Surfing Uluwatu, Bali: Our 5 Top Surf Spots & How To Find The Best Waves
Table of Contents
It was in 1972 that the world first caught sight of the Uluwatu surf, when a 15-year-old boy was featured riding a powerful left-hander in the Aussie film ‘Morning of the Earth’. Top pros, like goofy-footers Gerry Lopez and Wayne Lynch, flew to Bali to see if the peaks rode as good as they looked. They were spellbound: “not only by the wave, but by the mysticism of the island itself.”
Since then, Uluwatu has become a mecca for experienced surfers, drawn by the hyper consistent left-hander with its truly awesome barrels and the thrill of some super-challenging rides. Today, it’s largely considered one of the best waves on the planet, and always makes the first five in CNN’s Top 50 Surf Spots of the World league table. Certainly, there are more world-class waves close to one another in Uluwatu than practically anywhere else in the world. (And if you’re looking for the best beaches in Uluwatu, we’ve got you covered!)
But Uluwatu is more than just one iconic wave, and there are many more breaks to discover within walking distance from the iconic Uluwatu temple (which is one of the best things to visit in Uluwatu). So, over the next few paragraphs, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the 5 best surf spots in Uluwatu, along with some tips to make your visit go a little smoother.
But first, there’s one thing that a lot of people find confusing when they first visit the area, so let’s just sort that out…
Uluwatu Surf and The Bukit
Most of the best surfing in Bali happens around The Bukit, which is a limestone peninsula that forms the southernmost point of Bali. Because of the deep water channels that run along both sides of The Bukit, it’s great at churning up swells. When these meet the strong low-tide currents, the result is gargantuan surf.
Officially, Uluwatu is the name of an area located on The Bukit – the name comes from the word ulu, meaning ‘lands end’, and watu, meaning ‘rock’ – and it’s the name given to the magnificent temple that looks out over the waves from the southernmost tip of The Bukit.
But it’s also the colloquial name of the massive and sometimes menacing wave for which the area is famous. To avoid confusion, locals refer to the wave as simply ‘Ulu’s’. We’ll cover Ulu’s a bit later in our list, but first, let’s talk about the awesome waves at Padang Padang Beach!
Top Surfing Spots in Uluwatu Bali – Gorgeous Tourist … https://t.co/mbIgrZqIrE via @aussiegateway pic.twitter.com/mg3zfNjwHK
— Surfing Top News (@SurfingTopNews) April 29, 2016
Padang Padang Beach (aka Pantai Lubuan Sait)
According to surf history, the first person to ride Padang Padang was Richard Harvey, the 1973 Australian national surfing champion. But the break really became popular in the 1980s, when a leading surf magazine (now defunct) described it as “one of the best and most perfect waves on the planet.” By the late 80s, the young and beautiful were flocking to Padang Padang to ride the waves in what’s been called one of the most beautiful surf spots in the world. We’d have to agree.
This is one of the few beaches in Uluwatu where both novices and experts can surf together because there are two breaks, known as ‘Padang Padang Right’ (easy) and ‘Padang Padang Left (hard).’ So if you’ve in a mixed ability group, this is the ideal beach to meet up. It’s also a great place to just chill, so any non-surfers in your group will still have a great day. But before you hit the water you need to get to the beach, which is a great experience by itself.
You start by paying an entry fee of 15,000 IDR (about $1), then make your way across a car park. You now have about 100 steps down to the beach, and there’s a small temple half-way down which is a cool building to look around (but watch out for the monkeys, who are known to steal anything that isn’t hidden away in a zipped bag). At the foot of the steps you walk through a hollow rock, and you’re on a fringed white-sand beach with crystal blue/green waters and a horizon that seems half a world away. All in all, just getting there is a trip.
Padang Padang Right, sometimes called ‘Baby Padang’, has long, gentle unbroken waves at high tide breaks which are great for beginners or for novice surfers who want to hone their technique. There’s a channel that allows easy paddle-outs (rare in Bali!) for newbie surfers who can’t duck dive to get to the outside. There’s a local surf club that will help new visitors to find the best waves, and you can rent a board from them for less than $10.
Padang Padang Left is strictly for pros and experts, with almost consistent barrels. It varies from a fun, four-foot standard wave to a fast and dangerous six-to-twelve-foot freight train. Although the ride is relatively short – around 50 yards – the adrenaline rush is as good if not better than any break on Bali. Some have compared it to Hawaii’s legendary Pipeline, with the added risk of jagged rocks and razor-sharp coral. This is definitely a ride where you need your neoprene booties.
Uluwatu (aka Ulu’s)
So much has been written about this one wave. It’s perhaps the most consistent wave in the whole of Bali, and it’s in form no matter the size of the swell. Locals claim that their Gods have blessed the surfers who ride Uluwatu, because of how divine and perfect the waves are. It’s hard to disagree: the view out to sea is nothing short of stunning, and the caves and temple offer a perfect backdrop.
Back in 1972, when filming ‘Morning of the Earth’, the crew stumbled across Ulu’s massive left-handers completely by accident. To reach the wave, they had to make their way down the cliff next to the temple, and come out through a cave. That’s still how it’s done today, and heading out of the cave into the lineup is one of the best “OMG I’m really here!” moments you can get in Bali.
The unique thing about Ulu’s is that it’s actually five different peaks in one wave, each about 300 feet apart and with their own outstanding features. Having five peaks tends to spread out the line-up, so it feels less crowded compared to single-peak waves. Here’s a quick overview of each of them.
- Bombie (sometimes spelled ‘Bommie’): This breaks on Uluwatu’s outer reef, so it comes earlier than the other peaks, and it’s in such a different league that it might as well be a separate wave. It’s the deepest and hardest peak to navigate, and you’ll always see the pro surfers lining up to tackle it at high tides. Monster waves of up to 20 feet are not uncommon and, unfortunately, nor are broken boards.
- The Peak: You’ll hit this directly out from the cave. It’s known as one of the most consistent waves in the world and works at all tide levels, although it’s best at high tide. The Peak is known for steep and often intimidating drops, with a hollow barrel section that grandstands directly in front of the famous cave.
- Racetrack: As the name suggests, this is fast, especially with a low tide. It’s a slick hollow-walled section where experienced surfers race down the line under a veiled lip of the wave. Don’t cut back until the very end, or you’ll miss the final barrel. Under the right conditions, this can connect with The Peak to form one mega-long barrel section.
- Outside Corner: This is the most iconic peak of Uluwatu. Another outside reef break, it activates with 6 feet or bigger swells at low tide. When the waves start hitting 8 feet or above, Outside Corner produces mega-steep drops into cavernous, pro-only barrels. In the right conditions, Outside Corner can connect with Racetrack and The Peak, giving rides nearly 1,000 feet long.
- Temples: This peak gets its name from the 10th-century Hindu temple, called Pura Luhur Uluwatu, which looks out to sea from the top of the Bukit. The wave at Temples generates long, hollow walls that give plenty of head tuck and barrel opportunities, especially during high tide. This is the least crowded section of Ulu’s (although that’s a relative term!) because it’s quite a lengthy paddle from the cave.Here’s a tip: if you take a left at the bottom of the cave staircase, you’ll find another cave entrance that takes you to a small, hidden stretch of sand known as Suluban Beach (aka Blue Point). From there, you can walk to Temples and paddle out wherever you see the best opportunity.
- Secrets: This is often regarded as Ulu’s ‘sixth peak’. Opinion is divided as to whether it really is a separate peak, or an extension of Temples. Even the locals can’t decide for definite. In our honest opinion, it is totally not a different peak. Unless it is, in which case we reserve the right to change our honest opinion.
There are a few important things to bear in mind when tackling Ulu’s. First is the other surfers: the water can become so crowded that the sheer number of people becomes your biggest obstacle. The second thing is getting back to the cave. On a big wave day, if you’re not accurate with your paddle in, you could miss the cave and end up a few beaches away. It’s not really a safety issue, but the long walk back to the car park can take the shine off an otherwise perfect day.
Here’s a useful tip: when heading back, always paddle to the right of the cave, as the riptide will pull you hard to the left. The stronger the current, the more you should aim to the right.
Dreamland (aka Pantai Cemongkak)
With a name like ‘Dreamland’, you’d expect this to be a very commercialized beach, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Opened up by the development of resorts and the New Kuta golf course, it’s now a very accessible beach. The upside is that there’s an almost endless choice of beachfront restaurants and warungs; the downside is that it’s a tourist magnet, with coachloads of cruise ship passengers coming to dip their toes in the water on an hourly basis.
Once you’re at the beach, it’s only a short paddle (past all the tourists) until you reach the line-up. For the easiest and most efficient paddle out, look for a channel on either side of the peak. The waves at Dreamland offer a fast left-breaking open face and then a short right shoulder when coming off the peak. It’s a beach break rather than a coral break, so there are no sharp rocks to be wary of underfoot.
As a result, this is a great wave for beginners and intermediate-level surfers with a shortboard, fish, or a soft-top. It’s actually best surfed at low tide, so novices won’t be intimidated by too-big swells. Conversely, Dreamland is not a great ride for experienced surfers. If you’re looking for fast waves, your best option is to surf Dreamland when well overhead, when there’s a chance of it barrelling on the outside.
When you or your friends have had their fill of surfing for the day, make sure you stick around for some of the most dramatic sunsets that Bali has to offer.
This is the furthest beach that can still be considered part of Uluwatu. It’s an exceptionally beautiful part of Bali: so much so that it was once earmarked for a major marina development project. Luckily, local Aussie surf legend Kim ‘Fly’ Bradley spoke up for keeping the area as a surf spot, and development was halted. Kim, who remained Balinese at heart until he passed away in 2009, was probably the first board shaper in Indonesia and during the 1970s he claimed Balangan and Dreamland (above) as his own secret breaks.
Balangan Beach remained a fairly remote place to surf for many years, set back as it is from but all that changed as soon as instafamous influencers worked out that it was a great place to pose for a photo. On top of that, it’s become a very popular place for wedding shots, with seemingly dozens of just-hitched couples turning up to have their wedding day immortalized against a Balinese backdrop. Luckily, all these images are taken from clifftops and rocky outcroppings, which frees up the beach a little and gives you a less-crowded gauntlet to run before you make the wave.
Getting to Balangan is a bit of a trek through dilapidated back streets and dirt roads, so we definitely recommend hiring a scooter. The hire fee in Bali is laughably cheap (less than $5 per day), and at that rate it’s a no-brainer to rent a scooter for the duration of your stay. If you’re not so confident on a scooter, most places will also hire you a dune buggy or a 4×4. Either way, having your own transport is the best way to get around Bali, and in the long run it’s much cheaper (and more reliable) than paying for a taxi every time.
Balangan is primarily for intermediate and pro-level surfers, but it’s also an OK wave for novices as it’s quite mellow on higher tides with a small swell. For experienced surfers, it’s best at low tide although it rides well in most conditions. It’s a reef break with a fast-breaking left that can sometimes stay open for almost 1,000 feet, if you can maintain your speed and if the conditions are close to perfect. On average days (which are still awesome days!), Balangan will typically hold a steep wall for roughly 150 feet until some of the sections start to close out.
For pro-level surfers riding overhead waves and above, expect a fast, steep and open left-hander with occasional barrels at the peak, and again on the inside. Waves regularly reach as high as 15 feet, so there are plenty of opportunities to try and catch a long run.
Impossibles (aka Pantai Pemutih)
For our last Uluwatu highlight, we’re choosing the brilliantly-named Impossibles. No-one is exactly sure how it got its name: some say it’s because the wave is so fast that it’s almost impossible to make. Others suggest the name dates back to the 70s, when it was impossible to even get access to the wave, let alone ride it. Our preference is for the first explanation, because at certain points on the wave it is impossible to make it.
Impossibles is nestled between Bingin Beach (another great pro-level spot for surfing Uluwatu) and Padang Padang Beach, in an area called Pecatu. Getting there is basically the same journey as you’d make for Padang Padang, and includes quite a few steps down and a lengthy paddle out. Because of its semi-sheltered location, Impossibles usually picks up a little less swell than the peaks at Ulu’s, so expect waves about 2 to 3 feet smaller.
For small swells, the best take-off zone is towards Padang Padang; on bigger days the better take-off spots are closer to Bingin. However, when the surf is running head high plus, Impossibles has a couple of different sections and therefore different take-off spots.
The Padang end is steep and fast on the take-off, and you won’t ride too many turns. If you can get enough speed up you can easily make it past the Anantara resort, which is a handy marker for the end of a ‘good’ run on Impossibles.
The take-off spot by the Anantara hotel is usually bigger and not as fast, but a lot hard to catch. if you make it, you’ll find the waves are wider set, which gives some cool open faces where you can craft some big turns.
Impossibles is a great wave because it does its own crowd control: it’s so fast that riders get spread out as soon as the wave starts to break. The strong currents also keep the casual ‘sunbathe and swim’ tourists away from this particular beach, which is great for surfers who perform best without a crowd of onlookers (who we all know are just there to watch you wipe out).
Most of the time it’s difficult to make all the sections because the wave is just too fast. However, on those few perfect days when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars (or maybe that’s a song quote?), the Impossibles wave can give you a completely joined-up run that seems to go on forever.
Surfing Uluwatu is probably one of the best surf trips you’ll ever take. The beaches are gorgeous, the breaks are righteously awesome, and the Balinese people are some of the friendliest on God’s green Earth. As for surfer etiquette in Bali, there’s effectively just one rule: no fighting in the line-up. Even if someone jumps your place, don’t retaliate – the locals will probably ask you both to leave. Just be cool and wait patiently, and let the locals take care of you.
And if you want to show your appreciation towards a local, you could do no better than learning some basic Balinese phrases. The smile you’ll get just for saying terima kasih (thank you) will melt your heart every time.
Is surfing in Uluwatu good for beginners?
Surfing in Uluwatu is limited for beginners, but there are a few waves that are perfect for training. The easiest is Padang Padang Right (sometimes called ‘Baby Padang’) which features long, unbroken peaks that are easy to catch. Uniquely for surfing Uluwatu, Baby Padang has a really easy paddle out channel, so new surfers won’t tire themselves out before they even get to the line-up.
Also great for beginners is Dreamland, which is a soft beach break, meaning beginners will get a soft sandy landing when they wipe out, instead of the sharp coral and rocks at other Uluwatu surf spots. To check the swells for all the waves in Bali, we recommend consulting the free and very useful surf forecaster at Surfline.
How big are the waves in Uluwatu?
Depending on the season, big waves in Uluwatu can regularly reach 15 feet. Bombie, one of the pro-only peaks of Uluwatu, can peak as high as 20 feet, making it the deepest wave in the area. The longest wave in Uluwatu (meaning the total time a person has stayed riding a single wave) was 1 minute 20 seconds, achieved in 2018. Locals claim it’s the longest ride at Uluwatu in over 20 years.