Alex Springenschmidt first came to Bali in 1998 and, like many before him, he fell in love with the waves, smiling faces and the tropical climate. His wife, Sabina, made her first journey a couple of years later, and the two kept coming back until they found some land they liked in rural Canggu, lured by the area’s quiet natural beauty, colorful culture and local vibe. It felt like real Bali even though it was just 30 minutes from Kuta, and surfers knew Canggu because it gets great waves.
The property had two small houses, one they would live in and one for friends and family. Yet so many visitors came, they built some bungalows. So many were asking Alex to teach them to surf, so he trained some local surfers to be surf guides.
The roots of The Chillhouse were forming as they were becoming part of the local community and in 2008 they officially welcomed guests to the six private bungalows, five rooms in the Surf House plus the Gerry Lopez treetop suite.
“When we decided to live here, we learned to speak Indonesian because it is the first form of respect you can show people of a country you want to call home. The local community accepted us, they help us out, and we try to employ as many of our neighbors as possible. “We believe what you give is what you get, and so we treat our team with respect, good salaries and social security and private health insurance for free. We’re thankful to be able to live on this beautiful island and try to show that as often as we can.”
While it may seem unusual for two people from a snowy country such as Austria to end up running a surf retreat, in some ways they’ve been training for this their whole lives. Alex’s background is in sports medicine and mountain guiding, and he’s worked as a ski/snowboard and windsurf instructor.
Sabina studied tourism and hospitality, and her family owns Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a famous hotel located at 1,763 meters in prime Austrian mountains. Her brother is the fifth generation in her family to run the hotel.
While some people come to chill, most come for the surf simply because The Chillhouse is so well equipped to provide the perfect surf retreat. Boards are available if you don’t bring your own, there are patient surf coaches who will give one-on-one instruction or in small groups, depending on what you request, and advanced riders are taken to where the best waves will be breaking.
“About 60 percent of our surfing guests are beginners wanting to learn the right way,” he says. About 35 percent are advanced surfers who to are guided to the best waves still looking to improve and the remaining five percent are surfers who just book accommodation and meals and go surfing by themselves.
“However, many times they end up joining our guided surf trips because they see everyone coming back with stoked smiles. Within an hour’s drive there are more than 60 top quality waves. Families need to know the kids are taken care of so mom and dad can get out there and catch some sweet indo waves and about 20 percent of our guests are non-surfers enjoying yoga and massages while their partners or friends are out there.”
Breakfast starts late, so surfers get a hearty organic meal after riding waves, and then they can schedule a refreshing massage right upstairs. After that the toughest decision is whether to take a nap, lounge in a hammock or by the pool or go back out for an afternoon session. There is definitely a community vibe with guests hanging out in the main common area, talking travel, playing guitar or sharing surf stories.
A great way to learn about Bali surf and surf basics is to take one of Alex’s Surf Theory classes. You learn where the waves come from and why Bali is such an amazing surf destination. One of my favorite moments was when he explained how the waves have taken several months from as far south as Antarctica across the Indian Ocean and to where we now have the “privilege” to ride their final 10 seconds before they crash on the shore. Pretty cool indeed.
On the two days we headed out, our coaches were P. Made and Windu. Made was perfect for people just getting their feet under them. Very patient and encouraging. Windu had an irrepressible energy that rubs off on you. You can tell he’s dying to get into the barrel of the waves breaking farther out and, as soon as we took a break, that’s exactly what he did. While he is with you in the water, his enthusiasm pushes you to paddle harder and ride better while making sure you aren’t getting in over your head.
“With surf guiding, we want to bring our guests to the right waves at the right time according to their individual surfing levels so everyone scores plenty of quality waves; more than if they were on Bali on their own. With surf coaching, we want to push the surfing levels of our guests, make accurate corrections and have smiling faces. All our surf coaches are certified life savers as well,” Alex explains.
When they aren’t running The Chillhouse, Alex and Sabina surf a lot, meditate, do yoga, enjoy massages and take their dogs to the beach. Sabina also makes some great jam. They get involved in environmental issues as well, which Alex says is a seemingly non-existent topic on Bali. Their wish is to simply give all their guests an unforgettable holiday, keeping in mind everyone has different expectations and needs.
“At the end of their holiday, we want our guests to say, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to come back!’ If they are happy, we are happy,” Alex says and, judging by his infectious smile, I’d say there are a lot of happy guests. Our neighbors were talking about heading home to save up for their next trip to The Chillhouse, and I’m already doing the same.
“Chill” Rafting with SOBE
It would be a shame if you didn’t spend a couple of days in Ubud strolling the art galleries and cafes, walking or cycling through terraced rice fields and catching one of the nightly temple performances. A great way to spend a morning or afternoon is to join one of Sobek’s half-day rafting tours on the Agung River.
They pick you up in town and have Japanese and English speaking staff members to explain things at their nice clubhouse. Then it’s a nice, mellow river great for first-time white water rafters. You’ll pass through deep green canyon walls with intricate stone carvings by local villagers living beside the river as well as some amazing riverside hotels and retreats
The trip finishes at a beautiful spot by the river where you enjoy a delicious lunch and then you are back in Ubud in time for afternoon shopping or a massage.
Sobek Bali: www.balisobek.com
Serious Chillin’ at Four Seasons Jimbaran
If serious relaxation and convenience is what you are after, the Four Seasons Jimbaran is the perfect place to end your holiday. This five-star property’s bungalows have amazing views, their own plunge pools and all the amenities you would expect from a Four Seasons resort.
The hotel sits on one end of Jimbaran Beach, a popular surfing beach, and surfboards, body boards and other marine sports activities are available. After an active day, sit back with a Bintang and watch the sunset at one of the many seafood restaurants.
When you do finally have to come home to reality, the airport is just a 10-minute taxi ride away.
Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay: www.fourseasons.com/jimbaranbay/