When we started out on our Southeast Asia adventure, I didn’t have a lot of specific must dos, but I hoped we’d find a spot somewhere to learn to surf. Fortunately, we made it to Bali, and stumbled across Kuta Beach, a fantastic spot to learn.
I was originally nervous that surfing would be too expensive for our high-value taste. Google surf lessons Bali and you’ll see that many options are $40+ a day for rentals and lessons. Worse, check surf camps in Bali, which is exactly what it sounds like, and you’ll pay hundreds of dollars a day for an all-inclusive experience. I am sure there would be times this expense would be worth it, but we couldn’t do it, especially when we were only paying $25 a night to sleep and $10 for a meal for us both.
As usual, there was a much better value easily available. As soon as I hit the beach, Chris offered to teach us. For just 150,000 rupiahs each (~$12 today), we had an hour of one on one instruction and an extra hour of board rental to practice. Both teachers were both local guys who spoke pretty good English. We saw them surfing later and they were both good enough to teach us a few things.
After a few minutes on the beach practicing our stance and the initial pop up, where you get to your feet, we all waded out into the small breakers. For the rest of the hour, our guides held the boards steady while we waited. When the right wave came, which was very frequently, they’d guide the board into the wave and yell, “UP!”, and we would attempt the pop up. It was the perfect way to get a lot of surfing reps without a lot of exertion from paddling. The waves were small, gentle, and consistent.
We may have missed something in the quality of instruction or the language barrier, but we gained a lot of value from the one on one instruction and the repeated reps. If you haven’t noticed, Adam and I strongly prefer to figure things out on our own, so this setup was perfect. We also saw our guides in the water a few times over the next few days, and when they weren’t busy yelling, “UP!” at their new clients, they’d give us a few more pointers.
The last time I tried to learn how to surf, I was in Hawaii with bigger waves and deeper water. It was a real challenge to even get the board in the right place while lying on it, let alone to catch a wave and actually pop up. From this perspective, Kuta Beach was the perfect place to learn.
After our first two hour session, we were pretty hooked. Especially Adam. We came back the next day. Surfboard rentals were 50,000 an hour or 100,000 for the day, and we were out in the water for a few hours most days. Adam got good enough to trade down from the jumbo / super beginner surfboard to the large / slightly less beginner board over the next few days.
It seemed the waves were the best during the middle tide time, though when the waves were good, it also got crowded out there in the water really quickly. Some days we could barely find a space to float, but other days we were almost the only ones out there.
The beach was also absolutely packed with individual “bars” (beach vendors with plastic chairs and umbrellas, vendors selling henna tats, bracelets, sarongs, and manicures, sunbathers, and other surfers. It’s great for people watching but expect to be harassed by the vendors.
After 4 days at Kuta, we felt ready to step up our game so we relocated about a mile up the beach to Seminyak and proceeded to get absolutely hammered by the slightly bigger waves. (Note, we found an absolute steal on a hotel there, with breakfast included. Weirdly, the hotel’s website price was significantly better than what we found on TripAdvisor or Expedia. Check out the Bali Subak if you are in the neighborhood.) Also keep in mind that Kuta is to Australia what Cancun is to the USA, so if you need any homophobic or misogynist t-shirts or bumper stickers, this is the place.
Here’s a few more tips if you go. Put sunscreen on the back of your legs. Wear a rash guard or a t-shirt, it will help with the sun and the friction. I tried surfing one afternoon without it and got a gnarly rash.