Top seven tips for travelling to Indonesia

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By Matt Davies/Rob Barber

For every 10 bodyboarders that go to Indonesia, 8 of them have a trip of a lifetime while 2 come home with horror stories, longstanding regrets and war scars to prove it.
At Bodyboard-Holidays we’ve been coming to this Asian paradise for 20 years, holding two epic trips here every year. With such experience, we’ve coined our seven best tips for travelling to Indonesia that will guarantee you get the most out of your trip, score the best waves of your life and help you avoid any unnecessary drama.

 

1. Avoiding the crowd

Over the last five years or so Bali has become synonymous with big crowds. While this may be true at the main breaks, on our recent trips to Bali we have scored empty and pumping waves at unknown breaks and shared the well-known spots with just a handful of guys. Here’s how… 

Go on the edge of season: It’s a long held myth that there are no waves in the rainy season, when in fact the waves are just are really fun if you know where to look. What’s more, during this time, the rain-swollen rivers create dreamy sandbanks, the crowd factor is more than halved and lodging and flights are far cheaper. Of course there’s a higher probability of rain, but weigh that against all the more waves you’ll be getting and it’s a no brainer! 

Up with the Cockerels: Knocking back a strong Kopi (Indonesian for coffee) and paddling out before day break to the sound of the crowing cockerels is well worth the pain, and you’ll be suitably rewarded with an hour or more of uncrowded waves. The lunchtime slot and the hour before dark are other golden opportunities to outwit the masses. As the sun begins to set, the crowd thins dramatically, leaving you to enjoy the splendour of the evening glass-off and the soul-cleansing explosion of soft, warm colours in the sky as the sun sinks beyond the horizon. Another tip is to wait for a rain storm or squal to clear the line up. Then be ready to get in there when it passes and glassed off. Then you’ll get the waves to yourself. 

Go the extra mile:  It’s always struck me as strange that surfers will travel up to 24 hours or more and thousands of miles only to go and surf the main breaks listed in their guide book, with every other Tom, Dick and Harry. If you’ve gone to all that trouble, why not go the extra mile and seek out empty, undiscovered or secret spots? At Bodyboarding-Holidays we froth on the spirit of adventure and pride ourselves on exploration, taking our guests to the best and least crowded spots. 

2. Take the right equipment

Indo trips are what you endlessly dream about at school or work, they provide the yarns you’ll be spinning in the pub and the tales told to your grandchildren. Indo is the place to showcase the moves you’ve been so resiliently trying in the depths of winter, clad in neoprene at your home break. So the last thing you want is to waste this chance surfing with equipment unsuited for the tropics and/or wasting time running around Kuta in an attempt to replace inferior, lost or broken gear because of an oversight in packing or thriftiness. To maximise your time and experience in the water, we suggest bringing the following equipment:

– A stiff board, (PP core)

– 2 pairs of fins + fin rub protection (as your skin will be softer in the warm water)

– 2 quality leashes 

3. Motorbikes

Unless you’re Evel Knievel, forget it. Motorcycle related injuries are one of the most common among surfers in Indonesia. A perverse past time of mine is spotting motorbike exhaust burns, the hallmark of first timers in Indo. They not only give you kook status but also put you out the water for a few days or even the entire trip. From the minor to the major injuries, it’s not worth spoiling your trip. I once met a Welsh surfer left in a critical condition after hitting a cow at full throttle on his way home one night, and a young Aussie who misjudged a corner and ploughed straight through a Balinese home causing dollars worth of damage to the bike and abode. If the blood, gore and expensive repairs don’t put you off, there is also the corrupt Police looking for naïve surfers on motorbikes, who hail you down in a bid to bribe you out of ridiculous sums of money in exchange for your passport. We drive or take boats to the best waves so that you have no stress.

4. Kuta – Get Out, Stay Out

Much like a fire safety video, our mantra for Kuta is Get Out and Stay Out!  Kuta, the dark underbelly of Bali is a slippery slope. Staying there without a plan and succumbing to the lure of jungle juice fuelled parties and bars thronged with free-spirited Scandinavian backpackers, can cost you several days of surfing. We suggest you come with a ready-made plan to escape the smog and grime of Kuta, maximise your water time and experience the real Bali. Of course, there’s no harm in getting loose once in a while but save this for your last night as a reward for a week of epic waves. But, however loose you get, be sure to steer clear of drugs, fighting the locals and anything that foams at the mouth whether a dog ravaged by rabies or one of Kuta’s ladies of the night. 

5. Fin rubs and reef cuts

In the tropics, rubs, grazes and cuts tend not to heal so well and can easily become infected. Realistically, any wound you get won’t fully heal until you’re home. In the case of fin rubs, the bane of all bodyboarders, we believe the best cure is prevention. Prevention is easy: wear fin socks, add heel shields to your fins and/or apply a Compeed to areas of your ankle prone to rubbing. Compeeds are available in most high street chemists. A last resort that is also very effective, but will cost you some leg hair and is tiresome to administer before each surf, is to strap your foot up with duct tape. 

Reef cuts, however small or insignificant they may seem at first, have the potential to ruin your trip and if not dealt with properly can lead to Septicaemia (poisons in the blood from bacteria in coral), and in the worst case scenario death. A good friend of mine spent a week in intensive care after failing to clean what at first was just a graze. If you bump the reef, thoroughly clean the area by removing all debris with fresh water and tweezers if necessary. Following this, apply Betadine, hydrogen peroxide or lime juice to the area. The acidic nature of these solutions reacts with your alkaline flesh to cause a bubbling reaction, which is a good sign it is killing off the bacteria. For deeper wounds and/or if you start to feel feverish, lethargic, suffer from cold sweats and vomiting, seek professional medical help. 

6. Learn the lingo

You’ll probably have 101 things to sort in the weeks leading up to your trip; finishing that report, working overtime, sorting out the recommended equipment and watching hours of Indo videos, but a few weeks learning Indonesian prior to your trip will pay dividends. Not only will you be able to show off your linguistic skills in front of your buddies but you’ll be better received and appreciated by the locals. What’s more, there’s no better time to learn with so many easy and interactive phone apps available online. I use a free app available at www.learningindonesian.com. You’ll be surprised how much of a richer experience you’ll have just by knowing a few essential phrases, and who knows what doors a little lingo could open up for you? 

7. Give something back

Not wanting to sound like a party pooper, or to take the shine off your dream getaway, but while in Indo take time to consider that thousands of Balinese live in poverty (defined as an income less than $2), lack an education and access to clean drinking water or electricity. Moreover, their oceans are becoming alarmingly polluted with plastic waste. So instead of just going to have the time of your life (which you will), make it a reciprocal relationship and give something back. Check out and if possible make a small contribution to inspirational organisations such as www.wavesforwater.org, www.wavesnotplastic.org and www.balichildrensproject.org, who are working tirelessly to address some of the problems mentioned above. In addition, when buying your kit for Indo, pay that little extra for products that won’t have a detrimental effect on the coral reefs such as ecological/chemical-free wax, sun cream and sun-bloc. Being immersed in nature is one of the most rewarding feelings of surfing in Indonesia, so let’s try to keep it that way.

These tips have culminated from 20 years of experience of bodyboarding and travelling in Indonesia. Check our next Indonesia trip.