This week I spent my time learning how to surf on the west coast of Bali in an area known as Changuu.  Bali is a cool island full of culture and rice patties but it is also home to some great surf sights.  And where there are surf sights there are surfing schools trying to make money teaching tourists the art and skill of riding waves.  I chose to stay at a surf retreat called The Chillhouse.  I chose the Chillhouse mostly because I liked that Chill was in the name but also because it was outside the tourist trap of the city of Kuta (a city with more tourists than Balinesse people).  The Chillhouse is also good because there are only two surf students per guide where most other schools are 6-10 people per guide (which is a crazy way to learn to surf).

One of the coolest things about the Chillhouse is the number of travellers travelling from all over the world to try to surf.  There is a good mix of experienced, semi-experienced, and beginners but everyone is fabulously supportive and friendly.  The owners of the Chillhouse are an Austrian couple which might explain why most of the guests here are fabulous Austrians, it could also be their general wish to know how to surf but I have never met an Austrian in all of my travels so meeting 6 in a retreat with only 22 people is pretty impressive.  We also have a handful of really fun Germans and the manager is from Switzerland.  If I have learned anything from them the biggest lesson is that although they all speak German, there is an Austrian version of German, a German version, and a Swiss version, but all versions at times sound like they are arguing.  But since all of them are always smiling and it is the Chillhouse, I know better. What makes this group of people so awesome is that they are all warm and friendly people and they often will start speaking English if I am around so I understand what is going on- for that I am thankful.   At the Chillhouse we also have some others; a woman from Zimbabwe and her boyfriend who is South African, a couple from San Francisco, a family from Melbourne Australia, and three people who became pretty good friends of mine, Harold, Alain, and Chie.  Harold is a funny Austrian who was trying really hard to learn English and often says he is funnier in German. Alain is a Canadian from Montreal who spoke little English, the first Canadian I met who did not speak fluent English- but it was better than she thought it was. And Chie who is a 4ft 90lb Japanese woman who is a serious surfing machine.  The four of us sat together for every meal and every time we laughed so much my stomach hurt.  It was great fun.  All in all an awesome group to spend a week learning to surf with.

The weekend I arrived Alain and I set out to explore the beach and see what surfing looked like.  Since we both had never done it and were a bit apprehensive we wanted to see what we were up against.  We walked down the beach to an area called Ecco Beach.  This is a beach with lots of sea rocks and when it is high tide the waves are huge.  We sat and watched the waves and some amazing surfers riding them with speed and agility that I know I did not have.  As we watched we got more and more nervous about what we had signed up for.  As we were watching the surfers we were talking about some of the other things we could do in the area while we were not surfing.  At that moment we saw a group of Asian tourists horseback riding down the beach and discussed the idea of possibly riding horses.  As we watched and discussed an old Asian man started to slide sideways on his horse.  It seems his saddle was not on tight enough and his saddle and himself slid down on the side of the horse.  With one leg wrapped over the top of the horse the man cried out for help.  The Balinesse guide was on a horse that looked pretty agitated and when he jumped off him to help the tourist his horse took off down the beach at a full gallop.  The other Balinesse guide saw this happened and jumped off his horse to try to catch the other horse.  When he did this his horse saw the other horse and also took off.  So in front of us we had an elderly Asian guy hanging on his horse sideways saddle and all, two horses galloping full speed down the beach and two short skinny Balinesse men running in a full sprint after there horse.  All that was missing was our video camera and a direct link to you tube.  It was a scene that would have gotten us 1 million you tube hits and a spot on the Ellen Show.  It was hilarious.  After catching our breath from laughing we decided horse back riding was not something you do in Bali. (:

The next day was our first surfing lesson and I was assigned a small Balinesse man named Ramly to be my guide.  After talking to him for a bit he picked out a 10 ft fibreglass board for me.  It was immediately given the nickname “The Tank” due to how large and heavy it was but I was told it was a beginner board and who I am I to argue.  In the first day we were taught how to get up on a surf board and stand while the waves push us forward.  All of us beginners were also introduced to some new vocabulary in our first day.  We learned the words whitewater, greenwater wave, beach break, smash, washing machine, and lower lower.  The white water is where you learn how to stand up and it happens after the wave already breaks on the beach.  Beach break is when waves break on a sandy beach (which is wonderful because there are no rocks or reef under you when you fall).  A greenwater wave is when you try to catch a wave before it breaks- which you try in day 3- and smash is what happens as you try most waves and fall and get smashed by the waves.  The washing machine is the worst- it is when you fall and are turned over in the water like a washing machine.  It usually results in you thinking you will not get air anytime soon, a bit of disorientation and salt water down the mouth.  Lower and Lower is something you hear from every guide all the time as they yell at you to get lower so you do not fall off the board. 

The first few days are usually spent trying to understand your guide.  In most cases all guides speak English but it is often accented and broken.  If English is your first or second language broken accented English can be hard to understand.  The first few hours while you are in the white water can lead to learning as well as clarifying what you are supposed to be learning.  For example my favourite story is when one of the Austrian girls was on the water and her guide told her “no-no-no” and she thought he said “go-go-go”.  She paddled into a huge wave where she was smashed and got crushed in a huge washing machine.  After that experience she had to clear with her guide that instead of “no-no-no”- “stop” would be a better direction to give.

Day two you learn how to paddle and continue white water practice and day three you move to attempting a greenwater wave.  This is when your guide starts the day by asking if you can swim.  This is a funny question because they have already watched you get pounded by some waves and you did sign up for surf school.  Knowing that swimming was a prerequisite should have been a given, but they want to be thorough and know the type of person they are working with.  Once they are aware that you can swim you are taken to the greenwater waves.  Greenwater waves are where you finally start to see if surfing is what you like or what you hate.  You have to put your skill with paddling and combine it with your skill of getting upright on your board while moving at a pretty fast or a pretty slow pace, depending on the tide and the waves.  This is also where you have to learn to crash since you will probably end up in the washing machine and smashed on most of your greenwater waves.  While in Bali we had the unfortunate privilege of seeing one of the largest swells of the year.  This is cool because you can watch huge waves in the ocean but bad for surf schools because many of their beginning beaches are too dangerous to learn on.  So what do they do when surfing is unsafe on most of the island- they take all the beginners into a cove and try teach them there.  When you have all the beginners on the entire of Bali in one cove trying to learn how to surf mixed with waves that are a bit unpredictable it ends up being a pretty crazy scene of flying boards, freaking out students, and lots of surf guides that do not know what else to do.  We knew it was also going to be bad when our most experienced surfers showed up to our cove because now we had people who did not know what they were doing crashing into each other and experienced surfers getting really pissed off because of the inexperience and danger in front of them.  Part of me felt like I was in a sea full of flying surf boards.  On day 4 we had to return to the same beach- there were so many people that I felt really unsure of my self and a bit unsafe.  Romley, my guide, was great and did not push me to take waves that I was not ready for.  As he shivered next to me from the cold water he never complained or forced me to go.  I eventually tried one wave where I smashed and got washed.  As I was doing cartwheels through the water I decided I was done for today. 

My last surf day I found out we were going to the same beach and I was really nervous.  I did not think I wanted to go.  But I grabbed “my tank” of a surf board and followed Romely through the water.  One thing that is really hard is getting out of the breaking waves out to the green water.  The day before I think I drank a few gallons of water trying to do it, but today I listened to some of the others and started holding the leash on my board and going under the waves instead of over.  It was like I discovered something amazing.  I was amazed by how easy it was.  I felt such relief and such a sense of finally having some sort of idea what I am doing.  I got out to the green water and caught the first wave.  As I comfortable stood upright and got lower to my board I was able to turn a bit left and right I felt such a sense of happiness.  After I hit the shallow water I jumped up and down like a small child.  I surfed a beautiful wave.  I really was learning to surf!!! Now everyone here will tell you one good wave is not an experienced surfer, but one good wave and you do feel like you are a rockstar for a little while.   I was able to hit my second wave really well also and I started to loose all my previous sense of fear.  My final surf day proved to be a great time and a time I will not forget. 

All in all I survived.  I learned how to stand up on a surfboard, ride a wave, and crash with a new found elegance.  It was a lot of fun and an experience I will always look back on with pride.  Will I do it again, Maybe, but I do love the Chillhouse guides who thought to give me the tank of a surfboard and worked with me through my fear of the ocean.  I had a great time and loved every minute, even the crashes and smashes.  

Next week I start my tour of Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  I am not sure how often I will have internet access so my blog might not be as regular but I will try hard to keep you posted. 

Thanks to all who read this- I love the comments and emails.  And to my new friends from the Chillhouse- Ride on!

8/20/2011 12:42:45 am

Glad you had fun, conquered the waves, and are finished...I'll tell your mom!

8/20/2011 12:11:24 pm

Your pictures are gorgeous....and your stories amazing! Glad you had success! I'm so in awe of you. Can't wait to hear about more adventures!


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