Monday, February 20, 2012

Bali Boarding

As published in a magazine that has since folded and thus, will not be named ;)

Bali Boarding

It happens to all surfers. After x amount of time paddling familiar breaks and taking off on the same peaks, the feet begin to itch. No, it’s not a bad case of reef rash. What’s happening is a surfers’ built in need to travel and look for better waves. Or, if you happen to think your home break has the best waves, then it’s the search for different swell.

Surfers are, by nature, wandering nomads. Always in search of the perfect session, the ultimate ride. The bar for what constitutes the next best thing is raised as a surfer’s skill level increases. And the search, goes on ad infinitum. Crowded line-ups, irregular seasons, and a general wanderlust drives a surfer ever onward. Two surf movies – The Endless Summer & The Endless Summer 2 – are devoted to that very theme. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been surfing or how good you’ve gotten, at some point, the itchy feet kick in and the search begins.

I find that this is especially true for Philippine-based surfers. We don’t have waves all year round. There comes a time during the summer months when neither Habagat nor Amihan is delivering surfable swell. And instead of drowning my sorrows in beer below zero or taking off for a hedonistic weekend at an island resort, I do the most sensible thing – I plan a trip to Bali.

Bali, Indonesia is one of the best options for surf outside of the Philippines for several reasons. It is closer to the Philippines than, say, Hawaii or Puerto Rico. Filipinos don’t need a visa to enter the country. And, best of all, Bali has waves all year-round. So when things have gone flat on this archipelago, it’s high time to set your sights on another.

The eastern side of the island receives near consistent swell. Without any other countries or islands to break up the surge of the incoming tides, Bali is a guaranteed wave magnet. If it isn’t working at one spot, it will surely be working at another. All you need is a good guidebook, access to the internet to check for swell and a few tips from the friendly surf locals.

Bali has three major seasons, each with their own pros and cons. Depending on your skill level, you can adjust your date of departure. Swell is fickle and can change in an instant but there is a general guide that you can follow.

December to February is the rainy season, although actual rainfall can fluctuate from strong windstorms to minimal downpours. The winds come in from the west side so you’ll want to be on the eastern coastline.

From March to May is when I personally prefer to book my Bali trips because swell tends to be a bit smaller. March can still be a bit wet so I like to book towards the middle to end of May. Breaks such as Keramas, Serangan, and the Bukit Peninsula can still deliver big waves so if you’re traveling with a big waver, tell him he won’t be bored by your hunt for four foot waves.

The water temperature begins to drop come June and goes on til almost November as winter swell from surrounding countries come rolling in. It’s enough to turn your lips blue if you aren’t used to it. When planning a trip for the winter season of Bali, invest in a shorty wetsuit or a thick rashguard. Winter is also when the swell begins to really pick up and breaks such as the legendary Padang Padang start cranking out double overhead waves on a good day. Not for the faint of heart or low of skill. If you don’t think taking off on a 10 foot wave is your speed, rest assured, your friendly local guide can point you out to more manageable surf. Breaks to check out:

During my last trip, which was May of 2010, I fell in love with a little visited break known as Balian. An hour and a half west of Kuta and accessible by land transport (rent a van for the most comfortable ride), Balian’s away-from-it-all vibe combined with consistently clean waves was perfect for our little band of adventurers. And despite the seemingly isolated environment, Balian’s small resorts are actually quite nice. Splurge – at these prices, you’ll still think it’s a steal – and book your self into one of the resorts that has air-conditioning (the dry season in Bali is hot beyond belief), a pool & a fully staffed kitchen.

The best part is that Balian is on the same side as Medewi, which can be friendly or ferocious depending on what Mother Nature’s mood is on any given day.

Closer to the hub of activity, Airport Lefts and Airport rights generally work during the dry season. Paddle for waves while flights take off and land meters from you. Crowd factor can be high so be prepared to fight for your waves. Balangan, less than an hour out of the city center, is also a good bet. And of course, there’s always the rest of the Bukit Peninsula with breaks lined up along the coastline – Impossibles, Padang-Padang and Uluwatu.

Mostly geared for backpacking surfers, there are definitely more basic rooms as compared to luxury lodgings that are angled for waveriders. If you want to stay away from maddening crowd of unwashed and rowdy backpackers on their gap year, ditch Kuta and head for Seminyak or Legian instead. The hotels are better appointed, the crowd more upscale and the levels of comfort more lavish. Most will also offer you cars for hire along with an English speaking tour guide who’ll know his way around the island’s many breaks. The Legian Logo, a five star hotel, is one of the most popular hotels in the area. In Seminyak, check out Le Jardin Boutique.

You can also choose to spend the night at many of the other breaks, leaving you with less time for road travel and more time to surf. And rest assures, it wont be all beach bungalows with no running water and threadbare mats on the floor. The Bukit Peninsula does offer some pretty lush accommodations . Those closer to Uluwatu, such as the Alila Villas Uluwatu , often offer stunning views from the mountainside, 3-bedroom villas &, if you book ahead, private pools. And there are a handful of privately owned villas that are stand alone and can be booked for private groups.

So grab a guidebook, go online, check out flights (Singapore Airlines flies from Manila to Bali with a brief stop at Singapore) and figure out when you’re going to to chasing after those Indo waves.

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