After more than a dozen trips to the ever increasingly popular Bali & the Mentawai Islands, we wanted a taste of something different for our next Indonesia surf odyssey. This is a Sumatra Surf Travel Obsession: Off the Grid in Simeulue, North Sumatra.
As a surfer, it’s hard to not to fall for Indonesia as an ideal surf travel destination. As Dan Malloy so aptly summarised in Thomas Campbell’s excellent surf movie, The Present:
“There is no other place on earth, that I know of, that has such a wide variety of perfectly cylindrical, incredibly shreddable and seasonably predictable waves.” – Dan Malloy
Yet, while there is an established ‘high season’ from May to September, there is no real ‘season’ to surf Indonesia. There are excellent waves to be had year round, with a surplus of solid groundswell driven from the roaring 40s and 50s. You just have to know where to look at different times of year.
I wasn’t the pilot for this trip.
Two good mates had gotten the okay from family and work commitments for a surf trip and they had decided on a remote island off the coast of Northern Sumatra called Simeulue.
After hearing tales of untapped good wave goodness and a cosy, friendly surf retreat directly in front of one of the better waves on the island, The Peak, I was keen for the adventure. Plus, I had heard of Aura Surf Resort through the grapevine (local Sydney Northern Beaches surfers had started it) and it’s promise of:
- Consistent, quality A-Frame for both goofy and natural footers out front – CHECK
- Uncrowded (relatively) waves – CHECK
- Good setup to relax in down time between surfs – CHECK
Then I pulled out my tattered Indonesia surf guide and opened it to the only page on Simeulue:
Have no fear fellow surf traveller, this may have been the way of things in Simeulue in the past but, today, it’s quite civilised with decent roads, several land camps scattered along the island and scheduled flights by two local airlines.
As for malaria, I took the precaution for the first time in and stocked up on Lariam but I hardly saw a mosquito and, according to local lore, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami wiped out the entire malaria carrying mosquito population.
It’s an adventure traveling to most places in Indonesia and this was no exception.
We flew from Sydney to Medan via Singapore and then overnighted in Medan. At 445 the next morning, we headed back to the large, modern Medan airport only to be taken by minibus to our tiny prop plane. As we arrived, the crew were pulling a few seats out to make room for the boards.
A short 90 minute hop over to the island, a 30 minute drive from the airport to Aura and less than 24 hours after leaving home in Sydney we were waxing up for our first surf out front at The Peak.
Unlike the mechanically perfect waves of the Mentawai Islands and, indeed, unlike any wave I have ever surfed anywhere,
“The Peak is a beautiful, multi talented, complex thing that is easy to fall in love with.”
Like a fine wine, true appreciation comes with time. While I only really started to figure this wave out in ten days, I could happily surf it exclusively for months on end and never get bored.
The lefts are always fast and furious, with ample barrel potential and much more power than you expect. When I wasn’t paying careful attention, I was slapped so hard – even on shoulder high days – that I was left stunned, almost in disbelief of how disproportional a beating could be relative to wave size. NOTE, this is not a wave for beginners. The left is a challenging board and body breaker that demands respect. The right is still fast and challenging, you have to be able to get up and get down the line quickly to be able to surf this wave.
Take-offs could either be easy entry or elevator drop and, depending on where one takes off, you could backdoor the lip for a tidy barrel at take-off (I saw a few do this, I never did).
On some days, regardless of size, the barrels would be so perfect and so round you just wanted to sit back and watch the wave in awe. After take-off, there was usually a steep wall that would sometimes barrel but, near the end of the wave, there was almost always a tidy little section of flat reef that would throw a predictable lip that was easy to get under and through. The few barrels I did get were almost all here:
During some sessions (or even mid session) the lefts would become too fast to make and then I would move across to the more open, walled rights:
The rights usually entailed big, straightforward takeoffs followed by a long, smash-able wall that could get hollow in sections.
From day to day and even hour-to-hour, The Peak would change moods. Still, in ten days, a few established patterns emerged.
First, tide hardly changes the character of the wave although low tide means a lot more contact with the flat, dead reef. Second, wind doesn’t phase The Peak much. Howling onshore is howling onshore but we only saw one day where the wind was too strong to get out in the middle of the day. Third, The Peak followed a strict daily schedule regardless of tide, swell forecast or wind:
- From dawn ~6 a.m. to 8/830 a.m., she would be undersized and a little morning sick. Still very surfable and almost always just you and your mates; some of my best sessions were during this period
- At ~830 a.m., the sun would emerge from behind the hills that jut up out of the sea behind the Aura Surf Resort and, without fail, the waves would start to pulse, groomed clean by a light offshore wind. This was also rush hour, as surfers from other camps would show up for a morning session
- At ~1030/11, a light crosshore wind would come up, the line up would usually clear out and the waves would pulse on and off throughout the day. Again, The Peak doesn’t mind a bit of wind and, given we were directly in front of the wave, we could wait for a pulse and a wind direction change and get out for an empty session
- At ~430 p.m., we would usually have an afternoon glass off, the swell would always be biggest and, unfortunately, this was usually the most busy period of the day
Dylan’s is short, uber hollow, world class right that looks almost completely un-makeable from shore yet you will see crew scoring some of the best and deepest barrels of their lives at this wave, disappearing for seconds before popping out on the shoulder. At the time of writing, there are five surf camp in front of Dylan’s.
Tea Bags breaks off of an island off shore and is only accessed by boat. It was described to me as a combination of HT’s and Rags Right in the Mentawai Islands. Upon probing further, it is a shallow, heaving right hand barrel over sharp coral that requires great skill, commitment and guts to surf. Once locked in, you are in a race for an exit, which may or may not present itself. The reef is never far below and getting stuck inside is both hard to avoid and treacherous.
Secrets is a thick, barreling right ledge that grinds down a point that sits about 1.5 hours drive north of Aura and 30 minutes boat ride offshore.
Go for a drive… One day, we piled into a van and drove south. The wind was not our friend this day but we saw so many empty, potentially epic little setups.
The location is stunning…unlike anything I’ve experienced in Indonesia. Aura Surf Resort sits right in front of the little volcanic rock patch that causes The Peak to break and every building on the property has a near full view of the break.
“To me, it’s not a surf trip if you can’t actually see a breaking wave from where you’re staying so I love this setup.”
On either side of the property, the are beautiful, idyllic white sand beaches extending as far as the eye can see and shrouded by mountains just back from the water.
Water buffalo roam free across the beach and the property, grazing on grass all through the day and night (I had an interesting encounter with one when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the loo – he was startled, I was surprised, it was weird).
The food and service were great. I don’t seek 5 star accommodations on a surf trip – it just doesn’t suit the vibe in my opinion – but I like to be treated well and eat well, especially when you’re surfing 6-8 hours per day! The staff are incredibly attentive and friendly and Chef Jono always kept our bellies full of great food!
As an interesting bit of trivia, Simeulue is part of ‘Aceh’ province and governed under strict Muslim Sharia Law, which, amongst other things, means no consumption of alcohol. I don’t need to drink everyday but it is nice to have a cold Bintang after a great day in the surf! But, while the law is black and white, enforcement is grey in Indonesia and there were places to have a beer on the island. If booze is a priority for your surf trip, I recommend researching this further.
Surfing Simeulue is a different surf travel adventure to the traditional Bali / Mentawai Islands boat trip excursion. It was really lovely to get to know a wave versus to just bounce from place to place everyday. And, with Aura as home base, we traveled home completely surfed out and relaxed – just what you want from a surf trip!