BALI, Indonesia, November 1, 2010 (Stratosphere) — Chasing an adrenaline rush? A physical workout to get your blood pumping? Or how about a meditative stroll to relish the fresh outdoor air? Bali has something to satisfy across the spectrum. Learn from scratch any one of an array of sports and activities on the island, or jump right in and go for it!
Bali is famed for its surfing and with excellent reason: the island is fringed by fabulous breaks (and beaches) suited for learners right through to experienced wave riders searching for that elusive perfect tube. Newbies shouldn’t feel intimidated: plenty of schools will take them through their paces.
There are numerous advantages to learning how to catch waves on the Island of the Gods, says Frank Faust from Prosurf.
“The water is so warm here for a start, and that makes it a lot easier,” says Frank. “And in Australia, classes are big: one instructor to six, eight or even 10 sometimes. Over here a lot of schools offer really small classes, often one to three, so you get a lot more attention.”
Kuta, Bali’s most popular and fabled beach, morphs into Legian then Seminyak beaches, and all offer ideal conditions for learning, with a forgiving break and waves that can be ridden in waist-deep water. Most of Bali’s surf schools are located here.
British tourist Belle Yang has had a ball learning how to ride a board.
“They make it really fun, the instructors are really laid back and they teach you the technical stuff before you go into the water: dangers, how to be safe, what kind of basic movements there are,” says the mid-30s lawyer, adding that she appreciated the chest-depth of the water along the Kuta-Seminyak stretch of beach.
“Bali is a very good place to learn because a lot of beach is like that. You can walk out quite far and the instructors are there with you,” she says, noting she’d be happy to come back to learn again here. “Everyone in Bali is so friendly and nice! The food is good, there’s good nightlife and the hotels are lovely.”
And once you’ve mastered the basics, there’s no need to head to G-land as Bali is a great surfing destination itself, with challenging breaks for experienced surfers.
“The breaks are consistent all year round and there are a lot of options,” says Prosurf’s Frank. “You go elsewhere you tend to have to travel a long distance to get from one break to another. But most of the breaks in Bali are in the south and you can move from one break to another within a five- to 10-minute drive, with a lot of variation.”
But do bring your manners, the instructor suggests, as Bali’s waters are getting more crowded.
“The locals tend to be friendly but sometimes you have people coming in visiting and they get all upset that there are a lot of people.”
If the crowds here get to you, consider using Bali as a launchpad to elsewhere in Indonesia, where plenty of superb and underused surf spots beckon.
Being an island, Bali of course offers plenty of other water-based activities. Scuba diving is must-do, again given the welcoming warm waters and abundance of marine life. Take a PADI course to learn how to dive, study a more advanced course or if you’re already certified, select the kind of dive you’re interested in and go for it.
One of Bali’s most famous sites and one of the best wreck dives in the world is the US Liberty, just off Tulamben Beach on Bali’s northeast coast: the ship is 120 metres long and swarms with marine life.
“Diving in Tulamben is definitely a unique experience, from the shore entry on a stony beach to the little old ladies who will carry your tank, regulator and BCD on their heads from the staging areas to the entry points,” says Michael Holland, 51, a travel writer who has dived the site twice and been to Bali more than a dozen times.
”The wreck is a very popular dive, so in peak season you may see more divers than fish, but it’s still a very interesting site, with some large fish in residence, a big field of garden eels, and more.”
If you’re not too keen on the equipment that comes with scuba, snorkelling is a cheap and easy alternative. Many dive trips also cater for snorkellers for a fraction of the price.
One of Bali’s newest watersports is stand up paddle-board surfing (SUP): you take a board that is longer, wider and thicker than traditional surfboards, which gives them additional buoyancy, which you stand on while using a long paddle, which gives you good control.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s easy — within the first two-hour lesson you can catch waves by yourself,” enthuses Giancarlo Avancini, who teaches at Bali Standup Paddle.
Take a few morning lessons then go on an accompanied trip to a location based on the weather, he suggests. Once you can do it alone, head off on your own adventure. The advantage over surfing, he says, is that you’re more mobile: “You can paddle around to where there are not so many people, where the water is clear and you can see the reef.”
American Lisa Liu, 28, first learned to SUP in Hawaii, and says she was excited to discover Bali also has the sport and took lessons with Giancarlo.
“It’s a great sport since it’s a whole body workout, especially for core muscles and it’s great for practising balance,” she says. “SUP is also relatively easier to learn than surfing, so people can really enjoy riding the waves within a couple lessons.”
If you can drag yourself away from Bali’s coast, whitewater rafting is focused on the Ayung river near Ubud, which rushes through green, lush jungle flanked in parts by tall cliffs, and passes by waterfalls and through dozens of rapids. Ayung is a Class 2 rafting river (1 is flat and 5 un-raftable).
Horseriding may not be your typical tropical activity, but unlike in Australia, authorities in Bali permit horses on beaches, so if you like to ride, or would like to learn, this is the spot.
“Many Australian guests have their own horses, but they tell me they can’t ride at the beach,” says Sabine Kaufmann from Umalas Equestrian Resort, Bali’s oldest professional stables.
Boasting more than 30 horses, her stables offer an array of rides to visitors but the most popular is the two-hour beach tour: “This is absolutely the highlight!” You can simply walk along nearby Batu Belig beach or if you’re more experienced, your individual guide will let you trot or canter.
For something completely different, how about tackling an invigorating obstacle course through towering trees? At Bali Treetop Adventure Park, an array of circuits featuring flying foxes and Tarzan jumps stretch as high as 20 metres into the sky.
At a higher elevation in Bali’s north, the location inside Bedugal’s Botanical Gardens is cool, green and lush and six different circuits suit all kinds of abilities. It’s about having fun and harking back to the days when you used to climb trees, as well as challenging yourself, says the park’s Christophe Jorrand.
The most difficult circuit is black and is “for those who really want to find something hard to do, it’s for those who are fit. But everyone can find their own challenge, where they can find adrenaline, even a bit of fear and it can be a bit difficult — but they manage to get through and finish the game.”
Something at the other end of the spectrum: a sedate walk through Ubud’s rice paddies with British bird-watcher extraordinaire Victor Mason and his sidekick Balinese Wayan Sumadi. The pair take birdwatching group tours or can arrange a bespoke one. They’ll supply the binoculars, the list of what you can expect to find, and will help you learn how to spot the wildlife.
Another walk with purpose is of course golf. Bali offers plenty of courses with breathtaking views, such as the Bali Golf and Country Club in Nusa Dua. Never played? A golf pro offers lessons at this club, including video analysis of your stroke.
If all that sounds like too much work? There’s always the sun chair, your novel, and the very gentle work of sipping a beer or cocktail in the sun.
Bai’s top outdoor sports and activities
Beginner 2.5 hours group lesson (maximum 3 to 4 students) 45 euros/US$55
2) Scuba diving
3) Standup paddle boarding
450,000 rupiah for 2-hour lesson, to rent SUP board 350,000 rupiah/day
4) Whitewater rafting
$79 for half day, 2 hours spent on the river and lunch
US$72 for 2-hour beach tour, including personal guide
6) Bali Treetop Adventure Park
US$20 for 2.5 hours access for adult
US$33 for 3.5 hours including lunch, water and limited binoculars
8 ) Golf
US$77 per hour for lesson, including clubs, balls and video analysis