Let’s be honest with ourselves, any travelling surfer visiting Sumatra is looking for 1 thing and 1 thing only – uncrowded & perfect waves. It’s what we crave for, dream about & talk about with our surfing buddies. Its the 64,000 dollar question. Its the most common topic of conversation here at Surf Camp Sumatra. Its the reason we’ll all travel for days on end and spend our hard earned cash on expensive flights, hotels and transfers. Its all about the lure of that perfect set-up without the crowds of your local surf spot. Its the yearly pilgrimage we’ll take to find that perfect wave where there’s no stress in the line-up and you can share some barrels with just a few of your mates.
But does it really exist?
Well some camps on the island of Simeulue will claim it does. Can it be true? Scan the internet & it seems every camp, resort, homestay or charter boat will usually promise perfect surf with just a few lucky souls out but we’re all too long in the tooth to know its usually not quite true. But every now and again a new destination will make the “crowd free” claim and one of the more recent has been on the island of Simeulue in North West Sumatra.
If you ask most surfers, they wouldn’t have heard of Simeulue. Many would have heard about Sumatra and of course the Mentawai islands but even with some pretty standard browsing of the web, before you know it, Simeulue can have you intrigued. Geographically speaking its pretty remote & with 1 daily flight from Medan –it’s pretty easy to get to. It’s open to the full magnitude of the Indian Ocean, so swell isn’t a problem and combined with year round light winds, the initial signs are promising for this relatively small island of 80,000 inhabitants. And what’s more it’s blessed with numerous nooks and crannies along its western and southern shores. The mind simply boggles when you scan google maps. Travelling surfers have a seemingly endless supply of coast to explore (the island is 100km in length) thanks to its excellently kept coastal roads.
So after checking out a few of the relatively small amount of surf camps that promise the magical combination of perfect and uncrowded surf – the question is simply, why wouldnt you book a trip to Simeulue? All the indicators are there. But is the surf any good and just how uncrowded is it?
Well we went on a recent trip to find out exactly what the fuss was all about. We’d had a few camps on the site for a few months and we were due for a proper inspection. Most reports were good, so we went to find out for ourselves.
Travel to Simeulue is relatively easy. Well in terms of Sumatra anyway. There are numerous flights to Medan each day from Jakarta and KL and then 1 daily flight to Simeulue from Medan. The only downside is that with just one Wings Air flight each day, although there is usually room for everyone, sometimes there's not quite enough room for all the surfboard bags. In such cases, surfboards are flown over and dropped off to your respective surf camp "the next day". Wings actually do a great job of this and your boards will always make it. Sadly there is no way of pre booking your boards but a good way to deal with the situation is to have a "board bag reshuffle" where everyone puts a single board in one of the bags that will definitely make it over that same day.
Our first destination would be a resort we’ve been working with for a number of months, Mahi Mahi Resort. First impressions were exceptional. The camp is beautiful and boasts some of the best accommodation available in Sumatra with each villa overlooking the islands most consistent wave, The Peak (aka Jackals). The daily sunsets are incredible, the accommodation & food are some of the best we’ve come across and the staff are very friendly.
Since we visited the camp has also added a swimming pool which is certainly a nice touch.
So far so good! But what about the surf? Thats the real reason we’re here. Let’s start with The Peak. By all accounts its the focus of the resort. Is it any good? Well in short – yes, its pretty good! It breaks on all tides (bonus) – winds seem generally light and variable too. Its also super easy to get in and out and the reef is pretty forgiving. There’s a left AND a right. So in theory it can hold a dozen guys eaaasily. And it can! Its also a swell magnet. During our 2 weeks on Simeulue (May) – The Peak was never below head high, winds remained favourable and there was never more than 15 guys out. A standard crowd was about 8-12, but there were windows when there were just a few guys in the line-up and the waves were still good. The standard of surfers was average, there are no local surfers and the vibe was friendly. The left produces longer and hollower left handers – and the right is shorter with an occasional tube. Wow sounds epic right?
Well, with all those positives there are some negatives. First up, its shifty. Its not a mechanical reef break like we’d expect from being in Indo. Especially at a spot which is the focus for most travelling surfers. There is a pretty large playing field where the peak will rear up so you’re always on your toes. There’s no rip which is good – but because its such a swell magnet, larger sets will sneak through and often clear up the entire line up. You’ll be in priority one minute and the next thing you know you’ll be washed up on the inside with your tail between your legs. It’s a wave that seems a bit more orderly on a smaller swell and although holds pretty big conditions (triple over head) – it’s just not that manageable for the majority of its visitors above 5-6’.
If the Peak is nothing more than a fun and consistent option – you’ll find Simeulues best reef break Dylans Right about 30 mins to the south. Its Simeulues best wave. Its a legitimate quality wave that can produce a world class right hander. It’s not the longest of waves but long enough to provide some real tube time of mesmerising quality. The wave itself has a pretty defined take off spot which demands a light footed approach. Surfers will usually have to pull in or line-up the imminent tube section ahead that is usually as wide as it is tall. Its shape is text book perfect with more of a bowly tube than a super long wall. Winds are usually favourable most mornings and it tends to deal with cross-shore winds quite well. And whats more is that there is no sketchy end section and it breaks through all the tides. Getting in and out is also pretty easy unless it gets super big which is rare thanks to a very convenient gully/key hole on the inside. There are a few local surfers who are super friendly. They’ll get their waves but they let plenty of waves go too. It’s a natural footers dream and is a relatively easy barrel once you set your line and you commit.
Yes Dylans right is the real deal but there are some unfortunate negatives to this wave as well. First up, its extremely sensitive to the direction of the swell. It can be booming everywhere on the coast and Dylans can miss the majority of the swell. It needs just the right amount of west in the swell to funnel in and everything else just doesn’t work. And it also needs a reasonable swell too. Even if the direction is just right, it still requires a medium sized pulse to break well. So usually, day to day, it’s going to be small or inconsistent. And when its fully pumping, everyone and their dog will be there as once Simeulue finally gets big, there’s very few places to surf other than Dylans. Whats more is that it’s a fairly short wave (approx 100 yards or so), so in no time you’re back in the line-up and waiting. The pack just doesn’t spread out enough and as soon as there’s more than 8 or 10 guys people tend start jostling and positioning themselves deeper – and ultimately blowing waves, unable to make the first section. It can be frustrating to say the least but it happens quite often.
But it’s not all bad. Those who stay right on the point at one of the camps we offer (Salt Surf Resort, Simeulue Surf House & Simeulue Surf Lodges) – will get the place way more dialled than the other surfers who travel down from The Peak. Figuring out the wave over a number small (but surfable) sessions can be extremely fruitful as there’s often windows of opportunity to get a cheeky session with just 3-4 surfers in (especially around lunch time)and it seriously takes just a handful of waves to have a really good surf. Those that stay right at Dylans will soon learn when to time a session, where to sit in the line-up and simply get more waves. One or two good sessions at Dylans can make your trip there’s no question. It just requires a little bit of patience.
Tea Bags, One Thongs, Monkey Trees & Thailands
With 2 waves seemingly passing the test and being 30 mins apart, the signs are looking good for Simeulue. But the real question remains in regards to the islands remaining waves. How good are they, how many are there & how consistently do they break? If you look at the map you’ll soon realise that there are a number of alternative surf breaks. The most documented wave other than Dylans and The Peak is without question T-Bags, a mesmerising right hander. And from the numerous photos online, it’ll have you frothing pretty quickly. Access is pretty easy but requires a boat. The camps at Dylans are closer for sure taking about 40 mins to “put put” out to the island thanks to the local fisherman that will gladly take you to the wave for about USD 40 (up to 4 guests). From The Peak, those using the resorts speedboats will probably get there in a similar time but of course at a premium rate. Its actually a super consistent wave – especially compared to some of the other set-ups. This photogenic beast gets super perfect and for the tube hungry it can serve up plenty of opportunity to get slotted. In fact if you’re not a charger, its probably not the wave for you. For every inch of perfection that lies within the wave so does a vicious monster, on hand to imprint a fresh tattoo thanks to the teeth lined reef that lurks below. Rewards might be high, but so does the punishments.
If the elevator drops of T-Bags aren’t exactly your cup of tea then a quick glance at any Simeulue surf guide will draw you into a handful of other possibilities. In fact the majority of camps based on this remote corner of northern Sumatra would have you think that there are plenty more good quality reef breaks to discover. The truth of the matter is that there are, but with that said, our findings certainly questioned their consistency and legitimacy. Without going into too much detail, we think it’s fair to say that there are quite a few other waves to surf, many of which actually produce some pretty fun waves. Most of them prefer smaller swells (shoulder to head high) with waves like One Thongs or Monkey Trees producing some pretty fun left handers and you’ll almost certainly score them without anyone else in the lineup.
There are also another 1 or 2 waves that, on their day, can get very good from time to time. But you need to put in the time, spend hours on your motorbike and expect to get skunked quite often. These waves are painfully swell and wind sensitive and are a long way off the beaten track. Any hardened Indo traveller can easily be disillusioned after a long day searching on a scooter. One example is Thailands that is located in the southern coast and takes an hour bike ride to reach. It’s not even so much the 2hr round trip but the fact that the wave is so sensitive to swell size and direction that makes it an often frustrating venture. On its day it’s a super fun right hander that offers long fun walls and even some tube sections and those lucky enough to time it just right will be on cloud 9. But it can easily get too big and quite often it’s too small! I guess that just about sums up many of the waves in Simeulue. But if you’re willing to put the time in away from Simeulues main 3 waves, then you can score some really fun and sometimes perfect waves with just you and whoever is willing to join you for the ride, and that’s a rare situation these days.