Total wipeout: learning to surf in Bali

“Are you ready, my friend? Get your head up, hold steady – PADDLE!

My Balinese surfing instructor gave me one final push and I was flying, riding my surfboard doggy-style on the crest of an almighty wave.

Heart pumping, adrenaline flowing, I tried to lift my fatigued body off the board and… I plunged into the blue.

I wipeout while learning to surf on Kuta Beach, Bali

If surfing is a religion then I’m a blasphemer, an irreverent heathen who has no business anywhere near a surf board – let alone learning to surf on Kuta Beach, one of the world’s most famous surf beaches.

I’d tried to learn to surf before, on a two-day surf camp in San Sebastian, Spain. I’d enjoyed the experience, frolicking in the waves, throwing myself on and off my surfboard without any real success, but I never even made it up long enough to say “cowabunga”.

It was time to give it another go. Besides, only two nights before I’d finally gotten my nerve up enough to ask my girlfriend to marry me, proposing at sunset on Kuta Beach – and if I could do that, I could do anything.

Pleased as punch: learning to surf on Kuta Beach, Bali

I met my surf instructor, Ronny, outside his surfboard shop at the crack of dawn; I was already exhausted from a night of stressing about the next morning. For the low price of $20AUD ($21US) – but a fraction of what the surf safari in Spain had cost – he would teach me the fine art of wave riding.

“You will stand up,” he promised me with stereotypically Indonesian cheer. “Even if I have to drag you up myself.

That wasn’t reassuring. Nevertheless, I climbed on the back of his scooter and we were off, whizzing through Kuta’s slender streets, narrowly avoiding on-coming traffic, pedestrians and small animals, and on to the beach.

I strapped the board to my ankle, pulled on a dinky little rash-shirt, and ran triumphantly into the ocean.

Minutes later, I was stuffed.

Standing up! Learning to surf in Bali

Surfing is hard work. Becoming one with the waves – even very little waves like the ones I was trying to master – is exhausting.

Frankly, I would have given up if not for the embarrassment of being out-done by a little kid who was learning to surf not far away from where I was floundering. That little bastard was standing up on his board without too much fuss – why couldn’t I?

Spurned on, I lifted myself out of the foam and gathered my board for another attempt at glory. I was fast running out of energy, my six months backpacking through South East Asia having left me scarily unfit, so I would have to get up soon or risk the embarrassment of having Ronny drag me up.

“Are you ready?” he yelled. “This time, go!”

I paddled, I kept my head up, and I even arched my back. As the wave took me, I launched myself up on my feet. I’d done it; I was actually surfing!

And then I realised how tiny that wave was when I watched it back on YouTube later…

About Simon Petersen 506 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.


  1. I just came across this blog post while looking through Thorn Tree. Despite my lack of anything resembling athletic abilities, I’d like to try surfing in Bali! Anyhoo just wanted to say thanks for the post, and good job standing up on the board!

    • The guy who taught me worked at a surfboard and art (random combo!) opposite Warung Totemo (an excellent, affordable place to eat). It’s up the Lamai end of the beach, on a side road that’s awfully had to describe because it looked like all the others! Sorry if that doesn’t help at all – hope you enjoy your trip!

    • Haha, thanks! I’m a good swimmer so I was actually over-confident the first time I tried to learn to surf. Unfortunately for me, pride comes before the fall…

  2. Despite the small size of the wave, I’m still impressed by your surfing skills. I’ve tried surfing once in the U.S. and it’s harder than it looks!

    Do you think you’ll surf again?

    • Thank you very much! Haha, even in the video I knew it was a tiny wave. I’d love to give it a go again; it was heaps of fun, just really tiring – and I can’t even describe how sore I was the next day!

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