The very first surf travelers who came here in the 1960's sent back reports of impossibly perfect crystal tubes, white sand beaches fringed with palm trees, warm weather and brilliant sunshine, and local people who were friendly and hospitable. It wasn't just a surfing experience: it was paradise.
Panoramic view of the cliffs at Uluwatu
It hasn't changed. Indonesia has some of the very best waves in the world, and the locations are as spectacular and exotic as the best tropical island dreams you've ever had. Some of the famous breaks - like Uluwatu on Bali - are now busy, but there are still many legendary places that remain all but empty; and thousands of kilometers of coastline where unsurfed breaks are waiting to be discovered.
Big waves, wild reefs
Indonesia offers the ultimate in surf travel adventures and is definitely an experience not to be missed. The first thing to understand about the surf is that there's plenty of it. The swells come from the south and southwest, so all the islands that have coastlines facing in those directions get waves. That includes Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba and Timor, plus countless tiny offshore islands.
The conditions that create these waves are ideal: the swells are formed by huge winter storms deep in the Southern ocean, and roll across thousands of kilometers of open sea before they reach Indonesia. That gives them time to even out, and also means they arrive at the same time as the southeast monsoon winds - light offshore breezes that give perfect shape to the faces. It's also the ideal time of the year for weather: clear, sunny and warm. When you go to Indonesia to surf, April to September is definitely the time to be there.
To party, camp or cruise
With so many waves to choose from, it's not surprising that you also have a wide range of surf holiday choices.
The easiest is to head straight to Bali, where the waves are superb - though busy. There's a vast array of accommodation and the nightlife is rated the best in Asia. The huge breakers of Bukit peninsula make it one of the world's best surfing spots. The white sand beaches and dramatic cliffs of Uluwatu add to the attraction. For a more exotic tropical experience that gets you far away from the crowds and closer to the culture of Indonesia, try one of the growing number of surf camps. You'll find them on Nias Island (Lagundri Bay), Java (Garajagan and Ombak Tujuh), and Sumbawa (Cempi Bay). The accommodation is simple but comfortable, the food is good, the local people are friendly, and the waves are guaranteed to be uncrowded.
For real adventure in isolated areas where there'll just be you, a few friends, and some of the best waves in the world. Take a surf cruise on one of the several boats that are now run specifically for this purpose. Ports of departure include Bali (cruises to Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores and Sumba); Jakarta (cruises to Panaitan, Deli and the southwest coast of Java); and Padang (cruises to the Mentawai and other islands Off Sumatra).
The big breaks
The main choice, of course, is which waves you want to go for. When choosing, you should take into account your own ability. Many of the best breaks require skill and experience, and on sharp coral reefs there's a genuine element of risk. If you're really going to enjoy your holiday choose conditions that will be fun, not frightening.
With names like Padang Padang and Uluwatu with its famous entry cave, Bali is a surfer's 'dream' destination . Bali gets the full force of southern ocean swells direct from the antarctic with its south-west and south-east coasts being littered with surf spots. The dry winter months (June-Sept) are preferred for surf conditions however this means that these are also the most crowded times. Given a bit of local knowledge it is still possible to find uncrowded perfect breaks on Bali. When the surf's up you can catch some world-class rides. When there is no surf the beaches become quiet lagoons with crystal clear water lapping up the white sand.
Uluwatu is world-class and is the most famous wave of Bali for experienced surfers, as well as the busiest. There is always some swell here so it's also always crowded. The spot offers several waves which are working with different swells and tides. To get there go to the Uluwatu temple. Walk down the reef by the famous cave.
View a QuickTime VR Panoramic Movie from the cliffs at Uluwatu
View a QuickTime VR Panoramic Movie of the cave at Uluwatu
Viewing the movie requires QuickTime VR plug-in available for download from the Apple web site.
Another world-class spot is Padang Padang. This area is for experienced surfers. Padang in two words: power and fear. Its the most dangerous and hollow wave in this area because there is no water on the reef. The wave is incredible and dangerous. If the technical level is too high for you, just come and enjoy the show.
Kuta Beach offers great surfing even for beginners. Just stumble out of your Kuta hotel room and you're on the beach.
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