Surfers have long been known for a nomadic lifestyle spent scouring the globe in search of the perfect wave, and at some point in their search every self-respecting surfer will find themselves drawn to the wave gardens of Indonesia. Here's where to find them, whether you're a beginner or after something more challenging:
Bali, with its glut of world class surf spots, is the epicentre of Indonesian surfing. Any surf trip here almost invariably begins on Kuta beach, the original Indonesian beach resort. The waves here offer something for everyone; advanced surfers will revel in fun, peaky conditions whilst beginners will find the soft sand beach breaks, and numerous surf schools, the perfect setting for a first taste of surfing.
Not far from Kuta is the Bukit Peninsula where the best waves in Bali can be found. Padang Padang is one of Indonesia’s banner spots. It only comes to life on the biggest of swells but when it does you can expect one of the most intense lefthanders in the world. You can also expect serious crowds and lots of aggro in the water.
Just south of Bali is the island chain of Nusa Tenggara, which is rammed with surf spots. Lombok, the closest island to Bali, is the most visited by surfers and the jewel in the surf crown here is the legendry Desert Point; possibly the best wave in the world. It’s a highly fickle wave but when all the elements come together this near endless, freight train lefthander offers tube rides of up to twenty seconds. For something a little more beginner friendly try either Don Don or Inside Ekas both of which are found on the south coast of Lombok.
The most famous wave on Java, Bali’s northern neighbour, is G-Land (also known as Grajagan). This is one of those freak of nature waves against which all other waves are measured. Endlessly long, flawlessly perfect and super consistent, G-Land is most commonly reached via boat charter from Bali.
For something less nerve-wracking, try the long, mellow sand bottom right point in Batu Karas. Needing a really solid swell to get going this is probably the most user-friendly spot in Indonesia and though experienced surfers might find it a little uninspiring it seems almost tailor made for learners and intermediates. There are a couple of surf schools and board hire places here as well as a few cheap places to stay.
Surfing Sumatra is all about the necklace of islands that lie off the west coast. Nias, in the far north, is the most famous. An almost hypnotically perfect righthander, this wave has always been considered perfect, but following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami the wave actually improved dramatically after the reef rose upward by around a metre and made the wave hollower, faster and much more consistent.
Good as Nias is though if you ask the average surfer where they’d most like to go surfing the answer will almost invariably be the Mentawai Islands. These islands are home to more world class surf spots than any other place on Earth and it’s almost a given that on any single day of the year unbelievable waves will be breaking somewhere in the Mentawais. Surf trips here have long been the preserve of (expensive) boat charters and (equally expensive) surf resorts, but for the adventurous it’s still possible to charter a local fishing boat and put together your own Mentawai adventure.
When to go
Indonesia is basically a year-round surf destination, but it’s the dry season (May-October) - when the offshore southeast trade winds blow and the swell, pouring out of the Southern Ocean, is at its biggest and most consistent - that is far and away the best time to venture here.
Lonely Planet author Stuart Butler is a well-known international surf journalist and surf explorer. His travels in search of empty waves have taken him from the coastal deserts of Pakistan and Yemen, to the Arctic tundra in winter. He has shared waves with pygmies in central Africa, surfed with hippies in India and reported on girl surf contests in Bangladesh.
This article was updated in Jan 2012.
Catch the wave in the latest guide to Bali & Lombok.