Expansive left-breaking wave located on the southwest corner of Bali's Bukit Peninsula; the first in a near-endless chain of perfect Indonesian reef waves discovered by traveling surfers from the early '70s to present day.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu ("Temple Above the Final Stone") is the name of the Balinese cliffside temple overlooking the break; Uluwatu is best from May to October, as Indian Ocean winter storms generate consistent four- to eight-foot swells—broken up by the occasional 10- to 12- footer—which are groomed as they reach shore by Bali's reliable southeast tradewinds.
Uluwatu's sweeping, coral-covered lava reef has three main sections: 1) Outside Corner, a shifty wave located farthest out to sea, is best on lower tides, starts breaking at six feet, can hold form up to 15 feet, and sometimes produces rides up to 300 yards long. 2) The Peak, or Inside Corner, is the main surfing area, located just in front of a beach-access cave, and features a shifting set of peaks when the waves are between three and six feet. 3) Racetrack, further inside, is Uluwatu's five-star section; a long, fast, hollow wave that gets bigger as it coils and spits down the reef. Racetrack requires a mid-sized swell and mid-range tide.
Decades years of international fame, plus the break's proximity to tourist-magnat Kuta Beach, make for a crowded lineup at Uluwatu, often with up to 100 visiting and local surfers out at a time. Sharks and sea snakes have been spotted here, but the primary hazard here is a dangerously shallow reef at lower tides, particularly along the Racetrack section.
While Uluwatu may have been surfed in the late '60s by visiting American and Australia GIs, its well-documented "discovery" took place in August 1971, when Aussie surf moviemaker Alby Falzon arrived with 14-year-old Steve Cooney of Sydney and former top-rated California surfer Rusty Miller; Falzon filmed the two riding perfect four- to eight-foot Peak and Racetrack waves for his seminal Morning of the Earth surf film. By the mid-'70s, local Balinese surfers including Ketut Menda, Made Kasim, and Gede Narmada had joined well-known visitors such as Gerry Lopez, Peter McCabe, and Jim Banks in Uluwatu's aquamarine lineup, and photos of the break were a regular feature in surf magazines.
California surfer Bob Laverty drowned while surfing Uluwatu in 1972, just a few days after he led the first surfing expedition to Grajagan, on the neighboring island of Java. The 1980 OM Bali Pro, won by Terry Fitzgerald, was the first surf contest held at Uluwatu; the event returned the following two years. It continues to be the site of regional amateur and professional events.
Uluwatu has been featured in dozens of surf films and videos, including Free Ride (1977), Bali High (1981), The Sons of Fun (1993), Year of the Tiger (1999), and Ulu 32 (2003); the wave is detailed in a number of guidebooks, including Indo Surf and Lingo (1992), Surfing Indonesia (1999), and The Stormrider Surf Guide: Indonesia and the Indian Ocean (2011).
Surfing magazine in 1989 named Uluwatu as one of the "25 Best Waves in the World," though by 2013 the break was often overshadowed on "top wave" lists by Padang Padang, a shorter, hollower wave located a few hundred yards to the north.
By 2013, the once-pristine hillside that overlooks Uluwatu was covered with hotels, condos, surf camps, restaurants and stores.