Learning to Surf in Bali: Why it’s Better to Learn from a Local

Looking for a surf school in Bali

Kuta Beach has to be one of the best places on earth to learn to surf. With some of the most consistent waves anywhere in the world and more surf instructors per capita than Hawaii or Southern California, finding someone to help you learn to ride won’t be a problem.

However, choosing a surf school in Bali can be a challenge. There’s a wide range of prices and teaching styles to choose from, making it difficult to know which will get you to your goal quickly and without spending too much money.

On the high end, you can splurge on one of the name brands like Rip Curl (which will run you about $65 for the first lesson). Budget travelers often choose to learn from a local, which can be as cheap as $5-7 an hour, but you could come out of it without making much progress towards tube riding glory.

What’s the best route?

I was in this situation in 2007 when I first visited Bali. I had only tried surfing a couple times in California with my brother and really knew nothing about what I was supposed to be doing. The basic idea of surfing isn’t complicated (you catch the wave, the wave takes you for a ride), but it helps to know a bit about what you’re supposed to do so you can make quicker progress.

Kuta Beach was my first destination for surfing in Bali. I rented a 7’6” board for a half day (cost: about $5) and paddled out into the waves.

Lucky for me, Kuta waves are pretty forgiving! Even though I knew almost nothing about what I was supposed to be doing, I was able to catch a few crumbly waves and get shakily to my feet. Success!

The only problem: I had a looooong way to go. Every day that I was out on the waves at Kuta, I was humbled by the steady stream of 5-10 year old Balinese kids who were (literally) surfing circles around me.

There had to be an easier way.

On one particularly frustrating afternoon, I was determined to catch as many waves as I could and hold my own against the Balinese kindergarteners that I was competing with in the lineup. Every time I would go for a wave, they would be in a better position and catch it before me, throwing a cascade of salt water in my face as they zipped past.

I had spent more than an hour just tiring myself out with all the paddling and getting more and beginning to think that I forget about surfing. The sun was setting over the Indian Ocean and the colors reflected from the clouds were glowing orange. I thought to myself that even if I’m not getting any waves, it’s still nice to be sitting out here in the water for the sunset.

I could see a few waves coming in the distance, so I pointed my board towards the beach and started paddling. The wave was almost on me and a local guy about ten yards away started yelling ‘Go! Go! Go! Go!’.

Surprised by the unexpected encouragement, I gave a last extra dig with my arms. I could feel the board taking off as I caught the wave, getting to my feet as it accelerated towards the beach. It was the best wave I caught all day.

I paddled back and thanked the local guy for the help. He said his name was Eddy, and was originally from Java but moved to Bali because he loved surfing so much.

I spent more than two months-worth of weekends at Kuta Beach trying to get good enough to surf the bigger waves of the Bukit like Uluwatu, Balangan, and Dreamland. Eddy helped me get there in record time.

Making progress as a surfer is about repetition. The more times you’re able to be out and paddling into waves, the quicker you will begin to learn the timing you’ll need to survive bigger and more challenging conditions. Having someone like Eddy tell you when to paddle or which waves to try for can save you weeks of wasted effort by trial and error.

That’s why I’d recommend learning to surf from a local like Eddy ‘Bagus’. At around Rp 100K per hour, you’ll save enough to upgrade your hotel or go out for a nice dinner in Seminyak, but you’ll still be well on your way to learning to surf.

Even better, you’ll connect with the locals in a way that is not as likely if you go with one of the bigger surf schools.

If you’d like to reach Eddy yourself to set up a surf lesson, the easiest way to contact him is through his Facebook page.