A few considerations at the end of my first Indonesian experience.
The first one is about surfing in general.
Without a doubt, it's the most humbling and slow learning sport I've ever done. And that's why it's so great! If you're impatient it could be frustrating, but, being so damn hard, I actually find it extremely rewarding when you finally do something decent on the wave.
I remember back in 2003, after one year I started longboarding, I asked myself how I would rank me. "From 0 to 10, 10 being Dave Kalama, I think I'm a 2" was my fair judgment.
The photo below shows my first session ever at La Perouse on July 18 2004. A friend happened to be taking photos. I was still ranking myself as a 2.
This one was taken at Honolua bay Nov 22 2004. Still a 2.
Sand Piles, Nov 26 2005. Still a 2.
And this is Cloudbreak, last month. I clearly improved a lot in 9 years, but, believe it or not, I still think I'm a 2!!!!
The reason is that the better you get, the more you realize what it takes to rip like the good guys. New little subtle things keep appearing along the road. Staying a little lower, taking off a bit deeper/steeper, moving the whole body in a fluid way, using the turns to generate speed without digging the rails too much... Without even mentioning more basic stuff like bottom turns, top turns, cutbacks, throwing spray, hitting lips, floaters, paddling efficiently, reading the wave, timing, positioning, duck diving.... the list goes on forever. All this stuff improves at an amazingly slow speed. Well, at least when you're 48! :)
But there's nothing that compares to the feeling of sliding on a surfboard on the face of a beautiful wave and dancing with it. Nothing, really.
The second one is about the Bali waves.
The consistency of the waves in June (and July and August should be even more so) has been amazing. Even the days in which the forecast was calling for "only" 3 feet (and the surfers were saying:"tomorrow is going to be flat"), Ulu Watu was head high. The weather has been extremely consistent too. Other than a couple of cloudy/rainy days, always sunny, always mild. The trade winds are very reliable too and that means clean (or choppy, depending on the breaks' exposure) waves every day.
So, the quantity of the waves was never a problem, but let's talk about the quality of them.
Most waves in the Bukit peninsula are fast. Very fast. That means that they are for advanced surfers only and once you're up, you have to start screaming down the line. Not exactly my kind of surfing, since I prefer a more open face where to do turns. Fortunately Secrets is a more mellow wave and often allowed to do so, but overall I didn't do all that many turns all together.
Photo below is Peaks at Ulu Watu as good as it gets.
The reefs at Kuta are great, but they are crowded.
The waves in the Canggu area are more mellow, but can get crowded too and will get windy at one point during the morning. Below is a photo taken in that area a day in which the picked up to levels of being totally sailable. A kitesurfer showed up and had it all to himself.
In other words, in my 25 days here I caught a hell lot of waves, but not a single one of them was memorable. I only spent a week in Namotu and pretty much all the waves I caught in three days at Cloudbreak were memorable (well, those were the best waves of my life, to be precise). I also caught many memorable waves in Maui in the last two winters (da hell, we're still talking Hawaii!!!).
Sure, when Race Tracks at Ulu Watu lines up is a lot of fun (but that one is ALWAYS crowded) and Padang-Padang can offer Pipeline-like barrels (if you can handle them), but overall I wasn't too impressed with the quality of the rides. I'm going to shock many by saying that for me a glassy head high day in Maui (both north and south shore) is more fun than anything I surfed in Bali.
Good, 'cause that's where I live the rest of the year!
Well, too bad there's not many glassy days in Maui on the north shore, but that's why I windsurf too. And there's also not many head high days on the south shore and that's why I came to Bali.
Anyway, this is a very personal observation that your unbiased reporter felt like doing.
BTW, you do need booties, since often you'll have to walk on the reef to reach the waves on low tide. The good news is that I got used to them and I've been using them at high tide too. As a consequence, I did not put a single little cut in my feet. That is a really good thing (read the paragraph about the hygienic conditions below) and I might have to get over the look and keep using them in Maui too.
This was one of my main concerns: "how am I going to do 25 days without cooking my own healthy and good food?".
Geez, that was not a problem at all! Despite the good food "warnings" I received from many friends, the food exceeded any possible expectations. So freaking delicious, and also healthy (well, that depends on what you order...).
A few favorites of mine:
- asparagus soup at Fajar (photo below). Rp11.500 = $1.35
- fish kebab at Bamboo Corner (photo below). Rp22.000 = $2.6
(One day I wanted these first two so bad that I had the soup at Fajar first and then moved to Bamboo Corner (they're 2 minutes away) for the fish kebab. And when I was done, I felt like doing it all over again...
- cap cay at Dian Cafe II at the beach next to Echo beach.
- mie goreng at... everywhere (photo below)
This place is cheap. They say it used to be a lot cheaper, but it still is cheap for American, Australian or European standards. You can sleep for $10/night, eat three meals for just as much, rent a scooter for $4. You can live here with $25/day. Not many other surfing trip destination can offer that.
Bali is extremely well organized in terms of services to the tourists. You might have to bargain for some of them (and there I had another big advantage being from Napoli), but renting cars/scooters, booking hotels/excursions, getting a massage or dining out is as easy as it gets. There's so many options around! And let's not even talk about shopping.
Culture/other things to do other than surfing.
What the hell do I know... I only surfed! But I got the feeling that there's a lot to see/experience from this point of view.
I love these guys. Even though it's quite clear that most times they like you because you bring easy money, they are nice, smiling and helpful no matter what. They give me the idea that they understand the fact that withouth the tourism they would all still be in rice fields (no judgement on my side on that), and hence they treat the tourists with the respect they deserve. In other words, pretty much the opposite of what the sticker "welcome to Hawaii, now go home" communicates to the visitors.
Even though I heard of occasional rip-offs (unjustified tickets from policemen, for example... get yourself an international driver license if you come here and even that might not be enough) and thievery, Bali struck me as a very safe place. It probably has to do with the above mentioned respect for the tourists, in addition to crime being a very bad thing in their religion. For once, a religion that does a good thing!
That's a pretty low score here. Kuta streets are filthy. Unfortunately, over here they don't have any recycling culture yet. You go to the beach on a Monday morning (Sunday afternoons everybody is at the beach!), and you'll see tons of trash. The same trash you'll find in the lineup as soon as the tide comes in to collect it.
Unfortunately I unwillingly contributed myself to that (there's no alternative!). I wanted to count how many plastic water bottles I used in my trip, but I got too depressed about it. I would recommend not to use the tap water even for brushing your teeth. Showering is ok, but I was rinsing off a couple of little knee cuts with bottled water afterwards.
Some bathrooms in the places where I've been will probably show up again in my worse nightmares in the future... but you can avoid that by not being as cheap as me and spending a bit more.
My original plan was to go to Bali, spend some days and then go somewhere else. The two little attempts I did (Nusa Lebongan and Sumba) were definitely not successful (the waves weren't as good), so I happily spent all my vacation in Bali and overall liked it a lot.
I think next year I'll be back to Indo (still hard to beat the affordability of the trip), but this time I'd like to hit Sumatra and maybe the Mentawais. We'll see, it's way too early to start planning. But in the meantime, once again, Maui remains a bloody awesome place to go back to. I didn't even check the wave forecast, because even if it's flat there's always the downwinders, the friends, the sunsets, the clean air and a bunch of other things I can't really think about it now, but I'm sure I'll remember (or discover) when I'm there.
Beauty is everywhere. Just have your eyes open.
PS. Ok, I just did check the wave forecast for Maui and, despite a week of flats upon arrival, the map below (June 30) shows a nice fetch that will send a decent south swell around Thursday next week.
Mmm... uncharacteristic slightly bad timing. Maybe I should change my flight and stay one more week...