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Surfing in Bali

17 January 2016
For some visitors, the most alluring reason for visiting Bali is the surf. Here, some of Indonesia’s most powerful and legendary breaks attract budding surfers and professionals from all over the globe.

It was the 1960s that saw the start of surfers trickling into Bali, seeking the clean natural life prescribed by the hippie culture. Yet, at that time, many of the island’s famous breaks were still undiscovered, or at least, unpublicised. People talked about a ‘Secret Spot’ on the southwest tip, and word got around about the great waves at this place. 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. Thus Bali’s secret destination of Uluwatu became public.

Meanwhile, some of the local Balinese kids broke through centuries’ old taboos and beliefs that the sea was the home of demons and evil spirits.  By borrowing boards from the visiting American and Australian surfers who they watched riding the breaks every day, it didn’t take long for this first generation of Balinese to master the sport. Gde Narmada, Nyoman Bobby Radiasa, Wayan Suwenda, Made Joe Darsana, Ketut Jadi (Big Froggy) and Made Yasa (Little Froggy) were soon exploring the island in search of the perfect wave – and this was despite the lack of roads, which meant it often used to take them half a day just to reach the place where they thought the waves might be breaking. Some of these boys saw the surf industry change their lives, and for sure they all saw it change their island forever.

Through the ’70s and ’80s, many of South Kuta’s early guesthouses were built to accommodate the surfers who had come to discover the mysteries of Bali’s waves.

Bali is a good place for surfing for a number of reasons, including warm water and relatively uncrowded breaks. April to October, the dry season, is the best time for waves, when the trade winds favour surfing the western side of the coast. During the wet season, November thru’ March, the tides and winds favour the eastern coast. Due to its unique geography, the island therefore gets some kind of surf most of the year round.

Hang around surfers in Bali and you will hear mention of Uluwatu, Padang-Padang, Impossibles, Bingin, Dreamland, Balangan, Nyang-Nyang and Green Ball – poetically named waves that break on shallow reefs creating long, long tubes. All of these world-class reefbreaks are located on the Bukit Peninsula. Uluwatu, or ‘Ulu's’ as it is affectionately known, with its famous entry cave, features the most consistent waves, offering a peeling lefthander that can hold a heavy swell. Padang-Padang – for experienced surfers only – is one of the best and heaviest lefthanders in the world, needing a solid swell to start working. Impossibles offers a series of long winding lefthanders, which can be a surfer’s best friend or worst enemy, while Bingin is another lefthander, providing intense small wave tubes. The southern shore of the Bukit has two waves. Nyang-Nyang, a bowly righthander, and Green Ball, a longer right.

Kuta Beach is the ultimate beginner’s wave, complete with expansive sands, plenty of people on hand, and a surf rescue tower with a jet-ski. Competition isn’t too fierce either, making this beach a good learning environment. To the northwest, Canggu Beach presents one of the few righthand waves on the west coast, while the reef breaks at neighbouring Berawa Beach provide lefts and rights. Further west, Medewi is the longest point break in Bali, a lefthander offering rides of up 400 metres in length. The waves here are ideal for beginners and amateur surfers, and it is a good spot for more advanced surfers to practice tricks, without worrying about getting lacerated on sharp reefs. At the Pulukan River mouth, there is a thrilling fast breaking righthander. Balian, 15 minutes from Medewi, offers the righthand version of the Medewi lefts. 

The powerful, consistent surf in Bali has challenged the limits of every great waveriders’ strength and skill. Each passing wave, big or small, ridden or not, is a thrill in the heart and mind of the passionate surfer.

Lie back and imagine a perfect sunny morning with a sapphire sky, a glassy horizon, and breaking surf. Picture that glorious wave rolling in, and relish the thought of that epic ride…



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