Lying chest down on my board, gently bobbing up and down, I wait for the big one, the wave that I will catch, rise up like a phoenix and triumphantly ride the ocean like Neptune himself, fist-pumping the air as bikini-clad bathers watch in admiration my tidal dominance. I see a swell approaching so I tentatively paddle, I’d hate to over commit then miss the next one, but it’s looking good. Paddling faster I can feel the wave underneath me and I know it is time. Now… pop up, get your feet right and ride it to the beach. I plant my back foot and slide my front in place but disaster strikes as I slip forward, the nose goes down and so do I. Now at the mercy of the waves I just hold my breath and pray for Neptune’s revenge to be swift and painless. Welcome to the world of surfing for beginners and trying to run before you can walk.
The beauty of Kuta, Lombok
We arrived in Kuta to simply relax and enjoy the beaches that had been recommended, we were not disappointed. The nicest ones are a short motorbike ride along the coast from Kuta but are certainly worth the effort. You’ll be able to tick all those clichés that make a perfect beach, soft white sand, wonderful turquoise ocean, sun protection in the form of lush green palm trees and locals more than happy to supply you with as many juicy pineapples as your budget will stretch too. To the East of Kuta, you can find Mandlika Beach, which is a local’s favourite. If you like some atmosphere then be sure to head there on a Sunday when you can see many local families playing in the water, watching you with childlike curiosity as you expose as much of yourself as possible to the Sun in an effort to tan, very much the opposite of what the locals try where pale skin is generally desirable. Being lucky enough to have fair skin and freckles, pale skin is not a problem for me. If you prefer your beaches quieter then go any other day of the week or try Tanjung Aan Beach a little further up where we failed to see another single person.
If you head West of Kuta there a few smaller beaches signposted but the main one is a 20-minute motorbike ride away. The ride alone is worth your time, away from the main road, the route takes you through Kuta’s lush tropical landscape of rolling hills, palm trees and rice fields – don’t be surprised if you get caught in local traffic as the farmer tries to safely move his cows across the road – just know that they won’t get out of your way!
Once you have successfully negotiated the cows and enjoyed the various bugs that fly into your mouth as your jaw drops awe at the scenery you should have arrived at Breynet Selong beach. Another paradise but with the addition of good size waves, so it was here that I decided I should take the plunge and finally learn to surf.
Learning to surf
The lesson starts with the basics, lying on the board on the beach, practising pop-ups and feet positioning. After a few pops, we are ready to hit the water (Well, the real hitting was still to come but you know what I mean!). Our instructor has taken us to an area of the beach where the waves are not too big, a dent to my ego … but probably a good idea. We paddle out to where I will be catching my first ever wave and wait. The paddling part is a lot harder than it looks, it is not something I had given much thought to before but as my little arms try to propel me across the ocean below, it takes a fair amount of effort to balance and just stay on the board.
After what seems like an eternity of ungraceful paddling we have arrived at the place I am to catch my first ever wave. As I turn the board to point me shoreward I am slight disappointed to discover an eternity of paddling has taken me about 20 metres but before I have too long to think about it I hear the instructor shout “ready” as a swift push helps me on my way. The board and the wave are now one, whooshing along towards the beach. Before I can enjoy the feeling my instructor is shouting again; “up up up”. I know that’s my cue, here we go, slide the front foot up as I push up off the board … lock the back foot and I’m doing it, I’m surfing. In my head, I look like Patrick Swayze from point break dominating the ocean, realistically I probably looked more like Mr Bean at a disco but I don’t care, first time I am up, surfing to the beach and it feels epic. Jumping off the board I triumphantly look back to my instructor who is clapping and happy that his job is now pretty much done and he gets to spend two hours pushing me and my board. Keen to get back out there and do it again I lift my board and as I do a wave rolls in, catches the board and lifts it right into my chin. The force lifts me off my feet and dumps me on my rear as I also take a healthy dose of salt water straight to the lungs! Dazed I realise I still have plenty to learn just about how to handle a surfboard, forget about the actual surfing part.
The next hour is spent practising pop-ups and perfecting my paddle technique and it dawns on me that surfing is a little like golf, you spend a lot of time just waiting around, mostly bad waves but every now and again you get that sweet one, that perfect wave combined with that perfect pop and that is what makes all that waiting around worth it. My golfing is a lot of walking with mostly bad shots but every now and again I will hit that sweet one, that one that soars 250 yards (That’s good for me) through the air landing perfectly on the green leaving me a simple putt, which later I will probably miss, but that will be enough to get me back for another round.
Up until now, my instructor had been helping me catch the waves but now it is my turn. He still helps me to spot but it is my job to paddle and pop. Suddenly it gets difficult. I miss many waves by paddling too slow or popping up too late. But I persevere and before long I am doing it, 2 hours in and I’m a bonafide surfer.
Not knowing when I am going to get the chance to surf again I hired the board for a further hour at a very good price and decided to move over to the big boy waves. Having spent many hours watching people surf and wanting to give it a go I had arrived, they were now watching me, no coach, no protection just me, the ocean and my overconfidence. The next hour was spent being spanked about by the ocean receiving many more healthy doses of sea water. As hard as I tried I guess I was just not ready. I like to blame it on fatigue but it was more likely that two hours of surfing just isn’t enough to go from beginner to competitor. The image in my head of my triumphant fist pump was quickly replaced by that of Pamela Anderson running to save me as I am drowning in relentless wave after wave of torment only to reach me and smack me round the face with that little red thing they carry and tell to stop being so stupid. Still could have been worse, could have been David Hasselhoff.
Wear sun cream!
There are many options for surfing lessons in Kuta ranging from complete beginners like myself to advanced lessons if you already know what you are doing but want to learn some new trick or different skills. There is no need to book as many surf instructors are available, my recommendation would be to chat to a few and just see who you feel you have the biggest rapport with. If you find them pushy and over selling you may not enjoy spending two hours in the ocean alone with them. The other bit of advice that shouldn’t be needed is – do not forget your sunscreen. Even though I was slapping my factor 50 on at regular intervals my calves still managed to turn a very crispy red and 2 weeks later were still peeling! If you can try and take a leaf out of the locals book and cover up completely, if not then please be sensible…you have been warned.