Can I learn to surf in South Sumatra?
The simple answer is yes. But in order to truly answer the question we need to delve a little deeper into a beginner surfers options in Indonesia.
Anyone wanting to learn to surf in Indonesia (Southern Sumatra included) will always be confined to its beaches. As famed for its world class reef breaks as Indonesia is, as a rule, such waves are far too dangerous for beginners and attempting to surf them would almost certainly result in serious injury. Of course, some beaches are more ideal than others but most can provide a good starting point for those new to the sport.
Kuta Beach, Bali
The most popular beach to learn to surf in Indonesia would have to be Kuta beach in Bali. It seems to have a nice amount of power thanks to the beach being relatively flat, offering plenty of user friendly "white water" waves to practice on. Surfers can find 101 reputable surf schools to sign up with and there's no question it’s a good option. However it means spending your holiday in Kuta! Although it does have a certain charm, most would agree it’s only good fun for a day or two rather than an entire vacation.
For those happy to sign up, most beginners will usually take a handful of lessons and progress no further than standing up in the white water. For the few that progress "out back", the reality is that the waves close out most of the time and further improvement is limited and slow. The waves are very crowded with locals and it can be hard to catch a few waves even if you're a good surfer.
The point is, even the most popular beach in Indonesia has some draw backs. It is possible for beginners to continue progressing to other spots (towards Canggu) but many of the waves are getting so busy now that they're becoming dangerous. Where some will revel in the experience, others will be looking for a new sport to try.
Krui, Southern Sumatra
For those looking for a quieter & more unique experience in Indonesia away from the Bali masses, it’s actually pretty hard to find many camps that offer surf lessons. Lombok is perhaps next on the list but again, it’s often described as the new Bali (being so close and quickly becoming developed) and it’s certainly not crowd free. It’s not hard to see why many are choosing to escape to more remote destinations like Sumatra.
Like Bali, the Southern part of Sumatra is also famed for its reef breaks and is regularly visited by die hard surfer’s year. And for any "learners" willing to take the long journey, they will also have the opportunity to experience something a little more real than those heading to Bali. Of course, there isn’t the choice of surf schools and there isn’t a beach quite as good as kuta beach (to learn to surf) but there is plenty of opportunity to catch some white water, have some fun with some experienced instructors and to learn the fundamentals of riding a wave. Because no matter where you are in Indonesia, if it’s your first time surfing, thats all you are ever going to do. As fun as surfing can be, in the early days at least, it’s as much hard work as it is fun. Progress is made but in short bursts. That’s simply what learning to surf is like!
Learning to surf at Mandiri Beach, Southern Sumatra
Spending time in a legitimate surf destination (Like Krui, South Sumatra) where more "advanced surfers" come for their surf trips, you're bound to get some varying opinions. And for an experienced surfer, its a paradise for them. They’ll quite happily point out that it’s not a place for beginners but this is true only in the same way that going to Chamonix to learn to snowboard would be a bad choice. Would a beginner be maximising the surfing opportunities, of course not. It all depends what you’re looking to get out of your vacation.
So where is the best destination to surf? Places like Morocco have many flat gradient beaches that produce gentle waves, which enjoy nice weather and good winds. But with that comes a wetsuit, less friendly locals and a destination that’s not comparable to Sumatra/Indonesia (in my opinion). Sumatra isn’t a bad place to learn all things considered. You have a beautiful beach in Mandiri, uncrowded waves in hot tropical waters. Lessons are private and affordable. You're on a real adventure, away from the masses. It’s a real and unique experience.
Mandiri Beach, Lampung, Sumatra
But wherever you learn, you’ll soon realise that surfing is hard. We all know it looks easy! I believe it’s one of the hardest sports to master and even if you're fit & dedicated it still takes years of practice to get the "basics" down. And if you start to learn after you're 18, it also becomes even harder. Any advanced surfer you see in the ocean will have been surfing all their lives, probably since they were a teenager, practicing day after day, year after year. If its your first time surfing, then it'll be a challenge in every sense. Many will struggle but most will enjoy the reward of a hard days surfing no matter your ability.
If you're interested in surf lessons in Sumatra then check out Sumatra Surf Resort which is the only surf camp in the region that has a qualified instructor as well as soft top learner boards for rent. Lessons are only offered in the "shoulder" seasons of March-April and October-November. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.