Sumbawa bears little relation to Indonesia’s tourist hotspots such as the longtime Aussie favourite Kuta, or the paradisiacal party island of Gili Trawangan. Like Lombok and the Gilis, the island is predominantly Muslim, but it’s much more conservative, and a widespread poverty underlies the lack of development. Even in the biggest towns – Sumbawa Besar, Bima and Sape – there are few hotels, and even fewer bars. The landscapes are different, too: the countryside, for the most part, is a scorched savannah, a far cry from the emerald rice paddies of Ubud. You may find that the locals, being less accustomed to tourists, are more reserved than the likes of the Balinese, and there’s certainly less English spoken here. However, you’ll likely find your cultural interactions to be more memorable and genuine; and you’re more likely to come home with some beautiful Sumbanese ikat cloth than yet another Bintang singlet.
Sumbawa, like most of Indonesia, has good infrastructure, and is accessible from Bali in under two hours. The first port of call for surfers travelling overland from the west is Maluk, where thickly forested headlands bookend a beautiful bay home to a golden beach and one of Indonesia’s finest surf spots – and by some measures the best left wave anywhere in the world – Supersuck. Maluk also represents one of the busier parts of Sumbawa, due to the great surf and its proximity to Bali; a ninety-minute flight via Lombok to Sumbawa Besar, followed by a three-hour car or bus trip, and you’re there. As is the case with most of Sumbawa’s surf spots, the town itself is no great shakes – but with a couple of comfortable hotels and a selection of beautiful beach bungalows to choose from, that needn’t be a problem.
Another of southwest Sumbawa’s most famous waves is also one of Indonesia’s most fearsome. Scar Reef, a huge barrel around 45 minutes north of Maluk, is not to be attempted lightly and can be dangerous – Peter Luke, a 27-year-old Australian, was tragically killed here in 2015. However, with an understanding of the risks involved, it’s a thrilling, whiteknuckle wave with multiple backdoor sections for advanced surfers.