Overview of surfing in Indonesia
Indonesia is a true surfers paradise. The southern shores of all of the islands from Timor through to the Mentawai’s receive excellent long-range groundswell origination in the deep field of Antarctica.
Lots of options right through Indonesia to suit every budget. Bali offers some of the best accommodation in South East Asia with many global chains of hotels offering luxury spa and retreat style accommodation – distances to surf vary so it’s best to check before the wife goes and books one with the best looking pool for the kids. Kuta will offer you the best priced backpacker style accommodation for those on a budget. Bali as an island is still suffering the aftershocks of the 2002 / 05 bombings and a lot of hotels have suffered as a result. Those that have managed to survive are still offering very cheap accommodation in an attempt to lure once loyal customers back. The other islands can be a bit of a mixed bag – there are several family friendly coastal hotels run by surfers that attempt to offer the best of both worlds for the family with a surfer in their midst and do a very good job of it. Timor has basic clean hotels although it is probably not the best place to bring your family to right now. Java and Sumatra have many towns that can offer good accommodation but certain regions can be a little remote. Nias is the main island in the Mentawi’s and you can fly there. If you are thinking of spending some time on some of the more remote islands then a boat is definitely the way to do it. Many operators ply these waters with packages available to suit most budgets.
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Surf seasons and when to go
The Indonesian archipelago straddles the equator and lies in the area influenced by the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. As such it has a tropical monsoon climate with typified by cloudiness and precipitation, warm temperatures, and high humidifies, that is characterised by two monsoons. Maximum day time temperatures close to 30 degrees or above year-round, water temperatures in the mid to high 20’s, make Indo weather ideal for surfing for at least 6 months of the year. Transition periods and actual onset times for these monsoons vary from one end of the island groups to the other, but the mean months divided into the Wet Season (November – April) and Dry Season (May – October).
Northeast Monsoon (Wet Season) (Nov – April)
During these months the subtropical ridge is at its farthest south and the thermal high over Australia has been replaced by a thermal low. This combination pulls the monsoon trough (trade wind convergence zone) into its farthest south position of the year lying across Java by December and south of the islands in January. With most of the main surfing locations in the southern hemisphere, you can expect the wettest weather over the famed surfing breaks during this period. This wet weather is brought in by the monsoonal winds from the northwest and their convergence with southeast trade winds. The transition to the wet season begins in October in Sumatra and Java and in early November further east and it is on everywhere by the end of November. The number of rain days peaks with the passing of the trough and varies from across the archipelago. Java has the most rain days in November to January at 15+, and further east over Bali, Lombok and Sumba have the most rain days in January through April at 12 to 15. Mean high temperatures are between 29C and 31C. The mean lows are from 23C to 25C.
Southwest Monsoon (Dry Season) (May – Oct)
The subtropical ridge is at its farthest north position by mid-June, and drags the monsoon trough north of the area and allows southeast trade flow to cover most of the archipelago by May and continues until October. This creates clean conditions for surfing at many of the better-known surf breaks from Macaroni’s in the Mentawais to Uluwatu in Bali. This is also the time that more intense low-pressure systems start to form through the Indian and Southern Oceans. Large, long-period groundswell can travel 1000’s of kilometres once generated by these winter storms, reaching the exposed southwest coastlines of Indonesia with great power and size. With drier weather also occurring at this time of year, it is generally considered the golden time to go. The east islands are into the dry season as much as a couple of months earlier than Sumatra. The most rain in this season occurs in May and early June on Java and Sumatra with 6 days with rain. By July and August at most locations this drops to virtually 0. Mean high temperatures are between 29C and 31C. The mean lows are from 23C to 25C.
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Indonesia surf travel guide
There are many ways of getting around Indo: by plane, bus, car, boat, train, ojek or becak. The last one, pronounced as “BEH-chuck”, is a tricycle (pedicab) transportation mode for short distances such as residential areas in many cities. The better your communication skills are, the less you will pay and check the cost beforehand. By the way, there are no becak in Jakarta. Instead, there is the motorized bajaj (BAH-jai). In some other provinces (eg. North Sumatra, Aceh) there are motorbikes with sidecars, known as bentor (short for becak bermotor).
Ojek is motorcycle taxi, which you may want to take if you’re in such a hurry that you’re willing to lose a limb to get there.
Car is not the safest way to travel as well – rules on the roads are ignored, driving on the road shoulder is common, buses speed like maniacs and stop without warning, pedestrians cross the road anywhere, even across highways…and police is not doing anything about this mess. So it’s your decision, mates. Just in case you still decide to hire a car, the traffic moves on the left in Indonesia.
Not sure if you should consider bus as well…drivers are often drunk, on drugs or just reckless; keep an eye on your bags at all times and avoid overnight journeys in the wilder parts of the country (notably South Sumatra).
Travelling by plane is probably the safest option, though the safety record of the smaller companies is dubious. But the good thing is that a select a few carriers, such as Garuda, Lion Air, and Mandala among others, have recently bought brand new planes straight from an aircraft manufacturer which have replaced some of the older planes in their fleet. So the situation is a bit better, though be prepared that many carriers have poor on-time records and frequent cancellations.
Ferries are very popular and with PELNI (the largest company) you can go to practically every inhabited island in Indonesia. But as usual, safety records are poor, so look for safety devices on board and postpone your trip if the weather is bad.
Java by far has the best railway network; some parts of Sumatra are covered as well. Journey will take quite a long time, but the scenery is a bonus. Be aware of theft and lock your doors at night.
Bali is an island in Indonesia with the area of 5,632.86 km². It lies between Java to the west and Lombok to the east and is the largest tourist destination in the country.