Beginner surfing lesson in Kuta, Bali

Catching waves.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

The problem with long-term travel is that things stop feeling exciting. Whereas on a one or two week vacation everything feels new and different, sometimes, after traveling for a while, things start to feel mundane. Oh, it’s just another beach. Oh, it’s just another temple. Oh, it’s just another day.

Sometimes I have to force myself to step back and think wow, how amazing is my life right now?

Surfing has been on my life list since before I even knew what one was. I remember writing down in my diary a list of things I wanted to do in my life when I was, maybe, ten or twelve years old. Surfing was one of those things and, really, one of very few I remember.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

I’ve always been simultaneously amazed and terrified by the idea.

I can’t swim. I forget not to breath in water. Sharks scare me. Anything that involves a whole lot of falling doesn’t sound like a blast.

Let’s just say I’m not your ideal surfer.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

When I was planning for Bali the only thing I knew I wanted to do was take a surfing lesson. Bali is a popular place for the sport and Kuta is a great place to learn since the water is calm with just enough waves for a beginner.

But, when I arrived, as usual, I was scared to make the step and actually sign up for a class.

I decided that I would put it off, maybe do it later. I would come back to Kuta at the end of my stay in Bali, I reasoned. I could do it then.

But I also knew that there was a strong possibility that if I put it off I would never do it. So, late on my first day, I forced myself into a surf shop and signed up a beginner lesson.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

The next morning, early, before 8am, I arrived at the shop and was handed a shirt to wear and asked what size board shorts. “Medium or large?” the guy asked. I chose medium. And they were tight. Only in Asia am I a size large. Asia, and Abercrombie and Fitch.

After suiting up I was given my board, which was heavy and slippery and totally awkward to carry. I nearly dropped it with every step as we headed to the beach across the road.

The class was nice. Only four people per instructor. So there were enough people to know you’re not alone, but little enough that you got lots of personal attention.

Because I will tell you this. I needed a lot of personal attention.

I totally sucked.

Totally. Sucked.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

After an introduction to how to stand up on the board my class walked our surfboards into the water. It was cold. I kept thinking “what the hell did I get myself into?”

And then we had to catch waves. My instructor told me when to lay on the board and when the wave pushed me forward he yelled “Up, left foot!”

And usually that ended with me plunging back into the water.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

I always considered myself to have good balance. But ten years of ballet does not help you balancing when surfing. In ballet, to steady yourself, you get on your toes. In ballet, to steady yourself, you stand up straighter.

In surfing, neither of those work.

In surfing, to steady yourself, you need to keep your feet flat. In surfing, to steady yourself, you need to sink down lower.

It was hard to get used to and I started to realize that every time I felt myself losing balance I was standing up straighter and, therefore, plummeting into the water. And I found that every time I stood up I was trying to stand up on the balls of my feet and, therefore, plummeting into the water.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

I fell. A lot. And after one of the very first waves I hit my knee against the ocean floor. Hard. (So, now I have two bum knees…) And I almost wanted to give up. But at the same time, I totally didn’t.

I was most definitely the worst one in the class. Everyone else moved on to try swimming with the waves, catching them independently. I was still stuck at waiting for the instructor to tell me when to go.

But I was trying.

The second half of the class went better than the first. I was finally able to stand up, if only for a little while. If only a handful of times. I even rode one wave almost completely back to shore.

I still fell. A lot.

But I was trying.

And every time I fell, I got back up, brought my surf board back. Tried again.

Because it felt amazing to be surfing. It felt amazing to be doing something I have wanted to do for at least twenty years. It felt amazing to realize that even though I totally sucked I was still having fun.

And I had to step back, rest against my surf board, and think “right now, my life is kind of totally amazing.”

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia


Learn to Surf is #3 on my life list. I don’t feel as if I’m ready to cross this one off just yet, but I’ll get there someday. I should be heading back towards Kuta at some point and am thinking of taking another class or two when I get back.

p.s. the photographer was only there for the first half of the lesson. I think I looked slightly more competent in the second half. And smiled more.


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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Kieu
    July 19, 2012at6:30 am

    Sharks scare me too! I keep getting visions of a half bit board. *shutter*. But you totally got up! Yay! Hoping I wouldn’t suck when we try this.

  • Waegook Tom
    July 19, 2012at10:20 am

    Congrats on getting out there and doing it, Val! I wonder if I’d be good at surfing – I have incredibly flat feet and crouch down to balance myself…hmmm a hidden talent perhaps? Haha!

    Still, as long as you’re having a good time, it doesn’t matter how good you are at something. I’m the same with bowling. I suck, but I have FUN.

    p.s. the guy in your group looks kinda cute.

  • Ali
    July 20, 2012at11:15 am

    So awesome that you did this! Surfing has never appealed to me, but they do look cool doing it. I’m glad you had fun even if you kept falling!

  • michelle
    July 24, 2012at2:03 pm

    I’m not sure what it was about this post, but it kind of made me tear up! With total joy and excitement for you — for sticking to your guns, and doing something that scared you, but you’ve always wanted to do. Thanks for providing (unintentionally) a bit of inspiration to me on my otherwise totally standard corporate Wednesday. Happy travels, Val!

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