It has been a dream of mine for a long time to go to a place that stretched my surfing comfort zone, a place where I could get away from the chilly waters of Aotearoa ( New Zealand ) and leave my wetsuit at home.
I searched for richness in culture……… somewhere that had a variety of waves and somewhere that wasn’t too hectic, perhaps a humble town untainted by the ego of commercial surfing. My reef surfing was limited so I wanted to go somewhere that had some options to challenge and advance my abilities. So the mission was on! Unfortunately the timing didn’t coincide with any of my mates so I rolled most of the trip solo. My gypsy sister, Jen, from Girls Onboard Surf Retreats and crew came out for 8 days to join me so that was awesome!
So my fellow wahine if you have intrepid tendencies, are not too precious at heart, have an appetite for adventure and epic waves then South Sumatra beckons you.
The variety of waves will challenge your surfing as it’s a fabulous place to introduce you to surfing powerful waves. There are mellow and fast beach breaks to gnarly reef breaks, lefts and rights and numerous spots dotted around the coastline. They are just awaiting your exploration.
The culture is rich and the locals are charismatic, friendly and super welcoming. You get a “Hello Misteerrr” (roll your R) everywhere you go, plenty of photo opportunities as the locals all want a snap of you like the paparazzi want Madonna.
South Sumatra is on the rise as a top spot for “surfari style” surfers. It’s not particularly easy to get to but once you’re there you will find all you need from internet (slow) to local shops, markets and Indomarts (like a 7 Eleven)! What you won’t find is a shopping complex or a Starbucks thank God!
My local surf guide/friends Bram and Sadie took me under their wings and showed me around all the surf spots. They were lifesavers as you can get easily lost and waste miles trying to find some surf breaks. But down little roads and hidden tracks, through villages of wooden huts can lead to epic waves and pristine beaches.
When I arrived the surf was gigantic, with the June supermoon and massive tides. The waves were some of the biggest I have ever seen, 10 ft plus! For the experienced chargers there were plenty of huge barrels to ride, lots of stoked surfers but also lots of broken boards and bodies, scratched up from the coral reefs or boards snapped by heavy waves. Some of the waves have lethal consequences if you choose to take the drop but the beauty of the area is you can choose pretty much whatever waves your style prefers. There is lots of driving and exploring required, but the rewards can be exceptional.
It pays to know your surfing limits and come prepared. The only bummer of being on my own was not having my familiar surf crew. However, I managed and rarely surfed alone, making new surfing buddies.
I was in South Sumatra for the start of Ramadan, which was interesting as Muslim religion makes up 87% of Sumatra’s population. This will challenge a white female. I always covered up when out on my motorbike, and kept any skin showing to a bare minimum. Thanks to Salt Gypsy’s bespoke surf leggings my pins were sorted, kept from the sun and any preying beady eyes!
The 24 days in Sumatra was the trip of a lifetime. I’m not going to lie and say it was all rosy as there were frustrating days when I was over being on my own, days when the surf was too big and I had to sit out and watch in trepidation of my abilities, days that challenged my patience and moments when I felt secluded…..days when all I wanted to do was go for a run and not be harassed by 200 glaring Sumatrans. It often rained so much I thought I was going to have to grab my passport and ride for the hills.
I met some of the nicest people from all over the world on this trip who were truly inspiring, passionate, and like-minded people. I made some lifelong friends and created some memories that are deeply entrenched in my heart. I spent lots of time with locals, laughing and exchanging language and cultural experiences.
I dropped into some of the biggest waves I’ve ever paddled into, got my leggie stuck around the reef, and plenty of other heart pumping scenarios. I surfed in tropical downpours with lightening rainbows and the most beautiful sunset I have ever witnessed.
I experienced Sumatra’s culture first hand. I saw families living in wooden huts, with minimal material possessions but they looked happier and healthier than many I have seen in the West.
The enriching experience of surf travel can bring upon some equally challenging and daunting situations but if you’re up for the challenge you will create some stupendous memories that will be yours forever.
I am so grateful to be able to travel and experience a new culture so different from my own, and being able to do so with my surfboard is the icing on the cake.
Words I live by:
Where there’s a will there’s a way!
Top 10 essential travel items
Computer + Music
Silk Sac (silk sleeping bag)
Ear plugs for surfing ( I use blue tac )
I wish a Huge Thanks to – Matt, Erna, Rina and Alfie at Karang Besi Surf Camp
Bram Krui, Sadie Putra, my surf guide friends in Ujong Bocor/ Krui
Surfers Skin – NZ sunscreens and zincs
*Fi Duncan is our Pilates Guru and the creator of Wahine on Waves events in New Zealand. An ex-professional snowboarder, Fi also guides Mint Tours snow girls camps in Queenstown and Wanaka. Contact Fi here.