The Big Kahuna

The surf’s up in Singapore in a big way, with big surfing brands such as Quicksilver, Animal and Billabong really beginning to create a retail presence on our island. But with barely even a ripple to call a wave at our local beaches, a dude has to go further ashore to get any real action. As it turns out, Indonesia has three of the most-prized spots to get on a board. Tim Cuthbert has surfed for 20 years and is the logistics manager for Quicksilver, Southeast Asia. I-S consulted this surfing guru and finds out about the best breaks in nearby Indonesia.
The Mentawis, West Sumatra
What makes this chain of islands so great for surfing is the quality of the waves, says Cuthbert. Because there are so many islands there is always a place to surf even when the winds and tides change. There are countless breaks in the areas—some islands have around six to seven breaks just around the one island. The area is pristine with clear waters and mountain waves that are fairly hollow, so there’s lots of opportunity to get tubes. Expect waves of between four to 15 feet; after the Hawaii North Shore these are reputed to be some of the best waves in the world. Being on a coral reef means intrepid surfies need to be quite experienced, but if you have the skill, it’s not just the sport that will entertain. A huge amount of marine life can be seen while waiting for the next big one, such as dogfish, tuna, turtles, and dolphins. If the water is flat, this makes snorkeling another good option.
While one can stay in beach accommodation, Cuthbert advises against it because of the rampant malaria in the area. This also restricts the surfing choices as island dwellers are limited to two or three breaks, depending how many there are on their island, and the weather can be very localized, so when a squall sets in over your island there’s little opportunity to move elsewhere. By comparison, charter boats can follow the good weather and the good waves, and select less crowded spots.
The Mentawis are most consistent from March to October. To get to the Mentawis fly to Padang in Sumatra. You can then expect the boat to take between 10 and 12 hours to get to the islands. For boat charter information contact Saraina Koat Mentawai (+62 714-478-2487). They will arrange transfers from Padang.
Grajagan, South East Java
Located in the Plengkung National Park, the collection of breaks and one of the world’s best lefts (known as G-Land) is noted to be amazing for several reasons. Firstly, the waves are long and intense; there are no soft waves here. Cuthbert describes long barrels and waves that are up to 12-feet high due to the swell in the Indian Ocean. And the reef is at least one kilometer long; meaning that at most times there’s enough space for lots of riders, although during peak season it can get a little crowded.
But perhaps what makes G-Land so special is that it’s in a marine reserve, situated on a national park. The area is very isolated—10 minutes outside the camp and the jungle is thick and heavy. Because this jungle environment is so remote, wildlife thrives both in the water and on land. Out in the surf one can expect to see dolphins, fish and even dugongs at close proximity. In the jungle you’ll see six-foot monitor lizards, plenty of monkeys, scorpions and even poisonous green mumba snakes.
The flip side of this isolation is that this is really a spot for seriously committed surfers only. Significant lacerations and broken bones are not uncommon at Gragajan because the waves can be unpredictable. And there’s generally only one doctor available, so more serious injuries will require airlifting for further medical assistance. This is also a malarial zone, so anti-mosquito precautions should be adhered to, although the number of mozzies is lower during surf season due to drier weather. The waves are best at G-Land from March to October.
The easiest way to get to Grajagan is to take a boat from Bali. The overland trip from Kuta, Bali will take about six to seven hours before reaching Grajagan Village in Banyuwangi, East Java. After that, either a 20-minute speed boat ride or 4-WD takes all passengers to G-Land’s Camp at breakfast time the next morning. G-Land Jungle Surf Camp (bookings through G-Land “JSC” Counter, Poppies Lane 2, Benesari Alley No. 77, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, +62 361-76-3166) is only open from March to November. The accommodation is pretty basic, but by the time you’ve exhausted all the waves you probably won’t care. The original first camp at G-Land is Bobby’s Camp (G-Land Headquarters, 8b Kuta Beach St., Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, +62 361-755-5888) where the rooms a little more catered to creature comforts. Both camps will also arrange all transfers from Bali.
Uluwatu, Bali
Uluwatu is so famed that it proves that Bali really is the spiritual home of surfing in Asia. This spot was captured in the 1971 surfing flick Morning of the Earth, and since then has become a bit of a zoo with people from all round the region wanting a ride because the area is such a surfing mecca.
What makes Ulu unique is the 200-foot cliffs surrounding the break. The only way to access the waves is through a cave, otherwise one can expect a 1.5 kilometer paddle in and out. Even for the lazy this is a worthwhile spot to visit—sipping a cool beer out of the cliffs is a pretty magnificent experience.
Apart from the spectacular view, Ulu is also better for less experienced surfers with waves varying in size from two to 15 feet, depending on the swell. Only when the ocean gets a bit rougher does it become unsuitable for those with less skill.
Uluwatu is easily accessible from the tourist hub of Kuta, as it’s about 30-35 kilometers overland to the Bukit Peninsula. Depending on the traffic this is a 30-40 minute drive. To stay closer to Ulu itself Uluwatu Gecko Inn (Jalan Pantai Suluban, Uluwatu Pecatu, Br. Dinas Suluban, Bali, Indonesia, [email protected]) has five rooms in its unusual and charming guesthouse. For more salubrious accommodation check out Uluwatu Resort (Jalan Pantai Suluban, Uluwatu, PO BOX 2046, Bali, Indonesia, +62 361-769-855). The best time to visit Ulu is from March to October.

Getting on Board
Want to learn how to surf? Cuthbert recommends Cherating in Pahang, Malaysia as the closest and most suitable place for beginners. Cherating is about five hours drive from Kuala Lumpur and about one hour’s drive from Kuantan. Once you arrive there is accommodation across all prices and surfing schools are easy to spot. Alternatively Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia is another popular spot for those just starting out with a host of surfing schools.