“Skip the Mentawais, Mate. Way too crowded these days. And expensive. Even for Indo”
But hold on a second… What the hell is West Sumbawa?
I was in Bali, sitting in a small cafe just down the road from the Uluwatu surf break when I heard this.
You and I might be in the same boat; I just recently learned about this island which boasts some of the longest barrels in all of Indonesia. The waves that break along these shallow reefs are considered to be world class for even the most cultured surfer.
Look it up and you’ll find little more than a few blog posts and a some one-off surf videos on YouTube. Volcom did film a surf video there back in 2017 but apart from that, you rarely hear about Sumbawa unless you’re tapped into the Indonesian surf scene. Just the way they like it.
From my own personal experiences in Sumbawa I am going to explain:
- Where Sumbawa is located
- The surfing opportunities
- The best time to visit Sumbawa
- How to get to Sumbawa
- How to prepare for your trip
- The dangers
- If Sumbawa is worth the journey
I’ll be sharing these insightful points along with the mistakes and oversights I made on my own solo surf trip down the Indonesian coast to the mystical island of West Nusa Tenggara known to most as West Sumbawa.
“Looking to escape the crowd? Do Yourself a favor and skip the Mentawais mate”
I was on day five of a six week Indonesian surf trip. I just got done surfing a four foot Uluwatu morning and was hunched over an Acai bowl at a small Bali cafe when a tall Aussie fella walked in and sat next to me and asks “Get any fun ones?“.
Me: “A few, hard to navigate the crowd out there. Might try to find another spot in Indo here soon.”
Aussie Ripper: “Just wait for it to get a bit bigger, once it’s over eight feet or so the crowd thins out pretty quick.”
Me: “Yeah that’s what I was kind of expecting. Considering spending a couple weeks in the Mentawais later this month.”
Aussie Ripper: “To escape the crowd? Do yourself a favor and skip the Ments mate. Great waves don’t get me wrong but every break in the Ments will have twenty guys on it. Maybe check out Sumbawa.“
Long story short, I was really banking on the Mentawais to bless me with some secluded waves. To hear that it will be just as crowded as Bali but with better surfers was a slight reality check. But honestly, what should I have expected from one of the greatest surf destinations in the world?
Me: “Sumbawa? I’ve never heard of it.”
Aussie Ripper: “Yeah it’s a bit closer than the Ments, you won’t have it to yourself but you can get legit world class waves with maybe five to seven guys out. Depends on the swell but you wont be waiting around for waves.”
I sat in silence and slowly ate the rest of my acai bowl while pondering the idea of a completely new place I had just heard of being better than the iconic Mentawai Islands.
Then the Aussie stood up, paid his bill, and with a mouth full of pancakes turned around and said “Sumbawa! Check it out mate. I’ll be there later this month, maybe I’ll see you.“.
I nodded and that was that. He got my wheels turning. I was intrigued.
But not sold.
Three weeks went by and it was time for me to get serious about planning my next move if I wanted to get off Bali.
I started arranging accommodation in the Mentawais but after looking at flights, and a boat crossing from Padang, it was going to be a logistical headache with my 48 hour timeline (don’t put shit off for the last second like me). I quickly realized that if I wanted a proper experience with little time to do my own research I would need to book an all inclusive stay at a surf camp/resort.
The all inclusive experience isn’t really my cup of tea. I prefer an REI sleeping bag over 1500 thread count sheets. So with that in mind, I concluded that a solo 7 day trip to the Mentawais with a 48 hour heads up would be tragically out of the picture.
And then I remembered the Aussie from Uluwatu.
In all seriousness I couldn’t believe I remembered the name. I know it’s supposedly closer than the Mentawais but where exactly is it? When you look on a map Sumbawa is called West Nusa Tenggara. This along with having a memory that’s been faded by Bintangs and I was one confused bule.
After looking online I saw waves that looked impossibly perfect. I realized that with a moped and two ferry rides I could be there in just ten hours. So I booked my accommodation on the spot and 48 hours later it was 5:30 AM and I began my journey on what turned out to be a surf trip comparable to National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Where is Sumbawa?
Sumbawa is located two islands east of Bali; situated in between with Lombok to the West and Komodo to the East.
When compared to the famous islands of Lombok and Bali, Sumbawa is relatively large covering almost 6,000 square miles.
Surfing In Sumbawa
Surfing in Sumbawa can be dissected into two parts: the West Coast and the East Coast. On both the West and East coasts of the island you’ll find some of the best waves in the world. With the right conditions almost every break on both sides provide serious, serious opportunities to get the longest barrel of your life… Seriously.
Or you’ll get pitched (also serious).
If I were to describe surfing in Sumbawa, “forgiving” would not be part of the description. Mostly suited for advanced to expert riders; the waves break steep and fast over a dangerously shallow reef. This is not a destination for those who aren’t able to hang with the demands.
Being the most developed area of Sumbawa with a handful of high quality surf retreats and accommodation options, the East coast of Sumbawa is quickly becoming a popular destination for travelers (I did not go here).
Almost by itself, Lakey Peak has gathered much of the attention and has single handedly put Sumbawa on the map for a lot of surfers. A perfect a-frame that is almost identical from right to left with hollow barrel sections on each, this wave offers world class rides without the crowd.
Nungas and Periscopes are a couple other breaks nearby that offer consistent, long, good waves. Getting there is a journey but for how out of the way it is you’ll be surprised with good accommodation, nice food, and rewarded with some amazing waves. Without the crowds you’d expect to see in a place like Bali.
Less developed and less explored, West Sumbawa is considered “The Wild West” of Indonesia. A local once told me “we don’t have traffic we have goats and cows”.
While riding my motorbike through the small town of Maluk I hit a snake that nearly covered the width of the road from head to tail. At first, I thought it was a garden hose but it wasn’t until I was ten feet away and saw it move that I realized it was my worse nightmare manifesting itself into Indonesian reality.
Not having enough time to stop I instinctively threw my feet over the handle bars, screamed like a little bitch, and gassed right over the fucking thing like it was the finish line tape at the end of the Boston Marathon. It was some real Indiana Jones type shit and I didn’t even look over my shoulder to get a second look.
Rich in wildlife and natural resources, this side of the coast is a beautiful yet dangerous playground that offers some amazing surfing opportunities. Emphasis on amazing.
YoYo’s, Supersucks, Scar Reef, and Tropicals are a few of the best options all within twenty minutes of each other. Between those four breaks any goofy or regular footer with the skill and drive can find themself in some pretty good waves.
I scored a couple sessions at YoYo’s and Tropicals with just a couple other surfers out.
Turns out the Aussie was right.
Even though it’s less developed and a pretty rural, you’ll still find cheap oceanfront accommodation and good food options if you know where to go. Ride through the town of Maluk and don’t be afraid to ask around.
Pro Tip: Ask/look for Indra (in-druh). He’s a local legend on the West Coast and will set you up for success with whatever you need. He’s an easy guy to find (if he’s not napping or spearfishing).
When Is The Best Time To Visit Sumbawa?
Sumbawa is best visited during the dry season which spans from May through September with the best window of swell during the months of June and July. The offshore winds are prominent on the west coast during this time of year and waves are consistently above 6 feet.
If you’re looking for some more mellow conditions you can consider coming during the rainy season but be prepared to experience some significant rainfall (who woulda thought). That being said, there’s still good surf.
How To Get To Sumbawa From Bali, Indonesia
You want advice? Don’t do what I did.
Most people beginning their journey to Sumbawa will come from Bali; from Bali you can either take the long way aka motorbike and ferries or the short way aka flying. Both have their pros and cons and both come with their fair share of risks.
Traveling To Sumbawa From Bali By Air
A round trip flight from Bali to Sumbawa will run you about $100 – $200 depending on how last minute you book. As of right now I found direct options through Wings and Lion Air averaging $160 round trip.
The flight from Bali will take around an hour and forty-five minutes dropping you at Sumbawa Besar. From the airport to the East Coast to surf Lakey Peak you’re still looking at a five and a half hour drive. If your intention is to explore the West Coast you’re looking at a three and a half hour drive.
Pro Tip: If you’re renting a motorbike or dirt bike I highly recommend making sure the headlights are working well. The roads are rural and you wont have street lights for many sections of the ride. Trust me, you don’t want to be navigating those roads at night without good headlights like I did.
I crashed… Twice.
Traveling From Bali to Sumbawa by Boat and Scooter
For the true adventurer, this option is for you. If you’re a maniac like me that enjoys toeing the line of excitement and recklessness, you’ll do it all in one go. No stops… However, I genuinely don’t recommend that. Let me explain.
Traveling by land and boat to Sumbawa requires you to take the public ferry from Bali to Lombok. You’ll then ride across Lombok and take a second ferry from Lombok to Sumbawa. From the port in Sumbawa you’ll need to drive to your accommodation.
That may not sound like much. In theory, it’s not. But let me break it down for you.
The first leg of your journey will be to get to Padang Bai Port on the east coast of Bali. This is where you will catch the first ferry. If you’re coming from Canggu or Uluwatu you’re looking at a one and a half to two hour scooter ride (depending on traffic). If you’re venturing out from Ubud expect a one hour drive.
According to everything online, the ferry from Padang Bai in Bali to the Port of Lembar in Lombok leaves every hour on the hour 24/7. However, in my experience this was not the case. When I completed the journey in June of 2023 the first ferry didn’t depart until 9am and supposedly continued every hour for the rest of the time thereafter.
You might have better luck if you intend to depart Bali before 9:00am but based on my experience and my experience alone, I would recommend arriving between 8:00am and 9:00am so you aren’t waiting around. The ferry from Bali to Lombok costs $10 USD when traveling with a motorbike and averages five hours so make yourself comfy.
Once you arrive at the Port of Lembar in Lombok you’re still only 50% done with your journey.
Personally, after the hell I put myself through, I recommend finding a place to stay in Lombok to break up your trip. However, if you’re really determined to make it all the way to Sumbawa with no stops, I’m (barely) living proof that it can be done. Regardless, you’ll eventually need to make your way across the island to Labuan Kayangan which if done in one go will take you about two to three hours riding a motorbike.
From the Port of Labuan Kayangan in Lombok you’ll take the Sumbawa ferry to the Port of Poto Tano in West Sumbawa. This ferry leaves every hour on the hour 24/7, costs approximately $6 USD and takes about one hour and thirty minutes.
From the Port of Poto Tano, in order to get to the prime surfing locations of West Sumbawa you’re looking at roughly an hour and thirty minute drive to the town of Maluk to complete your journey.
This is what I did. I thought it would take 10 hours but after it was all said and done I arrived at my villa 17 hours later with a broken motorbike (make sure those headlights work).
By the time you get off the second ferry in Sumbawa you’re going to be exhausted. If you’re heading to Lakey Peak on the East Coast you’re still looking at a seven hour drive! Get yourself a room and tackle it in the morning.
All in all, taking the ferry and scooter option to Sumbawa is legit Indonesian adventure that will leave you with memories to write home about. Take your time and enjoy the moment. If you want to do the seventeen hour mad dash to West Sumbawa like I did, knock yourself out but we surely missed some cool experiences in Lombok along the way.
How To Prepare For Your Surf Trip in Sumbawa
Sumbawa aint Bali.
Surf shops, restaurants, laundry services, ding repair shops, and the amenities of the West aren’t on every street corner. Coming to Sumbawa means you might end up in a less than ideal situation at one point or another (you probably will). Being able to rely on yourself is essential.
Not just when you’re on a rural surf trip but in all areas of life for that matter.
Being prepared with the proper gear and mindset is key.
DIY Ding Repair
On my first day in Sumbawa my motorbike tipped over on a dirt road (we’ll get into that later). The scooter fell on the same side that my surfboard rack was on leaving a gnarly gash on the bottom of my board.
I drove all over the towns of Maluk and Sekongkang in West Sumbawa searching for a surf shop that could repair the ding and I only found one.
So whats the issue?
The only shop within seven hours of me ran out of material and the owner was waiting for his friend to arrive from Lombok with new supplies.
Long story short, if I didn’t find a way to fix the ding myself I’d be stuck surfing some of the best waves in Indonesia on a rental board that was so sun dried and old it looked like something you’d see at a garage sale in SoCal.
I talked with the guys at my villa and we used baking soda and some super glue to temporarily repair the ding until I could have it professionally done by a shaper back in Bali. And believe it or not… that shit actually worked!
But don’t be like me.
Bring some SOLAREZ ding repair. It costs $15, is smaller than a tube of toothpaste, and can save your whole surf trip from being ruined by gash from the reef or in my experience, a weak kickstand.
When traveling to Indonesia, many people arrange an international phone plan with their current cell provider. I almost did the same but I’m happy I didn’t.
In Bali that might serve you well, and maybe even Sumbawa too, but I don’t know for sure.
All I can tell you is that I paid around $40 for an Indonesian unlimited internet plan through Telkomsel and the only time I didn’t have service was when I was on fishing boats. Even in rural Sumbawa (and I mean rural) I had fast, reliable service.
You may have the same experience using your international plan… But again, I don’t know for sure. Regardless, a Telkomsel sim card that lasts you a week can be purchased for under $20 and in my opinion, worth the peace of mind to know you’ll be on the grid in case something goes wrong.
In my experience, buying one of these sim cards is easy and widely available across all of Indonesia. They can be purchased at gas stations, cell shops, and random pop-up booths.
For a place where 80% of transportation is in the form of scooters, Sumbawa has plenty of dirt roads that my old 96′ Toyota 4runner would need to crawl through. That’s one of the things I like about Asia. It simply is what it is.
Unfortunately I never learned how to ride a dirt bike. My mom never let me.
That being said, I highly recommend renting one if you know how to ride. I mean you CAN get by on a scooter. Many people do. I did. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. A dirt bike is surely the best option; the majority of people with real experience in rural Indo have them and it’s not to just look cool.
Where can you rent a dirt bike? That’s on you ol’ son.
I met a few locals in Maluk that said they have friends who would rent me one but again, my mom raised a panzie and I wasn’t about to learn in a place where the nearest ambulance is the back of Indra’s pickup truck.
Finding accommodation in Sumbawa is simple. And cheap.
Once you find an option you like I recommend contacting the host and arranging to pay in cash on your arrival. I’ve saved over 50% multiple times by doing this. Not all hosts/villas do this but many of them do. Even in popular areas like Bali, if you stay for an extended period of time this is a great way to save some money (it also makes canceling and getting your money back much easier as well).
In Sumbawa I had an ocean view villa 3 minutes away from YoYo’s for $26 a night and breakfast was included!
Keep in mind, I was at one of the nicest options available on the West Coast and there were still some issues. Sumbawa, being one of the most paradise esque places I’ve ever seen with my two eyes, is still very much a developing area.
There were multiple times where the water was shut off due to construction and it usually took an hour or two to get turned back on. But this, along with some other minor inconveniences is the objective reminder that you’re on their time now. Sumbawa time.
Your patience may be tested but in my mind thats a good thing. We take so many things for granted in everyday life back in the West. Running water, air conditioning, food delivery, all our basic needs and beyond can be met in a fraction of a second and even with the push of a button. Traveling to developing areas gives you a fresh perspective that often times humbles you.
That is, if you’re open to being humbled.
I went for waves and waves I received, but as odd as it may sound and as unexpected as it was, my trip to Sumbawa turned out to be a unique experience of personal growth and self discovery.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into a spiritual rant. If you want to find the answers to the universe go join everyone else in Ubud.
But seriously. I genuinely feel like Sumbawa forced me to calm down and helped me learn a little bit more about myself (one of the reasons I love traveling solo).
I try to live my life by the stoic principles of “focusing on what you can control and letting go of the rest”. Sumbawa tested that practice. Many people say the best way to travel is to throw your plans out the window but this island almost demands it.
In five days I damaged my surfboard, had my motorbike leave me stranded twice, was almost forced to sleep on the side of the road, had plenty of moments without running water in my villa, ruined my computer, was forced to adopt a “I’ll get there when I get there” mindset, and in a fishing trip turned bad I found the dead body of a local man that went missing (full story available on episode 2 of the HoStevie surf podcast).
It was heavy.
But through all the headaches I left feeling more in touch with my emotions and more aware of my easily agitated tendencies. I like to have everything planned out and in some situations I tend to overthink.
In Sumbawa there’s a unique balance between human and nature that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The people live in a very fluid way that is difficult to describe. They embrace the idle time and seem to live their lives based on the philosophies of karma (unexpected being a mostly muslim island).
Their “hello’s” weren’t just an effort of small talk and their eyes are genuine beyond their words.
There’s an “it is what it is” energy among the locals and from my objective perspective, as a society the people seem to be happier than any group of individuals I’ve ever encountered.
It’s hard to describe and this is supposed to be an article about surfing so I’ll end it there.
The Dangers of Sumbawa, Indonesia
Sumbawa, but all of Indonesia for that matter is a beautiful yet dangerous playground.
And I mean it when I say it.
I grew up hunting and fishing from the time I could walk, I traveled the U.S in a van for four months when I was just 17, and worked as a crab fisherman in the Bering sea near Russia. Still, in the tropical oasis of Indonesia I never felt immune to the dangers that became blatantly obvious as time passed.
The waves are next to perfect. And apart from the islands acting as literal swell magnets, the razor sharp and shallow reefs cause the waves here to curl harder than a Chad on arm day. That being said, I can’t count the amount of surfers I saw with gnarly gashes and lacerations from getting dragged over the reef.
I hit the reef a couple times but I was lucky and never experienced anything worse than a few minor scratches. But if you want to play hard be prepared to pay the price. If you surf enough waves in the Indian Ocean, it will happen.
I never wore a https://hostevie.com/blog/should-you-wear-a-surf-helmet-brief-history-and-our-top-picks-2023/helmet or reef booties but many people did and I respect them for it. After hearing stories of surfers who have tragically died while surfing in Sumbawa I will definitely consider wearing one on my next trip.
Currents and Tides
My friend Steve, a talented surfer from South Africa almost died himself while in Sumbawa. His leash snapped at YoYo’s and he spent over thirty minutes just treading water trying to get out of a rip current.
Thankfully, someone noticed him struggling and swam out with their board to give him something to hold onto. He was able to catch his breath and he made it back okay. I remember him saying with an intimidating level of seriousness that he didn’t know how much longer he could have kept up if that person didn’t see him and swim out to help.
That night we polished off a bottle of gin to celebrate his survival. Quite literally.
We’ve all heard similar stories but I saw him shortly after it happened he was visibly shaken up by the experience. He didn’t have to explain it to me. I could tell that whatever happened out there was no joke.
Shortly after Steve’s situation while fishing for barracuda I came across the floating body of a local who was washed off the rocks and swept to sea by a rouge wave.
He turned out to be a fisherman from a nearby town who was reported missing three days prior.
It was a heavy experience that I went into detail on during episode two of the HoStevie! Surf Podcast. I’ll spare you from any depressing details and quite honestly, the last thing I want to do is to blend someones tragic death with what is supposed to be an entertainment piece on surfing. So we’ll leave it at that.
Listen to the podcast if you want to hear the full story.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that the currents are strong, the rocks are sharp, and the tide fluctuations are drastic. This is a dangerous combination for even the most experienced swimmers/surfers.
Anything can happen. Have fun, be in the moment, but be aware and observant. If you’re exploring some dry reefs pay attention to the tides.
Not to mention, there’s no “lifeguards on duty” when you’re in rural Indonesia.
Speaking about serious, let’s talk scooter crashes. Because they happen a lot… A lot.
During six weeks in Indonesia I witnessed first hand four crashes and met at least six people who either had friends sent home with serious injuries or they themselves were in crashes. Knowing this and seeing 75% of people still ride around without helmets genuinely scares the shit out of me.
But I’m no saint. I have a past. And it includes motorbikes.
And I’m not here to point my finger and tell you to be careful on those things. I’m not even going to tell you to wear your helmet. I just want to make a point that crashes happen all the time. Even though you don’t hear about them.
This is a direct quote taken from the U.S department of trade administrations website: “The Indonesian healthcare system suffers from structural problems such as under-financing, lagging numbers of primary care providers and hospitals, limited access to drugs in rural areas, and overall inaccessibility and inequity of care.”.
I saw it first hand.
Indo is not the place to get seriously hurt. Ambulance response times in populated areas can be horrible. In a lot of cases you’d be better off calling an aggressive Grab driver (Grab is the Indonesian equivalent to Uber and I’ve read stories of those who have taken these to the hospital instead of an ambulance).
The treatment you’d receive in a serious medical situation is difficult for me to sit with. It’s one of the few things about Indonesia that make me question living there part time. Again, you don’t realize all of the things you take for granted.
But don’t get me wrong, there’s small time medical offices all over the islands that can patch up a bad gash from the reef in five minutes while they’re blindfolded smoking a cigarette. And it probably costs less than $10.
But god forbid, something serious happens… I wouldn’t want it to be in Indonesia. And transportation to higher quality medical services can be a difficult thing to achieve given the location.
For this reason I purchased my first international insurance plan… I get it, the last thing you need is a guy who barely renews his car tabs in time preaching the importance of Insurance. I’m a surfer. Not an insurance salesman.
But for the people that don’t know…
You can get a travelers insurance plan for less than $15 a month and in my opinion it’s worth having. Especially if you’re a surfer or someone who likes to fill leisure time doing hood-rat shit with your friends.
Is Sumbawa Worthy of Your Next Surf Trip?
And here we are… You know where it is, you know how to get there, you know where to surf, and you know the dangers to consider.
So, is Sumbawa worth your next surf trip?
Only you can decide.
If you’re a surfer that wants to push your abilities, like the idea of being in a tropical oasis filled with good waves, unique culture, while also not opposed to deal with the pace of a developing area… Then Sumbawa is your Disneyland.
It really is an amazing place to score some of the best waves in the world. The water is warm, the crowds are light, and the journey to get there is a truly epic experience in of itself.
But if you’re more of a weekend warrior who likes to cruise on mellow waves and would rather experience a better degree of comfort on your next vacation… There’s better options.
In all honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with West Sumbawa. I took the hard road. Knowingly. Broken scooters, damaged surfboards, dead bodies, no running water… I left the island with a chip on my shoulder and in need of a hug.
But what an adventure it was. The perfect waves, amazing locals, funny expats, and coastal scenery made me feel far, far away from home.
I’ll be back. This time with a dirt bike.