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Surfing In Lombok: 10 Things Amazing We Learned on Surfari

That’s a wrap on seven days of surfing in Lombok with this all female crew! What a trip we had with 3-5 foot perfect waves and offshore winds the whole time. There’s a reason Lombok is a surfer’s paradise and it is weeks like this. March./April – the end of the wet season – is special time for surfing in Lombok with all the southern spots lighting up. This was a trip to remember because of the laid back crew, good times, and amazing surf guides.

Here’s My Story: How Did I End Up Running Surf Retreats in Lombok?

Without a doubt, Indonesia is a surfing mecca. Ever since the pioneers of surf travel sent back footage of the waves of Uluwatu in the early 1970s, the archipelago has been on the very top of every traveling surfer’s bucket list. No one will deny that Indonesia’s waves are some of the most powerful, hollow, and intimidating that exist. Razor-sharp coral reef, steep take-offs, and big open barrels attract some of the best surfers in the world, but what about the rest of us? Is there a place in Indonesia for the enthusiastic amateur female surfer?

Time slows as I attempt to pull into a slightly overhead crystalline cylinder comprised entirely of swirling Indian Ocean.  That is, until everything speeds up when my attempt at getting barrelled fails and I humbly tumble back into the sea.  I don’t freak out. This wave wasn’t a fluke.  It won’t be my last chance of the day. Plus, paddling back out over the reef is equally eventful when you’re surfing in Lombok with a pack of girl friends. I holler as Sophie, my neighbor in Sydney, takes off on a set and our whole crew goes ballistic when she makes the drop and hits the lip. 

When the next wave rolls through, two women share a “party wave” at the encouragement of the locals. My days in surfing in Lombok are each a variation on this theme: sharing perfect waves with friends and strangers.   

Years ago, I dreamt of Bali.  Growing up in Southern California, Bali seemed as far away from home as possible. Exotic, tropical, remote – all the things I needed after three years of law school. I also fantasised about I proving myself as a surfer on the Island of the Gods.  Once I graduated, I packed up two surfboards – a 5’9” Stretch Quad and a 6’2” hand-me down Rusty pin tail with a pink tail pad – and headed to Indonesia with my best friend.  

After the longest bout of air travel I had ever experienced, I arrived in Bali.  I vividly remember the first humid morning, which I spent smelling clove cigarettes, marvelling at the colourful offerings, and getting lost in the laneways of Kuta.  I checked the surf out front of our hostel on Poppies II and the swell was maxing and unsurfable as huge waves full of churned-up sand detonated on the beach.  The next day, I made my way down to the Bukit Peninsula and came face-to-face with the legendary Uluwatu.  

Six-foot sets rolled across the reef and broke in the shallowest places while 60 guys scrambled to be in position at the peak.  I shuddered as I held my Rusty underarm at the mouth of the infamous cave that surfers must pass through to get to the surf at Uluwatu.  I could sense the raw power of the waves, feel the hunger of the crowd, and anticipate the difficulty of the paddle out.  I turned around, walked back up the stairs, and ordered a Bintang at the first warung I saw, feeling totally defeated.  

Fortunately, I knew Indonesia was more than just Bali.  After all, an archipelago of over 17,500 islands must have ample empty waves somewhere.  At first, I was reluctant to explore further afield; I was a green American, scared of malaria and Muslim extremists. But at that moment, drinking beers above the waves I dreamt of surfing, I was so disappointed that I knew I had to go for it.  That night I booked a ticket to Lombok.

— 

Just a 20-minute flight east of Bali, lies Lombok.   As I drove away from Praya International Airport, I realised it was time to adjust my expectations.  While Bali’s dominant religion is Hindu, Lombok is almost entirely Muslim so golden mosques replaced the vibrant offerings and exquisitely chiselled temples of the island next door.

Unlike Bali, Lombok’s climate is more similar to that of Northern Australia with arid landscapes instead of jungles and rice paddies.  Also absent was the heavy traffic that lingers like a bad hangover everywhere you go in Bali.  I made it to Kuta, the epicentre of the surf scene in Lombok, in less than 20 traffic-free minutes.

I woke up the next morning and went to a bar to find the local boys an acquaintance had befriended on a prior trip and recommended as surf guides.  I had to wake them up as they slept on table tops and in hammocks in the bar, likely a bit dusty from the night before.

 “Can you take me surfing, please?”  I begged half expecting that they’d just roll over and go back to sleep.  To my surprise, they sprung to action ordering me breakfast delivered on the back of a motorbike and loading my boards onto their cars.  “Let’s go, Mom,” said Yoko, the twenty-something bartender of the Surfer Bar.    

The area surrounding Kuta is home to a series of huge bays that offer more sheltered surf spots, protected from the relentless swell that pounds the coastline from the south from March to October. Conversely, when the surf drops at anytime of the year, a drive to the outside of these bays will allow an eager surfer to take advantage of unhindered swell on the exposed beaches.

On my first trip, Yoko and the boys took me to an unbelievable beach to the west of Kuta. Every grain of sand was round like a tiny beach ball and the sunsets were as fiery and picturesque as any I’d ever seen. At high tide, I put my board in from the sand and paddled safely over the reef without touching the bottom to a peaky right and left.

When the swell picked up, I gathered some friends and took a long boat from a small fishing village out to the mouth of one of the massive bays.  There, I traded 5-7 foot lefts with my boat mates all day long without seeing another group of surfers.  Although this was one of the most challenging surfs I’ve ever had in Lombok, a gentler and longer wave awaited us just inside the same bay.  After pushing myself out of my comfort zone on the outside wave and having a few wipeouts, I had a more comfortable redemption session on the inside wave.

At the breaks closer to town, I encountered more surfers and crowded line-ups.  But I was surprised at the attitude of the locals and the vibe in the water.  Everyone seemed chilled out and less aggressive than many beaches I’ve surfed in Sydney.  Lots of people were working on consistently catching their own waves and transitioning from the awkward white water to green wave phase out in the lineup.  

I also noticed that the best local surfers worked as surf guides and instructors that catered to beginner and intermediate surfers.  The locals often encouraged myself and others to take off on big sets or paddle harder even when they weren’t teaching lessons. Turns out loads of less-than-pro-level surfers come surfing in Lombok to work on their surfing without the pressure of critical waves like Uluwatu or the mega crowds found at other spots.  Generally, that meant fewer people being aggressive, snaking, or intimidating other surfers. As a result, it was common to see as many women surfers as men in the water.  

I was hooked. I started coming back to go surfing in Lombok every year and getting to know the locals and expats. As time went on, Kuta’s main drag became livelier: new cafes, restaurants, and bars popped up every visit. I now had my choice of accommodation from an ultra-trendy poolside capsule hostel to a private villa in the hills. I could also get an epic flat white in the morning and a margarita at the end of the day. These creature comforts aren’t necessary but certainly boast the island’s credibility as a discerning surfer’s favourite holiday destination.

However way more enticing than the beverage selection is the fact that my “gurfer” buddies and I have found a place where it’s acceptable to be a woman in the line-up openly working on her surfing skills rather than just trying to stay out of the way. Every surfer makes mistakes: eventually, we all go over the falls, miss a section, or accidentally take a wave out of turn. 

We all need the time and space to practice so we can avoid these universal grievances. In Lombok, I found a place where I wasn’t ashamed to take risks in my surfing because the pressure to perform or go to the back of the line was alleviated by all the other people out in the line-up who just wanted to have fun and improve. 

Most, if not all, women surfers can agree that we crave warm water, long waves, and a side of nasi goreng, but we don’t want to be scared out of our minds, get into an argument, or get injured. If you seek a balance between pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and making sure surfing is still fun, Southern Lombok should be at the top of your list.  This is the Indonesia I was searching for: Indonesia for the rest of us.

So many of us gravitate towards travel and surfing because we learn things about ourselves and our world that we don’t encounter in every day life. Chaotic situations are fun. Challenges are dealt with a fresh perspective and a cold beer. So, I thought I’d share the life sessions learned from a week on retreat surfing in Lombok:

The dream team surfing in Lombok during our 2019 surfari
On a shortboard in Lombok

1. TIGHTS ARE COMPULSORY 

After seeing one too many roasted booty, the Sea Hearts understood why surf tights were on the Surfari Packing List. It’s hard to keep a fair bum when you’re butts-up 6 hours a day. Check out the Inertia guide to the best surf tights.

2. Embrace the Buddy System

No (wo)man left behind… Except one of our poor videographers who inspired a vigilant adherence to the buddy system. Imagine all the grief that could have been avoided if Kevin from Home Alone had a buddy?

3. Take Off at the Peak

Shoulder hopping doesn’t pay in Indonesia. Often trying to take off on the shoulder results in a steeper, unmake-able take off so it is best to catch waves from the peak even if you’re a little weary of the sets. Pictured is Kel, who proved she’s not afraid to hang at the top and reap the benefits!

4. WHERE YOUR EYES GO, YOU BODY GOES 

Lots of us are working on bottom turns and the first rule is “look where you want to go.” Here’s Mel P with her eyes on the prize. She knows if she wants to hit that lip like a red headed step child, she got to lead with her eyes. Look up, go up!

5. Mothers love cocktails 

Ok, maybe it isn’t such a surprise that when I group of women get away from the normal career and domestic duties, a few cocktails get smashed. Lombok delivers on aiding the, “moms gone wild.”

surfing in lombok
Julia on a perfectly cutbackable right

6. Southern Lombok is a wave haven for intermediate surfers

THE WAVES WE HAD ALL WEEK WERE FUN BUT CHALLENGING RANGING FROM 3 FOOT TO 6 FOOT. WE SURFED EXCLUSIVELY REEF WAVES BUT SUFFERED VERY FEW RUN-INS WITH THE BOTTOM. MOST BREAKS ARE DEEP ENOUGH AND MOST OF US WENT HOME UNSCATHED AND STOKED. THOSE WITH BATTLE SCARS FROM THE REEF WENT HARD AND DESERVE THE BRAGGING RIGHTS.

surfing in lombok

7. If your guide says “go,” you go!

We are very grateful to our three local guides – Lam, Yoko, and Reman. They helped all of the guests catch heaps of waves and I almost miss the shouting, “more right,” “no more left,” “too deep,” “paddle more this way.” Their local knowledge of these waves was indispensable!

8. You don’t just need 1 bracelet, you need 50

I don’t know if you know this but you need about 150 bracelets before you can leave Lombok. How could you say no to these smiling faces? Bracelets are the gift to give for everyone you know… Right.

9. BE READY TO JUMP OFF THE BOAT 

Forget your sunscreen, bikini top, photo op… Your board is floating away, you better be ready to hop off! With a pack of ladies and even more boards, you best be ready to jump in the water as soon as the boat pulls up! Everyone was frothing so hard, they could hardly wait.

10. Two Breakfasts are Better than One

Breakfast is included on our Lombok Surfari, but sometimes our guests were so hungry after another long surf that they doubled down! That way, no one had to chose between sweet and savory! We loved Kies Villas for their willingness to double down on the breakfast.

If you’re interested in going surfing in Lombok, check out our Guide to the Best Lombok Surf Camps for women.

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