If you’ve been surfing for a little bit, surely you would have heard about that little surf paradise just 8 hours flight from Sydney. Every year, especially during the cold winter months, a lot of surfers escape for a stint to Bali. It’s known for perfect waves, it’s as close as it gets to Oz when it comes to overseas trips and it’s dirt-cheap.
It seems like a no-brainer to go to Bali when it’s time for your first overseas surf trip. Full of enthusiasm you book your flight tickets to wave paradise. Next you try to figure out where you’ll surf. And then you come across descriptions like this: “The main break of Padang-Padang is very fast, heavy and hollow left hander and is only for advance surfers. It breaks over a shallow sharp coral reef and has a heavy takeoff zone straight into the barrel. “ or how about that one called ‘Lacerations: This wave is much faster, hollower and far more dangerous then Shipwrecks. It breaks on super shallow live coral reef and is only for advanced surfers. Booties and even a Gath helmet would not go a stray here.’ And then you freak out. Well that’s what happened to me when I went to Bali for the first time. I would have not considered myself an advanced surfer at all and was really not sure where to go.
Lucky enough, my surfie mates from Sydney who’ve been there heaps of times did give me some pointers on breaks to test my then newly acquired surf skills. Unfortunately, ideas of what breaks are suitable for beginners seem to vary and I have to admit I may have had some scary OMG-I-will-never-make-it-back-to-shore-alive-moments… So it was a bit of a trial and error but I promise these spots are the top five of some pretty safe spots for beginners* (Gidget tested and trialed):
Dreamland on the Bukit (better dry season)
The Bukit is the bit most people are talking about when they are talking about Bali. Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Impossibles are some of the perfect breaks to name only few. They are the ones you see in surf movies and magazines. On smaller days, at highish tide they might be surfable but generally speaking, I would say forget the Bukit if you new to the whole surfing experience. The only break there that’s suitable for beginners is ‘Dreamlands’. It breaks over sandy bottom and is quite gentle on higher tide. It used to be very pretty and you could stay right on the beach. It was actual ‘dreamland’ but it’s been absolutely destroyed and white sandy beaches and warungs have been destroyed by concrete (it brings a tear to every seasoned Bali surfer’s eye…serious shocker).
Medewi on the West coast (dry and wet season)
Medewi is 2-3 hours North of Kuta. It’s a mellow wave breaking over rocks. It’s best at mid to high tide. Best in the mornings as the wind tends to come in from mid-morning. So you want to go there when the tide chart shows high tide early and late. That way you get two surfs in. It’s the longest left-hander ever. It breaks forever and ever. Quite a few mal riders there as well. It can get busy especially during the main season. Oh and one things for sure, you’ll def get paddle fit if you surf that break for a bit. It’s a 10 min paddle to the line up and then if you catch a reeeeeeally long wave, it’s great, but it’s also a reeeeeally long paddle back to the line-up.
Balian on the West coast (dry and wet season)
Never surfed Balian, but a lot of my friends did and you either love it or loathe it. If it’s not massive, it’s a nice playful spot for beginners. It’s about half an hour before Medewi from Kuta. I find the water quite dirty though and think it’s a bit of a gloomy spot. I personally prefer Medewi over Balian. Not exactly selling it in but as I said some of my mates swear by it so I thought I may as well include it.
Canggu on the West coast (dry and wet season)
Also North of Kuta but not as far as Balian. It’s for all skill levels and quite popular amongst tourists and locals alike. A few years ago, no one knew about this spot but now warungs, hotels and the likes grow like mushrooms around that area. I hear. I would not surf Canggu itself but check out a few spots South and North of Canggu. It breaks over black volcanic sand so not your crystal clear reef experience but a great spot nevertheless.
Serangan on the East coast (wet season)
My beloved Serangan. Don’t tell anyone I told you otherwise I may have to kill you. Serangan used to be one of these secret spots but it ain’t no more. A beautiful, beautiful spot on the East coast. Although it’s breaking over reef, it’s a gentle wave especially at higher tide and if it’s not too big. Unfortunately, it’s about to face the same fate as Dreamland. Almost scared of checking it out when I had to Bali in July. I probably won’t recognize it anymore … Sad.
Some other things to take into consideration when looking for your beginner surf spot in Bali:
It always looks smaller than it is. Especially if it’s a reef far out. Waves that look 1ft turn into 6ft heavy barrels upon closer inspection. On the upside, I always tend to surf bigger waves in Bali because they are just more predictable and mechanical than the ones you may be used to on your local beachie.
Also good to know, tides have a much bigger impact on the reef breaks than they have here. Some breaks are not even surfable on either side of the tide. Grab a tide chart from a Bali surf shop (they usually hand them out for free) and time your surf according to the tides. Rule of thumb. Higher tide means more water over reef = less shallow = less chance to hit the reef.
Oh and there is a reason why I put wet and/or dry season into brackets. Winds are quite strong in Bali and go opposite directions depending on the season. So that’s why most breaks on the East Coast work better in the wet season (October – May) and West Coast the rest of the year. Some breaks work both seasons because they face more South (e.g. Medewi).
If that all sounds like information overload and it only made the whole experience even more daunting, don’t despair!!! As a last resort there are always surf camps in Bali. They’ll take you to the right breaks at the right time. I would say this option is especially useful if you go by yourself and or with a group of inexperienced surfers. Even if you just join it for the first few days of your trip to get familiar with the area, it’s probably worth it. I’ve never tried one but one of my gidget friends might try one. I’ll make sure to pick her brains on her experience when she gets back.
Stay tuned for more Bali blogs… heading over there again soon. Can’t wait. I’ll make sure I’ll report on my latest mission to catch a full on stand up barrel and actually come out of it. So it will be my first time to get out of my safety zone (i.e. breaks above) and trial some of the more advanced breaks. Wish me luck :S
*n.b. not beginners-beginners, when I say beginners I assume you know how to balance on a board I guess and you know how to catch waves…kind of…