I’ve surfed fifteen countries. As a rule of nature, it is usually flat for a traveling surfer. Some of my best waves required days of waiting out flat spells just to experience one or two days of perfect swell. But Bali is a freakish little dot in the ocean that acts as a wave magnet. For consistency, surfing Bali is a must for surfers looking to stuff their board stocking this holiday season.
Uluwatu sits at the bottom of the Bukit Peninsula. Below a white cliff lined with mansions, resorts, and pink flowers are the reefy lefts (and some rights) of Uluwatu. The first day that I had visited Ulus, the wave was small. The charts claimed a foot or two. (Back home a foot or two means flat, but in Indonesia, it translated to waist high waves.) Then, about ten days later, I returned and the faces of Uluwatu were double overhead, breaking from halfway to Temples (the furthest peak of Uluwatu) to beyond the cave (where surfers enter). That’s a few hundred meters of fast, barreling ocean; even still, the crowded wave was easy enough to catch. I enjoyed Uluwatu’s shopping, too. Not for me, of course, but for my non-surfing wife who required some sort of distraction while I spent three hours in the water. When I was done, we sat on the cliff, ate decent Nasi Goreng, and watched the swell lines peel toward their conclusion.
One of the easiest waves in the country is at Canguu Beach, right in front of Tugu Hotel. The beach break crumbles far out at sea and produces thick walls, easy for beginners to tackle, but perfect long rides for the experienced surfer, too. (You also have the advantage of dealing with a weaker pecking order here.) My favorite thing about Canguu was that it broke just outside my door. I didn’t want to stay in crowded Kuta, and all of the other waves I surfed required a set of wheels. Here, when everyone else was driving to the surf, I had already rolled out of my bed at Tugu, the only beachfront resort in Canguu, and began paddling out for the day’s first, uncrowded sets. I also lingered longest beneath the sunset. (I still have scars on my stomach from my seven-hour session there.)
To get to Middles, I had to paddle through close-out sets landing on the beaches of Kuta, to a fishing boat that charged 50,000 rupia to take you to the reef. The boat was narrow like a canoe, but had four legs that connected to twin hulls, which helped avoid capsizing during the ten-minute ride through rough seas. The boat looked like a giant water bug. Of the fifteen guys out at Middles, a handful wore helmets. It took a few sets for me to get comfortable, as it was the biggest day of my Bali surf adventure. Until I caught a wave, I kept thinking about a deceased neighbor back home, a Long Beach surfer who died the previous summer while surfing big waves off of a nearby island. (I remembered him often since my usual run on the boardwalk always took me past his memorial.) But once I realized that the waves held up pretty well and didn’t force surfers into airdrops, I paddled my brand new board into eight to ten foot walls and got some of the fastest waves of my life. The only time I ever lost confidence surfing Bali was when I happened to get caught inside. I was in the right position for every wave, until a rogue wall lifted about fifty meters farther out at sea. Everyone paddled like hell. I ducked below the whitewater, but there was very little room between the angry wall of water and the reef. The world suddenly grew violent and shook me with the force of an unruly gorilla. But I only felt panic when it let me breathe. Right in front of me was dry reef, which had exposed itself with the lower tide.
Just in front of a Hindu temple, I surfed a perfect racy wave with only six guys on it. Since it was the least crowded wave in Bali, sitting just west of the packed resorts and the transplant population of Kuta, the five other surfers weren’t battling for position. Everyone was courteously following an old surfing etiquette that hasn’t existed since the film Endless Summer and the ubiquitous surf labels had herded the masses into the swells. Gone was the stress and animosity sometimes attributed to the crowds. It was just a fast, fun, and friendly day.
They say it twice in case you were held under the heavy barrels and missed the warning the first time. It’s a gnarly thing. The windy day that I surfed it, however, was an exception, as it was flooded with neophytes. Everyone talks about hitting the reef at Padang Padang and even though I was out there at high tide, during one of the year’s most commanding full moons, on a relatively small day, I still managed to hit reef, (my only contact with the formidable bottom during my two week trip surfing Bali).
There are no waves here. On my last day surfing Bali, there were waves here. The waves were atrocious. But for Jimbaran Bay to work, it must have been at least triple overhead at the other spots, which requires more gall than I had left, something that naturally depreciates after too much consistent surf.
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