For many of us, Bali has been the ultimate exotic, tropical surf escape since Morning of the Earth was released 50-years-ago. Five decades later, the waves on the “Island of the Gods” are as relevant as ever, with Padang Padang, Uluwatu, Keramas, and any number of other spots consistently showing up on Top 100 Waves in the World lists. In addition, the local people are renowned for being friendly and hospitable, the culture is incredibly colourful and festive, the food is amazing, the scenery incredible, and the night life off the hook (if that’s what you are looking for). There really isn’t much to complain about on Bali, aside from the crowds—and to be fair, a place this good was never going to stay empty.
WHEN TO GO
The “main” season in Indonesia is the dry season extending from April through October, featuring frequent southerly swells and consistent trade winds from the southeast. However, the “offseason” still gets more swell than most other surf zones do at their peak, and the light/variable winds that come with the wet months of November through March open up a number of quality waves on the east coast. In other words, April through October is prime time on Bali, but there are great waves year round.
WHERE TO SURF
Old Man’s (Canggu) - A soft reef break peak popular with beginners and loggers, Old Man’s is a user-friendly option in the often crowded Canggu region, which is quickly becoming a backpacker hot spot.
Kuta Beach - Bali’s original surf spot, Kuta Beach is a gentle, relatively nondescript beach break smack dab in the middle of all the craziness. Most visiting surfers do their best to avoid surfing Kuta, but for beginners and surf schoolers it’s the obvious choice.
Dreamland - A lot of people come to Bali looking to live their surfing dream, only to find that the waves are way heavier and the reef way sharper than they expected. Dreamland is the solution, providing a veritable dreamscape for inexperienced surfers who are looking to have their first Indonesian experience.
Impossibles - A long, fast, symmetrically peeling left-hand reef point, Impossibles is located on the Bukit (along with a lot of the other waves on this list) and enjoys groomed conditions whenever the southeast trades are blowing. Depending on the swell direction and size, it can be the ultimate canvas for open-faced carves or, well, impossibly fast.
Racetracks (Uluwatu) - A nearby neighbor of Impossibles, and in many ways a similar setup, Racetracks is another long, fast left-hand point break winding down a moderately shallow reef, offering both rippable sections and barrels.
Medewi - Yet another long left-hander (are you starting to notice a theme here on Bali?), Medewi is more of a traditional point break breaking over black sand and large cobblestone boulders. It’s less powerful than the lefts on the Bukit, but is arguably the longest wave on the island.
Padang Padang - Bali’s premier barrel (sometimes called the Balinese Pipeline), Padang Padang is a powerful, shallow, super hollow left-hander that only breaks on large swells and should be considered an expert-only proposition. It is also relatively rare, so when it’s on, expect to see all of the local rippers, expat chargers, and visiting pros crowding the lineup.
Keramas - A stop on the world tour for a few years, Keramas is the perfect blend of punchy, rippable bowls and draining barrels. Although it is somewhat user-friendly (albeit shallow) on smaller days, when the swell gets solid, the barrels get gnarly, so approach with caution.
Bombie (Uluwatu) - Bali’s premier big wave spot, Bombie sits up at the top of the Uluwatu stretch of reef and sucks in massive swells. This is a once-per-year sort of wave that requires a proper board and legit big wave experience. For those who have the skills, desire, and correct equipment, it’s a nice departure from the normal head-high to double-overhead Balinese surf experience.
For everyone though, check the Southern Indian Ocean swell chart, HERE. As for boards to bring, your usual shortboard will be just fine with a step up for when things go nuclear. And if they do, it's best to leave that to the locals.
HOW TO GET THERE
Denpasar received dozens of international flights per day and is the easiest and most obvious way to get to Bali. Once you arrive, taxis are plentiful and can get you just about anywhere on the island. Some of the further out places will require connecting flights, or multiple boat trips. But if you book through a resort, then they'll give you clear instructions of how to get there, or, better yet, sort it all out for you. Just prepare yourself for a bit of a mission. It may sound simple but book your trip around the wave you want to surf and then figure everything else back from there.
While Islam is predominant in the rest of Indonesia, Bali is largely Hindu and the culture reflects that. Colourful, festive, friendly, welcoming, and full of incredible artwork and amazing cuisine, Bali is often considered to have one of the most vibrant local cultures on the planet. Despite the huge number of quality surf spots, the majority of tourists who visit the island come for the local flavour rather than the region’s waves. Ubud is the cultural centre of the island and has developed a bustling community that is equal parts locals, expats, and visitors, all busy pursuing everything from yoga and culinary classes to arts and handicrafts. But the rest of the island is just as enchanting, so don’t limit yourself—explore as much as you can and you will be amazed at what you find.
WHAT TO EAT
The various restaurants and resorts on Bali offer just about anything you could want to eat, from five-star steak dinners to raw/vegan options, detox smoothies, and everything in between. If you are looking to try the local cuisine, check out the nasi goreng (friend noodles), satay (meats that have been marinated, skewered, and grilled), babi guling (stuffed pig), tempeh, pepes (food cooked in banana leaves), and local seafood. When it comes to drinks, a cold coconut is the classic way to rehydrate on this tropical island. Meanwhile, if you are looking to get loose, the local version of arak (a distilled alcoholic beverage made from grapes and aniseed) is notoriously potent and has led to more shenanigans than just about anything else on the island. The hangovers can be savage, so drink in moderation!
WHERE TO STAY
Most people end up spending at least a few nights in Kuta Beach, due to its proximity to the airport (it's about 25 minutes away from Denpasar) and the fact that it’s the main tourist hub on the island. Kuta is great if you like to party and don’t mind hordes of people but can be a little overbearing for those looking for a quieter experience. Ubud is popular for the more chilled out crew and has a smaller, quieter vibe, although you will still find a happening night life if that’s what you are looking for. You can also stay closer to the waves in any number of different accommodation options, from high-end resorts to local warungs.
When it comes to maximising wave count and getting the most out of your trip, the most important thing is to be mobile. Due to the fact that there are hundreds of waves that pump under a wide range of conditions (different wind, tide, swell direction, etc.), it is best not to pigeon-hole yourself into surfing just one spot. In other words, expect to drive a fair bit. Mopeds/motorbikes are the vehicle of choice for, locals, expats, and experienced visitors, due to their convenience, manoeuvrability, and low fuel costs. Just make sure you are comfortable driving in the midst of chaos, because the traffic gets crazy. And watch out for the police, who will be looking for any excuse to pull you over in search of a bribe.
Further Reading: How to Surf Padang Padang