Javanese Jungle Jaunts

Posted May 2013; Edited December 2018

As the launching pad for surf exploration throughout Indonesia, Bali is buzzing with rumors and stories of where to go. Everyone just got back from 'the most epic surf break' they have ever visited and somewhere that was 'pumping the whole time' they were there. I've spent a bit of time traveling here over the years and learned to always take such stories with a grain of salt. Too many surfers are unreliable sources of information, particularly when a few beers are drank or a few girls to impress are within earshot.

My Friend Clint (pictured right) is not one of those storytellers. He's always on top of conditions back home in New Zealand, and has spent plenty of time chasing swell in Indonesia. Clint had just returned to Bali from a surf trip to Java when I caught up with him on the Bukit. He and his friends had scored this spot they dubbed the 'Coast of Faces' (you can read about their trip in NZ Surf Magazine). He said the surf was consistently pumping and the lineups essentially empty, and that sounds like surfer's paradise.

Scoring barrels in Indonesia takes research. Ask New Zealand surfer Clint Reid, pictured at undisclosed Javanese surf break

Another swell was progressing towards Indonesia. Clint and I had a plan to head to Nusa Tengarra, but I was a bit wary of strong winds blowing off Australia that looked poised to push the swell westward. Clint suggested we do the same. We cancelled our plans, purchased plane tickets that afternoon, and flew to Java early the following morning. 

Java is the most populated island on the planet. Home to over 60% of Indonesia's 240 million residents, it is the most important island culturally, politically, and agriculturally. Once you get outside the major cities, the population density is surprisingly low. Traveling the Javanese countryside is not easy and even short trips take hours. Small, poorly maintained roads carved through thick forests and rolling fields, infrequently pass through clusters of small homes. This is one of the many reasons much of Java's coastline has remained relatively unexplored.

We arrived in a small kampung (village) late the following afternoon. We followed the dirt road and emerged on a sandy beach. Massive rocks formed a small crescent bay, and waves peaked and crashed off both headlands. Beautifully clear water washed over colorful coral reef as a couple surfers lazed underneath a cluster of palm trees eating nasi goreng (fried rice) and watching empty waves roll through.

We had just enough time to squeeze in an evening surf. We pulled out our boards, gingerly walked across the razor-sharp coral reef, and made our way to the lineup through the channel. Clint put has experience here to work immediately. He paddled straight into a bomb that sucked off the reef and spit him out into the channel 100 meters away. I knew it was going to be a good week.

Surfing in central Java often means surfing over dry reef, especially at this popular waves in Indonesia like this one

Darkness fell quickly as the call to pray broadcast from the local mosque. We walked back to the small homestay slowly, quickly gobbling down the simple rice and fish dinner that was already waiting for us. The little village was silent by 8 PM, a stark contrast to the bustling nightlife of Kuta or even my relatively quiet existence on Bali's Bukit Peninsula. This didn't bother us at all, we were there surf.

The sound of motorbikes buzzing down the street pulled me from my sleep abruptly. It was 2 AM and the quiet fishing village had come to life. I walked outside to see what was going on. Down at the harbor, fisherman were loading up their boats and heading out to sea. Turns out this tiny village is relatively wealthy compared to surrounding areas, thriving on exporting lobster.  The numerous bays and inlets lining this stretch of coast are teeming with sea life. Fisherman walk the reefs at low tide, harvesting shellfish and occasionally pulling an octopus out of their hiding places.

(Below; left, smaller day photo courtesy of Hiroshi Fukuzawa; center, octopus reef score; right, enjoying the view.)

I stumbled out of bed a few hours later to find Clint waxing his board, still half asleep. We paddled out in the dark and surfed until the tide dropped out midday. This became our routine: bedtime at 9 PM, rude awakening at 2 AM, restless sleep until 5 AM, surfing until the tide was too low, lunch, surfing until dark. 7-8 hours a day in the water, overhead waves pretty much all week, light if any crowds.

Everyone thinks of dream waves when they think Indonesia. I'm not sure if this area qualifies as plenty of closeouts and imperfect waves roll through here between freight-training barrels. The waves come from deep water outside the bay and suck off the reef, heaving thick lips and sectioning off quickly. The beautifully colorful coral bottom is also horrifyingly sharp and shallow. Tidal fluctuation and water movement in the bay make timing your sessions the main key to  scoring and not ending up injured.

Village life in Indonesia lacks many of the modern comforts for travelers, but offers a true Indonesia travel experience

Since our trip a few years ago, surf camps have moved in and now advertise trips here. This spot has quickly earned its place on the map. It's gotten coverage in surf magazines and videos. Like every new wave discovery, those in the know had tried to keep it off the radar: don't tell anyone where it is, how to get there, how good it is. Nevertheless, news spreads fast. I wonder how sleepy that little village is now.

Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton
Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton