Crushing my Surfing Dreams in Pangandaran, Indonesia

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Pangandaran was originally on our Java itinerary as a mere night’s stopover on the way to Batu Karas, but after staying a night and realising that Pangandaran had everything we were looking for, we decided to extend our stay and enjoy the three nights we had up our sleeve in one spot.

“Everything’ I was looking for was simply a beach with surfing lessons, suitable for beginners, and thats more or less what I got.

I’d been hanging out to learn how to surf since the beginning of the year, when we started planning for our trip to Costa Rica in May. Unfortunately, while we were there my back was injured in a particular tandem waterslide incident and I was unable to fulfil my dreams of becoming a pro surfer. When my back improved and we made our plans to visit Bali my surfing dreams re-emerged, only to be quashed again after arriving in Kuta and watching approximately a million people leaning how to surf right in front of me, constantly falling off their boards.

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There was no way I was making a fool of myself learning to surf in front of this many people. Nuh-uh. A quick consult in my trusty Lonely Planet pointed me to Java’s southern beaches for more secluded surf and also significantly cheaper lessons, and thus Pangandaran became part of our route.

Pangandaran is an interesting place. Its a town on a small peninsular, with ocean on either side and a national park at one end.

On one side the ocean laps a nice beach. I say ‘nice’ because thats what it is. Look, its really nothing special compared to Bali’s spectacular beaches. But its nice enough and certainly adequate for what a beach should provide.

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On the other side the ocean meets a rocky wall, infested with rats, fish guts and rubbish. This is the working side of the beach, where the fishermen come into harbour and fish are laid out to be sold or to dry. It certainly smells like it, thats for sure!

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There were some activities on this side of the peninsular, like banana boating, but, uh, that didn’t appeal to us too much given the fishy odour and amount of rotting litter everywhere. There were seafood restaurants on this side of town, but unfortunately these too didn’t appeal.

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I don’t paint the most beautiful picture of Pangandaran, but its actually a very pleasant destination for a relaxing few days. Pangandaran is quite a touristy beach but interestingly much more so with local tourists rather than foreigners. It is a popular place for apartment-dwellers from Jakarta or other nearby big cities for a weekend getaway.

Pangandaran was relatively quiet when we were there, yet at night the small town seemed to come alive. There were tandem bikes (I’m not sure our relationship could handle a tandem bike situation?) – not just doubles, but triples, quadruples and I’m sure I saw even longer ones coasting by. Surely not particularly safe to ride in the dark at night with no helmets and no lights but hey, it’s Indonesia, so we saw a lot of that. Even more spectacular were the quadracycles decorated entirely with neon lights – it was a common sight to see a big group of happy Indonesian tourists cycling around on their blindingly bright, family-sized bike, around singing songs at the top of their lungs.

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But thats right, we were there for the surf, weren’t we! It cost a mere pittance compared to Kuta, we basically had the waves to ourselves, and our own personal instructor each. Shame my instructor couldn’t speak any English or I perhaps would have known what I was doing wrong and would have been able to stand up after what felt like a million failed attempts! Meanwhile, Alan was coasting into shore time and time again while I continuously stumbled and plunged into the sea. After a short break that included a few tears, a bottle of water and some encouragement, I bravely made my way back into the surf and managed to not only stand up but ride a few waves right into shore! Ending on a high, I momentously decided to give up on my dream of becoming a pro surfer then and there.

But I can always be cheered up by kittens! This kitten at our guesthouse became particularly fond of us and often wandered into our room unannounced or pounced and clawed for pats while we were trying to eat our breakfast.

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We considered visiting the small national park and one lazy afternoon we did wander down to the entrance, but were put off entering by the terrifying monkeys outside, and knew that there would only be more monkeys inside! We didn’t deem them unsafe until some local boys were walking past and a monkey jumped down and bounded towards them, the boys screamed and tore off in the opposite direction, and the scavenging monkey stole the kids’ drinks. If even the locals were scared of them, surely I was allowed to be! We went and ate ice cream instead.

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While I did truly enjoy our time in Pangandaran, it is one of those places that I’m not sure I’ll ever visit again. It was quite a detour off the path of our travels so meant at least 10 extra hours on a bus than if we hadn’t gone there (it took us about 8 hours squished on a minibus from Yogyakarta to Pangandaran with chickens pooping at our feet, then another 10 hours bus ride from Pangandaran to Jakarta). I tried to convince Alan I was considering we have a destination wedding there – I could totally see all of our family riding around singing at the top of their voices on neon-lit bikes! He knows me too well to fall for that one.

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Sharing our bus stations with the chickens, waiting for our ride to Jakarta

Pangandaran was nice – if you’re in the area and craving beach time it will serve you well! But if you’re looking for an immaculate beach and that clear, ‘I’m in a tropical paradise’ kind of water, it might not be Pangandaran you’re after.

Have you visited Pangandaran? Ever ridden a tandem bike?


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