Every so often a fortuitous convergence of natural forces and factors produces
conditions that are absolutely ideal for a particular outdoors activity. This
is certainly true of Indonesia for surfing. From May to October each year,
near perfect surfing waves roll in along the reefs, beaches and points of
the Indian Ocean coastline of the whole archipelago. The swells are created
by powerful winter storms deep in the Southern Ocean that rage continuously
at this time of year.
The swells then roll across thousands of kilometres of open ocean, smoothing
out as they go, until they hit the shores of Indonesia which at this time
of year is at its golden, tropical best. The sun is shining, temperatures
are warm, and light offshore breezes fan the waves into glassy perfection.
The waves have great power and incredible consistency, foaming into hollow
barrels that, in places, peel with a machinelike precision. For surfers,
this is the stuff of dreams.
The charms of Nyai Lam Kidul
Indonesia's surf is in a class of it's own, so abundant, so consistent and so near to perfect it seems almost supernatural . . .
She was a Sundanese princess, the daughter of one of the powerful kings of West Java. Her father's concubines, jealous of her beauty, used black magic to turn her into an ugly hag. (Some accounts say her wicked stepmother cast a spell to give her leprosy.) Because of her ugliness she was ordered to leave the palace, and for a time she wandered aimlessly through the forest. When she came to the ocean, she stopped to rest and fell asleep. She dreamed that she would be cured of her ugliness by throwing herself into the water and drowning. She did so, and thence became the powerful, beautiful goddess of the southern seas.
Her name is Nyai Loro Kidul, and all through Java and Bali, especially among the seafaring communities, this powerful goddess is feared and respected. Even in big, modern five-star resort hotels special rooms are set aside in her honour, like shrines, never tobe used by anyone else. Fishermen still ask her permission before setting out to sea, and through the course of the year make many offerings and hold festivals in her honour. Unnatural occurences concerning the sea are regarded as being a manifestation of her moods, and stories about the disastrous consequences of ignoring her are common. She will take young men as her servants or lovers, and mothers have been known to lock their sons at home on those nights when sacred dances to Nyai Loro Kidul are performed.
But when it suits her, she can be generous, exciting and awesomely beautiful. She can turn her sea into the most spectacular high-adrenaline playground in the world. Her most extraordinary creations are fast, amazingly hollow, crystalline waves that seem to peel endlessly, with machinelike perfection, all along reefs and points from one end of Indonesia to the other. Most surfers, whether they've heard the legend or not, after a session in these flawless barrels will tell you there's definitely something mystical happening out there. ..
Indonesia is the greatest surfing destination in the world. Based on what's already known, there are more truly great breaks here than you'll find in any other country and it's a safe bet that there's a vast number more that either aren't known about or aren't being talked about. There are also countless breaks to suit all skill levels and requirements, whether you want a friendly beach break or the lonely glory of being the first ever to surf some remote, powerful, perfect tube.
Conditions here are ideally suited to the sport: the country straddles the equator, so it's a land of endless summer; it's made up of over 17,000 beautiful tropical islands, complete with jungles, exotic animals and palm-fringed beaches; the people are friendly and hospitable; the prices are great; and you can choose the surf-holiday style you want, from 5-star luxury to a simple grass hut on a remote island.
It's taken the surfing world a few decades to really grasp just how good Indonesia really is, but it is slowly starting to sink in. The recent spectacular series of ASP events at Garajagan demonstrated how brilliantly the best Indonesian breaks can deliver, and have put the country on ft high-performance calendar for all time.
So what makes Indonesian waves so great? Basically, like all waves, they're storm generated. In this case the storms are very big and very far away they occur in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica all through winter and by the time they come rolling up to Indonesia they're still powerful but very smooth and even. The islands of Indonesia are basically volcanic extrusions rearing straight up from the sea floor. Unlike Australia, the USA and other continents, there is no continental shelf. The swells come in full bore from open ocean with immense amounts of power. Also Indonesia, because it is in warm water, has many fringing coral reefs. When these run along at an angle to the break, they form ideal wedges for kicking swell into huge, peeling tubular breaks. The archipelago stretches some 5000km, from northern Sumatra to Irian Jaya, and all south facing shorelines pick up big swells from May to October. This really is the surf capital of the world.
But before you go racing out on your own quest for the perfect tube, do a thorough reality check. Indonesian waves are big and fast, coral reefs are hard and sharp, and getting caught in between the two can ruin a lot more than your holiday. Many of the famous breaks G-land, Ulu Watu, Padang Padang, One Palm Point etc should only be attempted by experts who are in good shape. Most of the other breaks mentioned in this article, and most of the other breaks that are substantial enough to draw any kind of media attention, usually require a reasonable degree of skill and are no place for beginners. Make sure you know what's required to enjoy some of these breaks before you decide to go.
If you've never surfed before, don't despair: both Bali and Lombok have waves that are ideal for beginners and rental shops where you try a variety of gear. Of the two, south Lombok is probably best as you can find seemingly endless small breaks with no one on them.
Once you've thought about what you're capable of, the next decision is exactly
what sort of surfing experience you're looking for. In Indonesia you have
a range of choices, and for most of these there are several different places
or more you can go to find what you want. The experiences basically come down
to: suburban surfing; surf camps and basic accommodation; surf cruises; and
exploration. Suburban surfing is when you take it all with you going on a
holiday where you can get all the trappings of modern urban life, including
air conditioning, rental cars, hamburgers, cold beer and gaudy nightlife.
If that's what you want, go straight o Bali and think no more about it. However,
if you want more of a basic Indonesian experience, and to enjoy a simpler
lifestyle closer to nature, try surf camps or laces that have losmen (guest
houses) close to the breaks. There are plenty of these, including Lagundri
Bay in Sumatra, Opelabuhan Ratu in West Java, G-Land in / East Java, Kuta
Beach in Lombok (yes, there's two of them) and Laikai Beach in Opsumbawa.
Some of the famous breaks, Mike Desert Point in Lombok and Super Suck in Sumbawa,
have villages nearby where you can find accommodation. Surf cruises are guaranteed
to take you where few have ever been before, and where you can enjoy superb
waves without another soul in sight. But to enjoy a surf cruise you have to
be a good surfer who's committed to the sport and willing to spend some 10
days on a boat, living a very basic lifestyle with a bunch of other surfers.
In Indonesia, surf cruises leave from Bali to sail along Sumbawa and the
islands of Nusa Tenggara, from Jakarta to cruise Panaitan and Deli; and from
Padang, Bengkulu and Nias to cruise through the Mentawais and other islands
off Sumatra. Most of the cruises are run by the Surf Travel Company (STC)
based in Australia, and these guys know what they're doing. Count on a well
organized trip with great waves.
A final word of warning: paradise has its dark side. Apart from the snow there are treacherous currents sea creatures with sharp teeth or poi malarial mosquitoes, and simply aches of transportation and accommodation in remote areas. Make sure what you're getting yourself into and be prepared. But if you're fine with go for a quick trip around Indo surfing destinations.
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