Learn to surf in Bali

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First published 15th June, 2010

It's been a full 24 hours since I finished my three-day "Learn to Surf" course and I've got most of the sand out of my ears, the abrasions on my knees are healing and I can just about move without wincing. Better still I can ride a wave all the way into the beach without completely embarrassing myself and best of all, I'm a good deal closer than ever before to being able to surf.


I've tried to surf on and off for years and just never really got it. I could stand up ... for a short while (counting in seconds) but I'd invariably spend most of the time getting pummelled and plum tuckered out. So last week, when I saw a post in the Indonesia forum asking about learning to surf in Bali, I gave some advice and thought, perhaps I should follow my own advice and go do a few lessons.

So that's what I did.

A quick Google search found me 222,000 results and in the end I opted for OBB Surf Adventures over the bigger corporates like RipCurl and ProSurf. In comparison, OBB's website looked so bad one could only assume they spent all their time surfing rather than building websites and that's good right?

Turns out it was. I signed up for a 3-day surf clinic for US$175. Tuition was one on one and they'd take me from Sanur (where I live) to Kuta (where I'd learn) every day. While the classes were listed as running from 10am to 4pm, in practice we ended up doing around 8am to 1pm -- which, by about midday, was more than enough for me.

My teacher, Budha, was a very no-nonsense instructor who spoke great English thanks in part to a stint in Australia, and his mission was to have me up and riding in hours.

The first class commenced on the sand, laying on the board and doing pop-ups (where, in theory, you go from laying down to standing up in one smooth motion). Budha started setting me straight from the get go:

"Get up!"
"Stand on the board there!"
"Your feet are too close together!"
"Get down, low, now!"
"Swivel!"
"Arms and hands out, straight!"


Surfing Uluwatu

Within 10 minutes I'd learned the reason I hadn't been able to surf -- I got up waaaay too slow, stood in the wrong position, stood tall rather than almost squatted and generally did everything wrong -- and I wasn't even wet yet!

Budha quickly dispensed with the sand session -- "It's a waste of time. The water is where you will learn!" -- and we headed into the small Kuta break.

True to his word, this was where the learning really began.

We waded out into the whitewater and Budha instructed me to lay on the board. Then he spun the board around, holding onto the rear of it. Then, when a suitable wave came, he'd push me onto it. This was great as I didn't have to worry about paddling or picking the right wave. All I had to do was concentrate on standing up.

And I did.

For about five seconds!

But, if you fail the first time, head back and try again. Budha's commentary was succinct, to the point and absolutely instructive. I listened and learned.

Two pushes later I rode the wave all the way into the beach.

Now I'm not suggesting I'm going to start saying "Rad dude" and talk about "carving stuff up" but I was pretty impressed.

The next two hours were spent doing this over and over and over again. As time wore on, the tide dropped and the waves got a bit bigger. Budha stopped pushing so hard and instead I had to paddle myself.

It was a learning process. Budha would retain control of one part of the process so I could concentrate on others and by the end of the day I paddled myself, onto an unbroken wave and rode it a fair way into the beach -- something I'd never managed to do before.


Surfing Uluwatu

And there ends the upside. When I got home, I could barely walk. Every joint in my body ached. I was sunburned. My ears were full of sand and everything I ate tasted like salt.

I went to bed early.

Day two was better. I remembered to stretch beforehand and used more sunscreen. I started catching waves immediately. As the day progressed, Budha held the board less and less and I paddled more and more. I stood up more and fell over less.

All the while Budha explained why things are how they are. Why waves close out, where the current is and how to get out of it. Why some waves are fast and others slow. Who gives way and why surfers fight a lot. It was an all encompassing experience, and the entire thing delivered between catching waves.

Day three was the best yet. I caught lots of waves, but Budha also drilled into me what needed to be improved. My paddling sucked -- too weak. I was still taking too long to stand up which meant I was missing the speed and power of the wave.

Through all three of the days we were surrounded by other students, mostly doing classes with Prosurf. Their classes are in groups, with one teacher to every four students. Cost is less than a one on one, but most of the time the teachers were not even in the water with the students. Instead they'd yell at them from the shoreline. While cheaper (a 3-day group course with Prosurf costs around US$100 while Ripcurl charge US$100 per 75 minutes of private tuition), the Prosurf option in particular seemed a poor substitute for one on one tuition and Ripcurl was well out of my budget.


Surfing Uluwatu

At the same time, by coincidence a friend was also learning to surf further down the beach. He'd arranged private classes from one of the lifesavers (who probably should have been saving lives rather than teaching Jez) for Rp 200,000 per hour.

So there are a few different options available depending on your budget and how much time you have.

At the end of the day, regardless of which option you go for, there is only so much you can be told about how to surf -- you have to just get out there and do it. The best thing about that is that it is a lot of fun.

I'd highly recommend Budha as a teacher. You can either arrange for classes with him through the OBB website, or contact him direct by telephone (Tel: +62 81 338 591 023) once you're in Bali -- I'd recommend the latter approach if it works for you.

Have fun!

Special thanks to @jerrrm for the surfing pics -- they're not of me!


About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton and he spends most of his time in Bali, Indonesia.


Read 9 comment(s)

  • Great post!

    I lived in Bali for a while a couple of years ago and did some body boarding. I got quite scared though as the waves were totally different to those in the UK.

    I wish I could have afforded some proper tuition.

    I go back there in October and will remember who you used as they seem good value.

    Thanks

    Posted by Jo on 16th June, 2010

  • I should have seen you guys, then maybe I'd have someone else to laugh at other than myself! ;-)

    See you tomorrow.

    Posted by JErm on 16th June, 2010

  • I would like to say that I went to Bali. I wanted to give Buddha a call but somehow decided to sign up with Prosurf...I disagree with what is said above. Yes, when it came to booking Franck the manager was not the best in terms of email communication but once I got there, I was blown away. They came for me at my guesthouse, provided water, shorts, surfboards (which were of great quality). The staff was extremely friendly and knowledgeable about surf. Most of them were Indonesian and spoke impeccable english so it was easy to get instructions from them.
    Franck conducted the first lesson and he went into detail about explaining the waves which is exactly what I needed (yes although I had surfed before, I needed a deeper understanding of the ocean/wave etc...and he provided just that). Also no matter how many people sign up, it is a ratio of 3 to 1 for students/instructors. We were 7 and had three instructors which was more than enough.
    Those who had never surfed before were standing up by the first lesson. The isntructors got into the water with us and did give us feedback in terms of what we were doing right and wrong (which was of great help...). By the end of my course, I felt like I had learnt so much and covered my surfing flaws. Although I was aching and my hair had gone crazy from the combination sea water/ blazzing sun/ sand, I must say that they exceeded my expectations and every penny spent was worth it.
    You can find all the information on their website: www.prosurfschool.com

    Do try them out, you will not regret it!

    Thanks

    Posted by Africannomad on 20th September, 2010

  • How is the night life?

    Posted by Samuel on 20th March, 2011

  • That last comment's brilliant!

    Great post, really informative.

    Posted by Meadsy on 25th July, 2012

  • The best place in Bali to Learn to surf is Bali Learn To Surf located at Hardrock Hotel Kuta beach it is affordable, safe and very professional. Sure you can get cheaper lessons off the beach or from the life gaurds, but if an accident happens and often they do you better have really good travel insurance and know your own way to the hospital. Because most of those freelance or beach boys dont have the money for insurance and/or the resources to help you.

    Posted by Matt on 5th November, 2012

  • I TRIED THIS GAY IS GREAT. FOR MY PRIVATE SURF LESSON IN KUTA USD 2O PER HOUR RATE ALSO DO TOURS USD 5O HALF DAY AND UP AND SURF BOAT TOURS AROUND BALI MAGICAL ISLAND. EMAIL- NEWYORKCITYSURF YAHOO.COM .AU
    CALL. PLUS 62 EYGHT FIVE TWOO ZERO FIVE FIVE ZERO ONE TWOO NINE SEVEN


    SURFING IS FUN MAGICAL.






    Posted by MARK on 3rd March, 2014

  • I TRIED THIS GAY IS GREAT. FOR MY PRIVATE SURF LESSON IN KUTA USD 2O PER HOUR RATE ALSO DO TOURS USD 5O HALF DAY AND UP AND SURF BOAT TOURS AROUND BALI MAGICAL ISLAND. EMAIL- NEWYORKCITYSURF YAHOO.COM .AU
    CALL. PLUS 62 EYGHT FIVE TWOO ZERO FIVE FIVE ZERO ONE TWOO NINE SEVEN


    SURFING IS FUN MAGICAL.






    Posted by MARK on 3rd March, 2014

  • I WAS LEARNING SURFING IN BALI & I TRIED THIS GAY FOR 20$USD H THEY ALSO DO TOURS IN TRADISIONAL BALINESE BOAT FOR ABOUT 60$USD HALF DAY I RECOMEND IT. NEWYORKCITYSURF@YAHOO.COM .AU

    Posted by MARSELO on 5th March, 2014

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