The day had come for the highly anticipated surf trip to the reef breaks of Nusa Lembongan. While only a few hours prior, Bali had been struck by two minor earthquakes, nothing was going to stop me from getting to paddle out in the less pervaded waters of this sleepy neighboring island.
After meeting the rest of the crew at the harbor, we without hesitation, followed our guide who referred to himself in the 3rd person as ‘Gangster Roy’. However, his innocent spirit could be identified more with that of a mischievous 12 year rather than a merciless mobster. He commanded the group with a jovial strut, fearlessly leading me and two other Americans down a crowded but narrow alley way to the harbor where our boat awaited us. His arms not quite grazing the sides of his frame, he plodded with a puffed out chest... seeing him from behind, it wouldn’t be incorrect to think he was en route to deliver an unforgiving message to a belabored debtor; however from the front, a smile as permanent as the collection of tattoos inked across his body dispelled the more nefarious assumption as it would soon be replaced by the realization that Roy was anything but.
Parting through the crowds as though it was the Red Sea, he exchanged inside jokes and noises that would rival that of Cardi B’s infamous reverberations. After a 30-minute ferry ride with our fearless leader, we arrived at the crystal-clear waters of Nusa Lembongan. The landscape of pristine sea lay ahead of the awe-inspiring Mt. Agung that sat in the background, well aware of its breath-taking beauty. We hopped off the ferry, boards and backpacks in hand, and strutted down the white sand beaches where we were picked up by a smaller boat waiting to escort us to the first spot of the day.
We surfed between Shipwrecks, Lacerations and Playgrounds—each of which sit practically next to one another. Unsure of how each location is even distinguished from the other, we kicked off the day at Lacerations where ankle biting whitecaps soon grew to about waist high waves. Appropriately named, surfing these reef breaks in mid tide makes hitting the reef almost unavoidable so with the low tide meeting lower peaks, it’s a good idea to play it safe. And with its pristine clarity, measuring the depth of the water at mid-high tide can be tricky so it sometimes takes an encounter with the reef to properly gauge how shallow the water actually is. And speaking of encounters, the mythical sea snake made a rare appearance, popping its head out from under the sea’s coat to come nearly face to face with one of the other guys’ fin. Now I’d heard about the Indonesian sea snakes, especially around Tanah Lot, and assumed it was something rarely seen and more often heard about. But sure enough, as he paddled back towards us, the enigmatic creature making its presence known was about what I can only estimate a yard-long in length and staring right at us. Uninterested in testing its friendliness, we paddled back to the boat. When it comes to surfing, having your wave snaked is one thing, having a snake in your wave is a whole different story.
After a few hours, we returned to the shore where a local restaurant sat next to an abandoned hotel sitting behind a drained pool. Far from hesitant, Roy ordered a bottle of tequila that he’d proceed to drink most of, but not before letting everyone on the island know that he came ready to party. (Spoiler Alert: fast forward 45 minutes to finding Roy passed out in said abandoned pool, looking as comfortable as one would expect a local man who calls himself ‘Gangster’ would be)
We wrapped up the day with at Shipwrecks, a spot which at that point was dominated by local groms. As welcoming as they were encouraging for us to join, we spent the rest of our time cheering each other on—equally as much sportsmanship from the surfers who were about 3x the age of our younger counterparts with about 3x our ability.
All in all, while we didn’t get to experience Lembongan’s finest swell, getting to explore another part of Bali with a crew as warm as the water was well worth the trip. For anyone interested in doing their own Nusa Lembongan surf trip, I recommend finding one that’s locally organized. If you can, plan it for some time between May and October which is when you’ll have the best chances of getting some decent swell. Worst case, if you don’t find the waves you were looking for, you can have a fun day exploring the sleepier island that offers a nice reprieve from the livelier parts of Bali. Either way, good company, warm water and a shot or two of Tequila with a Winnie the Pooh-like guide is all the necessary ingredients for the makings of a day you’ll never forget.
Written by: Jennifer Rothman