Indonesia is a surf mecca like no other on earth. Set over a whopping 17,000 islands between the Sulu Sea and the Indian Ocean, it’s a land that hoovers up swell from the depths of the Southern Hemisphere and combines it with tropical islands laced with coral reefs and underwater volcanic topography.
The result? A wonderworld of barrelling point breaks, glassy beach breaks, and just about everything else in between. You’ll find surf havens that have been mainstays since the times of Endless Summer – Bali, Lombok. But you’ll also find unchartered surf frontiers, from the palm-threaded isles of the Ments in the west to the undiscovered reefs of Sumba further east.
Below, I’ve used my in-depth knowledge of the Indonesian islands to help pinpoint the crème-de-la-crème of surf breaks in the region. You’re in good hands, because I’ve been traveling back and forth to these islands with my board in tow since 2013, with my latest outing to Lombok and Bali coming in early 2023.
Uluwatu – or Ulu’s, as the locals call it – is among the finest left-hand point breaks on Earth. Pros ripping here have been printed on the covers of surf mags since the days of the very first surf mags.
One glance at the beefy walls of water that run off the Uluwatu headland from the top of the cliffs and it’s easy to see why…The wave is a stunner! It starts with a heavy take-off into a section known as Outside Corner, a run of carve-worthy water that invites shortboarders to go from top to bottom and back again over and over.
As the sets peel in closer to the cliffs, they get shallower and shallower on the volcanic reefs. That adds a bit of speed and jeopardy, which is what the final section, appropriately known as Racetracks, is all about.
Uluwatu is very much a spot for upper intermediates and advanced surfers, so if you’re just finding your water feet it’s best to stick to the cliffside bars and watch the show.
No list of the best surf spots in Indonesia could be possibly be complete without a mention of G-Land. The jewel of East Java, it was hidden until at least the early 70s, when wandering surfers found their way through the primeval jungles here on the search for breaks away from the growing crowds of Bali.
What they found did not disappoint: A curling wealth of world-class left handers that bends around the end of wide Grajagan Bay (hence the name, G-Land).
These days, the sections are well known. There’s Money Trees, a ridiculously consistent barrel that finishes with a fun, bowly section. Then there’s Launching Pads, for daredevil pit seekers willing to shoot through the backdoor.
In all, there’s something like eight named breaks on the G-Land line-up. On the very best days – maybe once or twice each year – they’ll connect up to offer thigh-burning rides.
This is also the home of the original surf camp. Called G-Land Bobby’s Surf Camp, it’s been going for 40 years and offers bungalow stays a stone’s throw from the waves.
3. Batu Karas
Batu Karas’s star is rising. In the last 10 years, it’s emerged as Java’s best answer to the beginner-friendly waves of south Bali (more on those below).
That’s almost solely down to the main point break that works at the western end of the beach. It’s well-sheltered from the huge summer SW swells that fire up through the Indian Ocean. Peeling right and curving into the main beach, it’s got mainly sand below the water and is tailored for longer boards and learning surfers.
More advanced surfers, meanwhile, can hit the lippy A-frame break that works on the Batu Karas reef. Or there are the endless peaks of Pangandaran further to the east.
The vibes here are a bit like Bali 20 years ago. There are chilled surf houses with jungle-shrouded pools hiding between pockets of coconut trees right by the shore. The waves aren’t as busy as over in the Isle of the Gods and you’ll still encounter cows wandering the beaches.
4. Desert Point
Cross your fingers and commit – that’s how most surfers, even the most accomplished pros, make it through the spinning barrels of Desert Point. Forming on the westernmost reefs of southern Lombok, the island just over from Bali, this wave is hugely fickle. But when it works, it really, really works…
Oncoming SW swells will suck almost all the water off the jagged rock reef to form rifling tubes that go for 200 meters around the edge of a thick peninsula. It’s a quick drop down a steep face of water and straight into the action. At that stage, spectators can watch as surfers disappear behind a slab of water, only to be shot out at the far end 20 seconds down the line.
Desert Point isn’t for learners and is a bit tricky to get to – you’ll need a 4X4 and some good driving skills to navigate the rough-and-tumble roads of western Lombok.
Further reading: 25 Amazing Things to Do in Lombok
5. Kuta Bali
Ask 10 surfers where they’d recommend learning in Asia and Kuta is likely to be mentioned multiple times. Stringing its way up the southwest coast of the mystical Isle of the Gods, the town is the original starter location in Bali.
These days, it gets mixed reviews because the town has grown into a gaudy party hub for Aussie backpackers. And because there are regular reports of pollution in the water.
Nevertheless, Kuta Bali continues to reign as one of the finest surf spots in Indonesia simply because it’s home to stacks and stacks of surf schools. Some line the beach, others are tucked into the narrow streets just behind. $15 is the going rate for a two-hour lesson.
You may also like: Best Beaches in Bali
Gerupuk is a big bay that chops a wedge out of the south side of the island of Lombok. It’s got not one, not two, but three individual breaks up its sleeve, each of which caters to a slightly different type of surfer and a whole range of different skill levels. It’s not for nothing that it’s considered one of Indo’s most versatile spots.
The best wave of the bunch has to be Inside Gerupuk. It’s an A-frame with a soft and forgiving take off into a longer right and a short, sharp left. The right works better for beginners because it drags you straight into a paddle channel to get back out to the line-up.
Further out towards where Gerupuk Bay meets the open Indian Ocean, there’s Outside. This one’s a funky wave that always looks bigger than it really is, breaking in a series of lips over ever-shallowing reefs. Then there’s Don Don, a cruisy, super-soft left that doesn’t work all that often but loves a longboarder.
If I had to pick a downside to Gerupuk it would be the crowds. All three of the spots listed above get busy when the tides and swells are right. The best thing to counter that is to stay locally and surf early.
The bean-shaped island of Sumba has been touted as the next big thing on the Indo surf scene. There are a couple of reasons for that…
One: It’s angled perfectly into the SW swell channel, so gets loads of clean waves during the summer high season. Two: It has a similar topography to Bali, oscillating between high cliffs and volcanic reef shelfs. Three: It’s gorgeous and undeveloped – get ready for long sweeps of sugar-soft sand that filter into thickets of coconut jungle.
Breaks along the southwest coast are slowly being discovered but one really stands out from the crowd. It’s known as Occy’s Left, or God’s Left. They say it’s such a perfect lefty barrel that the almighty himself must have designed it. (Sadly, the only way to surf the spot is to book into the $2k-per-night hotel that’s on the nearby beachfront!)
Nias, like G-Land and the Ments before it, only came into the spotlight thanks to the intrepid Aussie explorers of the 1970s. They did the legwork so that the surf-travelers of today can enjoy some of the finest and most consistent barrelling point breaks in Asia.
It’s all down to a western shoreline that’s exquisitely angled into the breadth of the Indian Ocean, ever so slightly southwest to hoover up swell after swell during the dry-season months (May to August).
There are waves of serious quality here, especially around the opening of Lagundri Bay in the south of Nias. That’s a peeling, perfect right with barrel sections that go off like clockwork. Track north some and you’ll find Robinson Crusoe beaches with breaks that have not a single soul riding them.
9. Padang Padang
Perhaps the only left in Bali that can rival Uluwatu, Padang Padang is only a whisker up the coastline from its great compadre. It’s another of the famous surf spots that adorns the Bukit Peninsula in the far south of the island, and it’s sheer perfection when dry-season swells match up nicely with the right tides.
The main spot is the left hander that rises and peels off the south side of the bay. It’s barrel 90% of the way, eventually opening into a pitching face where you can carve big S-bend turns before lipping out.
During the low season and when the swell is small, there’s also another break on offer here: The Padang Padang Right. That’s another barrel of fish (no pun intended). Soft and cruisy, it offers sliding rides for longboarders and lower-intermediates.
10. The Mentawais
Last but most certainly not least on our list of the finest surf breaks in Indonesia, the Mentawais blaze a trail with their trio of main islands. Together, the three combine to offer arguably the greatest theme park of breaks on the globe.
Let’s start in the north. There, the island of Siberut gets things rolling with Playgrounds, a grouping of 25 individual spots that includes the epic lefts of E-Bay and the almond-barrel rights of Bank Vaults. Go south a touch and you’ll come to Sipura, an isle mostly famed for the swell-sucking sets of Telescopes.
The Ments are finished off by Pagai, the most remote island of the chain. The surf camps there offer a real getaway-from-it-all vibe. You’ll live like Tom Hanks in Castaway as you hop from your beach bungalow to deserted reef breaks that never seem to go flat.