Bali Surf Coach: Swallowing Seawater and Prejudice in Uluwatu with ripper Mega Semadhi

Insider tips from the Uluwatu line up.

On a sunny day of May, Uriel and I met with Mega Semadhi for a surf coaching session in Uluwatu.  It was a sunny, glassy Friday morning, and Ulu was welcoming a nice head-high swell. Shredders of all sizes, shapes, and styles had answered the call of Bali’s crown jewel. 

We walked down Ulu’s stairs with our brand new coach, and it felt like following a rockstar backstage. Or a campaigning mayor, maybe. We had to stop every ten feet as he greeted a friend, a fellow ripper, some kids hanging out in the warungs. “Hey Mega” here and there, a few handshakes, daps, and fist-bumps, a couple shakas. Mega is popular, and that’s an understatement. 

We stopped in a warung to get ready. You know the drill: wax your board, drink a coffee, watch some rippers rip, get super impatient… Call it kook pride, but at this point, I wasn’t expecting much from the coaching part. I mean, I knew my flaws; watching them on camera with Mega stating the obvious wasn’t gonna change my life, was it?

I was gonna have time not to think about it as we finally paddled out, and the same scene – fist-bump, shaka, handshake, “Yo Mega,” shaka, dap – took place every ten strokes. I usually don’t dig Ulu’s snake-eat-snake vibe much. This time, it felt good; family-like. When you paddle in the wake of Bali’s surfing elite, the line-up suddenly feels all warm and friendly. 

I mean friendly-ish: Racetrack was the usual weaseling mess, The Peak had 5 barrel junkies playing “who will pop up the most inside” on every ripple, and, from afar, temples didn’t look much more appealing. So we paddled to the infamous “Ain’t” in-between Peak and Temples. Why “Ain’t”? Well, that’s how the older dudes affectionately nicknamed it, as it ain’t peak nor Temples. They also call it “Deepshit,” and I’ll let you guess why.

Needless to say, I’d basically never surfed “Deepshit/Ain’t” before. Unless current took me there, and Lady Laziness let it happen. 

Needless to say, I wasn’t stoked much. This break is so inconsistent, it has no official consecrated title. Plus, Deepshit… Come on… Ok, I hear you; Impossibles turns out to be possible. Secrets is not much of one. But what good can come out of Deepshit, aka Ain’t? 

I’ll spare you the suspense: a lot of good. Not only did I get a (deep)shit load of waves, I actually got good ones under Mega’s exhortations and advice. Trust the ones in the know. We surfed for a good three hours while he was watching us. Or over us.

As I told you before, I wasn’t too sure about coaching. I’m a proud kook. I know my flaws (or I think I know): I paddle like a pensioner, my pop-up’s too slow, I look downstairs and tend to forget setting a line… Spoiler: debriefing with Mega is a game-changer. How? That’s coach-coachee privilege. Let’s just say he has an eye for it. 

“How come?” You may ask. Long story short, Mega was born in Bingin, started surfing 20 years ago, became a pro, and won the Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang twice. Now, he coaches the local groms, the Chinese Olympic team, and whoever feels like hacking their own kook reflexes.

Bali Surf Coach
Mega, eyes on the prize.

As we liked hanging out with Mega, we asked him out on a date with us, a camera, and its weary tripod. So, a few days later, we got to bombard him with enough questions to make his cappuccino go cold before he got a chance to have a sip. Here’s how it went:

So, Mega, what’s your surf story? How did you start?

I started surfing when I was 10, thanks to my uncle. He was my mentor; he gave me the spark and kept encouraging me. Every afternoon after school, I’d grab my board and walk straight to Bingin. My older brother also surfed with me, and we explored Bali spots together. At some point, my uncle enrolled me in local contests for groms. That’s how I started competing, and I quickly got a taste for it!

What’s your best surf memory?

The most obvious choice would be winning The Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang for the first time in 2013. Victory tastes amazing! But my actual best memory is surfing the Mentawais with my brother on a boat trip for 10 days. It was paradise!

You’re an accomplished surfer and surf coach. Any dream for the future?

Yes! I want to see my protegees become WSL athletes. All of them! (Laughs)

As I wanna give the illusion I’m a pro, I did a bit of research and learned you are destined to be a Balinese spiritual leader. Are you becoming a priest anytime soon?

(Laughs) I’m very lucky to be chosen. Being a priest is not a job; it’s a duty. And it’s hard. But I don’t feel wise enough at the moment… (Laughing)

Speaking of, what would you say is the ocean’s wisdom?

Surfing taught me everything I know; it’s a simple as that. It’s a way of praying. I believe you have to connect with the ocean because the wave chooses us. We don’t choose the wave. I learned that when I was a grom. When you’re a kid, you just want the best wave, the best shot, to be in the magazines. You have no idea about wisdom and respecting the ocean. It’s a learning process. The life-long kind.

Great minds think alike! I was gonna ask you about the kids. How is coaching them going?

I have 7 at the moment. Let’s say… it makes you feel young again. (Laughs) It’s… fun. Really fun! They love to improve, and they progress so fast! But yeah, kids will be kids, you know: some listen, some don’t. Some are too busy distracting and teasing the others! (Laughs) They’re great. Surf-wise, they’re even amazing! A huge pool of talent… With the pandemic, they don’t go much to school at the moment, so they spend a lot of time in the water. It’s bad and good, I guess. Silver lining kind of thing. They improve every day, and we have the waves, we have the structures: nothing can stop them!

What about the current generation? Can the Indonesian pros knock John John and Gabriel Medina out of the podium?

We do have great athletes, world-class surfers: Branson Maidi, Rio Waida, etc. Too bad there’s no competition at the moment. Plus, as Indonesian athletes, traveling for the qualifiers is complicated. But things are slowly getting better. For 2 years now, the Indonesian government helps us financially.

Ok, let’s talk about the surf itself: what’s the most common mistake you see in the water?

That’s an easy one: people get too excited. You have to work with the wave, read it, “listen to it.” It’s always changing. But people want snaps and barrels. If you’re not in sync with the wave, it’s not gonna work.

Bali Surf Coach
Mega hitting the lip.

Any tips for our sexy readers?

Sure! First, listen to your coach! (Laughs). I mean, if you have one. Your coach is always right. Then, don’t be afraid. (or embrace the fear, link to Shannon). That’s especially true in Bukit because waves here are cheeky, you know.  And last, have a good vibe. That’s the most important actually: be present, just happy to be in the water. If you have that positive vibe in the ocean, the wave will pick you.

Sweet. Any tips on surfing your home spot: Bingin? And I’m not paddling out there anytime soon, but what about Padang?

Bingin’s tricky on a good day, and Padang is even harder! Sometimes I get lucky with my timing, and the window is right. But if I go, everyone is gonna follow me. (Laughs)

Ok, let’s get serious for a second: what’s your take on the pandemic in Bali?

It’s good and bad, I guess. On one hand, the economic downfall is obvious: people lost their job. On the other, people get to reconnect, spend more time with family. And, as I said, kids get to spend more time in the ocean. 

What do you think about Bali tourism? Was it too much before covid?

You know, in Bali, we try to keep a balance with everything. Bali is not cheap anymore. You make more money, and you spend more money. In 2019, everything moved forward so fast but, in Bali, we have a very strong community; that’s not gonna change, whatever happens with tourism. We always say: “We are Balinese.” It’s a big pride for us.

A word about the environmental situation in Bali? Any advice?

To be honest, I think we’re going in the right direction. People are getting more conscious; they throw less rubbish, waste management is improving, supported by the local government. So what to do? Well, it’s super simple: stop using plastic, be more careful and conscious. Even from a selfish perspective: as surfers, we don’t wanna paddle in plastic anyway. We just need more people on board; step by step, the word will spread. But yeah, it’s going the right way. As you know (I didn’t), each village has its own regulations. Last year, heads of Pecatu prohibited plastic for offerings. People are improving, little by little.

Ok, last question and it might be the most important one: if I come to surf Bingin with you, will you give me waves?

Sure! (Laughs)

Thank you so much, Mega.

Thank you. See you in the water!

surf coaching bali
Surf Coaching WE – one morning with Mega.

Indo Surf Crew

Indo Surf Crew was first born in the year 2018 as a surf photo & video content creative project while the first surf coaching trip organised by Uriel & Rodrigo happened in 2019 on an island off Sumatra. Since then, they have been running surf coaching retreats for all levels and mostly specialise in surf coaching for intermediate to advanced surfers. Surfing Consciously is our motto. To us it means, bringing awareness to our body, thoughts and interactions – in and out of the water. We take pride in working with eco surf resorts that are acting responsibly in preserving Indonesia’s nature, supporting and educating local communities. Indo Surf Crew was founded by Uriel Jean Armel, a French surfer and film-maker who has taken roots in Indonesia. You can read more about Uriel here, on an interview with Magicseaweed & here during an interview with the Surfing copywriter. As for Rodrigo, he was the first surf coach to join Uriel in his adventure and he’s the founder of the Power Surf techniques – a method that is now practiced internationally to train surf athletes from all over. Power Surf is a land based practice that combines ginastica natural, yoga, capoeira and martial arts, breaking town the fundamental surf techniques through a series of exercises. It also involves video analysis a skate practice for optimal result, which we do during our surf coaching trips.

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