Indonesia’s Secret Surf Spots: Get Off the Beaten Track in Sumbawa
By Daniel Stables
Surfs up credit: actionpictures
To most, the thought of surfing in Indonesia brings to mind the famous breaks at Bali’s Uluwatu or Suluban, or Lombok’s Desert Point. However, the world’s largest archipelago has much to offer surfers away from the tourist traps. Bali and Lombok are increasingly overcrowded and expensive, and some of Indonesia’s finest surfing lies off the beaten track.
The little-visited island of Sumbawa, to the east of Bali and Lombok but easily reachable by boat or a short domestic flight, is experienced by most visitors as nothing more than a stopover on the long overland journey from Lombok to Flores. That’s a shame, however, because in its friendly people, beautiful beaches and world-class surfing spots, such as Lakey Peak, Maluk Beach and Scar Reef, it has much to offer tourists, while remaining mercifully free from the tourist crowds.
Sumbawa, Indonesia credit: trubavin
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.
If you’re coming from Bima, Sumbawa’s largest town in the east of the island, there are some great waves which are similarly accessible. Lakey Peak, about 2 hours away on the island’s central south coast, is about as touristy as Sumbawa gets – which isn’t saying much. Lakey Peak itself is an A-frame with lefts, rights and something for most ability levels; nearby are Periscopes, a fast right which is unsuitable for beginners, and the huge barrel that is Lakey Pipe.
Sumbawa’s beaches are so beautiful that they’re worth the trip even if you don’t surf, but for those of a particularly intrepid bent, the island has much more to offer besides. Moyo Island, easily accessible on a day-trip from Sumbawa Besar, is arguably the region’s highlight: an unspoilt nature reserve home to wild boar, crab-eating macaques, buffalo and deer as well as a huge variety of birds and no fewer than 21 species of bat. Much of the island is owned by the luxury Amanwana resort, but don’t let that put you off – independent travellers can jump on a fishing boat from the village of Ai Bari and hike the island’s beautiful coasts and inland waterfalls to their hearts’ content.
Waterfall on Moyo Island credit: jayanata
Sumbawa’s most famous landmark is one which attracts barely any visitors, given its remote location, yet once sent shockwaves around the world. When Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, it led to a global volcanic winter and the ‘Year Without a Summer’; in Lord Byron’s villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, the gloomy conditions inspired Mary Shelley to begin work on Frankenstein. Mount Tambora is in the far north of Sumbawa, and it takes determination to get there – the road journey from the nearest airport at Bima takes around five hours – and even more to make the arduous climb, through thick jungle, to the summit. Those who do, though, are rewarded with some truly breathtaking views, and a sense – given you’re unlikely to have much in the way of company – that you’re treading where few have before.
It’s this promise of adventure which makes Sumbawa such an alluring alternative to Indonesia’s more famous tourist destinations. Whether you’re a first-timer looking to get off the beaten track, or a regular visitor beginning to tire of Bali’s crowds, homogenous shopping malls and polluted beaches, a whole other world lies just a short flight away.