The Bali surf guide for beginners

How to start? Isn’t that a question we ask ourselves all the time? It’s always hard to start something new. The older you get, the higher boundaries seem to go and the less flexible we seem to become. Whether it’s learning another language, starting your own business, or in this case, jumping on a surfboard and chase waves. It’s an adventure. Learning to surf isn’t easy, let’s clear that up. It’s a lot of fun though and worth every single wipe out. A great place to start surfing is Bali. But where should you start? And how? What do you need to know? And aren’t you to old to learn? Nope, never. Just keep on reading this Bali surf guide. I bet I can even convince my mom to get on a board.

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Perfect waves at Balangan Beach

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Cruising around Canggu looking for waves

Where to start?

Let’s start with the most important question. What would be a Bali surf guide without discussing the best beach in Bali to start learning? I would start in either Batu Bolong (Canggu) or Legian beach (Kuta). These two beaches have a (semi) beach break, which means that beneath those waves is just sand. No rocks or reef that can hurt you when you fall (you will fall of a lot). Both of those beaches have lots of surf rental shops on the beach where you can get a board and surf lessons. I know it’s really tempting to get a short board straight away, but believe me, you WANT one of those big ass foam boards. Why? Because of your balance. One of the first things you’ll learn while surfing is how to stand up, and it’s way easier to learn this on a big stable foam board than it is on a short board. Safer for you and your surroundings as well, so aim at a 8’ feet up to a 9‘6. The bigger the better.

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Canggu Beach; the ideal place to learn how to hire legian beach bali

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How to start learning to surf?

It depends a bit on the time you’d like to invest in learning how to surf. If you just wanna give it a try for an afternoon, get a three-hour lesson, preferably private. This way you can really get a taste of it, while actually achieving something with a guide that’s totally focused on you. If you feel like you need more time to properly get the hang of it, book yourself into a surf retreat. I would highly recommend doing this. That way you spend lots of time in the water, you learn a bit more about how to read waves and the ocean, and you can actually see the improvement you’re making in quite a short time. There are plenty of surf camps in Bali, so finding one that suits your needs won’t be a problem.

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My very first surf lesson ten years ago in Australia. The moment I got hooked…
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Back in the beginner days… Big board, check. Zinc noses, check. Stoke on, check.

What do you need to know?

The power of the ocean

You should take a few things into account before jumping into that big blue ocean. That ocean is a force of nature and it’s good to know that every single beach is different. Make sure you know how the current is, if there are any rips and what the general conditions are. That way the lifeguards can keep on chilling on the beach, just how we like it.

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Find out what’s the best place to enter the ocean.

Right of way

It’s not only the ocean that brings a set of rules with it, but also the activity itself. There are a few surfing etiquette which are handy to know once you go surfing green waves. The most important one is to make sure you’re not taking anyone else’s wave. Remember that the surfer closest to the breaking wave has priority. If anyone else is already on the wave, then it’s not yours to take. Have respect for the locals, as they surf those waves every single day and you are visiting their home base.

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So this is NOT how it works…

Safety first

Then, important as well as I notice a lot of beginner surfers tend to forget about this. Hold on to your board! You got a big foamy board that, although made of foam, can do some damage to the people around you. Your teacher will learn you how to get through the waves, so pay good attention here. Don’t just jump off your board or let it slip without looking around if there aren’t any people around you.

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As you can see, there are quite a few people out there in the water. Always watch your surroundings…

You got addicted, what now?

I totally get you! Apparently with surfing you either hate it or love it. I remember my first surfing experience where I actually expected to hate it, but ended up being dragged out of the water because the sun was really setting and dinner was really ready. I got hooked. That feeling of catching a wave is one of the best in the world, and the paddling does get easier. If you think of buying your own surfboard I can recommend buying a Longboard or a Mini Malibu. These boards are big and stable enough to get some confidence, and small enough to improve. One of the most made mistakes is that people tend to buy a short board too quick, which leaves them struggling in the water instead of catching loads of waves and learning to become better.

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Long boards, short boards, retro fins, and mini malibu… choices, choices.

A great shop for custom made boards in Bali is Folklore Surf in Canggu. Let them advice you if you are serious on buying a board. Not intending on buying a board? Don’t worry, this shop is a treat to visit anyways.

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One of Folklore’s masterpieces

Just some final words

I hope this Bali surf guide gave you some itchy feet to give surfing a try as well. Those sunrise surfs, the salty hair, the good-looking surf boys and girls and of course, just being out and active in nature really gets addictive. Maybe some last advice. Have a good sunblock, a proper warm-up (you’ll regret it the rest of the week if you don’t) and lots and lots of fun. Surf’s up!


Ps. The best tip I ever got: PADDLE, PADDLE, PADDLE! The moment the wave touches your feet, give it three more paddles and GO! Guaranteed success.

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The waiting game
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Wipe outs are part of the deal too…
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The surfers’ mecca: Uluwatu. Watch the big boys from Single Fins’ rock bar.
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The perfect place for after surf breakfast in Canggu is definitely Shady Shack.
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Dive in at Shady Shack.

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Beach bar at Echo beach
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With a bit of practice, you might be surfing like this as well.
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No place I’d rather be.

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Peace, love and coconuts at Echo Beach

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Canggu Beach
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Hindu offers scattered around Bali’s beaches
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Paddle, paddle, paddle…
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Sunset hour at Canggu beach

Photos by: M. Barends & J. Roeland©

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