Some surfers say that the further east of Bali you travel, the more hard-core the set-up. In many ways Sumba bears this theory out. Years of isolation from Indonesia’s mainstream religions and culture are one reason why myth and folklore surround the island’s people and their ancient culture. Religious systems include Islam and Christianity, but traditional beliefs revolve around marapu, the ancestors and gods whose influence pervades everyday life. A good illustration would be the death of the Queen in 2003, when her four hand-servants were voluntarily entombed alongside her in their efforts to reach paradise.

The ancient pasola rites, enacted each year before planting season, involve mock fights between machete toting men on horseback with the deliberate slashing of man and horse intended to fertilize the soil with blood. In parts of Sumba, tribal rule holds more sway than any centralized law, and like most of Nusa Tenggara, life throughout the island is centred around the kepala desa or village leader.


For the overland surfer, Sumba is an extremely challenging proposition. Roads and transport are rudimentary. Outside of the few main towns, vehicle hire is impossible, and the word “taxi” irrelevant. Intrepid travellers can use some nouse and diplomacy to advantage however, negotiating rides with locals (keep those mid-size rupiah notes handy). Accommodation near surf spots is extremely limited, with a few exceptions. In certain areas it can be possible to carefully negotiate home-stay accommodation. It is customary to offer betel nut and or cigarettes (a second best in some locales) to the kepala desa when arriving in a village. If you follow this protocol, you will improve your chances of finding a place to stay.

In short, overland Sumba trips need to be planned unless you are staying at one of a few established surf-spots. If you aren’t a seasoned traveller or prepared for adventure, either stay at one of the spots in the back of this book, on a pre-arranged basis, or go by boat. If you want to travel around Sumba looking for surf, you should at least arrange a guide. This can be done at the Hotel Merlin in Waingapu, or sometimes from the surf camp in Kallala. Negotiate your price clearly in advance to avoid a situation developing at the end of the trip.

The Setup & Waves

Sumba is out on it’s own in deep ocean between latitudes 8 and 9 degrees south. The south coast is extremely exposed to most available swell, offering few contortions that could offer shelter from the raw power. The Sumba coast is less craggy than, say Lombok, and there are few islets and inlets, which means that it will often be huge across the whole coast with no hidey hole to find an easy surf.

The Java Trench runs close to shore, so swell arrives with full intensity on the mostly reef break setups. Perhaps the heaviest reef is located on the eastern tip at Pero. A more approachable point-break is the relatively accessible Tarimbang. East Sumba has one of the few genuine big wave spots in Indonesia, and a brace of quality dry season lefts. There are beach breaks too however, such as Pantai Marosi, and some excellent river mouths.

With the Mentawais being the current favourite of magazines, quite a few waves are going unridden out east. Tough but rewarding.


Dry season (March to November). Trade winds blow southeasterly at this time, but strong winds can prevail for four or five days and then just die. On an average day, these trades don’t kick in until 11 a.m. or later, and the strongest trades occur June through August. These mid-season trades are sometimes a wrecking ball to any spot, so it’s generally a good idea to try to surf early morning at these times. Afternoon storms however, are not uncommon in the dry (or any) season, causing winds to veer to a new, potentially off-shore direction for a few hours and turning a break on for the lucky few who are there. With more chance of a solid southwest Indian Ocean ground-swell, this is the best season for waves on West Sumba.

Wet Season (November to March): Sumba’s open ocean position means that swell is rarely is short supply for long. There are good wet season waves to be had in the southeast, as well as some out of the way gems off the small island of Mangkudu and it’s neighbours. Tarimbang can also get good at this time.


Currents and sneaker sets. Heavy, remote big waves far from help. Again it’s a poor country so carry yourself well. Most potential situations can be avoided with careful diplomacy and common sense. Parts of West Sumba are pretty wild. Locals will be curious about you. Carry cigarettes and betel nut to help smooth your introductions to them. Whilst almost everybody you meet will be extremely friendly, and quite curious, situations can escalate quickly if you commit a faux pas. When travelling in remote areas, carry food and water supplies.

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