Explore Kuta Beach: Bali’s Surf Spot for the Everyman

image of surfing in bali

Newbie, novice and intermediate surfers unite! Kuta Beach in Bali offers cheap board rentals and accessible surf breaks for all (even wannabes like me):

In This Bali Article You Will Discover:

  • Tips for Renting a Surfboard on Bali
  • What To Expect at Kuta Beach
  • Your Surf Experience in Kuta

They told me to stay away from Kuta Beach. Dirty, crowded and distasteful, they said. But what do “they” know, anyway? Hell, “they” told me to stay away from Indonesia in general.

Kuta Beach presents itself to Erin and I much in the way I had been introduced to Thailand’s Hat Rin or Koh Phi Phi Don. Busy. Crowded. Crossing the street is taking your life in your hands. Vendors pitch counterfeit purses and T-shirts branded with Bintang Beer logos; your quintessential “I went to Bali!” tourist fare.

We’re here to surf. Bali is surf’s Mecca, but many breaks are offshore and well beyond my and my girlfriend’s abilities. We’re here to surf — realistically.

The four- to five-footers I see crashing on Kuta’s white-sand are plenty, thank you.

And frankly, compared to what I’ve seen in Thailand or even Mexico, the street vendors in Kuta are veritable pussycats, and we like the fact that restaurants and shopping await us after the surf day is done.

Image of David Webb, surfer

“Don’t be like me: wear a rashie!” The author on surf day-one.

There is something unassailably cool about surfing.

Fellow Canadians we spoke to in the lobby of the Ramada Benoa, our home base in Bali, were wide-eyed groupies when we announced our intentions to Hang Ten that day. Thankfully, none of them would come to watch.

We barely walk 10 metres onto the hot sand before a friendly local offers to rent us a couple boards. Eager to surf, we negotiate a deal without too much thought (100,000 IDR per board for four hours). He offers to watch our gear, but the suspicious Westerner in me declines, opting to keep an eye on it myself. This would be the last day I do that, as the moment you place your beach bag on the sand, you’re pestered by “beach mat rental” vendors, who coax cash from you to lend you a bamboo mat and watch your stuff.

My advice? Balinese are inherently honest – they’ll rip you off legally if you let them, but they generally don’t steal. It’s other tourists you need to watch out for, so your best bet is to let your surf-rental-man keep and eye on your beach bag.

image of bali surfboard

Bali’s Kuta Beach is one the best beginner through intermediate surf beaches in the world.

Surf’s up Bali! I repeat ad naseum. What can I say? A Vancouver Island, British Columbia, native, this is my first warm-water surfing experience.

And oh… it is so nice to be free of the wetsuit.

Our first couple of hours go poorly. We each barely stand up. Lessons learned: first, take a rashie (surfing shirt). The well-used surfboard tears us both up. Two: take some time to cruise the beach looking for boards in good repair. Close inspection of our boards reveals water warping and cracks. Three: a seven-foot board looks cool walking out to the waves, but an eight-foot board will make you look cool on the waves.

Our sympathetic vendor wades into the water and gives us advice. A rainstorm and exhaustion sends us running to a local bar for Bintang and fried fish.

Image of Surfboard Rentals, Bali

Surfboard rentals are plentiful and cheap on Kuta Beach – cruise the beach and find boards in good repair.

Two days later we are back on Kuta. We sneak by the man who rented us board before — Balinese vendors are amazing at recognizing you — and suss out another local who has some nicer, slightly longer boards. Haggle, haggle, haggle. Same price as the other guy. We head out.

Today, we actually surf. The next day we surf better. And better still the next time.

I float around offshore that fourth day, waiting for that perfect wave, and a school of dime-bright, dish-shaped fish swims by, jumping right over my back as they scoot past. I hope whatever is chasing them doesn’t like the taste of human toes…

I catch a gorgeous five-footer and ride it right to shore — stylishly — disembarking near two sunbathing Europeans. It is the best ride of my life.

The Euros take notice and cheer me on. Applause? I quit for the day. I won’t top that.

The final day presents some of the nicest weather of the trip. We had been renting from the same man for the past three days, and he spots us from a half-kilometre away. He has saved our usual boards. He stashes our gear in his own special hiding spot. He offers the same price, no haggling, and even tells us to keep the boards as long as we want.

He knows how to earn a tip.

However, the day also brings with it a vicious shore dump. Waves are topping six feet, and crashing with punishing authority in the shallows created by an especially low tide. It tests my abilities, and Erin’s, to the very maximum. One good ride — I’m dropping in! — Is followed by four punishing wipeouts. I quit after three hours, bruised and sore, following a devastating crash that leaves me winded, ribs aching from impacting with the board’s fins.

Damn. Should have ended on a high note.

image of bintang beer

Kuta is great for the apres surf reward: beer & food!

Erin and I sit on the hot sand, trying to even out the farmer’s tan our sunproof rashies create. To the relief of our ego, we notice that virtually every tourist surfer out there is having a hard time navigating this shore dump.

We return the boards to our new friend, thank him, and promise to return one day. Part of me imagines he’ll remember us forever.

Image of Surfer

The author, beat up and tired from a nasty shore dump. Best surf trip. Ever.

One thing’s for sure, I won’t forget him — or Kuta, truly the Everyman’s Surf Beach.

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Tips For Surfing in Kuta:

  • All surfboards are not created equal; take time to walk the sand and find quality boards.
  • Haggle on the rental price. We paid $100,000 IDR for our rentals – be careful not to haggle too aggressively though, as you want to make friends with the vendor who will probably look after your gear for you.
  • Tip your rental guy. He’ll watch your gear, offer you technique tips and welcome you back the next day. A couple of thousand IDR is nothing to the average tourist anyway.
  • Look for locals cruising the waves, offering lessons. They’re cheap (100,000 IDR or less for a private lesson) and worth every penny.
  • Wear a rash guard (rashie). If you didn’t bring one, head to one of the local surf shops in Kuta and pick one up. (I bought a quality rashie for one-third what I would have paid in Canada.)
  • Flags on the beach indicate potentially strong currents offshore; take note and surf inside the flag markers.
  • Don’t worry too much about offending local surfers — only tourists and surf instructors ride Kuta’s waves, so it’s the perfect place to learn, even if you’ve never ridden a wave in your life.

About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

11 comments… add one

  • Tim H Nov 19, 2014

    Excellent advice, thanks. I’m heading to Kuta next week and knowing a few things to look for when renting is really helpful.

  • Scott Atkinson Jun 10, 2014

    We’re heading to Kuta tomorrow for 3 days. Great advise, we hope to have a couple of days surfing after learning the basics in Lombok. Let’s hope we remember. Cheers

  • David Webb Apr 24, 2014

    I agree – I really liked Kuta, yet I hear people bad-mouth it all the time.

  • wORKING nOMAD Apr 15, 2014

    People may slag off Kuta but for all it’s faults and hassles I quite like it, particularly the beach and pumping nightlife

  • David Webb May 6, 2013

    Actually, on second reflection… 100K may have been the price for two boards, because I surely don’t recall giving him 200K. Thanks for the correction!

  • David Webb May 5, 2013

    Ha ha, yeah, I figured as much… but since 100K is only about $6, I just considered it nice tip for a nice guy.

  • Marc May 5, 2013

    Dude 100,000 wAy too much for a cheap surf board on kuta! No wonder he let you keep it all day!!! High price is 50,0000 and 30-20 if you rent for several days but who cares if 50,000 is only 3$US. Oh Canada!

  • Erin O'Connor Nov 24, 2010

    Quality comment David…are you refering to yourself?

  • david michel Aug 23, 2010

    people are stupid

  • the Success Ladder Aug 11, 2010

    Great article, thanks for sharing this. I have subscribed to your RSS feed and am looking forward to reading more from you.
    Keep up the good work and don’t stop posting please.

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