Southern Sumatra – Bodyboarding Indonesia’s epic final frontier

By Owen Pye While most of the world’s eyes turn to Bali’s Bukit Peninsula when a decent Indian Ocean swell finds itself marching north east, the wise move is to perhaps instead look further along at humble Sumatra. Strangely the hidden jewel in Indonesia’s surf crown, Sumatra is the world’s 6th biggest island (by contrast Britain is 9th), with a south-west facing coastline measuring more than 1,000 miles long. Needless to say that is one hell of a lot of coastline, open to one of the most consistent swell-generating machines in the world, the Roaring Forties. It’s fitting that Sumatra was formerly known as ‘Swarma Dwipa’ – the island of gold – as some of the bounty that breaks on these shores shines brighter than most. Perfect coral reefs, angled passes and beautiful beaches await these barrels of gold … reeling, peeling and spitting hollow into warm, jungle offshores. Behind the waves and tropical palms rises an incredibly special and unique island, home to volcanic mountains and lush valleys, a paradise of teak, acacias and vines, pristine and bristling with elephants, clouded leopards and the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, rhino and orangutan. The island is also an incredibly diverse human melting pot, with dozens of different ethnic groups, languages and dialects. The Acehenese people in the far northern tip of Sumatra are as different to the neighbouring Batask people in North Sumatra as Italians are to Belgians. South Sumatra, however, is a different matter altogether. The same on-tap quality swells that hit the Ments also roll right through and light up the myriad of spots off South Sumatra, but with virtually no crowds. As well as being fed by the same consistency and quality of swell, the variety of Sumatra’s breaks far exceeds those of the Ments, with peaky beachies, big bombies, rifling points, dredging slabs, hollow reefs, punchy A-frames, wideangle wedges and fast rivermouths all offering routine perfection. Don’t think you can casually rock up with a Bintang singlet and thongs and mistreat this special place like Newquay, Ibiza or the Gold Coast though. There is a strong Islamic faith in the rural mainland, and, same with anywhere, it pays to be respectful. There is no party scene here, and any contact with the local girls means marriage or lynching. Take your pick.
Treat South Sumatra, its landscape and its people with respect and deference though, and you’ll be warmly welcomed back for many years to come. It has a largely unexplored coastline, home to empty, untouched, uncrowded perfection – so leave your partying at the door and come to bodyboard waves you’ll never forget.

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