Surfing in Bali: Your Ultimate Guide

Alexis
Modified on January 21, 2024

Surfing in Bali is a great experience on the bucket list of many surfers around the world. Here is everything you should know.

Bali, an Island Blessed by Swells and Wind for Surfing

Bali is an island with a particularly strategic position for those who love surfing. The quality of its surf is primarily explained by the following two characteristics.

Bali is Exposed to Long-Period Swells

All swells move towards the South / Southwest. I'll let your imagination picture what that looks like with Bali's shape...

Bali is in the path of almost all swells in the Indian Ocean, it's about as simple as that. If there's surf somewhere in Indonesia, there's inevitably a wave breaking in Bali.

Specifically, Bali is exposed to very long-period swells. If in Europe a 13s swell is already considered quite long, here the norm is more around 15-16 seconds, and it's not uncommon to see swells approaching 20 seconds.

Several logical consequences of these long-period swells:

  • Waves are much more organized than in places where the period is shorter
  • Waves refract and wrap around the reefs more easily
  • Waves are very powerful (1.5m swell at 12s and 1.5m swell at 17s don't give the same waves at all!)

The Winds in Bali are Weak and Predictable

A "typical Bali surf week" during the rainy season

Another interesting aspect of Bali for surfing, the wind is generally very predictable and weak anyway.

In essence, in the dry season, the wind always blows in the same direction in the morning and turns in the afternoon. In the rainy season, it turns in the opposite direction. The wind is regularly absent in the morning and at sunset.

Unlike some destinations where all elements (swells, tides, and winds) need to align to be able to surf, good surf is easier to find in Bali since one of the variables doesn't vary that much.

In dry season, the West coast works at least every morning.
In rainy season, the East coast works at least every morning.

Advantages of Surfing in Bali

Enough of chatter and geeking out on swell periods. Here are the (major) advantages of surfing in Bali.

You Can Surf in Boardshorts All Year Round

It's possible to surf in boardshorts all year round in Bali.

In the rainy season, you might even get a bit hot since the water can be over 31°C...

In the dry season, the water can drop to around 25°C. Personally, I need a little wetsuit for these temperatures, but it's still jacuzzi temperature for a Breton...

There's Always a Surf Spot Working (or Almost) in Bali

Bali is an island very exposed to swells, with a few more sheltered spots.

Being able to move from the West coast to the East coast means you can go from offshore to onshore in a few minutes of driving...

As a result, there's always a spot working somewhere. There may be about 10 days a year when it's really impossible to surf in Bali, which are generally the days when the entire Indian Ocean is completely flat...

Bali's Surf Spots are Close to Each Other

You might think that Indonesia is full of world-class spots next to each other, but that's far from the reality.

Few islands have as many high-quality spots in such a small area as Bali. Even if Bali can be congested, there's very often a surf spot working within an hour or less from where you are.

The Waves are TRULY Paradise-like

Impossibles: when the dream becomes (sometimes) reality

If so many surfers dream of Bali, it's not due to an extensive marketing campaign. Yes, the waves in Bali are truly paradise-like, in addition to breaking very often.

Many waves are reef-breaking waves, so they are quite "mechanical". The power of the swells means that many of them wrap around the reefs, creating powerful and long waves that give the impression of being straight out of a dream.

Disadvantages of Surfing in Bali

If surfing in Bali has many advantages, not everything is perfect (except for the waves, which really are).

There's Often Crowds and High Skill Levels at Popular Bali Spots

The main drawback of surfing in Bali is that it's crowded everywhere and all the time, especially at popular spots.

Even if you arrive at 6 a.m., you probably won't be the first one.

In addition to that, the skill level in the water can be high or very high at some spots. So, it can be very intimidating for an average surfer who might struggle to find their place in the lineup.

The Sun Really Beats You Up

The sun is no joke in Bali, especially when you're out there surfing.

It might sound funny for those who surf in Europe in the middle of winter, but really, the sun can become a problem for some after certain hours.

It depends on your tolerance and your skin. If you don't handle the sun well, a rash guard, a hat, and a ton of zinc should do the trick.

Water Pollution Can be an Issue

Some spots in Bali are polluted, especially on the West coast during the rainy season.

If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can see tons of various waste (tree trunks, branches, plastics, etc.) floating on your favorite spot, which is not very appealing.

The extreme pollution that prevents surfing remains limited to a few days per year in specific locations, but plastic pollution is still quite present on most Balinese spots.

Surfing in Bali Will Make You a Princess

Surfing in Bali will turn you into a true princess, given the favorable conditions.

Once you've tasted a Balinese reef in boardshorts, it's hard to go back to an onshore closing beach break in a 5/3 wetsuit in the middle of winter.

Main Surfing Areas in Bali

Now that the message is clear, here are the main surfing areas in Bali.

The Bukit Peninsula: 90% of "World-Class" Reef-type Surf Spots

padang padang surf
Padang Padang in all its glory

The Bukit Peninsula, often simply called "Bukit," is the southernmost part of Bali. This is where you find 90% of the paradisiacal waves that have made Bali's reputation.

You have probably drooled over one of the following names, all located just a few minutes' drive from each other:

  • Uluwatu
  • Padang Padang
  • Bingin
  • Impossibles
  • Balangan
  • Nusa Dua
  • ...

In short, if you're looking for a reef with shallow water and big barrels, you're in the right place. It can almost be called a surf pilgrimage site because there are world-renowned spots in the same location.

This area will mainly appeal to experts or those who already know how to surf to some extent. Spots for beginners or intermediate surfers are very limited.

The West Coast: a Long Stretch of More or Less Popular Spots

The West Coast of Bali is the second most popular surfing area, even though it has a bit fewer of those "world-class" spots consisting of waves breaking on coral reefs at the water's surface. In return, it's more "beginner-friendly."

Among the iconic spots on the West Coast, we can mention:

  • Kuta beach
  • Kuta reef
  • Airport (right and left)
  • Seminyak (double 6 beach, etc.)
  • Legian (padma beach, etc.)
  • Canggu (Echo beach, Berawa, Batu Bolong, Old Mans, Pererenan, etc.)
  • Balian
  • Medewi

In short, very diverse waves (reefs, sand waves, point breaks, river mouths, etc.) with very different swell exposures, suitable for many skill levels.

The East Coast: a Less Exposed and Explored Surfing Area in Bali

A firing Keramas

The East Coast of Bali is a surfing area in Bali that doesn't have the popularity of Bukit or the West Coast but hides several gems that can reward those who manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Among the iconic surf spots on the East Coast of Bali, Keramas is the most known, along with Sanur, neither of which should be considered for beginners.

The East Coast is less exposed to swells than Bukit or the West Coast and mainly works during the rainy season when many West Coast spots are onshore.

Nusa Lembongan: Spots that Technically Belong to Bali

Nusa Lembongan and its sister Nusa Ceningan are not technically on Bali itself, but they administratively belong to Bali.

Lembongan is highly renowned for its surf and must, therefore, be mentioned in this list. Among the most famous spots in Lembongan, we can mention:

  • Playgrounds
  • Shipwreck
  • Lacerations
  • Razors

Lembongan is not the ideal destination for pure beginners, but the waves are clearly world-class with breathtaking views of Bali.

Bali Surf Spots According to Your Skill Level

Let's be clear, if you plan to surf in Bali, you must first find a spot that suits your level. Here is the list of suitable spots based on your surfing level.

The Best Beginner Spots to Learn Surfing in Bali

Learning to surf in Bali should (really) not be done anywhere. Here are some spots where you can do it without any problem, even if you are an absolute beginner.

Kuta Beach: A fairly gentle spot with many beginners in the water

Kuta Beach is a sand wave (beach break) that is quite protected thanks to the Kuta Reef further offshore and the bay's topography.

Kuta Beach has been one of the historical places to learn surfing, and that's not about to change.

If Kuta Beach is not the most impressive spot on Bali's scale, it remains a quality beach break that is undoubtedly infinitely better than the waves near your home!

Seminyak and Legian: Two beach breaks more challenging than Kuta Beach

Seminyak and Legian are on the same bay as Kuta Beach. The further north in the bay you go, the bigger the waves get.

These waves are still sand waves, but they are often a bit larger and more challenging than Kuta Beach. Spots that are sometimes overlooked by intermediate and advanced surfers, even though they are sometimes nicer and less crowded than some spots in the area.

I'm just saying...

Batu Bolong in Canggu: The surfing spot for beginners and longboarders in the area

If you're looking to learn surfing in Canggu, the best spot is undoubtedly Batu Bolong.

Surfing the whitewash at Batu Bolong is probably one of the best options to learn to surf. The spot is also a very good longboard spot and other old-school fishes that work almost every day.

A spot often crowded due to its location, its large channel, and the (relative) gentleness of its wave.

Some Sanur Reefs (not all!)

If you are on the East Coast, you can learn to surf on some Sanur reefs. You will need to join a surf school that will take you by boat to these offshore reefs with fairly gentle waves.

Attention, not all Sanur reefs are suitable for beginners.

Baby Padang Padang (or Padang Padang Right): The only real option for beginners on the Bukit

If Padang Padang (the true version, the left) is a wave for experts only, the right is a soft wave that can be a good spot for catching your first waves.

Attention, if you're a beginner, don't go the wrong way, or you might remember it!

Spots for Intermediate Surfers in Bali

Spots for intermediate-level surfers are those recommended for those who already know how to surf but are not pros by any means.

Canggu (Berawa / Echo Beach) and Pererenan: A very nice and not too dangerous area

Canggu is very popular among intermediate-level surfers. The waves remain much more forgiving than the Bukit reef waves, but they already offer plenty of fun for the average surfer, even enough to be intimidating.

In short, between Berawa, Sandbar, Rivermouth, and even Batu Bolong, the area is full of high-quality surf spots accessible to the average Joe. Naturally, this implies having to share them with other surfers.

Balian: A surf spot a bit away from the crowd with many advantages

Balian is a spot an hour from Canggu that can be a breath of fresh air compared to the usual spots.

Sure, you have to drive, and there's not much around. Sure, it's an estuary known to harbor sharks. But still, the spot is very exposed and offers very nice peaks. Often with a bit fewer people than elsewhere, although you won't be alone.

Medewi: A very nice point break for intermediate surfers

Medewi is another of those very nice spots accessible to intermediate surfers who aren't lazy to drive a bit.

The point break is really beautiful and can be surfed with both longboard and shortboard. The big pebbles are much sharper than they seem and sometimes make the entry or exit a bit tricky, but it's worth it.

Kuta Reef: A nice spot accessible by boat

kuta reef

Kuta Reef is another very popular surf spot among intermediate-level surfers.

You need a boat to get there, and there are several peaks available, which limits the crowd a bit. Kuta Reef was THE surf spot in Bali that everyone came to surf in the 1970s before Uluwatu was discovered.

Playgrounds: The only "easy" surf spot in Lembongan

Saying that Playgrounds is an easy spot would be a bit hasty.

But compared to other spots in Lembongan, it's by far the one that suits intermediate surfers the most. However, it's still a reef that can offer fairly hollow waves when conditions are good.

What level do you really need to surf Bali's most famous spots (Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Bingin, Keramas, etc.)?

Most well-known spots in Bali have the following characteristics:

  • The reef is at the water's surface
  • The locals are very, very good (even pros/semi-pros)
  • Many pros, semi-pros, or very experienced surfers travel to surf them
  • Many intermediate or even very average surfers try them out and act as tea bags among the best surfers

Does this mean it's impossible to surf these spots without being a machine? No. Like everywhere, there are small days and high tides that make the waves less intimidating, and the pros and locals are not in the water, which gives more chances to the "average Joe."

Naturally, these spots are stormed when it's possible to surf them at a "fun" size for the common folks.

When the conditions are perfect or even big, and the crème de la crème is out, I strongly advise those who do not have the level to refrain from tackling a Padang Padang, an Uluwatu, or a Keramas.

Not only do these waves have the power to send you to the hospital or even the morgue, but, more importantly, you risk putting the surfers in the water in danger.

Are there still secret surf spots in Bali?

To the question of whether there are still secret surf spots in Bali, the answer is... yes and no.

A truly secret spot known to no one is generally unlikely given the high number of surfers who crisscross the island all year round.

Less-known spots, not mentioned on the internet and known only to locals or a few well-informed passing surfers? Yes, there are a few.

Naturally, these spots do not work as often as the more popular ones, are more difficult to access, are dangerous, or a bit of all of that at the same time.

But if you explore the West Coast starting from Canggu, get lost on the East Coast, or have a somewhat daring spirit when you're on the Bukit, you might find spots where you're either alone in the water or not very numerous.

If you make such a discovery, there's no need to tell everyone out of respect for those who regularly surf these waves.

Surf Lessons in Bali: Where to Find Instructors to Learn Surfing?

If you are trying surfing for the first time, it is highly recommended to go through a surf school or, at the very least, be accompanied by an instructor.

In Bali, you will find surf lessons offered by various providers, with varying prices:

  • Impromptu lesson by a local in Canggu/Kuta (often a board rental person): the cheapest option but the quality is very variable
  • Surf lesson in a local surf/slide school: generally good value for money
  • Surf lesson with an international surf school: higher prices but instructors are often more trained
  • Mobile guide who surfs with you: quality and price variable, but you can discover less-known spots

Surfing and Equipment in Bali

Where there's surf, there's gear, and surf gear can quickly become an issue in certain parts of the world. Here's how it is in Bali.

Should you bring your surfboard to Bali?

Those who already surf are always faced with this question when they go on a surf trip to Bali: should I bring my board or not?

The answer to this question is... it depends.

If you absolutely want to surf your usual boards in Bali, and your usual boards are made for Balinese conditions, then go for it. Check beforehand that your airline accepts one or more board bags at a reasonable price (from Europe, I recommend Qatar Airways or Singapore Airlines, which are very tolerant on the subject).

However, if your boards are not made for Balinese conditions, they are already in poor condition (so they won't survive the trip), or your airline does not accept surfboards, no worries, you'll find plenty in Bali.

If you are going to an island other than Bali, especially if these islands are remote, it is better to bring your own boards or plan to buy them in Bali. You won't find tons of surf equipment in the Mentawai, Sumatra, Java, or Sumbawa.

Is it easy to find surfboards for rent in Bali?

Renting surfboards in Bali is very easy at beginner spots. Their quality is generally quite low, inevitably. Often, they are foam longboards or mini-malibus that have been repaired many times.

Renting a shortboard is possible in some surf shops, and some even offer rentals for longer durations.

However, as soon as you venture off the beaten path and away from beginner spots, finding surfboards for rent becomes increasingly complex.

Where to find surf equipment (boards, leashes, wax, etc.) in Bali?

Unsurprisingly, surf equipment is found in Bali where there are the most surfers. Many surf shops and shapers are therefore located:

  • On the Bukit, especially at the entrance of the Bukit and near Uluwatu
  • Around Canggu
  • All over Kuta and Seminyak

If you need to buy a new board, a few bars of wax, or a new leash, you will have no trouble finding what you need in these 3 areas.

Conclusion

Trying surfing in Bali is an almost obligatory option when you visit the Island of the Gods.

Regular surfers already know how great the quality of waves in Bali is and make the trip specifically to take them on.

There are advantages and disadvantages to surfing in Bali, and numerous spots cater to very different skill levels.

Feel free to explore the island, and you might make some beautiful discoveries. If you do, don't forget to keep the secret to yourself!

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