The real guide to surfing in the hinako islands
It amazes me just how few surfers have ever heard of the Hinako Islands. Even the type of surfer that is quite well travelled, perhaps been to Indo a handful of times & notched up the likes of Lakey’s, G-land and the Ments - most of them haven't heard of it. It’s surprising because the Hinako Islands is a legit surf destination in a world where it’s a pretty hard task to find some decent and uncrowded surf. I’m guessing that many surfers would believe that if the Hinako's was really any good then the lid would’ve been blown off of it by now? I had personally known about them for quite some time and generally heard pretty good things but since the devastating earthquake in 2005 I’d also heard that things weren’t so good any more. So in May this year, I headed out to the islands, with my wife in tow, to get a real taste of what the islands had to offer.
The first thing you realise when planning a trip to the Hinako’s is just how remote they are. Once you’ve got yourself to Medan (North Sumatra) you’ll then need to take another short flight to Nias. From Nias, it’s a 2hr taxi drive to the port of Sirombu, where you’ll then need to take a 30 min speedboat to reach the islands. It is time intensive but the good thing about the travel is that it’s pretty enjoyable especially compared to heading to somewhere like the Mentawais where you’ll spend endless hours aboard a ferry or compared to South Sumatra where you have to sit cooped up in a taxi for 6hrs. Sure, it does take some time to reach, but genuinely speaking, it never felt anything less than a fun adventure in getting there, even my wife thought so :-)
The Hinako Islands - with "Asu" in the very the north and "Bawa" to the very south.
The island of Asu remains the only destination for visitors to stay at. The other 7 that make up the Hinako’s barely have any inhabitants let alone any accommodation. As you can imagine, there’s very little development in the region, transport is purely by boat and all the supplies are brought over from Nias. Asu, sits to the very north of the archipelago and is about 1 mile in length and about ½ mile wide. It’s pretty small. It’s about a 45 minute boat drive to the very southern end of the chain where you’ll find Bawa, an island made famous in ’94 by Tom Curren when he surfed some of the biggest Indonesian waves, ever seen at that time.
Our home for the next few weeks would be Puri Asu Resort by far the best camp on the island. In fact after a quick check of the other accommodation options, it became very apparent that this would be the only place we’d send guests to. And before long, we both eased into the islands pace of life and realised we’d already stumbled upon one of Sumatra's best kept gems, all before I’d even had a chance to go for a surf.
Being a goofy footer I was pretty excited to see what the wave of Asu would deliver in terms of quality and consistency as well as what the crowds would be like. The next morning the surf was pumping, with just 4 guys out. Long walls of perfect glass peeling down the point. Double over head sets. With plenty of waves for everyone, we exchanged waves for an hour or two before taking the short 5 minute boat ride back to the camp. For the next 2 weeks I was lucky enough to surf Asu numerous times in the double over head range with very few people in the line-up. 2 or 3 times I surfed it alone, scratching my head thinking how lucky I was, but at the same time, hoping to share the session with at least another surfer. There was nearly always enough swell for Asu to break each day but with the winds being variable, it became pretty obvious that it was quite a wind sensitive set-up which would work against surfers at times. It’s offshore from South West to South East. Dead South is epic. But if the wind picks up and has any East in it, there is a pretty big chatter up the face. That was the main real flaw of the wave, for me at least. But the great thing about the Hinakos is that it does offer some other really good options when the wind becomes less favourable.
We surfed Bawa a handful of times, again, without anyone around. Its sort of intimidating because its known as a big wave spot that is open to the full force of the Indian Ocean. It can be head high then a double over head wave will come through. This place has waves every day of the year. What became pretty apparent is that its a great wave, dishing up some long walls and when its over 4-5’ expect to get tubed. It can hold mammoth surf too. For those that like the juicer stuff then it ticks the boxes.
Bawa - when its double over head or bigger (around the head high mark its a wally rippable wave)
For those looking for a softer option than the relentless waves of Asu and Bawa, then Sirombu is a really consistent option offering plenty of fun waves and a surprising amount of barrels. Again, I surfed here a fair few times. Each surf was decent and good fun. Tides weren’t a factor and it was another spot that worked when Asu was onshore. Its a wave that a beginner-intermediate could have a lot of fun on as well as more advanced surfers. The one thing I noticed was that it had a bit of a rip on some days but that was about the only real draw back. This wave isn’t the reason you come to Indo, but its super fun and serves as a good option to keep you frothing in between sessions at Asu.
Sirombu - super fun and very user friendly
There are definitely other waves on offer. Mini Bawa is just like its name sake but with so few surfers about there was no point surfing there other than for novelty reasons. Another wave is barrel machine (hamutala), a spot that is the real deal (left hander) and serves up some excellent waves but it needs some swell to get going. There are another couple of waves on Nias that get really good too and there’s 2 big wave options as well as another secret spot. Afulu is definitely a really good wave when it breaks. There aren't a multitude of wave options like the Mentawais, but there is enough. If there were more waves, it’d be more crowded. The region is consistent and it has off shore conditions in all wind directions which is a real bonus. You can usually surf good waves every day.
Why so few surfers?
It was prime time main season & for 2 weeks I didn’t see a charter boat and there was never more than 4-5 guys in the line-up. I surfed off shore conditions every day. Hands down the least crowded region I’d visited in the main season in Sumatra. So why is it uncrowded? Well first off I think I got a bit lucky. Puri Asu isn’t usually too busy but for 5 days straight it was just me and my wife at the resort! When we were visiting, there were at most 8 guests at camp with the neighbouring camps both being closed. I don’t think they get many guests. One of the camps looked like it needed knocking down, the other was new and small. On another trip, you might have had more guys around, but I still believe that it would never be considered crowded.
Other factors for the lack of crowd would include the fact that both Asu and Bawa, as fun as they are – were affected by the 2005 earthquake that lifted parts of the island up to 2m which had some negative effects on the waves. And to add to this, many surfers who would often take the trip across from Nias, simply don’t anymore because the locals will tell everyone that the waves are *broken* because they want to keep the surfers at Nias (Lagundri Bay). They do a good job and the rumours spread. Sure, there are no waves that match the quality of Lagundri’s epic right, but then again you have to share it with 30+ guys every surf. The Nias area has a bad rap for Malaria too (which isn’t true) & I also believe that the Hinako's has a "big wave" reputation (think Asu & Bawa) and combined with its limited wave options has resulted in relatively few visitors.
So who does this place suit?
Well it suited me for sure. I’m no charger but I’m happy in solid conditions if I don’t have to fight for waves. I’d always be happy to lose some quality if it meant less people and so Asu was exactly that. Ive surfed numerous waves that are better than all the waves here but many of them I’d have to share with more people than I’d prefer to! I would say someone with a bit of experience in Indo, that doesn’t need babysitting that wants to clock up some crowd free sessions will love this place.
Time of year?
Seeing as Bawa is such a swell magnet, technically you can get waves here all year. But the other waves wont really work and so you'll be limited. You need main season swell to give you all the options when the winds switch. I'd keep this for a trip in the main season between April and October - and stay for at least 10 days.
It’s certainly a place where you could bring a family or certainly your wife as "Puri Asu" is truly awesome and has some of the clearest waters on its shores, perfect for snorkelling or exploring on an SUP. The resort is excellent, especially the superior bungalows & the food was also exceptional.