Why You Should Never Surf in a Thunderstorm
We arrived in Canggu in the late afternoon and it was dark by the time we started walking to dinner. The streets weren't lit and far less busy than Ubud but lots of scooters still hummed by. We were starving and ended up eating at a place serving Korean fast food, Kung Food. Good if you’re in to deep fried breaded sweet and sour chicken.
The next morning we wandered out for breakfast. I was set on heading to a cute cafe called Crate but when we got to their listed address we found a sign that said they had moved locations - we were too hungry at this point so we sat down at the nearby Betelnut Cafe which is apparently Canggu's institution and it was awesome, tons of healthy stuff on the menu and really strong coffee. I drink my coffee black, I love espresso, but this was my match. I ordered a coconut mylk macchiato (macchiato in Bali is usually served in a small cup so it's espresso with just a bit of steamed milk), it might've been the Bali Belly making me sensitive but damn did they just serve me burnt molasses or... Anyway, I had an awesome tofu scramble in whole wheat tortilla and Jared had a tasty classic egg and sausage breakfast.
After this we wandered down to the beach and paid 50,000rph to rent two loungers for 2 hours (100,000 was the price for the full day). What we thought was going to be a relaxing afternoon on the beach turned into a life lesson learned the hard way.
We sat in our loungers watching the surfers and politely declining women strolling up and down the beach offering 'massage? Massage?' And jewelry, sunglasses etc. Jared was quickly getting the itch to try surfing so he decided to rent a board, no lesson, and he would figure it out by himself. He can wakeboard, snowboard, and skateboard so I had confidence in him. You can easily get a two hour lesson for about 350,000rph with a board included if you're interested! Jared took to the waves amongst hundreds of other surfers and within minutes I couldn't pick him out from the rest of them.
The sky started to get darker and some rumbles of thunder could be heard. I was sitting there thinking it was kind of cool to surf in a thunder storm, dark clouds above by the sun was still shining - like a sun shower type scene.
Jared came in from the water to catch his breath and rest for about 15 minutes before going back out. The thunder and lightening was getting more frequent but no one seemed to mind and hundreds of surfers - tourists and locals were still out in the water. In hindsight I think everyone was looking around thinking "should we be out here?" but following that thought with "well everyone else seems fine so I guess it's okay".
10 minutes after Jared had gone back into the water I saw a bright flash of lightening immediately followed by the loudest bang of thunder I've ever heard in my life - it felt like the whole beach shook. After a heart skip of silence bone chilling screams started about 100 yards away near the shore. I saw people running into the water and carrying out two limp bodies, more and more people ran towards the accident. I ran to find Jared. He, along for with many others, we paddling in as hard and as fast as they could, running from the water.
We didn't want to be part of the crowd staring over the suffering humans but we could see someone performing CPR. A 34 year old man had been struck by lightening and someone near him also suffered an intense shock. An ambulance arrived but after probably close to an hour of CPR they were unable to revive the European traveller.
There was probably around 300 surfers in the water at the time of the accident and it was later reported that the victim's surf instructor was actually postponing the lesson which is why they were coming out of the water. This experience for us was a rude awakening. In Canada there would be a lifeguard, a resuscitation kit near by and probably a faster ambulance. There were no lifeguards on this beach and I'm not sure how an ambulance was contacted - if it was by someone designated or just a bystander. After the accident I think everyone realized that it was foolish to be surfing in a thunderstorm, it seems obvious, but when everyone around you is doing it and you've only been in the area a couple days you just assume it's fine.
Once we calmed down a bit we walked to Old Man's, the usually happy environment was deflated by people recounting the story, trying to piece together details, calling loved ones and supporting each other. There were lots of people who were no doubt in shock. We couldn't begin to imagine how the woman accompanying the victim was feeling, was she his girlfriend? Wife? A stranger he had met a few days ago to travel with?
We sat at Old Man's for a few hours, something about being around people just felt better than going back to our accommodation alone. We met a really nice young couple from Australia and also a group of 'locals'/expats who told us a few other horror stories of people being hurt in Canggu. A man had drown two weeks prior from swimming in the ocean while drunk and an arial dancer fell on her neck and was waiting for surgery in nearby Seminyak because it was too dangerous to fly her anywhere else. We counted our blessings that night more than once and even the next day when the sky was blue we couldn't bring ourselves to go back into the ocean.
No one on the beach that day would've thought something like that could happen, especially with so many tall buildings near by the shore. Be safe when you travel, use common sense and do be afraid to make a call for yourself if it feels right to you.