Study the Indonesian chain of islands carefully and you’ll notice Sumba to the deep west; an island roughly twice the size of Bali with less than half the infrastructure and even less tourist hype. This lesser-known island has been more popular among the anthropologist crowd over the years due to its unique and bizarre culture and breathtaking natural landscape. It hasn’t had its fair share of attention from the surfing world (especially with islands such as Bali and Sumbawa nearby) but in reality it's a hidden gem with plenty to offer the adventurous surfer looking to truly get off the beaten track.
Doing it overland is tough (not impossible) so most surf the island aboard a surf charter where the real magic happens and you’ll score lineups firing with nobody out. A land based trip here is not for the lazy surf traveller as accommodation and local amenities mean you’ve got to come prepared, but if you DO you’ll be rewarded with very unique surf trip, complete with Indo quality waves minus the crowds.
Very low - expect to surf waves to yourself
Moderate/Low - expect to spend $50/day
Skill Level Required
Waves for all levels - beginners and chargers
- Very cheap
- Very unique culture
- lack of tourists and crowds
- Must be prepared
- Bad roads
- limited English
Best suited for: Sumba is best suited for a boat charter for surfers looking for super uncrowded and generally inaccessible waves. If overland your thing, you need to have plenty of time (travel is slow) and be able to rough it and do without electricity at times.
How To Get To Sumba
You can get to Sumba from Bali via plane or boat and it all depends on how keen you are to get to Sumba and start exploring. If you want to get there and start exploring as soon as possible (maybe you’re only in Indo for less than a month?) take the flight as you’ll save plenty of time.
Boating it - the Pelni boat stops twice at Sumba during its 14 day round trip of the Nusa Tenggara islands (stopping at Bali and Lombok along the way) so if your timing is right and you feel like saving a little money (costs around $25 each way) consider taking the ferry. You can book your tickets at the office in Kuta (which is at: Jl. Raya Kuta No. 299, Tuban, Bali), or you can buy a ticket at any post office in Bali.
Flying - daily flights leave to Sumba from Bali's Ngurah Rai airport and the 50 minute flight will cost you between $50-$70 per person each way. Book online or through a travel agent in Bali.
When To Go
The waves in Sumba are best during the typical Indonesian dry season from March to October, however since the island is extremely open to swell the waves will consistently be pulsing at 6-12ft (and it will be windy) so this time is for experienced Indonesian hellmen only. If you’re there to catch the famous wave an Nihiwatu, ‘Occy’s left’ (which will cost you an arm and a leg), the best time to go is July-August when the winds are favourable for most of the day.
If the dry season seems a little too intense for you the wet season is the next best thing: the island gets so much swell that the rights of Tarimbang, Wainukaka or Mangkudu can serve up super fun and waves that are offshore and glassy with the North-West winds all season.
Accommodation - If you’re in Sumba to surf its prize wave (Occy’s left) you’ll HAVE to stay in the resort (as it ‘owns’ this wave) which is not cheap - starting at $500/per night all inclusive, its more of a luxury experience than a surf trip.
If you’re like everyone else and you don’t have $500/night to blow, you have 3 options: stay in one of the few centrally located hotels around the island ($30-$100/night for a room), experience the Sumban life with local family home stay ($5-$20/night including meals) or stay in one of the few surf camps (see below) For more accommodation options and reviews in Sumba visit this resource (more info here)
Food - You’ll pay $3-$5 for street food (expect fish or goat) but make sure you only eat where you see others eating to avoid getting sick. Around the larger towns you’ll find your typical Indonesian Cuisine in restaurants for $5-$15 per meal
Getting around - Getting around is an adventure in itself as cars are limited and transport is expensive when compared to Bali. The cheapest option is to travel by public bus or truck (expect a crowded and interesting ride) however it’s extremely frustrating/slow with surfboards so a car is generally the only way.
Cars are scarce so expect to pay $40-$50/day (which includes a driver and petrol) however split this between a small group and it becomes affordable. A motorbike will cost around $5/day however the roads are not in great condition so expect to go sloooow.
Daily budget - Assuming you’re sharing transport costs with at least 1 other person, expect to spend about $50 per day and upwards on overland surf trip to Sumba. Yes, it’s more expensive when compared to other, nearby islands (because of the inaccessibility of SUmba) but the reward is well worth it.
Quick Money Saving Tips
- Learn to speak some Bahasa Indonesian - so you at least have a chance of haggling on costs
- Take advantage of the islands home stay economy - you’ll save lots of money by doing this.
- Travel in a small group - split a car between 3-4 people and the transport costs won’t hurt as much
Surfing in Sumba - the waves
Most of the waves in Sumba can be found concentrated around the south-western and south-eastern tips of the island so if travelling by car consider starting from one side and driving to the other while stopping at a few waves along the way. The drive can take anywhere from 6 -10 hours in one hit, depending on the roads, which are very dodgy!
The south eastern side of the island has a mixed bag of waves perfect for beginners and more experienced surfers. It’s here you’ll find a handful of fun left setups (The office, racetracks and five-o) offering long point breaks, fast barreling lefts and wedgy rippable bowls; everything a goofy footer could wish for.
Along the mid-southern coastline you’ll find a handful of different rights and lefts but the spotlight is on Nihiwatu AKA ‘occy’s left’: a perfect hollow left made famous after being torn to shreds by Mark Occhilupo in Jack McCoy’s film ‘Green iguana’ in 1995. Unfortunately, unless you are high rolling at nihiwatu resort, you can’t surf this wave. Don’t miss ‘Millers right’ and ‘Pantai Marois’ (two right hand reef breaks which are very consistent) when travelling this coastline.
On the south-western tip you’ll find Pero lefts, Pero rights and Wainjapu, waves best surfed in the dry season that will dish up a range of different Indo quality waves minus the crowds. The only accommodation option here is a basic homestay called ‘The homestay story’, however they come without mosquito nets so bring your own to avoid being eaten alive!
Surf Camps In Sumba
There are a lack of surf camps in Sumba but the homestays around the island are the next best thing, and will be cheaper. Check out the following surf camps if you’re travelling overland and want to make life a little easier:
Sumba surfari surf camp (East sumba) - a very basic and minimalistic surf camp (no fans, just a bed with mosquito nets) close to Millers right on the east coast. Packages include 3 meals and 2 bottles of water per day. A fully charged ipod and a good book is essential as there are no power outlets and definitely no first world luxuries.
Sumba resort (West sumba) - On the West coast in the Lamboya district you’ll find this surf camp which offers a great mix of comfort, wave access and culture. The camp offers air conditioned villas or fan cooled bungalows, and each room comes with a personal driver who will take you to one of the 15 nearby uncrowded waves each day. Check out the local surrounding villages on flat days where the locals live like they did 100 years ago and horses and buffaloes roam free.
Nihiwatu resort - Nihiwatu is not considered a surf camp; it’s more of a luxury resort that just so happens to claim ‘ownership’ to the best wave in Sumba. This means that if you came to surf nihiwatu, be prepared to pay big money to stay here, as in $500+ per night.
Surf Charters In Sumba
If you're here to surf and find uncrowded waves a surf charter is the best way to do it. Consider one of the following 2 operators:
Sri-noa-noa charter - this boat carries a total of just 6 passengers each trip, meaning it’s perfect for small groups that can fill the whole boat. It also means that your wave count is going to be at an all time high when surfing sumba aboard this comfortable little surf charter.
The will recommend a few different itineraries/routes but the exciting party is that it’s really up to you - choose to wave hunt the whole time or surf and explore some of the lesser known nooks and crannies where no tourists generally venture.
Packages generally costs $195 AUD per person per day, but considering you have access to one of the most experienced crews in the region, it’s well worth it. Find out more about this operator here.
Bulan Baru surf charters - These guys specialise in taking surfers off the beaten track to empty and perfect waves as they focus solely on the islands Sumba, Sumbawa, Sawu, Rote and the Maluko islands. They offer a few different packages and almost all of them spend a good amount of time surfing the waves around Sumba, meaning if somewhere is firing on Sumba, you’ll be surfing it.
Packages costs approximately $2750 AUD per person for a 10 night journey aboard a luxurious wooden indonesian surf charter. Bookings for Bulan Baru can be made through their website.
Flat Day Activities - Things To Do In [Place]
Experience a unique and untouched culture - Sumba’s culture and traditions are like no other Indonesian cultures as they have had very little outsider influence, meaning many rituals and ways of life remain as they were hundreds of years ago. West Sumba is the place to be for a cultural experience with its golden rice fields, thatched roof houses, huge ancestral tomb stones and local rituals/ceremonies (often involving animal sacrifices). When exploring these parts it’s best to do so with a local guide or at least have some Bahasa Indonesian phrases
Witness a war game - each year between february and march a century old festival known as ‘pasola’ takes place on Sumba and it’s a once in a lifetime experience involving war games (men on horse throwing spears at each other), offerings to the Ancestors, a huge feast and much much more. If you’re lucky enough to be In Sumba during a Pasola, it’s a must see.
See a megalithic society - megalithic cultures are generally a thing of the past however they are alive and kicking in this region and especially sumba. The island is littered with megalithic stone sculptures and it’s part of current, not just past, life on the island.
Packing Tips For Sumba
- Come prepared - if traveling overland, make sure you have plenty of books, magazines and batteries for your camera. In fact, we’d go as far as saying bring backup batteries, because electricity is a luxury, especially around the coastline.
- Travel with a ruck-sack backpack - you’ll want something mobile, waterproof and most importantly something that’s easy to carry around
- Bahasan Indonesian phrasebook - which will be sure to get you out of some sticky situations and help you find a homestay when travelling
- A well stocked medical kit - this is absolutely essential when travelling overland. And If you get hurt near the coastline you’ll need to know how to use it too!
- Malarial medication - definitely bring your anti-malarial meds as sometimes the home-stays will not come with mosquito nets.