This review was written in the summer of 2019 following our stay at Kima in June 2019. It stayed unpublished until now but I have decided, despite pandemic restrictions for travelling to Bali that it may be useful to those starting to think about travelling a little further afield. Since writing this Kima Surf opened a camp in Sri Lanka which I imagine would have similar vibes to Kima Bali and also be a lot of fun.
The palms cast soft shadows on the pool as they sway gently in the night breeze. It is not late – just past 10 pm – but a gentle hum of still tropical night hangs over Kima’s Surf Camp; all the guests have already gone to bed. We are greeted to the Canggu camp by friendly staff with fresh coconuts and cool face clothes. After 27 hours of travelling, it is all we could ask for.
We have come to Kima to surf the (in)famous warm Balinese waves. In truth, we are a little nervous about choosing a surf camp. We are looking to surf our brains out, and worry the camp will have too much of a party vibe. The arrival in Kima was therefore hugely reassuring. The camp was already asleep at 10pm because everyone was getting up before sunlight to go surfing.
Let’s start with a brief note on location. There are several Kima Surf Camps dotted over the island of Bali. We chose the Canggu one as it is reputed for having a slightly older guest demographic. Canggu is a sprawling town built along a number of long roads that until recently were rice fields. Still considered (at time of writing) one of the hippest places to go in Bali, with a laid back vibe and truly excellent food, it is nonetheless undergoing radical development and has perhaps outgrown its paddy field borders faster than anticipated. It is busy with pedestrians, scooters and cars, but unlike Seminyak and Kuta, does not really have the infrastructure such as pavements, pedestrian crossings or traffic lights.
Canggu is a centre for excellent food from all corners of the world. Along the roads are innumerable restaurants, cafés, bars and spas, all eco friendly, organic, plastic fighting. You can eat extremely well in Canggu, the food is modern, exquisitely executed and varied.
For shopping, Canggu presents a host of boutique shops with locally produced high quality modern clothes. With the exception of the big surf brands (all of whom are present) there are no large chain shops in Canggu; everyone is selling something different, although admittedly all heavily geared towards the instagram generation.
Kima Surf’s location is perfect to benefit from all Canggu has to offer while not being in the centre of it. The camp is almost on the beach, which makes the early morning surf sessions easy to get to, and you are not more than 15 minutes walk away from anywhere you would really want to go. The camp itself is beautiful, featuring a kidney shaped swimming pool surrounded by palms, wood clad paths leading to a covered outdoor eating area. It is everything you could hope for from a Bali retreat, the perfect mixture of modern polished stone (slippy when wet) and bamboo.
Food is next level delicious, with a selection of local and western dishes that are all prepared exquisitely and very reasonably priced. Breakfast is included when you stay at Kima, and depending on your room you can get the Standard Breakfast or the Deluxe Breakfast. Both are copious, with the Deluxe being too big for anyone but the hungriest. If you are surfing on a ‘day trip’ (more on these later) and as a result miss breakfast, you are given a voucher for lunch instead, so you are always guaranteed one meal a day.
There are a selection of rooms at the Canggu camp, ranging from 6 person dorms to what is essentially a villa with a private pool. We elected to stay in the Deluxe Room, which was nicely sized, on the ground floor with a large bed, AC and an outdoor (very private) bathroom. The dorm rooms are not actually located on the camp itself but 200m up the road, although the camp is of course open to dorm room occupants. Kima has done a lovely job of providing various accommodations to suit all budgets while still making sure everyone is included in the day to day activities. Rooms are cleaned every day, and just before dusk a man passes through the rooms spraying them with bug spray (unless you ask him not to) to keep mosquitoes at bay. Above the bed are hooks to easily hang a mosquito net should you wish, we brought our own but you can also borrow them from the front desk.
The camp has several relaxation areas, where you can be as social or not as you want. Every evening at 19.00 there is a video analysis of the days surfing which people can choose to attend or not. Each Friday there is a barbecue that is open to all on the camp (you just have to sign up). There is optional yoga, should you want to attend. Nothing is obligatory, you could attend the camp for a month and not surf once if you wanted, but everything is available and easy to join if you wish. This flexibility was one of the things I particularly liked about the camp.
The surfing is divided into star levels, which quite roughly, in my own words, breakdown as :
1 star : Surfing in the white water
2 star : Surfing green waves but being pushed into them by the guides
3 star : Catching green waves yourself
4 star : Surf bigger green waves and perform maneuvers
5 star : Be a really good surfer
6 star : Be a genius surfer
Officially, the surf sessions are not ‘classes’ but ‘guides’ and these are the ratings for the guided sessions, however people who had never touched a surfboard before can also, at an additional cost, take beginner lessons, before moving on to the 1 star level.
Guests are expected to evaluate their surfing based on a chart and place themselves accordingly. This is perhaps the first criticism I could give of the set up. The more I surf, the more I realise that I am only a learner (personally I think it takes rather a lot of years to move beyond learner status, but I digress). This left me unsure if I was level 2 or 3. Because I had no idea what sort of waves I would be surfing (fast or slow, steep, mellow, hollow…), I erred on the side of caution and opted for a level 2 group. As a result I did not push myself as much as I could and perhaps should have.
Multiple surf sessions head out each day, at least one class for each level, and several on the more popular levels. The surf schedule is released two days in advance, and guests sign up to the sessions they want to attend. When you arrive at Kima you sign up to a members only website where you create a profile with username and password. Once your profile is created, you can log onto the website from a specially designated tablet in the eating area or your phone. The website shows you the list of upcoming sessions where you see the time, star level, persons already attending, if there will be a camera man and the name of the surf guide. You then click the ‘sign up’ button, which registers you immediately. You cannot register for two clashing sessions on one day, so double bookings cannot occur. This sign up mechanism is pretty genius, ultra easy to use and worked flawlessly.
There are two types of session that head out each morning (predawn); the single sessions and day trips. Single sessions usually take place near the camp and last approximately two hours. You come back to the camp on time for breakfast and can then head out for an afternoon session if you wish. Day trips tend to go a little further away from the camp. On day trips, you surf in the early morning for about two hours, have breakfast on the beach and head back into the water for another hour or two. You usually come back to the camp (depending on traffic) for a late lunch time, where you are given a voucher to have lunch as breakfast is missed.
The sessions that head out are always small, and this is probably the most fantastic thing about Kima Surf. We were never more than 5 in a group, and there was always two guides to one session, sometimes three. This meant that at times we had a coach per person in the water, and never more than three people to a coach. For both safety and progress, this is amazing.
The guidance and analysis
Kima Surf offers video analysis every evening, where a guide reviews the surfing of individuals from various groups who went out that day. Some of the guides are better at this analysis than others, but when a particularly knowledgeable guide did the sessions there was huge amounts to learn and a lot of food for thought.
The video analysis is nice as you can take the footage home with you should you wish, and seeing your surfing is a surefire way to spot mistakes and see how well you are actually doing. Don’t expect high quality videos, they use a handheld video recorder and film from the beach, so the shots can be quite blurry and some cameramen were considerably better than others.
With regards to the coaches, again, some were better than others but for the most part they were all excellent. They were able to give clear feedback both in the water and out, were extremely knowledgeable about the different breaks and brought lots of energy to the sessions. As I only attended level 2, the coaches expected to push me into the waves. The better coaches were able to identify the waves I did not need to be pushed on, and instead offered me feedback on my paddling, timing and wave selection. This was a flexibility that I appreciated greatly, as surf guiding is more than just pushing boards into waves.
Surf sessions start extremely early at Kima. Almost all vans heading to different spots will have left by 6am, and on multiple occasions we were at the beach before it was bright enough to even paddle out. While this may sound awful, the extremely early rises were surprisingly easy, and there was a particular magic to arriving at an entirely empty beach before the sun has graced the horizon, where the sound of the waves and the glow of the moon are your sense stimulation.
This is just a brief note on equipment. Kima has done an excellent job of catering to all levels, from complete beginners (the majority of the attendees) to highly accomplished surfers. Their equipment reflects this wide spectrum of ability, with massive tank like 8ft foamies and tiny, pointy high end boards all available. They also pair with Awayco, so you can reserve your particular board before you arrive. All the equipment needs to be rented, there are no packages that include boards with the stay and the more expensive boards are reserved for surfers with considerable ability.
As mentioned before, Kima has a range of rooms that cover all budgets, although even the cheaper options are on the pricier side for Bali. The price of the room includes breakfast, surf guided sessions and theory and airport drop off (if you stay more than 5 nights). Slightly frustratingly, there were little ‘add-ons’ that needed to be booked on top of the room, including the surfboard rental and insurance and a fee to cover use of the drinking water. These are not large things, but automatically including them in the price would make you feel less like you are being ripped off (especially when it comes to drinking water). Drinking water is sold under the Kima Surf water bottle label on the website, which if you have no water bottle is an absolutely fantastic initiative as it reduces plastic consumption considerably, especially in tropical conditions. However, as we already had our own reusable bottles, we needed to spend the same price upon arrival simply to use the water which I absolutely do not object to, but think they should just factor into the price and leave it at that.
Kima Surf market themselves as the finest Bali surf camp and while you would need to stay at rather a lot of camps to definitively prove the statement, what can be said is that this is a damn fine surf camp. The owner of Kima is Swiss, and things run glitch free to the standard you would expect from anything Swiss. There is almost nothing to fault about a stay here, and you could as easily come for your honeymoon as for a leg of your gap year. It is perhaps worth noting that most of your fellow camp goers are going to be German or at the very least German speaking, so as an Anglophone you will likely find yourself in the minority.
Particular highlights of Kima are the excellent food and great staff. The surf spots you can go to are varied and offer a good opportunity to explore the island as you surf. Yoga, which I have not mentioned because I did not attend it, is also included in the stay, as are bicycle rentals. If you want to organise day trips Kima can do so at reasonable cost.
Perhaps the largest endorsement of Kima Surf is the number of people who looked to extend their stay once they had arrived. A number of guests ended up room hopping as they simply did not want to leave. Bali is a famous surfing destination, and paddling into the lineup alone is intimidating. Kima, with their entirely local and highly experienced surf guides remove the intimidation factor to allow you to simply focus on the surfing.
Surf camps are not for everyone, but Kima does a great job of being for most.