Koa Smith in the pit of that irridescant green synonymous with the Bukit. (Hammonds)

How To Surf 20 Foot Uluwatu


I know it isn’t going to be an easy paddle out. The swell in coming in hard and fast, with sets looking to be about 20 to 25 feet on the face, and with a lot of water in them.

I make my way down the cliff and head up to my usual jump-off spot for big days. It is always a bit of a roll of the dice paddling out from here. If I am lucky, and make it across the inside-shelf without too much trouble, it’s a dream run. Unless it’s really massive, the paddle from there to the outside reefs is through deep, calm water.

But getting across the inside shelf can be a nightmare, sometimes involving two or three attempts before finding a gap between sets. Or even worse, getting dragged across the Temple’s shelf as double-overhead triple-sucking monsters explode in front of you, while your fingertips brush the reef as you paddle. Sometimes just getting across the inside shelf is such an intense rush that once I make it across it, I have to take five and let my adrenaline settle before I continue paddling to the outside reefs.

So, I’m perched at my jump off spot, but there’s no gaps between the relentless, pounding sets. Maybe I’ll get lucky and hit the edge of the shelf just in time for a tiny gap between sets to let me through…

I launch off the reef platform and start plowing my 8’0” towards the edge of the inside shelf. But I can only get about halfway out. There’s just so much water pouring across the shelf that I can’t get anywhere near the impact zone. And when an extra strong set explodes along the edge of the shelf, it pours a ton of water over it and shunts me straight across to the Temple’s impact zone. Usually at this point I’ll turn around, head back in and try again, but, with the way the ocean is today, I think my chances of sneaking out through here are almost zero. And so I surrender to getting dragged through the Temple’s impact zone.

I don’t usually do this, and for good reason. The Temple’s shelf at this size is a nightmare, as almost double-overhead sets pound the reef, double and triple sucking, and at times pulling almost all the water off the shelf in front of them as they do so. And today, of all days, I’m not having a good run. Sure enough, just as I get dragged onto the Temple’s shelf, another macking set hits the reef and I’m so close to the impact zone that I have no choice but to bail. The whitewater hits me like a truck and within microseconds I’m hurtling across the shelf under the water at a crazy speed. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Just the lightest brush off the reef at this speed will remove skin like a surgeon’s scalpel, and hitting it with any sort of force will result in serious injury. But there’s nothing I can do… but take each whitewater on the head and get shot at breakneck speed across the reef as the set pounds.

But, as much as I’m thinking that I’m out of luck today, I somehow manage not to make contact with the reef, and feeling extremely grateful as the set subsides, I climb back onto my board and scramble out through the tiny gap at the end of the Temple’s shelf. Whew! Made it across the inside shelf without damage… and feeling pretty lucky to have done so. Now, to get across the outside shelf

From where I am, there’s just too much water running down the reef to make my way back up to the top of the Temple so I have no choice but to make my way out across the bombie shelf. Experience has taught me, even at the best of times, that this is a fairly futile exercise, but I don’t really have a choice. And so I start plowing my way out. Sure enough, the ocean is relentless today, and as set after set pounds the bombie shelf, I cop another beating all the way across. By the time there’s finally a lull in the sets, I’ve been washed 750 metres down the reef and am almost in front of the outside corner take-off. In between the bombie and outside corner there is a small gap in the reef that I’ve slipped through countless times over the years. Head down, I paddle for it with all I’ve got because even though there’s a lull, I can see another set looming outside…

But there’s so much water moving down the reef that even paddling as hard as I can on my 8’0”, I’m very quickly getting dragged past the gap and into the the outside corner impact zone. Getting caught in the impact zone of triple-overhead outside corner is not my idea of fun, especially after copping two beatings already. And here comes that set…. aaaargh!

As usual, the first wave of the set is smaller, and I just get over the shoulder of it, but the second wave is solid. I paddle with everything I’ve got, as much to avoid the beating as to avoid being dragged another 500 metres down the reef that getting caught inside will entail.

Thankfully, the ocean gives me a reprieve and I make it over the rest of the set. But now I’m almost a kilometre from where I started and still need to paddle about 750 metres to get back up to the bombie take-off…

It ends up being a pretty tough day at the bombie. It’s not the biggest I’ve surfed it, but it’s certainly one of the most difficult. The swell’s coming in hard and fast and the bigger sets are almost impossible to catch. By the end of the session, I’ve spent five hours in the water, caught just two waves and paddled almost 5 kilometres. That’s a lot of work for two waves…

But hey, beats watching tv, right?

Surfing World