Learning to Surf in Bali

learning to surf in kuta bali

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

I clutched my stomach and groaned. Leaning back on the bed, I closed my eyes and began to writhe in pain.

No response. 

“I can’t do this. I feel so unwell. I really do”, I whimpered, sneaking a glimpse at Dave.

I felt my stomach sink as he rolled his eyes in response. Damn it. He had grown wise to my tricks. Too many times he had seen me book a diving lesson and wake up that morning having developed some kind of mysterious, severe, and yet surprisingly short-lived, illness.

“I can’t do this”, I repeated pathetically. Leaning over, I showed him the webpage open on my laptop as a last attempt.

Common Causes of Death in Bali

I began to read it aloud, but stopped after a few seconds when I saw his eyes glaze over. It was no use. There was no getting out of it.

I was going surfing.

learning to surf in kuta bali

With thoughts of jellyfish, sharks, pollution and my impending doom filling my mind, Dave had to practically force me through the doors of Odyssey’s Surf School, where I could do nothing but whimper softly as I dragged my wetsuit on. Why are my legs still exposed? Surely they’re most vulnerable to jellyfish? I better not end up getting stung…

We made our way down to the beach and as we were being instructed on what to do I struggled to concentrate, frequently glancing towards the ocean, turning floating plastic bags into jellyfish with my overactive imagination.

After just a few practice attempts at lying on the board and leaping to our feet it was time to take it to the water.

I felt extremely unprepared.

I cautiously waded out to sea, nervously scanning the area for any dangers and squealing whenever something happened to touch me. I let out a sigh of relief when I was finally allowed to clamber onto the board. I was safe now. There aren’t any jellyfish up here.

I tightly gripped the edges of the board, wincing as the rough surface dug into my fingertips. I was surprised to feel my fear melt away and be replaced by a new sensation. Determination.

I can do this.

At that moment, the sound of children laughing on the beach, the screams of the surfers and the whine of the nearby traffic all faded into nothingness. All that was left was the sound of my heavy breathing and the sensation of my heat beating in my throat.

I focused straight ahead as my board and I became one.

Before I even had time to think my instructor was suddenly shoving my board forwards.

“GO! GO! GO!”

The speed of the wave took my breath away as I hurtled towards the beach at what felt like 100mph. I let out a strangled cry and instantly forgot everything I’d just been taught. I cautiously climbed onto my hands and knees, where I remained for a few seconds, before wobbling violently and tumbling off the board with a scream.

learning to surf in kuta bali

That was embarrassing.

As I swam back up to the surface, narrowly avoiding being knocked unconscious from the five hundred surf boards charging towards me, I had the biggest smile on my face.

I was no longer afraid. This was so much fun.

Over and over again I would push my board back to the instructor and attempt to gracefully leap to my feet only to smack right back into the water.

Within minutes, my eyes were burning from the seawater and my throat felt raw. My fingers were bleeding from gripping the board so tightly, but I couldn’t give up.

I could feel myself gradually improving as my instructor told me to focus at one thing at a time: “Look up, don’t look down. Keep your arms out. Bend your knees.”

learning to surf in kuta bali

It was putting it all together that was near impossible.

Surfing has to be one of the most frustrating and physically draining things I have ever done. You know exactly what you need to do but just can’t get it right.

And so you fail.

Again and again.

learning to surf in kuta bali

Taking a short break, it was clear to see that Dave and I were absolutely exhausted and incredibly frustrated. Having a drink and comparing injuries on the beach, we just had time to have a few more practice attempts before going back in the water.

I returned feeling rejuvenated and confident.

I could do this.

learning to surf in kuta bali

And I was right.

Something inside me clicked, and on my first attempt I somehow managed to put everything together and stand upright, perfectly balanced and racing towards the beach.

I was surfing!

learning to surf in kuta bali

It was the most amazing feeling.

The final hour was spent mostly wobbling for a few seconds before tumbling into the water, but occasionally I managed to ride the wave all the way to the shore, and that felt incredible.

I could feel myself improving with every go and I felt like crying when the instructor announced that our time was up.  I was devastated when I realised that I wouldn’t be able to surf again for months. I wanted to do this every day.

For the next few days all I could talk about was surfing. I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the lesson was, how much fun surfing was and how I needed to surf again soon. My fingers were covered in blisters and sores, the skin of my thighs and knees had been mostly rubbed off, and I could barely move for the next week. It was so painful, but it was so worth it.

I’ve spent most of my life being too scared to get out of my comfort zone and too frightened to try anything new. It just goes to show that when you force yourself (or someone else forces you…) to do something you don’t want to, you can end up finding something you really love. And I love surfing.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary surf lesson from Odyssey’s Surf School. All opinions expressed in this article are, as always, my own! 

Related Articles on Bali

🇮🇩 27 Incredible Things to Do in Bali, Indonesia
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About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. DebbZ
    May 8, 2012

    Great story, Lauren ! Makes me want to sign up for a surf lesson now.
    I live in Bali and it’s a shame that I’ve never tried surfing before :p

    • May 8, 2012

      Shame on you! :) You need to try it because it’s amazing and so much fun!

  2. Lindsey
    May 8, 2012

    Haha looks like it was fun! I love the two middle photos where you’re standing – you look like you’re having a ball.

    • May 8, 2012

      Haha, I can’t remember if I was grinning or grimacing at that point ;)

      • Lindsey
        May 8, 2012

        Maybe a little of both? (So thankful I’m sitting by myself right now, just made some, umm, interesting expressions trying to see if that works:))

  3. sheila
    May 8, 2012

    Great story! I want to learn how to surf too!

    btw do I need to know how to swim? I’m a little afraid of drowning =)

    • May 8, 2012

      Not to do the intro lessons – the place where you get on your board is only about waist deep, maybe a little more. If you were to take it up seriously though, you probably would. :)

  4. May 8, 2012

    Aren’t you glad I dragged you kicking and screaming from the guesthouse that morning? You almost looked like you knew what you were doing by the end of it and all…

  5. May 8, 2012

    What a fun read. I was just interviewed on another blog about overcoming fear of travel. Just booked my next leg from NZ to Bali this afternoon so your post could not be more timely. Cheers!

  6. Monica
    May 8, 2012

    Well done lady! I also have ‘mysterious illnesses’ that seem to come on when I have to do something scary. I’ve only tried surfing once and quickly gave up after swallowing pretty much half the water in the ocean. You make it look so easy though…maybe I’ll give it another chance!

  7. George
    May 8, 2012

    As always if you just get out of your comfort zone you’ll encounter the most amazing experiences. I’m glad you have put another thing off the scared to do list ;) x

  8. D.J. - The World of Deej
    May 8, 2012

    Awesome stuff…I’ve lived in Florida my entire life and have never tried! And at least this activity didn’t involve you cheating death!

  9. Jen
    May 8, 2012

    Ahhh Lauren it looks incredible!! I would love to try… somewhere hot though, not Brighton beach lol x

  10. John
    May 8, 2012

    Glad you were able to stand up and make it all the way to shore! My only previous experience surfing was getting wrecked by waves that were way too big for me in Maui.

  11. Barbara
    May 9, 2012

    Yipee! You look like you were having so much fun and facing fears. I WANT to be in Bali after reading this!

  12. May 9, 2012

    Cool story, Lauren! And nice pics. Thanks, Dave!

  13. April
    May 9, 2012

    This is just so rad! I’m envious! :)

  14. Vi
    May 9, 2012

    It is hard to learn, but that feeling when you are standing on the board is fantastic :)

  15. Kieu
    May 9, 2012

    Yay.. You didnt suck! Great action photos, Lauren. Looks like loads of fun were gonna totally try this when we get to Bali. :)

  16. Caroline
    May 9, 2012

    Good job girl!! It looks so much fun! I can’t swim (ugggh, I know) so I’ll simply have to live vicariously through your surfing post hehe!

  17. April
    May 9, 2012

    Oh this is super rad!!1 I want to go to Bali and learn how to surf… thanks for sharing this! You are always so funny telling your stories. I like that! :)

  18. Jeremy Branham
    May 9, 2012

    I suck at skiing. I am not sure I could do surfing either. Here I am in California, with some of the biggest surfing spots and best waves in the world, and I’ve not even tried. So I give you credit (or Dave credit actually) for getting you to do this. Glad you enjoyed it. I will admit that jellyfish stings suck and really hurt!

  19. Claire
    May 11, 2012

    I am not sure I could do surfing either. Here I am in California, with some of the biggest surfing spots and best waves in the world, and I’ve not even tried. Thanks for letting me visit here.

  20. Pershy
    May 12, 2012

    I am not sure I could do surfing either. Here I am in California, with some of the biggest surfing spots and best waves in the world, and I’ve not even tried. So I give you credit (or Dave credit actually) for getting you to do this.

  21. May 14, 2012

    Lololozz! hahah… you still crack me up!

  22. Ava Apollo
    May 15, 2012

    I don’t think I’d be able to pee on myself if I got stung by a jellyfish. Your aim must be spot-on.

  23. May 22, 2012

    I luuurrrve surfing, too! I took my first lesson in New Zealand, and was instantly hooked! It IS really tiring and tough, but it’s SO rewarding when you finally stand up and ride a wave in to the beach!

    Congrats for facing a fear and kicking its ass!

  24. Surfing is so hard, so kudos to you for riding some waves! I surfed for the first time on the Oregon coast… which was the dumbest thing ever, because the water was so cold I couldn’t stop shivering long enough to even paddle. SE Asia seems like a much better place to learn!

  25. Ali
    June 8, 2012

    Congrats! Sounds like a really fun day! I’m glad you were able to surf successfully and enjoyed it.

  26. June 8, 2012

    I tried to learn to surf in Costa Rica. My tutor was a massive, Hulk Hogan lookalike. I enjoyed the whole process, but I wasn’t that great at the actual surfing stuff. Looks like your mastery was better than mine!

  27. Alison
    June 10, 2012

    You looked like a natural by the end of the lesson and well done for standing up – which is more than I did on my first surfing lesson ha ha. I was too scared of hitting somebody with my board as it was high summer in Newquay and crazy busy. I agree with you on how great it feels afterwards, I felt really rejuvinated and energised. Think it was all of the salt water :-)

  28. You go girl! I admit I generally enjoy physically challenging activities more in retrospect but you look like you really got the hang of it!

  29. Jade Johnston
    June 25, 2012

    haha that awesome! good for you! and no death involved!

  30. Marah Howles
    October 8, 2014

    Fun story and inspiring as you keep on going. :) Me and my friends love surfing in Bali every time we visit there. So grateful in your post it at least give me idea to avoid jellyfish.. Lol.

    • October 13, 2014

      Haha, jellyfish are the worst!

  31. Mikhaila
    March 17, 2017

    Awesome!! Really fun story. I saw some women surfing. I want to learn to surf but I was afraid. And you are very brave to do it. I think it is a scary thing, but you make me want to try it.

    • March 21, 2017

      You should! It’s not as bad as it seems, and is so much fun!

  32. Maria
    March 22, 2017

    Wow you are very fortunate to have come to Bali and try surfing. It’s a very amazing experience. Bali is the island for surfers. This article makes me really want to quickly come to Bali. I wanted to learn to surf. I visit Bali next month, and I’ve seen some great surf school in Bali, so I’ll definitely look at the one in this post.

    • May 6, 2017

      Great! Happy to hear that, Maria!

  33. Tonkin-Travel Vietnam
    June 20, 2018

    Oh, I love your story. It is a process of endless effort. I intend to spend 2 weeks in Indonesia learning surfing, but I don’t know what destination is more appropriate for beginner like me. Bali or Lombok? Thanks for the great post!

  34. December 29, 2018

    Hey Lauren,

    I stumbled across your website today and it’s so cool and inspiring. I was reading your story and it’s so real. It’s not like, “I just decided to go travel and there I went.”

    No, there was so much truth and reality about the hardships. People want it to happen right away, but I’ve always said to people, even if it took you ten years, wouldn’t that be worth it to make your life better? I would hope so.

    I liked how you said, “I’d equate every $30 to an extra day I could spend exploring Southeast Asia.”

    That’s such an awesome way of thinking, and really stops you from buying things you don’t need.

    So when you’re about to buy a $15 meal, you’re thinking, that half an entire day….. for 10 minutes of eating. No thanks.

    Awesome blog! Glad to hear you had a fun time surfing in Bali and overcame your fears!

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