Travel Blog #19 – Bali, Gili and Me

Surfs up dude

My only experiences of surfing before now was East Coast England – cold water surfing. Wet suit. Wet suit hood, shoes, gloves, and chilly bum bums. Scarborough. Bamburgh. Cayton Bay. Beadnell. And I’d loved it, but it was cold, And I wasn’t very good, and it’s at least a two hour drive from home so a big commitment to practice. As a result I’d only been a handful of times, ably encouraged by more experienced surfer friends and I did learn, but slowly. And without any gear and the surf spots being a drive away my surfing career never took off. Bali is one of the most famous places in the world to surf though and so I since I was here was keen to give it all another try.

A weeks surf camp was lined up and we take up one of the taxi men on the road side in Ubud and ask him to take us to the very south coast of Bali. Bali Cliff and our surf camp is down the coast from the famous Uluwata and near the not so secret secret green bowls bay. Surf shacks and some new resorts, steep dusty cliff side paths lead to the sea.

Uluwata is the location of the famous barreling surf spot (five different waves) where only and bravest and experienced surfers play.

We are to split our time between various other local surf spots with instructor / guides and afternoons spent at the surf camps in either Cliff or Padang Padang.

First morning is an early start to surf at Thomas beach. A sweeping reef break off a small peninsula, good for beginners. It’s a tough walk down the stone steps carrying the board (massive long and floaty for beginners not the nippy little dart shaped hover boards used by the experts) but it’s a load better in swim shorts and sandals than the tough trek down the hill at Cayton Bay in full squeaky suit in the rain I’d experienced before.

It’s a great start to surfing in Bali. The guides are helpful and fun, laughing in the sea and the most important instruction for us novices is always ‘remember to smile’. Plenty of falling off and even some standing up.

Quick break for Mie Goreng (friend noodles and veg) in surf shack and back out again. Forgot how tiring it is! Paddling out to the waves is hard on the shoulders and paint yourself up on the board tough on the arms. Luckily there is Yoga at he Padang with Roberto (officially the most handsome man in the world) to help ease the strains. I guess this is different to Scarborough too. Afternoon sleeps go elk with surfing and I wake up only to smash the BBQ at the Cliff camp before big sleeps again.

It’s a day off today to go see the World surf league at Keramas Beach where we witness the best in the world taming the waves here to a reggae soundtrack as we chug beers on the beach. It’s like a Sunday day out to the seaside in Britain -but not Bridlington – Bali Style.

To top off the perfect day we visit the famous Uluwata to watch the sunset. It does not disappoint and again I think back to east coast England and reminisce – although different those Northumberland evenings do throw up some shimmering sights. Don’t miss it for now though!

Fired up after watching the pros yesterday I am determined to ride the waves hard today dude and we’re off early to a new spot. Today’s surf is at Jimbaran, no steps here and a more built up beachfront with a few more ‘warungs’ (cafe / bar / restaurant). The waves are long split in the middle.

It’s a Good session and I’m getting better at balancing and popping up.

It’s a chilled afternoon back at cliff after, rolla-bolla competition and of course- afternoon sleeping. Oh and my now daily Mie Goreng.

Next few days are a wholesome mix of Surf & Yoga at Thomas beach, Balangan beach then Padang Camp.

At Thomas I switched to hard board and was so difficult. Bruised and bartered allover. Exhausted. Helen stood up though! Danny a solider on holiday who we met and enjoyed spending time with at the camp summed up the day : ‘I was just surviving out there’ hahaha!

At Balangan Beach there are huge drain pipe barrels crashing into dry ice like rolling foam whitewash washing machine madness. I’m surfing to the side of these but am pummeled all day. I have to have a big baguette and a massage after good elbow grease leans and she down into the knots nicely. I mix it up the night with Nasi Goreng (fried rice and veg).

Thurs 31 – Surf @ Thomas Beach

Quite calm session slow morning with bigger waves as the tide goes out

Helen stands up and it seems the penny has dropped. We have a couple of beers and a Mie Goreng before saying our goodbyes to Danny and Rach and heading to Serengan to stay for one night in Paros Peros hotel near the port ready for the ferry to Gili Air in the morning.

It’s been hard. My body is broken and my ears are full of water. Some days I’ve done better than others and think the last day or two I’ve been abit tired and I’ve not done my best. But, I’ve come on loads at surf camp much more than my few tertiary trips to East Yorkshire. Doing it everyday helps, as does getting used to your gear. Tried different boards and got used to different breaks (how the waves are formed). The guides were great with tips and morale boosts, the warm weather perhaps the best factor in terms of feeling relaxed and ready to surf. Surf camp is worth it. We even have a surf theory session where we watch a video back of ourselves from the day. It’s pretty illuminating, helpful of course, and very funny. I need to work on my paddling now to manouevre in the water and catch better waves. I’ll be back surfing again somewhere soon and can’t wait to get in the water so we book a trip to Siargao Phillipines in three weeks for more. I make a vow to brave the east coast more at home too.

The Gili Isles are one of those places I’ve heard about from people as the desert island type location. Little outposts in the vast ocean where life is slow and the nights long. Often cited as honeymoon heaven or backpacker box tick. There are three, Gili T the largest and renowned as a party island, Gili Meno the smallest and least developed, and Gili Air a mix of the two. We head to Gili Air and the reality is as in most of the places we’ve been the tourist boom is big.

So the island is still quite quaint and sleepy and there are no cars or street lamps so the dusty lanes keep quiet and calm especially in the dusk. Horse and cart clop the tracks and fishing boats bob on the shores. Inland the houses are bamboo and tin roof shacks and children wash in outdoor taps. Along the coast though there are lots of happy hour bars and snorkeling trip stands. Every second house is a hotel or a spa. The ‘warungs’ more western. But I’m not complaining and over the week I eat: satay, burgers, be g burgers, Indian curry, Mexican, pizzas and lots of coffee and banana bread. I take advantage of the abundance of yoga studios and take a three day stay at one. Aqua yoga, ear candling (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, cleared up my blocked up surfers lugs a treat), massage and a multitude of detox juices, health shake and Buddha bowls.

The beaches here are beautiful and one night I even sample some suspect Balinese cocktail that certainly brings to life the colours of the ocean and the horizon. I have one of those cheesy cliche moments where you lie on your back in the sea at sunset and breathe out deeply and feel like it all makes sense and I’m so grateful and at peace with the world. It’s really bloody lovely and can understand why people honeymoon here.

We do go snorkeling one morning and go to three spots around the three Gili Islands. We see turtles floating gracefully by, starfish of all sizes, fish and coral and again I am taken back by the beauty of nature and feel very fortunate to be in it in such a close way.

Squeak the mask clean and look down into the gleaming

Stained glassed shimmering sea bed beneath

Glittery, Jaws film opening scene-esque kicking legs can be seen across the top line of the water

Coral and fish and creatures like you’ve never believed

Bright blue electric green glowing, slowing down to eyeball you on cue then

quick zip dart away

leaving bubble trails


All you can hear is your own breathing,

it’s like you’re in the moon

Zoom out and you’re splayed in a drop of ocean like suspended motion

A starfish held in mother nature’s arms

I leave the island after four days very happy and relaxed and very grateful for my time here. It’s such a special place. But changing. All through Bali and Gili I am conscious of my impact here. Both Bali and Gili Air are plagued by plastic.

Almost every new building being constructed is a hotel or yoga retreat every new food space a vegan raw power food shop or a bbq with cocktail happy hour.

Over and above all this, on this largely Muslim island, the minaret stands proud and the call to prayer sings out loud. Very loudly. But lovingly loudly. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something.

What would life be like if we weren’t here?