Of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, Bali certainly gets more than its fair share of attention — but with good reason. It hits the sweet spot for travellers seeking surfing, relaxation, amazingly fresh food, friendly people and spiritual culture, all in a relatively easy-to-access location. COMO Uma Canggu, opened just last year, is one of the latest additions to the thriving wellness scene, and has recently launched a new expert-led surf retreat with world-champion surfer Sally Fitzgibbons. On a recent trip to Bali, Natalie Söderström checked into COMO Uma Canggu to take to the water for her first ever surf session, and try out the new exclusive surfing retreat in Bali’s favourite surfing neighbourhood…
Canggu is Bali’s trendiest hipster area right now, and there are no issues finding colourful smoothie bowls and boutique healthy cafes in this neighbourhood. COMO Uma Canggu sits 200 metres from Echo Beach, a popular surf spot for newbies and advanced surfers alike, and offers panoramic views of the ocean. A little along the coast to the West is Tanah’s Lot, and to East is The Lawn, one of Bali’s most popular beach clubs and sunset bars. It’s lively and buzzing, in a very chilled out and laid-back kind of way that puts you immediately into ‘Island Mode’.
Just a 60-minute drive to Ngurah Rai International Airport, our pickup was arranged by COMO Uma Canggu, and after a smooth pickup, we arrived at our destination.
A combination of over 100 ocean-view rooms, suites, and residences, one of COMO Uma Canggu’s main assets is its beachside location: less than a five-minute walk away, Echo Beach is on your doorstep for surfing, swimming and beautiful sunsets.
The resort features a large gym, two Pilates studios and two yoga studios for both scheduled and independent workouts, with a variety of Life Fitness equipment and TRX-like ‘Jungle Sports’ studio. The lobby is connected to a cute retail shop for any last-minute purchases or holiday essentials you’ve forgotten to bring; adjacent to the lobby is the COMO Shambhala Spa, COMO’s eponymous wellness brand where all the massages, facials and spa therapies take place.
No Bali resort would be complete without a stunning swimming pool, and COMO Uma Canggu has two: one surrounded by lush greenery close to the hotel rooms, and a second one overlooking the beach. It’s these tropical gardens surrounding the property that create a feeling of privacy, which was surprising considering the lively parties and beach activities taking place just minutes away. The resort boasts its own beach club, which is also where meals are served.
One of the highlights of the COMO Resort experience was the staff: from airport pickup to the dining rooms to the hotel reception, they were all wonderfully attentive ensured we were looked after whatever the issue. I was feeling a bit cold and sick after the flight to Bali, and as soon as check-in was done they sent hot ginger tea up to my room which was such a considerate gesture.
The resort is also open as a hotel and also have permanent residents staying, so there will be other guests around other than the wellness retreat participants. Since the property is big, you never feel that there are a lot of people around and there was never an issue getting a sunbed by the pool—although, the layout means that despite the size, you’ll never walk more than five minutes to get to where you need to be.
One thing to note is that the resort is very child-friendly: perfect for families, but if you’re looking for an adults-only break or quiet retreat, this might not be your cup of tea.
At COMO Uma Canggu, accommodation is offered in three grades: rooms, suites and multi-room residences. The ultimate indulgence is one of the 12 duplex COMO Penthouse, a luxe 400-square-metre three-bedroom apartment with incredible ocean views, private butler service, and its very own 10-metre private rooftop pool.
The rooms are a good size, with a large bathroom and private terrace or patio facing the ocean—every room has more or less has a view of the water, and the Lagoon Residences are situated right next to one of the two swimming pools for easy access. Each en-suite contains a big bathtub that comes with COMO Shambhala bath salts, which is the perfect way to finish off a day on the surfboard. There was a small kitchen area if you want to make your own food or have snacks in the fridge.
As standard, every room includes a yoga mat for personal practice, COMO Shambhala bathroom amenities, WiFi, and Egyptian Cotton bed sheets for a relaxing night’s sleep.
The emphasis on healthy food at COMO Uma Canggu is easy to spot. Served at the COMO Beach Club, the breakfast buffet offers a great selection of healthy juices and fresh fruits, and an à la carte menu for the mornings you feel like something more substantial. The lunch and dinner menu carry a broad selection of local dishes and international favourites to satisfy all tastebuds, with a distinct ‘elevated surf shack’ vibe.
As it’s a holiday resort for non-retreat guests too, things like burgers, fries and French toast are available too, but the focus on healthier ingredients and the array of options for any kind of dietary restrictions makes these unhealthy distractions less of an issue. The in-house COMO juice bar, Glow, offers up the nutritious COMO Shambhala Cuisine which focusses more heavily on detox and light wellness dishes.
On the surf programme, only breakfast was included in the standard programme, but a full COMO Shambhala cuisine programme for detox or weight management can be worked out for you on request; or, take the opportunity to explore some of the delicious healthy cafes nearby.
While visiting COMO Uma Canggu, I took part in an abbreviated version of the ‘Surf & Immerse’ women’s surfing retreat. The full programme splits its time between COMO Uma Canggu on the coast for four nights of surfing and yoga, and then goes inland for the final three nights at the brand’s sister property in Ubud, COMO Shambhala Estate for more mindfulness and spa activities. I did the first part of this programme, spending four nights at COMO Uma Canggu for surfing and yoga.
The Surf & Immerse retreat is run by professional surfer Sally Fitzgibbons, one of the world’s top professional surfers and currently ranked third in the Women’s World Surf League. The retreat includes a mixture of surfing sessions with Sally and the internationally renowned TropicSurf team, along with yoga sessions and spa therapies.
What I loved about this retreat is that it’s for women only, which means everything is tailored for the female body: how to work out, train and strengthen specifically as a woman, rather than a general catch-all for men and women, whose physiques vary greatly when it comes to sport. The limited number of participants mean that the programme is personalised according to your needs, and it’s suitable for all abilities whether you’re a beginner or already an experienced surfer here to improve your technique.
Being guided by someone like Sally who’s paving the wave in the surf world for women gives you nothing but feelings of empowerment, determination and enthusiasm. The bonding and sharing experience in this safe female-strong community is strengthened by learning new skills together in this beautiful setting. The first lesson starts off on the ground, learning how to stand and get up on a board. Later on, you’ll move into the hotel pool with the boards to get the idea of what it feels like to stand up in the water. When you finally feel ready, it’s time to hit the waves—if it’s your first time, get ready to be taken out of your comfort zone. There’s nothing like the feeling of riding that first wave though, and with the support of Sally and the TropicSurf team, you’re in good hands.
The full version of this retreat runs from November 2nd to 9th 2019, and it’s the only one planned so far—the timing is perfect, as, in spite of the year-round surfing season, it’s off-peak season meaning fewer crowds on the beaches.
Expect to feel re-energised. Being active outdoors in beautiful surroundings resets the mind like nothing else, and the elements of being physically active together with more calming wellness activities like yoga leave you balanced in both mind and body.
This retreat is for anyone that loves to be active, but maybe also needs to work on being calm and chilled out which can so easily be forgotten in our busy everyday lives. Go in with a curious and open mind, and embrace the challenges you’ll be presented with physically and mentally, knowing that you have a great support system behind you. The mental benefits of surfing have been proven to reduce both stress and tension, so it’s a win-win for anyone who is both restless and in need of a little zen.
Balancing out the surfing is yoga sessions in the on-site studio and treatments at the COMO Shambhala Spa: the massage included in the retreat was a little slice of heaven, and I’m pretty sure everyone comes back at least once, maybe even twice. The dual locations on the full programme provide you with a yin-and-yang affair, with the lively beachfront and active surf retreat, followed by a zen jungle escape.
Being a total beginner at surfing and a moderate swimmer, I have to admit, I was a little hesitant at first—but, I have a weak spot for a good adventure and anything that’s new excites me. I wasn’t a surfing pro by the end, but the retreat left me hungry to go at it again. As with anything, the more we practice, the better we get, and surfing isn’t an exception. For once my stubbornness and attitude of not giving up really helped me. My top tip is: be ready to give it all you’ve got, allow yourself to be inspired, and grow mentally stronger.