Adventure Travel

Sumatra Surf Journey

Surfing perfection.

Tags : adrenaline adventure beach buddies fishing scuba diving surfing
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The trip was months in planning. Between the 8 of us, we had more than 20 surfboards. This was the surf trip of a lifetime. We were going to surf waves that most surfers only see in magazines and videos. And the best part of all was we would have them to ourselves.

The trip started in Silbolga, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. From the dirty forgotten port town we would head west to remote islands off the coast of Sumatra. Because of how remote the islands were they have remained relatively unexplored by surfers.

There were only a couple of surf charter operators, and they kept their secrets quiet. This certainly wasn't luxury travel. Although our cabins were air conditioned, our 80 ft charter was a converted, wooden Indonesian freighter. She rattled when the engines ran (all the time) and rocked even in the slightest swells. But she was capable of withstanding the long passages between islands and the occasional storms that arose.

For the first few days on the trip, the swell was small. We would boat between islands exploring stunning beaches that only a handful of people had ever set foot on and surfing at the different breaks. The ocean and reefs were teeming with life. We feasted on fresh fish and squid every night. As the swell started to fill in, we motored back to one of the surf breaks that we came here to surf.

We woke up at dawn and were mesmerized by what surfers call “perfection.” Waves start more than a mile out from our anchorage, open up wide on the shallow reef in a blue barrel and reel across it in beautiful groomed lines. There are few waves in the world that break with this consistency and length.

For the next two days we'd surf until we couldn’t any more. The waves broke two of our boards and torn the fins off of two others. We’ve been spun on wipe-outs to the point of not knowing up from down and been dragged across the sharp reef. We are sunburned, chafed and exhausted. It’s everything we’ve traveled across the world for. The swell fades and we motor south.

The next day we surf a break right in front of a tiny fishing village. As we surf, a crowd of locals gather on the beach in front of the wave. The children shout and cheers us on. The spectacle of foreign surfers dancing across waves in front of their homes never gets old. We motor even further out into the Indian Ocean.

Then some time to explore an island with no surf. There are just a couple of fishermen on this stunning island. We snorkel out in the current and watch a torrent of tropical fish of all colors swim below us. The reef is pristine and more alive than any reef I’ve ever seen. The edge of the reef drops off into a deep blue abyss. There’s nothing between us and Antarctica thousands of miles to the south. It certainly feels that way.

On our last night, our cook prepares a feast of lobster bought from the local fisherman. It seems hackneyed that our trip would end under the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever witnessed, but this part of the world is about superlatives and remarkable circumstances. Clouds ring the horizon, and the sun seems to set everywhere in fiery colors of exuberance. We eat on the top deck of the boat looking out on hundreds of miles of open sea and wonder when we’ll be back.

  • Research and plan in advance destinations, time of year, and surf charter or surf camp operators. It can make the difference between scoring the best waves of your life and playing cards by the beach for two weeks.
  • Pack the right equipment. Being on a boat removes the weight restriction on gear. So bring an extra board, first aid, sun protection, and some entertainment for downtime on the boat.
  • Prepare for expenses. Access to perfect waves by surf charters and surf camps are not cheap, but scoring the best waves of your life make it worth it. Be ready to spend $150-250/day plus travel and gear expenses.
  • Bring a camera. You're going to see some of the most perfect waves and most beautiful remote beaches. Many of the waves are ideal for shooting surf photos. Bring a good digital SLR camera and a telephoto lens.
  • Respect the locals. You're surfing their waves and enjoying their culture. Make sure you respect their customs and culture.

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