Crossing the channel to Nusa Lembongan from Bali has been on my mind ever since I started Stand Up Paddling in 2008. I was always fascinated by Monte Monfore, the Bali based American who swam various channels in Indonesia to bring world attention to the underprivileged and people aflicted by disaster. He even swam from Nusa Lembongan to Bali twice.
In 2011, I first tried the channel crossing using a kite and board except I did it the other way (Lembongan to Sanur). It was fun but it felt a little like cheating as there was hardly any effort at all to make that crossing in thirty- five minutes.
After that, I always wanted to do it on muscle power on a SUP. We found out that there were very strong currents and whirlpools involved. Many boat captains we spoke with told us that we were crazy and that it would be too dangerous. That was when a plan started to hatch to make this a possibility. We would need the right conditions; good weather, a westerly wind and a safety boat.
The window for favorable conditions in Bali is limited to the period from December to March. It was looking like it was not going to happen this season when a friend, Chris Sampson, owner of “The Power of Now Oasis, Yoga Studio” came to the rescue with the safety boat component for the trip. Chris is also a representative of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Soceity, Bali Chapter. His sixty foot sailing yacht would be perfect to support our adventure. It would also be a way to raise awareness of the ocean’s pollution and protection of sea mammals.
We now had everything in place for the crossing; two open ocean stand up boards and two crazy guys to paddle them…. It was time to go. We almost made the attempt towards the end of January. The winds and tides were in our favour. It all changed rapidly as the wind died and was replaced with heavy rain. So we went into stand by mode. A month went by and we were feeling like it was not going to happen….
Cyclone Rusty and ‘D Day’ had arrived. The weather forecast was favourable again. 25th February saw Komang Pande (our instructor at my Stand Up Paddle Surf School) and I on the beach in front of Oasis Yoga Studios with winds gusting to twenty five knots and a clear sunny sky.
At 10:30 o’clock, Chris and his crew of the fabulous yacht were waiting in the channel of the Hyatt Reef with my father Claudio onboard as official photographer.
Komang and I jumped on our Jimmy Lewis 12’ 6” boards and we were on our way. We knew from nautical charts and Google Earth that the distance from Sanur to the beach on Lembongan would be approximately 20 Km.
During training, the 1.5 Km from the beach to the middle of the channel of the Hyatt Reef took me 18 minutes. That morning, I did it in 10 minutes. Things were looking good!
In the lagoon, the going was easy as there was no adverse effects from the wind . It started to change the minute we exited the lagoon. The direction of wind and current really messed up the surface of the sea making it extremely difficult to stay on our board. Fortunately, this only lasted a few hundred meters. After a few wet moments, we got out of the mess.
This however was the start of my troubles. When I fell and the wind flipped my board, I noticed that I had snapped my fin and that it was hanging on by the pin. I could not paddle back 2 Km into the wind for a new fin nor could I ask the rescue crew to bring me back as that would take too much time. As the board was still manoevrable, I stuck the fin in and kept going. We were going at a good pace and in an hour, we made it to the halfway mark.
SUPing in strong wind is definitely different. One does not need to paddle too hard. It is more about trying to stay on the board and paddle along. Conditions were tough and a swell started to build making it more difficult to stay on our boards. We were surfing the rolling swell very much like surfing a regular wave. A few paddle strokes and we were on the wave. I was even able to surf some rollers for up to 50 meters.
Thing started to get a bit more complicated when I suddenly lost my fin. One hour and twenty minutes into the crossing and it became a real challenge to control my board. I managed to get a piece of rope which I tied to the back of my board hoping that it would help me to steer my board. I learnt this trick from windsurfing but it did not really help me in this instance. The drag from the rope really started to slow me down but I was not going to give up. After an hour like this, I made some progress but Komang (he tried to go as slow as possible to keep with me) was getting further and further away.
I was paddling on my knees trying to make up speed but my knees started to bleed from the friction against the deck pad. I resorted to sitting and paddling like a kayak but I quickly grew tired. My back started to ache and I switched paddling positions from sitting to standing but kept falling. My body was protesting with every paddle stroke and climbing back on was a huge effort.
In the mean time, Komang was getting further and further away. It showed two hours and fifteen minutes on my watch when I gave up from sheer exaustion. It was one of the things which we agreed on; that we would stick together. I jumped on the yacht’s tender and we went after Komang. I was only 2 Km from Lembongan when I got on the boat. We caught up with Komang after 10 minutes.
Coming close to the Komang, we could see that he was battling a current which was pulling him away from Lembongan. He was only about a Kilometer from the beach but the current was pulling him away. We were being pulled by the current towards Lombok. Komang tried his best but he could not make any headway and he had to give up and join me in the tender.
The swells were too high for us to board the yacht so we had to be towed to the anchor point. Wind and waves were so strong that we took 30 minutes to make the last kilometer under full power.
Once in the bay, we got on board the yacht and just lay down for a while. After some drink and some food, it was time to make our way back to Sanur. The sea state was so bad that we could not head directly back. We had to keep on a heading towards Padang Bay to keep in the shelter of the Island of Bali. We left Lembongan around 14:30 and only got back to Serangan Harbour at 18:00. It was a hard three and a half hours of battling wind and waves. Phew were we happy to be back.
We were back, alive and safe. Will I try it again? Hmmm…. I do not think so. After trying it, I may now agree with those boat captains about the impossibility of making it. It may be possible with a North Westerly wind heading first towards Nusa Penida and then riding the current into the bay of Lembongan. Maybe… but I will leave it for the next adventurer to attempt it. For me, next on my list: White Water River Stand Up Paddling. Catch you soon….
About me: Born in Italy in 1966 I’m resident in Bali for more than 15 years. Been a watersport enthusiast since I was a kid I found that Bali is the perfect place for me to live. I own a Surf shop in Sanur call “Kite & Surf Bali – The Pro Shop” specialized in Kitesurfing and Stand Up Paddle Surfing and also Bali Stand Up Paddle School.
A huge thanks to our friends and sponsors that made this adventure possible:
– O’Neill water wear that supplied us with rashes, hat and super comfortable board shorts.
– Chris of “The Power of Now Oasis, Yoga Studio” for letting us using his boat and being our safety crew. If you are into Yoga you need to visit them on the beach at Sanur. His Yoga studio offer Yoga with a view of the ocean! For more informations: www.powerofnowoasis.com
– Swimmer Monte Monfore infos: www.monteswimmer.com