Surfing in Indonesia
Looking to go on a surf trip to Indo? Here's everything you need to make sure you score waves and the best waves to explore.
You decided to take a surf trip to Indonesia and want to learn what happens next?
Well, firstly, the more experienced and somewhat snobby surfers will frown upon you: "You, too? I didn’t expect that of you!" You need to fight that attitude with a classy display of indifference as no matter how popular and mainstream a surf destination it is, Indonesia still houses world-class surf camps and some of the best surf spots in the world.
It's a country located in between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, to the northwest of another popular surfing destination: Australia. Its geography and climate allow for a great incoming swell all year round, so you can have an epic surf experience regardless of your particular abilities. Thanks to that, there's an amazing surf culture that has flourished on the Indonesian shores over the years as well.
However, being such a popular surf hub doesn't make traveling there easy. On the contrary—you end up with lots of questions. Where can I find the best waves that are suitable for my skills? When is the best season to travel? Out of all the great surf spots scattered around the many islands of the country, which one is the best? How can I avoid the crowd?
In this guide, we're going to answer those questions and more.
Basic Traveling Information About Indonesia
There are certain things you begin to wonder about when traveling to a foreign country like what language they speak, which God they believe in, and whether marijuana is legal or not.
First of all, you need to know that the many islands of Indonesia have their own local cultures and languages. Therefore, it's impossible to know the predominant language. But, rest assured that—as the country’s such an attraction for tourists—the majority of people you're going to encounter can speak English.
Of course, knowing a few words in the local language will make you more sympathetic in the eyes of the locals. So, you might pick up Bahasa Indonesian a bit and learn simple phrases like "Good morning!", preferably with a stupid grin on your face.
It's a Muslim country, but tourists don't have to comply with Muslim laws. If you stick to the shoreline, you won't suffer from cultural clashes. However, as a result of the Islamic culture, drugs are strictly forbidden, and you might not find alcohol easily, especially if you're going to visit the islands on the fringes, as alcohol consumption is also forbidden by Islam.
The facilities you might enjoy, quite predictably, also depend on your location. When you're in central tourist spots such as Bali, you'll enjoy yourself a lot and have a free internet connection wherever you're on the island.
Weather and Water Temperature
Just by taking a look at the world map, you can see that Indonesia covers quite a huge area. Therefore, the weather and water conditions are not the same everywhere on its scattered islands. But, from a surfing point of view, we can say that the weather always allows you to surf.
You can spend a whole year there in only shorts or a bikini and a raincoat. It's recommended to carry sun protection everywhere, too, as exposure to the Indonesian sun might not always be pleasant.
That being said, the weather entertains an average temperature of 27 C (80 F) all over the island. Moreover, the water temperature remains similar to that number, too, which provides almost perfect surfing conditions in any season. That’s part of the reason why the country is such a surfer's paradise.
As the weather is mostly consistent, breaking a year into seasons is quite difficult, but there are still two main recognizable seasons: the dry season (May through September) and the wet season (October through April). The swell and subsequently the waves remain consistent for most of the time during both seasons. The only difference is that the winds are more predictable in the dry season and the south swell is less frequent in the wet season.
In any case, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on surf forecast reports.
Indonesia Surfing Conditions
So, what can you expect from Indonesia except for nice weather all year round? The short answer is: a lot!
The long answer is... There are all kinds of surf breaks. Yes, the majority of them are coral and volcanic reef breaks, but there are lots of beautiful beaches around the country, and therefore, lots of beach breaks as well.
You're a beginner and you’re worried that the reef breaks and epic waves will be over your head (pun definitely intended)? You don't need to worry as Bali is one of the best places to learn to surf. You're an intermediate surfer who's trying to take the next step and do some barrel-riding? Well, Indonesia is the right place for you. You're an advanced surfer and want to challenge yourself? In the right season and on the right shore, you'll find what you seek.
It's also quite rare that a surf spot doesn't have a surf camp or resort right where the waves break. So, you can be sure that you'll be in good company, and no matter your skill level, you'll find others with whom you can exchange feedback, advice, and maybe even some criticism (while avoiding punches).
Being in a crowd of surfers can sometimes be appealing, but let us warn you that Indonesian shores are extremely crowded and so are the waves, especially in famous spots such as Bali, Lombok, and Sumbawa.
If you're a party person and you revel in crowds, it's all good. If you're not, you still don't need to worry as there are many relatively remote shores on the Indonesian coastline, and it's almost certain that you'll find a surfing spot to your taste and needs.
Indonesia Surf Spots: The Best of the Best
Now that you have a general idea about the country, its weather, its waves, and its crowd, we can get more specific. Whether you want to stick to a certain spot and enjoy the same kind of waves over and over or you want to go on a surfing adventure by visiting different shores and breaks, it's still good to have some knowledge of what the country offers before buying a ticket.
Yes, some of the locations we're going to list below have more fame than a Kanye West song at this point (Bali, anyone?), but it also means that some equally beautiful and surf-friendly spots remain overshadowed.
Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra
It's kind of interesting that a set of islands that get such consistent swells and versatile swell levels would escape the attention of surfers, but that's indeed the case with the Mentawai Islands located on the West Coast of Sumatra. The islands and the opportunities they provide surfers with started to be appreciated only in the 1990s.
Yet, better late than ever. Nowadays, there are loads of camps, resorts, and schools all over the Mentawai Islands, and the place brandishes over 400 surf spots. Also, although it's quite beautiful, the place doesn't appeal to many non-surfing tourists, so it's possible to avoid the crowd there (albeit only to an extent).
Two of the less crowded and best surfing islands on the Mentawai Islands are North Sipora and South Sipora. While North Sipora gets large swells from the west and provides surfers with magnificent barrels and some big waves, South Sipora rewards visitors with two famous waves: Lance's Left and Lance's Right. You can ride both on the same day!
Moreover, you'll find the notorious and aptly named Playgrounds there, too. The territory is the playground of many surfers due to the number of world-class waves it gets, which may add up to more than 20 on some days.
If you're a beginner, we recommend the Mentawai Islands during the off-season—December through February. The place will be much less crowded and you'll get small but perfect waves that'll improve your surfing. If you want to do barrel rides and have an experience that you can talk about for years, you can visit anytime between May and November.
Desert Point, Lombok
A well-known fact about surfing in Indonesia, unbecoming of a surfer's paradise, is that Bali is crowded as hell most of the time. Yet, it's in close proximity to some of the other best surf spots that you cannot find anywhere else on the planet. Lombok is one of these.
You can reach Lombok via a short boat trip, and at the end of your journey, you'll be extraordinarily rewarded because Lombok houses Desert Point—hailed as the greatest barrel by some experienced surfers. When "greatest" refers to the length of the barrel, it's undeniably true since, on its best days, it can go up to 300 meters and allows for tube rides that may last more than 20 seconds.
Having said that, though, we should also warn you that, although you can find peace on its far and mellow shoulders, Desert Point is strictly an advanced wave. Beginners can watch and admire the beauty of it or explore Lombok further as there are also many beautiful beaches, reef breaks, and a vibrant party scene (especially on Gili Islands).
If you want to catch or simply see the majesty of the famous Desert Point, you should visit Lombok during the peak season, which is between April and October. However, the rest of the year is not fruitless, either. Without the overwhelming power of Desert Point, you can go out on expeditions to discover hidden gems and enjoy tranquil beaches.
Lakey Peak, Central Sumbawa and Scar Reef, West Sumbawa
Like Lombok, Sumbawa is only a boat trip (or a brief flight) away from Bali, and it's even less crowded and less populated than Lombok. Actually, it's the surfers who make Sumbawa seem lively, and with good reason: the island houses two of the best surf spots you can find in Indonesia.
One of them is the Lakey Peak coastline located in Central Sumbawa. There is always a great and difficult A-frame wave on Lakey Peak, which presents the perfect opportunity for surfers who have confidence in their technique to do some backdoor surfing.
Scar Reef, located in West Sumbawa, offers even more variety: it's the perfect spot to test and improve your backdoor or tube riding abilities. If you don't want to challenge yourself, though, on the days when there's big swell incoming, you can find smaller waves inside the reef as well. Be warned, though, it's no place for beginners, and make sure that your packing is suitable for reefs.
For advanced surfers, the best time to visit is April and May when the swell can go as high as 12 feet, and there are nice onshore winds. These months are also the time when the shores are at their most crowded. If you want to avoid the crowd, though, don’t worry—the waves don’t diminish until October.
G-Land, Grajagan Java
Java is not among the first destinations that come to mind when it comes to surfing, and neither does surfing come to mind when Java is mentioned (unlike the other places on our guide). Other than Javanese coffee, the island is mostly renowned due to its megacities like Jakarta. However, Java is also home to great surf spots, and the fact that these spots are close to big cities makes them easier to reach.
Cimaja in West Java is one of those spots thanks to its fast breaks and open shoulders. Moreover, unlike most of the spots we mentioned above, which were ideal for advanced surfers, you don't need to worry about your surfing skills in West Java; the many beach and point breaks located on its shores are rideable for anyone. When there's good wind, though, the waves will get ripe for barrel and tube riding, too.
However, the real jewel of Java is on the East Coast: G-Land on Grajagan Bay with its phenomenal left point break. G-Land also provides surfers who really like a challenge with many barrels, tubes, and huge waves that break on coral reefs. Although the waves are mostly consistent and barrels hollow, you need to be brave enough to try them.
Yes, you might have already heard about G-Land as the place is praised with the utmost respect by many surfers around the world, but some of that respect is indebted to the fact that the waves remind you of how great a natural force the ocean really is. Therefore, it can be a bit dangerous, hence the required bravery. But, even if you're too afraid to ride, the place is not only a paradise for surfers as it connects the ocean with the infamous Javanese jungle.
So, no matter when you visit G-Land, you'll always get more than what you signed up for.
Canggu and Kuta might be the most visited shores in Bali, but that's because they're the perfect place for beginners to learn and improve their trade. For the more experienced, though, the set of islands starts to register as the heaven it is once they see Uluwatu.
There are many joys Uluwatu's intriguingly-named surf spots provide. On Secrets or Temples, you'll find great barrels on shallow reefs. Bombie houses some of the deepest waves in the whole world, so it's no wonder only a few extremely confident surfers line up there. Outside Corner or Peak, on the other hand, are crowded spots as the waves are cleaner and easier out there. The Racetrack is also famous for its barrels, and depending on the wind and swell, there might not be any better spot that produces barrels so consistently.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Uluwatu is not really beginner-friendly, and even intermediate surfers can find it difficult out there at times. Moreover, the reefs are shallow and quite sharp in some spots. Therefore, better come prepared. And if you're not, please, just enjoy the view!
You can surf on Uluwatu any time of the year, but if you're looking for optimal swell consistency, you can go whenever you want between May and November. Moreover, access to the spot is also easy as it's just further along Padang Beach.
Why should Indonesia be on your list of the best surfing destinations to travel to?
Well, for one thing, no matter the island, the coastline, or the shore you are at, it gets the most consistent swell in the world throughout the whole year, and the wave quality is almost always perfect. Moreover, it has so many surf spots that even surf travel guides find it difficult to cover all of them on just one page. Ultimately, whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced surfer, you'll find enough challenges and joy anywhere in Indonesia.
Moreover, the country entertains so much beauty unrelated to surfing, too. So, when you're bored of your board (if that ever happens), you can visit many ancient temples, take a ride to the jungle, party on the coast, or just simply enjoy the view from the window of your hotel room.