(updated May 2020)
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 a few of the classic destinations along the way like Lakey’s, G-land and the Ments. It’s surprising because the Hinako Islands is a hands down legitimate 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 Hinakos 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 (before I visited them for the first 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. It turns out that although the 2 main waves (Asu and Bawa) arent quite what they once were, they still remain excellent waves, largely uncrowded & defintely worth a look.
The first thing you realise when planning a trip to the Hinako’s is just how remote they are, but you do have a few options to get there...
For most people, you'll need to fly via Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta then onto to Medan before another short flight to Gunung Sitoli, Nias.
From Gunung Sitoli (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. The travel is pretty enjoyable especially compared to heading to somewhere like the Mentawais where you’ll spend endless hours aboard a ferry or compared to Southern 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 feels anything less than a fun adventure in getting there. Its good to point out that all 3 surf camps that operate on Asu offer transfer packages from Gunung Sitoli aswell.
The island of Asu remains the only destination for visitors to stay in the Hinakos. The other 7 islands 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 waves in Indonesia, ever seen at that time.
Where to stay!?
There are just 3 surf camps on Asu. Two overlook the regions main wave and a more upmarket resort style camp is located just around the corner...
Puri Asu Resort. Although not directly in front of "Asu", the private beach and resort facilities more than make up for it. Besides it's only a 5 minute speedboat ride away!
Puri Asu Resort (link to resort) - no question it has the best facilities of the 3 camps.
They have a "standard" package of around USD 120 (AUD 180) / night (10 night rate) and a "superior" package for around USD 250 (AUD 375). Both include a/c accommodation, daily meals, daily boat rides and use of faciltities etc.
Its without question the place to stay if you're bringing your non surfing girl friend, wife or family. They'll enjoy it more because the facilities are better (than the other 2 camps) and the access to Puri Asu's private beach is worth its weight in gold. The sand is like nothing on this planet & the water is crystal clear. There's excellent snorkleing directly out the front & its also really easy to take the SUP's out and do other non surfing activities like fishing. They also have a huge TV room, various yoga gazebos and have a brand new pool table. Their biggest speedboat is also the best in the region by a long shot.
That said, it is typically a little more expensive than the other 2 camps and it doesnt have direct views of any of the waves (although it's just a few minutes from Asu).
Its also good to note that although the other 2 camps do have direct views of Asu (and direct access), getting in and out of the line-up can be somewhat tricky. The coral is extremely sharp (no joke), and so if you're someone who likes surfing without boots, then make sure your feet are toughened up before heading out for a trip. Or maybe bring some reef boots just to be safe. There is a key hole that offers good access in and out of the surf, but requires proper timing for obvious reasons, especially on bigger days. Obviously when staying at Puri Asu, access is by boat and so the reef is totally avoidable.
The view of Asu from Sozinhos
Sozinhos Surf Lodge (link to camp) - best bang for your buck.
Rates are usually around USD 130 (AUD 199) / night for a 10 night package that include your transfers when there's a group of 3 guests.
That said, high season special offers can be as low as USD 85 (AUD 130) / night - if there's a group of 4 traveling together.
Sozinhos from the line-up
Stay at Sozinho's if you're a little more budget conscious & wanting all day access to surf Asu. They also limit their boats to just 4 surfers to keep crowds at a minimum when surfing the other waves.
Asu Surf Camp
Asu Surf Camp is next door to Sozinhos. The camp has been upgraded in recent years and Earl the owner knows the area better than anyone!
Being a goofy footer I was pretty excited to see what the wave of Asu (pictured above) would deliver in terms of quality and consistency as well as what the crowds would be like. The day I arrived the surf was pumping, and I’d timed things just right for a late afternoon surf - with only 4 guys out. Long walls of perfect glass peeling down the point. Double over head sets. With plenty of waves for everyone & beyond stoked, we exchanged waves for an hour or two before it got too dark to see! 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 surfs I was out totally alone, wondering where the heck everyone else was! There was usually enough swell for Asu to break each day, but the winds being variable, soon became a factor from one day to the next. It became pretty obvious that it was quite a wind sensitive set-up which would obviously 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. But the great thing about the Hinakos is that it does offer some other really good options when the wind becomes less favourable for Asu.
I 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 in the head high range 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. Another great thing is that Bawa (pictured below) is bang offshore when Asu is onshore, so chances are (in the main season) one or the other will be working.
For those looking for a softer option than the relentless waves of Asu and Bawa, then Sirombu (below) is a really great 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 genuinely good fun. Tides weren’t a factor and it was another spot that worked when Asu was onshore. Its a wave that an 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. If Bawa is offshore and big, then you'll more than likely head here.
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 (below), a spot that is the real deal (left hander) and serves up some excellent waves but it needs some swell to get going. Another spot called Afulu is without question a great wave on its day. In the main season its averagely consistent needing a medium+ swell and an east wind. Expect 2-3 great days every 10 days. Guests can reach Afulu within 45-60 mins.
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. There isn’t a multitude of wave options, but there is enough. If there were more waves, it’d be more crowded. Its consistent and it has off shore conditions in all wind directions which is a real bonus. You can surf good waves every day.
Why so few surfers?
Well, its pretty far from anywhere for starters & travel takes time and money. There are easier places to get to & people will often check out Lagundri bay (Nias) instead of the Hinakos as its cheaper and lagundri is world class. Its also worth pointing out that Asu can be wind affected some seasons. Plus there really are no cheap places to stay in the area. Its pretty much USD 100 (or more) a night most the time.
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 isnt a wave that matches the quality of Lagundri’s epic right hander, 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 Hinakos has a "big wave" reputation (think Asu & Bawa) which isnt a good fit for everyone and combined with its relatively limited wave options its resulted in fluctuating visitors.
So who does this place suit?
Well it suited me for sure. I’m no charger but I’m happy in double over head or so, 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 region. Remember, prime time is anytime mid April until October.
It’s a place where you could bring a family or certainly your wife as "Puri Asu" is awesome and has some of the clearest waters on its shores. The resort itself is excellent, especially the superior bungalows & the food is exceptional. Frothers who cant keep their eye's off the surf, will probably prefer "Sozinhos", although both are exceptional options (promo video links below).