How I learnt to surf in the paradise of Kuta, Lombok

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 on the island of 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.

Stunning beach in Lombok
Lombok’s hidden beaches

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 with the locals in Kuta

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.

Surfing? I thought it was similar to golf!

Popping up - Surfing in Kuta, Lombok
The wave felt a lot bigger!

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.

Surfing gets harder when you do it yourself

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.

Learn surfing in Kuta, Lombok
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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.

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74 thoughts on “How I learnt to surf in the paradise of Kuta, Lombok

  1. I felt like I was right there trying to surf myself (and cheering you on)! I would like to try surfing one day but I know it’s much harder than it looks. At least you have one decent picture of yourself surfing. 😉

  2. It is definitely not as simple as it sounds like!
    I tried to surf in Ireland with my friends during a geatway to the west coast, and ended up full of stiffnes the day after.

    It took us a couple of hours to start getting used to the movement, the moment when you have to stand up on the board, but by then we were too tired to raise ourself.. so in the end we just had a blast and enjoyed falling again and again in the water!

    Looks like you did better than us 🙂

  3. Paddling is definitely a lot difficult than it looks. It requires a lot of muscle and the art of balancing. I tried surfing in Hawaii and Philippines and I ended up getting too tired of paddling. There is one time I caught a wave after paddling for 10 minutes, and then I was too tired to stand up, so I just let the waves pushed me towards the shore…

    Glad you had a great time surfing in Kuta. And that picture of you surfing the waves look fantastic!

  4. You have provided such great tips with this article, and Kuta looks so beautiful. I would like to plan a trip and surf here- seems like you had a really good time!

    1. Thanks Steph. Kuta is a cool place and surfing was something I’ve always wanted to try so was really happy to give it a go. Don’t think I’ll ever make it as a pro but it’s nice to know if I ever get the chance to go again I know the basics!

  5. Kudos to you for getting out and attempting to surf. I like the comparison to Mr Bean, but hey, at least you did it! It’s encouraging to hear how the surf experience was for a beginner and gives me the courage to give it a try next time I have a chance

    1. The only thing to worry about is sunburn . . . and sharks, sharks and sunburn, and getting smacked in the head by a surfboard, sunburn, sharks and surfboards, other than that it’s fine! Just kidding, super easy, you’ll love it!

  6. Great post! I really enjoyed reading this lol Learning to surf is on my to-do list as well and I think this is good material to prep me for the experience. I hope you’ll keep at it, one day you will be fist pumping the air in triumph! Good luck!

    1. Haha, thanks Aisha. Fist pumps all round and you have to give it a go. The good thing about trying it there, where it was really quiet, is that there was no-one to laugh at your fails and even if you don’t like it you’re still on a tropical island paradise . . . what’s not to love?

  7. Lombok is a beautiful island, I enjoyed it there but didn’t have a go at surfing. I have only tried that in NZ and couldn’t even lift the board, never mind surf!!

  8. What beautiful beaches! I spent june in Lombok and absolutely loved it. It’s like they say, the most beautiful beaches are in Lombok! Did you do anything else than surfing whil you were in Lombok?

    1. Hi Ariane. Lombok was basically just chill time so relaxing on the wonderful beaches. I wanted to climb the volcano but just couldn’t fit it in. Many people miss Kuta in the south as most head up to the Gili’s, it’s a shame as is lovely down there . . . and peaceful. Well, the first night we were next to a Mosque that did very loud call to prayer at 6am, that wasn’t so peaceful!

  9. Thanks for sharing your experiences and even though you had some rather discouraging experiences, you encouraged me a lot! I am planning to try surfing when we are on our world trip as we will pass by some awesome spots and I always wanted to try it.. but actually; i did not expect that after just 2 hours it’s possible to really stand on a board and take a wave! I think the wave on the picture… it might have felt bigger but it already looks pretty cool 🙂 Hope I can say the same when I finally have the possibility to try it! 😀

    1. Haha, the ‘wave’ in the picture! It felt massive but when I saw the picture I was super disappointed! I highly recommend everyone giving it a go at least once and in my opinion Lombok is a great place to do it. Even if you don’t like it you’re in a super nice tropical paradise so who really cares? Win-win!

  10. What an experience! I tried to surf in Australia and I ended up nose diving into the sea, hitting a rock, almost knocking myself out which was not fun! I was really disappointed as I had been really excited about trying to surf. Maybe I should follow in your footsteps and have lessons!

    1. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun! What was cool about doing it in Lombok is that not many people were watching so no one saw my fails! I’m not ever going to be a pro, but having someone explain the basics is good so when I get the opportunity to give it a go again I know the theory at least!

  11. I tried to surf once, a long time ago in California. It not turn out very well, and I never tried again. Let’s just say that once you’ve tried, you have a whole new appreciation for surfers, and a whole new respect for the ocean!

  12. Although I might not be interested in having surf lessons, Lombok looks like a great place to relax and enjoy the sun and the sea. And not forgetting the sun screen 😉

  13. Wow, good for you for making the extraordinary effort to learn to surf. And, you selected a beautiful spot to do it. Really enjoyed reading about your experience.

  14. I have never surfed. I’d like to try but I have never had the opportunity yet! Kuta seems to be the perfect spot to learn though! So at the end of the session, did your surfing style move closer to Patrick Swayze’s or still looked like Mr Bean ? 😀

  15. I have attempted to learn how to surf several times, but always without an instructor, and obviously failed over and over again lol I can boogie board, but at some point I think I will have to pay for a lesson to learn. It seems really exhilerating!

  16. Haha, I love the descriptive language in your introduction! I grew up surfing in Southern California so I love going to places that have great surf! I’ll have to add this to my surfing bucket list 🙂

  17. I never considered surfing. Just didn’t cross my mind but your description of your adventure and the island itself makes me want to try!

  18. Good personal firsthand account of learning surfing. It was much harder to get up than I thought. These kinds of skills really help you get more out of locations when you travel!

  19. It’s been a long time since I tried my hand at surfing but I’m wishing I was back out there again after reading this! I completely agree that the best beaches are a little out of Kuta too – we were a bit disappointed by Kuta itself but the beaches nearby are lovely. It sounds like you’re well on your way to being a confident surfer 😀

  20. Am not a water baby but always gets fascinated to see some one surfing or jet skiing on their own. We visited Bali last year and did sea walking instead, as surfing was too hard to learn.

    Even ullwatu is good for surfing in Bali …

  21. This looks like a fun experience!!! I have never been on a “Paradise Island” before! 🙂 I hope I get to Lombok one day. The pictures are great.

  22. Surfing is an adventure for me. I think I’ll never learn to surf. But Your description of this is really good 🙂 Maybe I’ll change my mind 🙂

    1. It’s one of those things I felt I had to try at least once, it was lot more tiring than I expected, not sure if I’ll spend much time doing it again.

  23. Great pictures and the place looks so beautiful! Whenever I think of taking surfing lessons, i remember all the documentaries I’ve watched and it seems that sharks love surfers! Lol! Thumbs up for going for it, i’ll try to find the courage and do the same!

    1. If I were a shark, I’d probably like a bit of surfer meat, make a change from all that damn tuna. The good news is, I don’t think there are many great white sharks in Lombok, just don’t step on a sea urchin, that hurts like hell!

  24. Proud of you buddy… This is one activity I would like to learn and experience. Wonder if you have seen the movie Chasing Mavericks, a must watch if you like surfing. Since I watched that movie, I badly need to learn and have fun.

    1. I had a go, trust me when I say I still need to learn! A lot harder than I thought, my arms were killing me the next day. But, I’d do it all over again in a heart beat!

  25. I’m not into surfing but I’m really amazed when I see someone doing it in the movies, especially the one I watched, where the girl loses her arm because of a shark bite, but she still competes and wins in the end.

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