Where to Surf: Indonesia
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Where to Surf: Indonesia

In this article, we are taking a look at surfing in Indonesia and its famous desert point reef breaks. If you are after some world-class waves, this is the place for you

Although Indonesia might not be the very first thing that comes to your mind when you think about surfing, it might be the very best place for all riders that want to experience something different than what they are used to. Is it worth it? 

Well, most surfers that have visited and taken to the Indo waves have had nothing but pleasantries to share. 

The fact that Indonesia has so much to offer in terms of exploration and surfing makes it a no-brainer for anyone that is eager to experience the true feel of riding waves on the Indian Ocean water. 


You might find it as a surprise, but Indo has been one of the very first surfing attractions in the world. It became a surf destination way back in 1936. In fact, there are two people that are directly tied to the surf inception in Indonesia: Bob Koke and Muriel Pearsen. 

They saw an opportunity to build something really special and went into business together by starting a building that soon became the Kuta Beach Hotel. At the time, there were no other resorts in Bali, so this served as a premium place to vacation for tourists. 

The first-ever surfing expedition arguably took place when Mr. Koke took a break from building the hotel and went into the ocean for a surf. Bob wasn’t a professional surfer or even an intermediate for that matter, but he had learned how to surf during his time on set in Hollywood. 

The first problem was that there was nowhere to buy a surfboard in Bali, so Bob had to make them himself. And he did. 

It started out as an interesting thing to amuse guests during their stay, but it wasn’t long before the surf industry had officially been brought into Indonesia. Blame it all on Bob Koke and his real estate partner.  

Then and Now

Once the hotel bloomed and there was a revolving door of guests, the number of people that were interested in surfing or at least curious about it only grew and grew. It became its own thing, and before you know it, people were booking Bob’s hotel because they wanted to learn to surf. 

If it wasn’t for Japan’s invasion of the islands, we might be talking about Indonesia as the Mecca of the surf world, but alas, Bob and his wife Louise had to bail on Bali and move to New York. 

This began a long three-decade hiatus for the surf in Indo. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that small groups of surf enthusiasts started popping up here and there. After all, the golden age of surfing was just about to commence. 

Naturally, Bali was and remains an attractive film shooting location, so during the early 1970s, a couple of the motion pictures that were filmed in Bail featured surfing in them. Once they hit the silver screen, and people from all over the world saw the heavenly scenery of the islands with surfboards in the background. 

Indonesia was back in the surfing business, and this time, the surf cemented its roots. The famous G-Land was discovered sometime during the 1970s.

Remote Surfing

Indo was certainly a remote surfing location back in the day when Bob Koke was king of the surf. 

There wasn’t really a surfing community or establishment in Indonesia, so all of the surfers and surf enthusiasts, or almost all of them, were tourists looking for a good time. 

However, even today, when the island and the surfing industry are very well established, there are still islands and locations that are waiting to be discovered. 

Indonesia has a lot more to offer than just Bali. For instance, the Mentawai chain of islands, most of which will deliver the perfect breaking waves, tend to be overlooked. Some places can’t even be reached by plane because there is nowhere for the plane to land, so you have to take a boat trip in order to get to them. Talk about remote. 

Where to Go?

So, how should you go about it, and what should you be looking out for when visiting Indonesia as a surfer?

Well, the first thing that you will want to do is stay away from the crowded spots where everyone goes, especially if you’re a beginner. You could go there and network with other surfers, but that defeats the purpose of your visit. Indonesia is all about the wilderness and the wild. 

You’ll be sure to find a spot just for yourself as there are over seventeen thousand islands. Yes, you read that right. So, there is a good chance that you can pull off Tom Hanks’ Cast Away impression if you really wanted to. 

Now, the thing that might catch you off guard a bit is the fact that, for the most part, the waves will all be left-handers. This comes as a direct result of the nearby volcanic reef. The terrain is a challenge to get through. 

Even if you know absolutely nothing about Indonesia, we are sure that you have heard of the island of Bali; we did mention it more than once, after all. If you are after left-handed waves and want to surf them in heaven, then the Bali coast is probably the way to go. 

Why Indonesia?

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Well, if Indonesia is so perfect, why isn’t it the Mecca of surfing?” Well, the thing is that Indo is not for everyone. Some of the things that we mentioned as positives might be things that people are trying to avoid. 

The first and most obvious fork in the road is the uneven and difficult terrain. Not everyone is willing to work extra hard and exert themselves on a daily basis just to get to a good spot. 

The second thing is the extremes that the place offers. It goes from insanely crowded beaches in places such as Bali and Lombok to virtually no one on the outskirt islands. There is no middle ground. 

The Top Surf Islands in Indonesia

surf trip to indonesia

Obviously, we won’t go through the full repertoire of reviewing all of the 17k plus islands and will focus on the spots that are a must-see and must-surf. Let’s get down to it. 

Mentawai Islands

The Mentawai Islands are a must-visit if you are ever going to Indonesia. The Ments are a string of 70 islands. Riders are able to take advantage and enjoy the consistency of the swell for the better part of the year. Now, you’re probably asking yourself which one of those 70 islands is the best one. 

Well, that's a tough one. Although they offer everything from slightly to completely different waves, you won’t pick wrong with either one. 

The correct answer is to try out as much as you can and settle for the ones that suit you best. Riders that want to indulge in those steady left-hands can cut to the chase and go straight for the Maccas, which is regarded as one of the very best spots for left-hands on the planet.


We were not sure if we should include Bali on this list because we figured that you’d go either way, but we decided to give it its due diligence anyways. If you want to network and enjoy the thrill of surfing in crowds, then Bali is heaven on earth. Much like with most Indo islands, Bali will offer you a steady diet of left-handers.  

It’s not just the quality of the wave on the Balian coast—it’s the quantity as well. The chances are that you won’t be waiting long in order to board a perfect wave. 


If you made it to Bali, you wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance to visit Lombok. The island is close to Bali, and it’s sort of like Bali, but without the crowds. 

Don’t get us wrong; there are still a lot of people and surfing folk here, but there is a bit more room to breathe. 

That being said, the waves here aren’t the same as what you will find at Bali. For the most part, this will be the go-to spot for intermediate and professional surfers during the dry period of the year. 

This is mainly because the waves are a bit more challenging than Bali’s offering but are still amazing throughout. 


Sumbawa is Lombok’s neighbor. And if you've made it to Bali and Lombok, then why not take one extra step and take a look at Sumbawa. 

The spot is famous for its perfect wave delivery. This is because it’s a bit more open than Bali and Lombok. 

In essence, you might get the best of the best waves here that Indonesia has to offer, but the caveat is that they are not as frequent as they are at some other spots. The perfect island for the patient surfer. 


If you have been surfing or been around surfers for some time, you’ve probably had Java marked on your map for some time now. 

The place is literally something that has been brought to life straight from a fairytale. Java is famous and infamous for its volcanoes and coffee, both of which can and will drastically impact your surf choices. 

The world-famous G-Land left-hand waves have honed the skills of everyone from Kelly Slater to Laird Hamilton. Here, you will experience some of the very best breaks and long barrels. 


surfing in canggu

Alright, so now you know the spots, but what about the season? When is the best time to hit the Indo coast? 

Well, you don’t have too many options on this one because, essentially, Indonesia has only two seasons, and no, they aren’t summer and winter. It’s either a dry or wet season. But, what does that mean for surfing and the waves? 

If you can choose, then we recommend that you visit Indonesia during the dry period. It’s basically when there are perfect surfing conditions throughout. 

That being said, the wet season isn’t bad either. Surfing in Indo is a year-long thing. 

Dry Season

The dry season lasts roughly from April up until October. During this time of year, the Indian Ocean delivers sublime groundswells that will keep you coming back for more. It’s called dry season because, during this time, there is less rainfall, which in turn keeps the barreling spots intact. 

Wet Season

The wet season lasts from November to March. The main difference is that the swells are much less powerful and clean during these times. However, this makes it a much better period of the year for beginner surfers.  

A Brave New World

As popular as surfing got in Indo, there was never a sense that it would become the go-to spot for professional surfing, mostly because it was very far removed from a place that had a surf culture. Not that there was no surfing scene, but the resorts were the mainstay, and surfing always came as sort of an afterthought. 

It took a long time for Indonesia to actually be taken seriously by the professional world. Yes, there were big-name surfers that made monumental feats at Jaws, but the conglomerates and the companies weren’t sure that they should back the islands up with finances. 

Of course, you had Laird Hamilton riding waves the likes of that no one had yet seen, but he never did so in an official manner. So, however impressive and difficult his rides were, they weren’t in competition with anyone or any record. 

We are glad to be able to say that, in the last couple of years, things have taken a turn for the better on this front as well. This year, East Ventures announced that it was going to sponsor not one but two big Indonesian tournaments. 

The Vans Bali Pro will have both the Men’s and Women’s World Surf League representatives on the waves in an attempt to qualify for better ranking before the start of the tournament, and you will also be able to see the Pro Junior Boys and Girls. 

The great thing is that Indo hasn’t closed itself off, so the tournaments and competitions that are held there remain of international character, for the most part. 

Building The Scene

Establishing a surf scene was no easy feat in Indonesia because most of the surfers were either remote surfers that came to visit or tourists that had seen a cool surf movie and wanted to try to look amazing in photos. 

Of course, there were exceptions, and it was these exceptions—mostly locals—that founded the ISC or the Indonesian Surfing Championships. This is a competitive tour that starts in Bali and moves through Java and Sumbawa. 

The good thing about having a surfing scene that is made up of locals is that they infuse their lifestyle into the scene and that’s what makes it different and special. 

You don’t want to have Hawaii’s surfing scene in Bali. 

Although challenging, today, Indonesia can proudly state that it has its own local surf scene.

In Closing…

Indonesia is the perfect spot for world-class advanced surfers and intermediate surfers. The G-Land epic waves make it one of the best surfing destinations known to humanity. 

Opt for a surf camp and spend all of your days riding fun waves if you’re a beginner. Even strolling along the bay, exploring the wild tropical forest, or seeing Kuta Beach first-hand are reasons enough. Moreover, for the intermediates out there, in any of the surf resorts in West Java, the rolling waves are sure to make your stay an unforgettable surfing experience.

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching