Sumba surf has been called the next Bali, only there’s a touch of luxury here and not a smidgen of the crowds.
An introduction to Sumba surf
Whispers are afoot that there’s an island somewhere in the East Nusa Tenggara that has the credentials and consistency to match Bali and Lombok. Cue Sumba. Perfectly angled to wipe up the SW and SE swell sets that pierce up from the roaring 40s throughout the whole calendar, it’s a land that’s only just being discovered by board-touting travelers.
Sadly, there’s a distinct whiff of the honeymoon about the spot too and we’re pretty sure Sumba’s on a knife-edge. Fall one side and it becomes a chic, five-star stomping ground of fly-in, fly-out hotels a la the Maldives atolls. Fall the other and it becomes an eco hub for surfers and hikers. We know which we’d prefer but we’re not sure we’re winning – one of the best breaks here has already been claimed as private property by a deluxe hotel!
Talking of the breaks, there’s some serious quality in the offing. Divided into two groups, east and west, they hit a zenith with the hollow left-hand points but there are also wilder beach breaks and the odd hollow left to boot. Downsides include the difficulty of getting pretty much ANYWHERE in Sumba and the lack of tourist infrastructure more generally.
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This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Indonesia
Sumba surf at a glance
- Still very empty
- Epic lefts that can rival Bali
- Luxury hotels
- Perhaps the best break is claimed by a hotel
- It’s hard to reach!
What’s in this guide to Sumba surf?
- An introduction to Sumba surf
- Where is Sumba
- The top Sumba surf spots
- Surf hotels and surf camps in Sumba
- When to surf in Sumba
Where is Sumba?
Sumba Island is shaped like a sideways cashew nut at the bottom end of the East Nusa Tenggara region of central Indonesia. It’s directly south of the legendary Komodo National Park and about 300 miles to the east of the bucket-list surf haven of Bali. Getting in isn’t going to be easy. Most people fly to Tambolaka Airport on Lion Air or Garuda, which operate out of Jakarta and Denpasar. Others will opt for the longer ferry connection from Kupang in Timor Leste, though getting there is another challenge on its own!
A guide to the Sumba surf spots
There are two distinct zones when it comes to Sumba surf breaks: west and east. The western breaks are by far the more popular, mainly because they are located down the more built-up and developed run of shoreline. The eastern ones are emptier and do have some good quality, though one or two have been badly impacted by the construction of a seawall and pier in recent decades. Let’s take a look at the lot:
Pero (left and right)
There are rights and lefts at the spot known as Pero, at the first named surf break on the western side of Sumba. They’re often listed as two different spots and we can see why since this is no A-frame – each wave is located at opposite sides of a river mouth on Pero Beach. Thing is, the right is pretty crappy, needing strong wet season swells to kick up above 5 feet to make it even workable.
The real headline is the left hander that pulls into the bay on the south side of the estuary. When there’s a nice dry-season SW punch and a morning offshore trade, this one’s a pearler that could rival the Ments or even Money Trees in G-Land, though it’s a touch mellower than both. Whatever it reminds you of, we don’t think you’ll be dreaming of elsewhere when you pull into the pocket and rip the hollow sections that drop you back in the channel. It’s a fantastic wave on its day, great fun and rippable, but perhaps a touch fickle.
The south end of the bay where the white sands of Pantai Waingyapu thin out and give way to the wide reef shelf is a goofy’s mecca. There are about three take off zones for the lefts there that are both consistent and clean on good dry season SW swells, but a bit full on and heavy when it’s a direct westerly. The east trade winds can work magic here and we really love this break on an early morning at high when it shapes up, you can rip it all the way from the drop in to the edge of the sands if you’re feeling it, straight into a paddle channel to take you back up to the point.
Beyond the rugged islet at Pantai Marosi is a reef break that gives makeable A-frames on both the left and the right, though the right is considerably better. When its big in the peak season here this one can be a frothing paddle out with some challenging duck dives in the absence of a good channel.
Occy’s Left (also known as Nihiwatu)
This might just be the most hotly debated surf spot in the whole of Indo right about now. The reason? The construction of the uber-chic NIHI resort just in front has effectively closed off access to the water for anyone who’s not staying there (and let’s just say it isn’t cheap!). That’s the first instance that we can recall of private enterprise basically “owning” a surf break and we have to say we really don’t like the precedent it sets.
That said, the people in the hotel cite their crowd control on the reef and community projects as good work things that balance it out, and the hotel is downright fantastic. The wave you get access to is also called God’s Left because it is pretty darn perfect on SW-S dry season middling swells, peaking off the point into a lovey spinning hollow section before mellowing out into a wall that really invites the turns.
The coast angles a touch to the east at Wainukaka just before the south Sumba coast dips into the lovely exotic beach of Pantai Pahiwi. That creates a good point for sucking up the wet season SE swells that come across in November and December, and there can be some great rights when it’s 5-foot and windless. Sadly, that rarely happens and this is usually messy stuff. There are also boulders on the ride in so be sure to know where you’re going.
Notice the plural. This rare Sumba right is actually a whole set of rights. It’s accessible only by boat below a high headland that reminds us of the perch above Uluwatu Temple in Bali. A very popular wave, it’s a good stomping ground of the surf camps on Sumba, and not just because it offers something for the regulars. It’s long and really good fun if you take off deep in the point. There’s also the option of sticking closer to the inside section and catching the wave when it fattens out and loses the hollowness, so it’s top for intermediate learners as well.
Somewhere we wouldn’t mind working 9-5, this Office is a fun break that suits all levels from just-intermediate and up. The mellow, slow-moving walls trip left over the sandbars and rocky-bottomed bays at the western end of the reefs out front of the Kalala Beach Resort. They are super nice to ride on all boards on a dry season 3–5-footer.
As the name implies this is the faster section of the reefs out front of the Kalala Beach Resort. It’s really all about the drop and then the pull in section because there’s not too much room for maneuvering on the wave face itself and the reef can get tight.
A performance wave that goes off on both dry and wet seasons swells with a good S direction. This one’s where the shortboarders on the <5″4s will be ripping it. It’s only good at high and quite shallow even then, so not for anyone without experience riding close to the reef.
Where to stay when surfing in Sumba?
One hotel in particular stands out in Sumba: NIHI, a resort with its own private surf break. But there’s an ever-growing cohort of places that we think can be even better for hitting the breaks here, so long as you don’t mind forgoing Occy’s Left.
Look, if you can afford this then we’d say go for it. The money is well spent. Arguably the best break on the island (Occy’s) rolls into the reefs right in front of this award-winning resort, which has been called one of the finest in the whole of Indo, forming a hollow left hander that works on all tides from morning until night. People staying at the hotel are the only ones allowed to paddle out here and they limit it to something like 10 people per day. Money can buy happiness, it seems. The rooms are ridiculously lovely – so we hardly need to wax lyrical about that. The downside is that I guess we have mixed feelings about a hotel laying claim to a wave (security guards have been known to chase away non-guests:/)
Alamayah Boutique Retreat Hotel
Surf Pantai Morosi around the bend in the headland but also the beach breaks and reefs that score along Nihiwatu Beach from this fantastic boutique hotel. The design is impeccable, like a mashup of noir Art Deco and traditional Indonesian styles. The gardens are lovely, with swaying palms over a glinting pool. There’s also an on-site gym for the fitness buffs who can’t do without.
Lelewatu Resort Sumba
A stay at the Lelewatu Resort Sumba might not get you auto access to Occy’s but it will put you within punching distance of Nihiwatu Beach and the fantastic rights and lefts there. Whether you can surf God’s will depend on the mood of the guards at the resort over. Either way, you will get to return to a gorgeous pad on a plinth on the side of the isle, with lashing waves below and jungle all around. And did we mention there’s a divine infinity pool?
Step-by-step guide to planning your Sumba surf trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Sumba 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 in Sumba?
As with virtually everywhere across the central part of the Indonesian archipelago, Sumba surf is better during the dry season. That lasts from April to October and sees strong and regular pushes of groundswell move up from the SW and W, which is perfect to get those reefs on the southern shores of the isle firing. And it’s not just the swell compass, but the trade winds, too. They filter in lightly from the east, usually getting a bit of action in the mid-morning to help hold up the breaks and add hollowness. Sumba surf is actually pretty decent in the wet season, too, though you will be limited to some of the more versatile breaks (mainly Wainukaka and Miller’s Rights).
This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Indonesia