Rote Surf means T-Land, one of the longest lefts in the country, and great dry-season right handers.
An introduction to Rote Island surf
Rote Island is one of farthest-flung of the East Nusa Tenggara getaways. But it’s now firmly in the mix for surfers branching out from the usual Bali–Ments–G-Land rigmarole, mainly on account of one break: T-Land, a three-point left that can roll for over 1,000 feet around the reefs that rung Nemberala Beach. There are more spots than that, including a set of right handers that buck the trend for the more left-heavy spots that work in the Indonesian dry season.
It seems silly to say that the waves here are of excellent quality. That almost comes with the territory at this top-left corner of the Indian Ocean. However, Rote manages to keep things chilled and low-key, offering breaks to rival the best in the country but not the crowds to match. The downside is that it’s heavily seasonal, with dry-season pulses absolutely necessary to see any action on most of the spots.
A growing number of upscale hotels and surf lodges are setting up shop now. That’s good news for the practicalities of it all, but we’re not sure how long that “Bali 20 years ago” moniker will stick around. AKA – get in now!
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This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Indonesia
Rote Island surf at a glance
- T-Land is one of the longest lefts in the country
- Rare quality rights
- Gorgeous luxury surf lodges
- Heavily seasonal
- Getting more and more popular by the year
What’s in this guide to Rote Island surf?
Where is Rote Island?
A dot on the map of the Timor Sea, Rote Island looks like a fragment of Timor Leste. It’s just across the strait from the port town of Kupang and the smaller area of Tablolong, set on the fringes of the East Nusa Tenggara, the same region that hosts the islands of Sumba (a surf mecca in its own right) and Flores (known for its wild natural landscapes and Komodo dragons). Getting here to surf is going to be a challenge, there’s no sense in hiding that. First, fly to Jakarta and then cross on a short-haul to Kupang Airport. Next, it’s either a pricy propellor plane link to Rote’s David Constantijn Saudale Airport or a bus-ferry combo that takes a couple of hours.
A guide to the Rote Island surf spots
There’s really only one part of Rote Island that gets waves worth talking about: The far southwest coast, the prime location for those SW swells to make their full impact. All the named breaks here are in that area, as are all of the surf camps we list later on in the guide.
This is the piece de resistance of the Rote Island surf scene. A break that can rival the reefs of the Ments and the left handers of Bali’s Bukit, only with just a fraction of the crowds to show for it, T-Land is a multi-section left that peels around an exposed piece of reef./Basically, the coral and rock shelf gets much shallower here on the far southwestern side of Rote. That not only puts it in the perfect position to get the full hit of the dry season swells coming from the roaring 40s between May and August, but also creates a natural bend in the coast to offer point after point that the waves wrap into in perfect succession.
Because it’s nicely exposed, T-Land works on smaller days than G-Land further west. Anything around 2 foot is good enough here, but mostly it hovers around 4-8 throughout the season. The bigger days can see the whole thing connect up and offer rides in the region of 400 meters from end to end – that’s when it becomes one of the longest lefts in the whole of Indo.
There are three distinct take off points when it’s not large enough to link. The first is The Point, where you can pick up the longer ride on the front lip of the reef, then it’s into Pyramids where the wave fattens into triangle frames for ripping, and then The Mountain, which finishes in the tight backdoor tube sections that form on the largest swells./T-Land can cater to a good selection of levels but we put it down as a good intermediate break at heart.
Short-lived but fast, the Bommie is one for the purists out there who care about nothing more than paddle technique and pop-up strength. It needs bigger swells of around eight foot or more and offers a bomb-like A-frame that really only has a rideable right section that you will have to lip out of or end up on the rocks.
Almost always empty but offering a rare high-quality Indonesian right hander on the reef out back from Oengautt on the south side of the island, this wave is great for upper intermediates and experts who want to put the shortboard through its paces. It’s shifty but strong, with fast first sections that hollow out. Works on dry season swell and loves those east-bound trade winds for extra shape, so don’t go thinking that a proper early dawnie is the solution. Mid mornings are better because that’s when the breezes set in.
The Boa is the first real spot where the Rote Island surf shows its teeth when the dry-season swells get rolling. A roaring A-frame reef break that actually reminds us of those fall-time Hossegor sandbar bombs, it’s a slabby right with a much shorter left that’s barely makeable. On the heaviest swells, expect some backdoor sections and hard hold downs to get through the sets on the inside. It’s best reached by boat.
Only for the folks staying in the local surf schools with access to their own boats, Do’o is the break that catches the SW swells that push up through the channel between Rote Island and the next isle over. It’s 10 minutes or so with the propellor on to reach it and the reward is a rippable right that’s fast and hard, better for experienced surfers on account of the low-lying reef.
Where to stay when surfing on Rote Island?
As the Rote Island surf has been gathering more and more followers in recent years, so too has the islands tourism scene. That means many of the hotels currently on offer are not only brand new but also perfectly located for surfers, since they were designed with proximity to the breaks in mind. Here are the top options…
Bag yourself a thatched-food cabana at this lux resort and you can wake to the sound of the T-land lefts lipping along the reef just in front of the hotel. It’s perfectly located for surfing the finest wave on the island and there will be boatmen ready and waiting to ferry you back and forth to the top spots. You also get access to a lovely swimming pool and seafront seating areas to chill in when you’re done with the session.
Boa Hill Surf House
Casual and relaxed Boa Hill Surf House sits on the jungled hills just above the Boa surf spot, one of the best right handers in town. It’s more of a down-to-earth B&B style choice than the resorts of Rote, with wooden-built cottages that have indoor-outdoor bathrooms, big beds, and sun-kissed terraces.
Perched on the far southwest side of the island, this luxurious hotel is midway between Boa and the lefts of T-Land. We’d say it’s the choice for surfing couples and those on a honeymoon, because it has some seriously opulent rooms done out with contemporary styles and spilling onto panoramic terraces, not to mention one of the best infinity pools on the island.
Step-by-step guide to planning your Rote island surf trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Rote island surf…We use Skyscanner and only Skyscanner for this. The reason? We’ve always found it the best site for comparing deals from basically ALL airlines and somehow seems to offer deals that beat going direct.
Step two: Book your surf lodge. There’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check how close EXACTLY that hotel is to particular breaks. Or Book Surf Camps, which is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages.
Step three: Book surf lessons and other activities For advance booking, you can use GetYourGuide or Viator. To be fair, though, we usually just leave this until we’re there – it’s easy to book in person in most surf destinations.
When to surf on Rote Island?
The season really matters on the Rote Island surf. The isle doesn’t have the same long south coast as its near compadres – Sumbawa, Sumba. Instead, it relies squarely on the dry-season south-southwesterlies that roll up from the roaring latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere during the winter. They come neatly into the short run of coast between T-Land and Peanuts, offering the best conditions of the year. Adding to the mix are the east trade winds that help spots like Boa especially. Rote Island relies so much on those prevailing conditions that we wouldn’t even recommend it for shoulder-season trips in September and April, and certainly not in the wet season, when you’re better off somewhere more versatile like Bali or the Ments.