BREAKING NOT BAD IN BALI
by JOHN BORTHWICK
You’ve seen movies like Blue Crush and Point Break, and you’d like to try riding few waves – and where better to learn to surf than in Bali?
An Englishman once speculated, as only an Englishman might, that “surfing must be like having a cup of tea with God.” Which only proves that when you’re deep in the belly of a tubing wave, words don’t count for much. Lost for words you might be but in Bali, almost never for waves.
At any time of year you’ll find surfers flinging their bodies, surfboards, skis, malibus, bodyboards and stand-up paddle boards onto anything in Bali that resembles a swell. For some beginners, bodysurfing with swim fins will be thrill enough. Otherwise, consider starting on a bellyboard instead of a hard, fibreglass surfboard. If you have the time and determination to learn to ride a surfboard — preferably a soft-bodied one at first — it’s important to get instruction on the basics.
There are plenty of surf schools along the fabled, crowded sands that stretch from Kuta to Legian to Seminyak. Sign up for a day or so. Please note: this won’t teach you how to surf. It teaches you how to stand on a surfboard for about 20 seconds, riding a broken wave. Learning to surf properly will take a year.
A few cruel tips. Other surfers loathe beginners. Even last week’s beginners look down on this week’s crop. As a newbie, you’ll be told where to go — in very robust language — should you “drop in” on another surfer who’s already riding a wave. Always stay clear of other riders when they’re on a wave. If the abuse doesn’t puncture your ego, consider your body being impaled by a hard, sharp, fast-moving surfboard. It happens, it damages.
In general, find some small, broken waves, well away from the main pack of surfers and also away from rips. That’s your sandpit for practice. And
stay clear the general swimming area.
(Swimmers like to dislike you, too.) Surf in the company (but not in the way) of other board riders, and be very cautious of the water if it looks too rough. Most Bali beaches do not have lifeguards such as those found in Australia or California, but they do have rips and sets of large waves.
If the Kuta to Seminyak beach circus is too crowded, consider a Surfari to other Bali breaks, although not all of them will have beginner-friendly waves. (The barrelling reef breaks of the southern Bukit Peninsula, for instance, are no place for learners.) Here are some possibilities:
Canggu. A few kilometres north west along the same shore from Kuta you’ll find the village of Canggu. (It’s pronounced Chang-goo — or now, “Chang-gone” because of its increasing development.) In recent years resorts have gobbled up the rice fields and Canggu’s restaurants are fast becoming the new place to be “seen” for those who fear invisibility. But the surf still whomps! There are numerous breaks around the end-of-the-road spot known as Echo Beach, with both left- and right-hand breaking waves over reefs and sand bottoms. There can be something for almost everyone, although you should not underestimate the hefty punch of these waves. Like many places, early mornings deliver the best conditions as well thinner crowds.
Balian. Drive further west for an hour and a half (traffic jams permitting) on the narrow trunk road that heads to Java. You’ll run the gauntlet of motorcycles, geese, temple processions, buses, giant trucks and handcarts. Surviving that, you welcome the turn-off sign to the tranquil river-mouth village of Balian. It’s a surfing-oriented community but lacks the bogan groups and jagged-edge night vibe of Kuta. Here you’re right back in rural Bali, with black sand beaches, driftwood days and gado-gado for breakfast. The surf is a long, rolling left, plus a steeper right, breaking far out in front of a river mouth. The paddle can be long but the crowds aren’t too dense and the vibe is friendly.
Medewi. Continue west from Balian on the same highway for another half hour — you’re now about 80 km from Kuta — and you reach Medewi (“Meh-day-we”). The surf here is a long, easy, left-hand point break that’s popular but still less crowded than Kuta-Legian. Far down the line on this wave is a good place for “L-plate” surfers, as long as they don’t drop in. The point works in both the wet and dry seasons but gets busy on the weekends with plenty of keen locals, as well as visiting surfers. Medewi’s volcanic sand beach is nothing special but there are small cafes and hotels.
Nusa Lembongan. If there just isn’t enough room on Bali for you and its seven million annual visitors, head to Benoa harbour and catch a ride over to Nusa Lembongan. This small island 20 km east of Bali has snoozy villages, good accommodation and the occasional cockfight (one visit is enough). There’s excellent scuba diving and consistent reef surf. Among the best-known waves are Playgrounds (as the name suggests, a good wave for intermediate surfers) and the shallow, razor-sharp thrills of Lacerations (it was named by accident — many of them). The most popular wave is a fast, right-hand reef break called Shipwrecks, which can get very busy.
Where to Stay:
Pondok Nyoman Bagus, Canggu. www.pondoknyoman.com
Pandawa Suites, Umalas. www.pandawasuite.com
Villa Kubu, Seminyak. www.villakubu.com
Pondok Pisces, Balian. www.pondokpiscesbali.com