If you’ve been to Bali or seen pictures of it — of the violent waves hitting the rocks at Uluwatu, Tanah Lot and the Rock Bar — then you’d know that Bali is not a place meant for leisurely swims. It’s for people with surfboards. With its excellent all-year-round waves, smooth sands, warm water, and the lack of jellyfish or sharks waiting to chomp on you, it’s no surprise that Bali is often dubbed the surf haven of Asia.
Personally, I prefer beaches with calm, blue water (like the ones in Thailand, for example) because I enjoy having a nice, relaxing soak without getting slapped by the waves every time I want to dip my feet in the water.
But a trip to Bali would feel incomplete without trying out its waves, given their world-renowned reputation. On one of my previous visits, I had already tried body-surfing in Seminyak. So now, it’s time for me to upgrade to a real surfboard.
When to Go
Located about 8 degrees south of the equator, Bali typically has a warm and humid climate all year round. However, it does have two distinctive seasons: Dry season (May – September) and rainy season (October – April).
The peak tourist seasons are during the months of July and August, and during major holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and New Year. This is when accommodation prices soar, tourist spots are overcrowded, and roads are congested.
The best time to go is any time in April, May, June, and September, which is either right before or after the high season. The weather during these months is still relatively dry and room rates can be up to 50% cheaper than during high season. It’s also the best time for water sports because the waters are clear.
Best Beaches for Beginner Surfers
For beginners, it might be a little intimidating to take on strong waves right away. But this shouldn’t be an issue in Bali. The whole of Bali’s southwestern coast is suitable for those who are just starting out. Here is a list of the best beaches for beginner surfers in Bali:
- Kuta Beach – The most popular beach in Bali. Full of backpackers and budget travelers. Expect a lot of budget accommodation, cheap eateries, and affordable surfing lessons. Within walking distance from Seminyak and Legian beaches.
- Legian Beach – Bordered with Kuta, therefore has similar waves (1-3 feet on average). Less crowded than Kuta. Home to a few surf schools accredited by the Australian Academy of Surf Instructors.
- Seminyak Beach – A more upscale beach located on the north of Legian. Has the same quality of waves as the ones in Kuta but is also less crowded.
- Jimbaran Beach – A famous spot for sunset dinners. Has consistently soft waves. Perfect for first-time surfers.
- Eco Beach, Canggu – Also known as Pantai Batu Bolong. Located an hour ride away from Kuta. Suitable for all types of surfers from beginners to professionals. However, it’s not patrolled by lifeguards.
Top-Rated Surf Schools in Bali
There are many surf schools to choose from. Most of them have their own websites that allow you to read testimonials and make an advanced booking to secure your spot. Some offer multi-day surf camps that provide full-board packages (inclusive of accommodation and meals). These are great for those who intend to take up this sport seriously or train to become professional surfers.
The following are three of the top-rated surf schools on the island:
Odyssey Surf School (Location: Kuta)
Odyssey Surf School started its operation in 2003. Offering group and private surfing lessons for adults and kids, this surf school promises a fun and friendly learning environment for beginners. Their aim is to get you standing on your board within the first few lessons. The school is supported by Oakley and the Academy of Surfing Professionals Australia.
Rip Curl School of Surf (Location: Legian)
As a surf brand, Rip Curl needs no introduction. It first set up its surf school in Legian in 1998. You can expect to get a clear understanding of the techniques, form, and how to maneuver the waves after only 4 hours of lesson. Apart from surfing, Rip Curl School of Surf also offers kitesurfing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddling, and windsurfing lessons.
Pro Surf School Bali (Location: Kuta)
Pro Surf School Bali offers daily classes that comprises 6 different levels. Beginners will start in a swimming pool before getting out on the waves. To ensure that students get the best boards and gear, the school renews them annually. Beginners will get training boards that are equipped with rubber fins to maximize safety, while more advanced learners will get to use fiberglass and epoxy boards. Pro Surf School Bali also provides luxury accommodation with a beach lounge bar where they organize monthly pool parties and barbecue nights.
For more options, check out this post by Trip Canvas that rounded up 16 best surf camps and surf schools in Bali.
How Much is It?
The price of a surf lesson vary depending on the number of people you have in your group and the number of days you’re willing to commit. The more people in your group, and the more days you want to learn, the cheaper the lesson will be per person per day.
Typically, the cost of a 2-hour private lesson in a reputable surf school ranges from USD20 – 40 per person. A 1-week surf camp inclusive of accommodation can cost around USD350.
What If You're Short on Time (and Money)?
If you feel that a proper surfing lesson is too much of a commitment, or if you’re simply unsure whether you’re going to enjoy surfing and would like to try it for an hour or less, there’s a cheaper alternative for you.
Just go to any beach and approach one of the boys who rent out surfboards. They would usually be happy to provide a short lesson for a small fee. Most of them offer the same price, but you could try to haggle. I paid Rp40,000 for a one-hour board rental, inclusive of a 30-minute lesson (it helped that I looked like a local and could speak the local language). They also provide rash guards.
Do You Have to Be a Good Swimmer?
If you want to be a good surfer, then being a strong swimmer is a must. But if you only want to take a one-hour lesson just to get a taste of surfing, then it’s not a necessity. First of all, you won’t be going too far out from the shore. The depth will be at most 1.5 meters.
Secondly, throughout the session, one of your legs will be strapped on to a cord that will keep you attached to your surfboard, so that if you fall, you won’t get separated from it. The board can be used as a flotation device. Thirdly, your instructor will be close to you for most of the lesson. So, if you’re only taking one of the beginner courses, it’s very unlikely that you’ll drown even if you can’t swim.
However, before you catch a wave, you have to paddle out to sea. This requires a certain level of stamina and skill. Some swimming experience would definitely be beneficial here (although still not compulsory).
Knowing how to swim will also make you more confident and enjoy the experience more because you won’t be wasting so much time worrying about drowning.
What to Expect
After changing into the rash guard and choosing my board, we did the initial training on the sand. The instructor taught me how to lie facedown on the board, with both my palms pressing down on it, on either side of my chest, as though preparing to do a push-up.
Then, he showed me how to stand up from that position and where to place my feet. After that, we proceeded into the water. I tried paddling but it was almost impossible to move forward as the waves kept pushing me back to the shore. So, the instructor helped push my board while I lay on it, bracing myself as the water splashed into my face.
When we reached far enough to catch a good wave, he turned my board around and waited for the wave to come. Then, just at the right moment, he let go of the board and shouted at me to stand up. I did it nicely on the first try but my progress wasn’t so consistent. Depending on the waves, sometimes I stayed upright till the shore, sometimes I toppled over as soon as I stood up.
Although the water was mostly shallow, some parts were actually quite deep (up to my neck), even the ones close to the shore. If I hadn’t had any basic swimming skills, I’m sure I would have panicked. But the fact that my leg was attached to the board by a cord eased my fear a little.
Kuta is indeed a favorite among beginner surfers, as evident by the number of people learning to surf around me. You don’t see it in the pictures but within several meters of me were at least four other people wobbling on their surfboards. So, the good thing about learning to surf in Kuta is that you won’t be the only spectacle.
As time went on, however, my energy level steadily depleted and I was falling into the water more and more often. This activity was taking up a lot more effort than I originally thought. I was already so exhausted after 30 minutes that I went and returned the surfboard even though I still had another 30 minutes left. I seriously didn’t think I would manage to paddle out against the waves under my own steam.
It was a great experience, but if I ever want to attempt it again, I would really need to get myself in shape first.
Are you thinking of learning to surf in Bali? Or have you tried it before? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below.