper and quicker left so that you can test yourself as you climb further up the beginner’s ladder. With a great face for carving, you’ll find mostly solo beginners and those learning from schools and instructors, but occasionally an intermediate surfer will paddle out for a decent ride. The only caveat here is making sure you time correctly to hit the break at high-tide, as low-tide can expose quite a bit of coral that can leave nasty gashes, bumps and bruises if you bail.
Perhaps the most widely available, intermediate surf haunts in Bali are a dime a dozen, but that doesn’t mean they all come in as equals. Here are a few that stand out in the crowded landscape of Bali’s intermediate surf scene.
Echo Beach at Canggu: Just northwest of Kuta and Legian lies Canggu, a quickly-developing hangout for Bali’s young and hip. The area takes on a more ‘indie’ vibe than its eastern sisters, and provides a more laid-back feel. It’s Seminyak without the posh shopping, Kuta without the belligerence in the evenings, and Legian without the cross-section of the aforementioned. A blend of perma-vacationers and locals, Canggu offers great food, good bars, and a nice beachfront that is considerably less crowded than both Kuta and Legian, but still remains high on the surf-crowding list as its popularity is continually growing. A cool spot, the surf here is equally as enticing, and offers surfers a mix of rock, reef and sand breaks that throw consistent sets of those seeking a day of riding. With a vibey sunset scene, and plenty of food and drinks to go around, this community hot-spot is a great place for those seeking to avoid the rampant hustle and bustle of Bali’s southern half, without ditching the convenience of vicinity to places like Legian, Kuta and Seminyak.
Uluwatu: Based on the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu may well be Bali’s crown jewel. With waves ranging from intermediate, to expert, to professional-level, this section of ocean has got a wave for anybody that knows their way about a surfboard. Uluwatu is made up of four separate breaks (Temples, Racetrack, The Peak, Outside Corner), and the only one which those who don’t consider themselves experts should stay away from is Outside Corner, which doesn’t kick off and break until it hits about eight feet. However, the others are all fantastic intermediate-level waves. Largely dependent on the weather, but always with good waves, Uluwatu can serve up anything from consistent sets of perfectly rideable waves that make it feel like a personal reef garden, to heavier throngs of barrels that can catapult even the best of riders from their perch. Most recommended here are perhaps The Peak and Racetracks, which both offer great left-hand breaks that should push, but not shove, most intermediate surfers. Temples has also got a fantastic reputation, but the paddle time to the break is a considerable affair. Crowding here definitely becomes an issue, but for good reason, and any surfer who wants to experience some of the best intermediate waves in the world will more than happily wait. For the injured, non-surfers, or done-for-the-days, Uluwatu also offers beautiful nearby temples that sit nestled on rock cliffs, a low-tide trove of rock pools, and Single Fin, a surfer hangout for those wanting to groove to live DJs and throw back a few cocktails.
“Lock into the barrel and pray that it lets you out,” says my surf buddy Stew, a Bali regular and surfer of over 10 years, “No matter how good you are, you will eat it here, and then only the wave decides if you get out. If you do, then it’ll be the wave of your life.”
Shipwrecks at Nusa Lembongan: Another great spot for intermediate surfers wanting to get off the mainland is Shipwrecks at Nusa Lembongan. Named because of a shipwreck that lies underneath the break against a coral reef, this break emerges when it feels like it, and when it does, throws everything it has at you. Hesitation will throw the best of surfers over, but if you hit it right, Shipwrecks will take you on a gnarly ride through a section of barrels, into a beautifully carveable wall, and back into one more inside section of barrels.
Bali has become the surf mecca of the world for a reason, and the reason is because of the absurd waves that call this slow-moving island home. With professionals and a number of surf competitions that stroll through Bali year-round, Bali’s surf, and in particular, these waves, are why people have been flocking here since the 60s. But beware, these waves aren’t for the faint of heart, and someone getting a little more confidence than they should could end in a very grim way.
Padang Padang: Let me put it this way, I’ve got two buddies that helped me through Bali’s surf scene, both of whom are very good surfers, and Padang Padang is spoken of with a reverence that is seldom heard in the surf world, save for when it’s referring to monsters like Mavericks and Ship Stern Bluff. While not on the same level of absurdity as these two outliers, and definitely much more surfable, Padang Padang still offers surfers a challenge, and experience, rarely encountered around the world. Paddling out from Bukit Peninsula, you’ll hook a left around a jutting cliff and there the monster waits. A left-hand break over shallow reef, the unmistakably Indonesian wave is fast, hollow, and barrels like nobody’s business. “Lock into the barrel and pray that it lets you out,” says my surf buddy Stew, a Bali regular and surfer of over 10 years, “No matter how good you are, you will eat it here, Only the wave decides if you get out. If you do, then it’ll be the wave of your life.”Coming from him, I know this wave means serious business.
Keramas: Often touted as one of the most high-performance small waves in the world, Keramas lies on Bali’s eastern coast and gives surfers a quick, tubular, and oddly for Indonesia, right-hand break over a craggy lava-rock reef. While it isn’t the biggest in size, the wave breaks quick and hard, and has the power to thrash surfers like helpless balsa playthings in the unforgiving Indian Ocean, and with a sharp reef not far below, that can be a recipe for disaster. A canvas for surfers with the requisite skillset, this wave can be made beautiful by the graceful movements of a seasoned vet, but do be warned that it is certainly not a wave for anyone who considers themselves anything but an expert.
BEST TIME TO GO
From April to October Bali offers great surf, though it tends to land on the larger side of things, and as such is better for those who have some experience on the board. For beginners, wet season (November to March) is recommended, where those wading out into the warm waters will find consistent sets of waves that come a bit smaller than those that hit the shores of Bali throughout the rest of the year. However, if you happen to be in Bali at any time of the year, chances are, surf’s up.
(Featured image: Surfing, which originated largely in the 1960s and ‘70s in Bali, has long been a staple of Indonesia’s Island of the Gods. With a diverse mix of waves that cater towards everyone from beginners to professionals, no wave goes unridden here in what many consider to be the mecca of surf.)