Learn to surf in Bali

What we say: 3.5 stars

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!"
"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!

Last updated: 6th May, 2015

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, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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