Seaweed and Surfing on Nusa Lembongan

At home, I’ve gotten used to being out in the water among huge patches of kelp. On windy days the kelp dampens out the chop and keeps the waves smoother, which balances out the annoyance of the occasion tangle up. But kelp is a cold water phenomenon; the seaweed found in Southeast Asia is a completely different type that grows in shallow water. In Indonesia, they actually farm it in the lagoons that form behind barrier reefs. But it’s what’s outside the the barrier that took me to Nusa Lembongan — perfect, hollow waves. I’ve been surfing for most of my life, and for almost as long, I’ve been reading surf magazines. The pages of said magazines are full of images of impossibly ideal tropical waves from all around the world, but one country in particular holds a central place in the surf world: Indonesia. Bali first came to prominence through surf movies in the 1970’s, and other breaks were discovered throughout the archipelago in later years. So for as long as I can remember, I’ve been dreaming of surfing the waves from the magazines, and now that we were in Indonesia that dream could finally come true.

From Java, Sarah and I returned to Denpasar briefly and then caught a bus to Ubud. On the bus we met Ben, a fellow American. Ben and I got to talking and it turned out that he was a fellow surfer (though being from Utah, snowboarding was his first passion) and had just arrived in Indonesia. He was on his way to meet some friends so we exchanged numbers and went our separate ways. Sarah quickly found happiness in the welcoming environment of Ubud, but having grown up where I did, I was a little more inured to the whole “Eat, Pray, Love” vibe. After a couple days I set out to find my own bliss closer to the water. Since we had over a month left in the country, I decided to return to Kuta and buy a surfboard instead of trying to rent. I spent the better part of two days going to every single surf shop (there are at least 30) in the Jalan Legian neighborhood and finally found a slightly used 6’2″ Rusty rounded pin.

Based on a recommendation from my brother, who had visited a decade previous, I then caught a bus and ferry to Nusa Lembongan, an island off the southeast coast of Bali. It’s a tiny little place, only 8 square kilometers, and has one village, Jungut Batu, where all the tourists are, and another one inland where the locals live. After searching all afternoon, I settled on a nice little hotel room right on the beach. They agreed to give me a discount because they were doing some work on the suite upstairs. What I didn’t realize was that meant that the hammering and sawing would start just after dawn and go most of the day. As a result, I was up early and in the water every day, which wasn’t entirely a bad thing, but it wasn’t the most restful place.

There was only one other guest at the hotel, Susanna from Malmö in Sweden. Strangely, I kept running into people from Sweden, both in and out of the water. I had conversations with two different Swedish surfers (who knew they had surf in Sweden!). I asked Susanna why there were so many Swedish people around, but she didn’t have a good explanation, other than it’s a long cold winter there so Swedish people like to travel. We shared a few meals together, and more than a few beers. It was nice to have someone to talk to and watch the sunset with at the end of the day.

The days started to blur together, the only variables being which spot I surfed and where I ate afterwards. The surf was good, if a little challenging at times. After a few exhausting paddles a couple hundred meters across the lagoon to a spot called Shipwrecks, I gave in and started paying a boat guy for a ride like everyone else. I haven’t spent a lot of time surfing coral reefs, and with breaks with names like “Lacerations” I was a little intimidated. Even so, I felt like I was making a lot of progress with my surfing, and the board turned out to be perfect for the punchy waves on the island. Everything was going great right up until the time I got caught inside by a big set at Shipwrecks and ended up donating some flesh to the reef.

Thankfully, that episode happened near the end of my week there. Between that, the dropping swell, and the fact that my visa was about to expire, I figured it was a good time to make my way to a different island and check out some different waves. I had done nothing but surf on Nusa Lembongan. I had intended to explore the island a bit; some of the more remote beaches were reputed to be really beautiful. I also wanted to go skin diving and see some of what was going on under the water, but that would have to wait as well. Lombok, and a whole new set of reefs to surf beckoned.


Playgrounds, one of the main breaks, sits right in the middle of the boat channel. There are several big floating structures around it like the one in the background where huge tour boats full of day trippers from Kuta dock.

If you look closely, the bottom of the lagoon is a checkerboard of plots where they farm seaweed.

Nusa Lembongan is justifiably famous for its sunsets.

Seaweed drying on the beach

These guys brought their cocks down to the beach for some exercise.

Everywhere in the world, if there a beach, sooner or later a soccer game with break out.

Local kids using a broken surfboard as a skimboard.

Another day, another spectacular sunset...

There's no dock on Nusa Lembongan, so everything has to be unloaded from the boats that come in by a gang of porters on the beach, which interestingly were mostly women. Also note the seaweed farmer unloading his crop in the foreground.

A typical nasi campur for lunch -- healthy, delicious, and only a couple bucks.

You see offerings like this one in front of my hotel room door everywhere in Bali.

An evening Bingtang with Susanna

This guy didn't like his photo being taken.

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