How to survive Indonesia…
The glittering chain of pearls strung across the Indian Ocean. Where Asia ends, Australasia begins and continents divide. A seemingly infinite amount of islands home to waves of such quality, such class and, occasionally, such crowds it’s heaven and hell all at the same time.
If you call yourself a ‘surfer’ you’re not really a ‘SURFER’ until you’ve busted your Indo cherry. It’s adventure, intrigue, excitement, culture, flawless waves and more all topped up with lashings of banana jaffles and nasi goreng. Now’s the time to think about a main season mission so here’s some pointers.
WHAT TO BRING
The main thing with any tropical travel is travelling light. Essentials only. Reason? You’ve got to carry the damn stuff. It’s hot and sticky so you don’t need heaps of clothes. A selection of boardies to rotate and comfy pair of walk shorts and you’re good to go. Couple of vests, couple of tees and maybe one smart shirt, one long sleeve tee and some thin linen trousers in case you’re a) wanting to visit a temple b) are going anywhere malarial. It’s easy enough to pick up cheap clothes in Indo so don’t bring the farm. If you’re doing a Mentawai run you don’t even need clothes. A tee to travel there in. One for the way home. Then some boardies. On a boat it’s just boardies and top off for the whole time. Unless you’re the kind of hipster that wants to surf in an open shirt of course.
Board wise two boards is the minimum. A groveller for the small days and a something you’re happy on for the good hollow days. One board and you’re asking for instant snappage first sesh. More is good but there’s a moving around to consider and coffin bags are an arse to travel with. A good tight triple is ideal. Spare fins, spare leashes, luggage straps, too many fin keys and strip your wax before you go as you’ll need warm water wax not the cold stuff. Apart from that don’t go crazy, a mozzie net if you’re going deep, a first aid kit aimed mainly at repairing cuts and your own syringes are always a good idea, sunblock, any medical essentials and anti-malarials if you’re going anywhere past Bali.
Do you need a lappy? Depends if you want to spend your time on the other side of the world staring at the internet. They can be handy for watching films etc on flat days but it’s a weight and a risk. An iPad is the perfect travel companion. Light, battery lasts forever and you can get your fix of online guff.
WHAT NOT TO BRING
You have to be an utter muppet to even begin to think about bringing any recreational drugs in to Indo. Fancy the death penalty? Then don’t be a tool. When there also don’t dabble. Street sellers are often in league with the police so seconds after you score you’ll be tapped by the rozzers and in a whole world of trouble. Ice cold beer and surf fuelled dopamine are the only chemical recreations you need in Indo.
DON’T PLAN TOO HARD
It’s good to have an arrival plan. Book something for the first few nights if you’ve got a tip from an experienced mate. Have an idea of where you’re staying or at least the street/lane name so the bemo driver can drop you off. Coming out the airport confident is good wherever you go. Rip off merchants can spot a green neophyte in an instant so act confident and like you know where you’re going. Bemo wise agree a price for the fare as the traffic can be wondrously terrible.
From there on out being fluid in Indo is good. You can adapt to what’s happening with the swell then. No point having a rigid structure then missing the swell of the decade because you were up a volcano or drunk off your gourd in the Gili Isles. You will meet people, things happen, a crew for a G-Land mission or a boat trip down through Lombok and Sumbawa can come together in a day so. So be adaptable. Be mobile. Base everything around the swell. Because…
IT’S NOT ALWAYS GOOD
This isn’t something you want to hear obvs. But, friend, we’d be remiss if we painted a picture suggesting ‘best ever’ waves every day. Sure Indo has better waves on a vastly higher ratio to anywhere else in the world but it still gets bum every now and then. Funky winds are an occasional issue, like the back end of last season thanks to El Nino weird. Thankfully you’re sat in one of the most interesting places: culturally, geographically and biologically on earth. If the surf is going to be arse for a few days then hit the volcanoes, the nature parks, go see a Komodo Dragon or orang-utans and yes go to the Gili Isles get drunk (not on Arak unless you don’t mind going blind) and chase backpackers. Hang out with the locals. They cool. Your eyes will be opened when you’re sat in a wooden shack in Sumbawa with your friendly local moped taxi rider and his family as they bring out the biscuits and weaponised strength coffee. You’ll see a happy, family centred, chilled out bunch of people that don’t give a fig what’s happening on Facebook. Living close to the land and all the better for it. Of course every island is different. Bali is garish and so modern in parts now you’d be hard pressed to know you were on the magical island that’s been such an integral part in surf lore for forty years.
WHERE TO GO
Look at a map of Indonesia. There’s surf on pretty much every island that faces into the Indian Ocean. Some of it well known and documented, surfed and crowded since 1974. Other parts you could still well be the first person to draw a line.
There are plenty of waves outside of the well known hotspots of Bali that are classy and uncrowded. For a short trip Bali is all you need. If you’ve got the time then other islands need exploring. The shortest hop from Bali is over to Nusa Lembongan, an island not too far off the east coast. The classic mission from Bali is to Java and the legendary G-Land which with the fast boats is not the 24 hour ferry/bemo hell mission it used to be. The longer run is down to Lakey’s in Sumbawa but Lakey’s is best in the shoulder seasons in April when the trade winds are not so dominant. The other option is to really explore and avoid the classic spots entirely. Sumatra and Java are huge, wave rich islands, you could spend years just exploring there and there are waves equal to Lakeys and G-Land to find. It all comes down to how much adventure you want. Bali is easy. A green run. Lombok and Sumbawa a red and past Sumbawa and Java/Sumatra and the outer isles a black run. Much more potential for things to go wrong but also a richer, deeper experience and no Starbucks or McDonalds to fall back on.
Whatever happens any Indo voyage is going to be one that’ll give you stories for years to come not to mention upping your surfing game. It’s rightly considered the best surf zone on Earth, you owe it to yourself to find out why…
Words & Photos Sharpy