History of surfing in Bali
How it began:
Surfing in Bali began in 1936, when American Bob Koke, a Californian, who had moved from Hawaii, with his wife Louise, opened the Bali Hotel on Kuta Beach. Bob had a long board he had brought with him from Hawaii and the rest was history. Surfing didn’t immediately catch on though and lucky old Bob had all the waves to himself (he had the whole Bukit to himself, only he didn’t know it was there). The 1960’s saw the start of surfers trickling into Bali and after Kim Bradley, Jerry Lopez and others discovered the Bukit peninsula and the other breaks the scene was set.
Why is Bali a great surf destination:
Bali is a good place for surfing for a number of reasons. These include warm water, relatively uncrowded breaks, when compared to California and Australia. Bali gets some kind of surf most of the year, there are beach breaks and Kuta and Dreamland and also reef breaks on the rest of the Bukit, including the famous Uluwatu. Bali’s unique geography, means that you can get a selection of left hand breaks on one side of the Bukit, drive for 20 minutes and get another whole selection of right hand breaks. In Lombok, for example, you’d have to ride for 4 hours or more, to get from one side of the island, to the other.
During the dry season (April-October), the trade winds favour surfing the western side of the coast, including the breaks on the western Bukit including Uluwatu and Bingin. During the wet season (November-March) the tides and winds favour the eastern coast including the eastern Bukit breaks such as Nusa Dua and Sri Lanka.
Surfing regions in Bali:
You could say that there are 4 basic surfing regions in Bali, West Bali (Medewi, Balian), South Bali (Canggu, Gado Gado, Padma, the Bukit (Bingin, Balangan, , Nusa Dua, Sri Lanka) East Bali (Ketewel, Keramas, Nusa Lembongan (Playgrounds, Shipwrecks, Lacerations).
The best beginning waves in Bali:
Kuta Beach is the ultimate beginner’s wave. Complete with long sandy beach, plenty of people on hand as well as a surf recuse tower and jet-ski. Competition isn’t too fierce either making this beach a good learning environment.
Padma is a kilometer north of Kuta Beach and has a nice little wave at high tide.
Best waves in Bali:
The most famous wave in Bali is Uluwatu on the tip of the western Bukit. This is actually 5 breaks that combine to draw the top surfers from around the world.
Padang Padang on the western Bukit is known to be one of the best performance waves in Bali.
Balangan is a reef break, but at high tide is suitable for beginners. Great sand beach, long fun ride.
The best surfing breaks in Bali as far as performance are Uluwatu which sees good size surf and had 5 breaks. Bingin, which has a short fast barrel, Padang Padang which has a fast barrel and dangerous reef, and Nusa Dua.
When people think of surf spots in west Bali, they think of Medewi. Balian is located on the SW coast of Bali west of Soka Beach, not as far as Medewi. Balian offers a tranquil setting with ever increasing accommodation options.
One place that is ideally suited for surfers who have to be close to the water is Chocky’s Place. This guest house is run by Australian Kenny Cole and offer decent accommodation right on the beach at Bingin. For surfers who are planning their first trip to Bali, Bingin is a short fast left-hander. The take-off point is often crowded, but when you catch a wave there, you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
Bali phone: + 62 81805444833. Australia phone: + 61 410312728
Ketewel is no Kuta Beach when it comes to beauty. This black sand beach is littered with driftwood and the remains of offerings. Tourist don’t come to this beach to sunbathe, they come to surf. When I showed up today, there were about 20 people in the water, the sun was shining, winds were down and there was some swell.
Access to the beach is easy and there is a limited amount of parking right at the beach. The one warung serves simple snacks and drinks. A teh panas ( hot tea cost 1,000rp). Asking the warung owner about accommodation in the area for surfers, he’ll say ‘tidak ada‘ (don’t have). Most people either stay in Kuta or Sanur, coming out to surf then heading back.
The surfing crowd at Ketewel usually consists of locals and Japanese, including girls on body boards. Sitting next to 2 Japanese guys admiring the view the atmosphere seemed quite civilized. Another 12kms east along the Bypass and you’ll come to Keramas, another wet season surf spot. Ketewel seemed like a place beginners / intermediates might enjoy, not people looking for epic surfing. Surprisingly WannaSurf describes it as a ‘regional classic, pro’s and kamikazi’s only’. Beach access has improved. Driving time from Kuta 30 minutes.
Green Ball -
To get to Green Ball, you head up the hill onto the Bukit, from Bypass Ngurah Rai (heading to Nusa Dua), then at the 4 way intersection (Nusa Dua, Uluwatu, Balangan), turn left towards Nusa Dua. You will see a sign for the Bali Cliff Resort, and the surf beach at Green Ball.
Arriving at Green Ball you’ll see a dirt parking area, with an old guy selling drinks. A small water was 3,000rp, so best to bring your own drinks if price in a concern. There are a couple of hundred concrete steps leading form the cliff, down to the sand beach.
For us non surfers, Green Ball is an okay beach to relax on. Devoid of trees, the cliffs provide some shade. The water is relatively clean and to the right of the beach is a large cave with bats.
Learning to surf in Bali
Renting a surfboard in Bali
Do not rent from the guys on the beach. All those boards are snapped, and will snap again at some point, in the same place. When that happens, the owner will demand $300. Australian Palu from Byron Bay, has 3 shops in the Kuta area selling boards, as well as a surf school. He also has a selection of used boards for rent of sale. Palu does a range of boards, focusing on the learner end of the market. Ollie did find a fish type board, ideal for an experienced surfer in small swell. The prices for the brand new rental for a week was 600,000rp. The price to buy its was 2.5m rp. Short term rental include 20,000rp per hour, 150,000rp, 600,000rp, deposit or passport required. Day surf trips can be arranged, including lunch for $100.
Buying a surfboard in Bali:
The Kuta area offers plenty of choice for those wishing to buy a new surfboard. Here is an interview with Australian board maker Palu in Kuta Bali. Epoxy boards are available in the Kuta area as well as brand name boards in the big surf shops such as Rip Curl.
Tide charts are freely available in many surf shops around Bali, especially in the Kuta area. Beginners should only surf at high tide, more experienced surfers being able to pick their moment with a bit more accuracy.
Surf gear in Bali
Surfer Girl is one of Bali’s most well known shops. Located on Jl. Legian in Kuta, the shop offers bright, fun beach wear for ladies. Surfer Girl is owned by an Australian guy, who is a great supporter of local charities, and helps out at the Kuta Karnival.
Bali’s tourism industry owes a lot to surfing, after all it was the surf at Kuta Beach that first drew Aussies here in the 60’s and 70’s. The surf movie is a part of the culture too, with epics like The Endless Summer, Morning of the Earth and Riding Giants leaving viewers not just with a sense or awe, but with a vivid memory of the place they were filmed.
Surfing is a huge part of Bali’s attraction. Instead surfing’s success in intertwined with the rise of tourism in Bali. Many of the early warungs and guests houses in the Kuta area were there to serve the surfers who ventured over from Australia, to discover the mysteries of Bali. Bali and Indonesia are the ultimate adventure for surfers, who can explore the archipelago cheaply and discover new breaks. Back in 1970 many of Bali’s famous breaks were still undiscovered, or at least, unpublicized. People talk about the ‘Secret Place‘ (Uluwatu) and how word got around of the great waves out there. From Kuta it took hours to get to due to the lack of roads and obstacles in the way.
In 1971 Australian Albert Falzon filmed Morning of the Earth, a classic surf movie, that took in footage of surfers in Australia, Hawaii and Bali. Uluwatu was ‘discovered’ in Morning of the Earth, as far as the surfing world was concerned.
Timmy Turner’s ‘Second Thoughts‘ is a surf-doco about his trip to the jungles of west Java, to surf barrels on an uninhabited Indonesian island. Its knarley dude!
Lombok is only 30 minutes from Bali by plane, yet it is like stepping into a different era. Longterm Bali visitors, tell me stories of Poppies Lane being a sand track, and Legian being the outer reach of westernization, warungs serving only Indonesian food, and the barest of western dishes. Those days are long gone, but a trip to the south coast of Lombok, will put you right back in that era.
BaliWaves is a surf website that has been around since 1999. They have started doing their bit to help Balinese orphans, so I thought I’d give them a plug.
SurfAid International is a charity run by a Kiwi, that harnesses the surfing community, to help fund basic malaria prevention and other health education work in the Mentawai’s. Yahoo! talks about the work SurfAid did after the Asian tsunami.
the 2 best surfing destinations in the world were Hawaii and the Mentawai islands, of the west coast of Sumatra. An article by one of the guys who discovered the Mentawai’s, backs that up.
Surf tour companies will take the hassle out of getting from Bali to the waves in other parts of Indonesia. So while it is possible to get a flight from Bali to Padang, Sumatra, then catch an overnight ferry to the Mentawai’s or Nias, dealing with local transport and lodging etc. Most people get fixed up with a Surf Tour operator in the Kuta area. These operators are mostly located on Poppies II and Jl. Benesari and will arrange all the transportation for you. One of the most reliable is SurfTravelOnline. Lombok, G-Land in East Java, Sumbawa and the Mentawai’s are the top surf tour places from Bali.
Ding repair shops are easy to find in Kuta on Poppies II and Jl. Benesari. Most serious breaks such as Uluwatu, Bingin etc. will have ding repair guys operating in the high season (June-October)
Indonesian Surfing Championships:
The Indonesian Surfing Championships are an organized series of surfing competitions in Bali and other parts of Indonesia, open to local and foreigners. A great opportunity to get a look at some of the best surfing in Indonesia.