Even in bustling Kuta, Sarah Downs finds the trick to riding waves is taking it easy
Kuta was like a red hot slap in the face after the marbled sanctuary of our clifftop Uluwatu resort. Loud, flashy and hooning with tourist-packed booze buses that reek of Bintang before lunchtime. But the main beach? An endless expanse of white sand, famous sunsets, and with long, consistent waves particularly kind to beginner surfers. I was ready to dive straight in.
Our surf instructor, Najib Timbull — a prodigy barely out of his 20s — greets us with a smile at the Malibu Surf School board racks, at the top of the beach. Bali is full of surf schools but this company, based out of Balangan beach, comes highly recommended with easy to spot blue surfboards.
Around us, leathered faces camp out under the shade of palm trees and drag heady puffs on Lucky Strikes. We pass, politely, on an offer of sunscreen (a rusted zinc tin that looked more ancient than he did) before gearing up in matching blue rash shirts and hitting the waves.
Up first though, some land practice, so we drag our boards out under the scorching sun — and test our balance after last night's sunset margaritas.
Instructions come fast but are repeated. After a good few goes, I get the hang of the yoga-like sequence: push up, right foot, left foot, arms out, and most importantly, bend your knees. It will be a miracle if anything sticks. Still, Najib seems happy and we canter down to join the others, mostly tourists, in the warm, salty ocean.
It's serenely calm once you swim past the gushing whitewash and there's a great view back to the umbrella-lined beach. But the nerves of a first-timer being to bubble.
"Relax, take it easy," Najib reminds me, noticing my white knuckles clenching the sides of the board. "Remember to juuuust breath," he says.
I exhale and surrender, flat on my belly. Somehow, he's treading water and holding the force of three human-topped boards sturdy in the swell. Next he's shooting us off individually when a decent wave rolls in. Legend.
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It only takes a few attempts until I too am paddling, paddling, paddling, and manage to stay standing upright, rigidly, all the way into shore. The descent is even less graceful; a backwards plonk into the shallows, but the feeling is exhilarating. I swim back to score a high five and do it all over again.
The trick, I discover, is exactly as Najib and, at a creative stretch, the smoking surfer dudes suggested. In Bali, everything is best achieved with a chilled-out state of mind. "If I'm not surfing, I'm sleeping," Najib replies. "That's the life out here."
A two-hour lesson made up of 30 minutes safety and theory explanation on the beach and 90 minutes in the water, with one instructor, boards and rash shirt, from NZ$62 for one, group of three NZ$135.