An hour’s flight from Bali will deposit you 400 kilometres south-east on Sumba, an island twice its size, but with just 15 per cent of its population. As recently as the 1960s, head-hunting was practised in Sumba and today this little-visited Indonesian island still offers glimpses of long-held traditions.
Animals are both worshipped and slaughtered as part of routine rituals, while hand-carved spears and swords feature in annual, often bloody, mock battles between villages – recreating ferocious historical disputes.
Sumba is a long way from Bali’s flashing neon, happy hour cocktails, tightly packed boutiques and resorts. Traditionally attracting just a few adventurous backpackers, it is still well off the tourist path. It is overwhelmingly rural, given over to old-growth forests, rice and maize fields, banana trees and coconut palms, and undulating hills carpeted in tall green grass, suggesting a tropical Switzerland. Chickens, cows, goats, dogs, and ponies wander along the roadsides. Pigs roast on front-yard spits; water-buffalo hides are stretched on bamboo frames to dry in the sun.
Sumba has one of the world’s most perfect waves. At times, the incredible surf breaking on the reef truly becomes a spectacle. The wave breaks from deep water onto a shallow reef directly in front of the resort, tubing from start to finish. It is thick and steep on the takeoff and sucking a lot of water up the face. Nihiwatu is one of the fastest rideable waves anywhere, taking only six to ten seconds to travel the 250+ yard length of the wave.
The coral reef is relatively surfer-friendly. The coral is pounded flat by the waves and hitting the bottom does not necessarily mean getting cut. In fact over the past twelve years there have been very few surfers with reef cuts and no serious injuries.
The wave has different personalities depending on the tide. At extreme high tide the wave is fuller and much easier to ride, perfect for surfers who are not accustomed to fast tubing waves. On extreme low tide, during the full and new moon periods, the wave breaks onto dry reef and is un-rideable except for the 50-yard end section. These extreme tide periods occur four days before and three days after the new and full moons.
Typically the novice surfers go out at high tide with the accomplished surfers preferring to go out for the two to three hours of mid tides on either side of the peak high tide. During the neap tides the change is minimal and does not affect the wave at all, one can surf all day on the high and low tides. These really are the optimum tides, providing there is swell.
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.
How To Get To Sumba
You can get to Sumba from Bali via plane or boat.
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