The Truth About Surfing Nias. Paradise or Disaster?

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SURFING NIAS, Paradise or Disaster?

I was raised on surf magazines, in the days before everything went digital. Getting a new mag in the mail would always amp me up as I spent hours fervently flipping through the pages, reading each article and studying every photo. I remember sneaking them into my backpack and reading them during class in primary school, often times getting them taken by my teachers. These pages instilled my passion for the sport and fueled my desire to escape the So-Cal bubble to see some of these flawless waves for myself. As a regular footer, seeing photos of Nias always got my blood pumping, and there was no shortage of shots from this little Indonesian island. Since then, it was always a dream of mine to surf this wave. Everything about it looked perfect, with flawless barrels spinning across a beautiful palm tree lined bay. Over a decade later, my dreams became a reality. My friend and I were invited to stay at a resort in Lagundri Bay for a couple weeks.

Lagundri Bay
Sunrise over Lagundri Bay by Austin Mullen Photo

The idea of finally getting to surf Nias didn’t seem real. I had mind-surfed that wave so many times over the years that I could actually visualize what it would look like inside that barrel, looking out to the boats sitting in the channel. I remember my hands sweating profusely as I booked our tickets to Gunungsitoli.

Lagundri Bay
Lagundri’s line-up on a small day by Austin Mullen Photo

With Surfline calling for well overhead swell the first week, I was more excited for this trip than any other I had ever planned. We were lucky enough to be staying at the premier surf resort in all of Nias, Kabunohi. Kabunohi is currently the only high-end surf resort in all of Nias. We were blown away to see the beauty of this resort in comparison to the nearby “losmen”.

Surfing Nias
Nias. Here we are. Losmen at the back. By Austin Mullen Photo

With authentic local-style buildings, beautiful native landscaping, and a massive back deck overlooking the entirety of Lagundri Bay, these features add up to create a serene and welcoming experience in an area that seems to lack the normal creature-comforts many westerners have become accustomed to. With the staff ready to help you with anything you might want or need, I consider Kabunohi to be the only family-friendly accommodation in Nias. The owner, Mark Flint, has been residing on the island of Nias since the 80s and has done a tremendous amount of work with the community thus gaining an unparalleled level of respect from the locals. If you are looking for a great place to stay in Nias, there is no question that this is your best option.

Surfing Nias
Kabunohi Resort by Austin Mullen Photo
Surfing Nias
The deck at Kabunohi by Austin Mullen Photo

Read also, “Kabunohi Sorake, “We are not just another surf-camp”

Unfortunately, the tides began to turn for us and we had a few misadventures. We made our way to Lagundri, and as we showed up we were disappointed to see 2-3 foot waves. This was the story for an entire week, as Surfline overhyped the forecast claiming 6-8 foot swell while we were stuck with the reality of weak waist-high waves. Nonetheless, we made good use of our time. We checked out everything around the bay and familiarized ourselves with the line-up. This is when we began to discover all the unique quirks of Nias.

Surfing Nias
Pumping left-hander not far from Lagundri Bay
Surfing Nias
Photo by Austin Mullen Photo

There were loads of kids running around striking up conversations with the tourists, and we found out that our stay in Nias lined up exactly with a two week school holiday. We befriended a few of the kids as they offered to show us other waves nearby, which ended up being very helpful. Most of the kids were friendly, but many of them had ulterior motives as they would constantly ask us to give them some surf gear. We had experienced this before in other places, but the kids here are extremely persistent and it got a bit overwhelming when dozens of kids were asking us for stuff every day.

Surfing Nias
Local kids checking out our surfboards – By Austin Mullen Photo

Considering I still had a couple months left in Indonesia, instead of giving them gear I offered to help repair some of their boards. With a tube of Solarez in hand, I patched up dings left and right. They were grateful but still asked for more. The pestering didn’t stop here, there are a group of locals who walk up and down the point searching for tourists to sell their carved wooden souvenirs too, and they won’t take no for an answer. They will stand there and adamantly push their goods on you every day, no matter what you say to dissuade them. All of this, In conjunction with the hoards of other locals approaching you to sell coconuts, fruits, donuts, and massages, eventually left a bad taste in my mouth. It was difficult to find an escape from all the hassling. When I think back on that first week, I like to imagine we were getting so easily fed up with the locals because we were misdirecting out anger due to the lack of surf. However, this seemed to only be the start of our troubles.

Surfing Nias
Shot by Austin Mullen Photo

Once the swell filled, we were greeted by one of the thickest crowds I had ever seen at a single wave in Indonesia.

Once the swell filled, we were greeted by one of the thickest crowds I had ever seen at a single wave in Indonesia. I brushed this aside, as it is no secret that Nias is one of the best waves in the world and everybody wants a stab at it. The first overhead swell finally showed up and I skipped breakfast to paddle out right after sunrise. There were already over 20 people in the lineup, but I sat out there and waited my turn for a set. My first wave that morning was a perfect Nias barrel, I set my rail and sat deep inside the barrel that I had been waiting years for. For a split second, everything came together as I was witnessing the moment I had been visualizing ever since I first learned about this spot in those magazines. But this was short-lived, as someone decided to whip around and drop in on me on the shoulder. He couldn’t pull off the bottom turn, and I immediately had to jump off my board inside the barrel to prevent running him over. After an exchange of words, I paddled back outside and wrote it off as being horrible timing for an unfortunate mistake. My next three waves were similar, with people burning me from the shoulder and claiming they thought I was “too deep”. I was pissed, to say the least, and paddled in to cool down and grab some grub. I watched from the beach absolutely astounded as this happened time and time again.

Surfing Nias
Nias Line-up – shot taken by Stefan Gotzelmann

The lack of surf etiquette in the lineup blew my mind.

The lack of surf etiquette in the lineup blew my mind. Day after day, the story was the same. Dozens of surfers all fighting each other for waves, ruining each other’s sessions. I grew up surfing in Southern California and have logged a considerable amount of time at Lowers Trestles every summer since I got my drivers license. What I witnessed at Nias made Lowers look like an organized and friendly lineup. In a couple of weeks, we were there, I witnessed multiple fights and several trips ending injuries all resulting from people snaking each other.

Read also, “Relive the XXL Historical Swell in Nias – 25 July 2018”

Surfing Nias
Shot by Austin Mullen Photo

On the biggest day, we hired a boat for my buddy so he could get some photos from the channel. Lucky for us, one of the local kids we befriended warned us about the dangers of tourists taking photos of Nias. He said the local photographers are very hostile towards other people shooting photos when the surf is pumping. We had to speak with some of the locals in order for him to get permission to take photos, and yet they still treated him with no respect after we were cleared. We eventually got what we came for, I managed to snag some perfect barrels amidst the crowds and my buddy got some amazing photos.

Surfing Nias
Shot by Austin Mullen Photo
Surfing Nias
Shot by Austin Mullen Photo

Our stoke was quickly thwarted when I came down with one of the worst illnesses I have ever had.

Unfortunately, our stoke was quickly thwarted when I came down with one of the worst illnesses I have ever had. I was bedridden for nearly a week with a debilitating fever and bone-crushing body aches, all the while the surf was on the pump just outside my door. A couple of days after, my friend came down with the same illness. We didn’t know it at the time, but we learned that we came down with Dengue Fever thanks to a few dirty mosquitos. Even though we were lucky to pull through that experience without being hospitalized, it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable way to end our trip in Nias. (cf. Dengue is a common tropical virus spread by mosquitoes around Indonesia)

I understand not all trips go as planned, however after becoming more familiar with Nias. I have come to realize there are many other places I would rather go to Indonesia during the peak-season of Indonesian swells. I was reassured by many people the wet-season brings good waves with no crowds. And we’ll be sure to hit up Kabunohi Sorake for those low season strike missions.

Surfing NIas
Will, the author of this amazing story while at Kabunohi. Shot by Austin Mullen Photo

Enquire for wet-season SPECIALS at Kabunohi Sorake, NIAS.

Indo Surf Crew

Made up of surfers, photographers, film-makers and writers. Indo Surf Crew creates surf content in Indonesia while raising awareness on how to protect Indonesian beautiful surf playground and culture. Our aim is to give a voice to the local Indonesian surf communities, its surfers, and organisations with sustainable eco project that will help preserve the authenticity of Indonesian surf spots.

One comment

  • Hey Wil, Thanks for staying with us for the first week of your staying in Nias at KabuNohi. As you know at KabuNohi, we are vigilant in our mosquito control and malaria/dengue preventatives unlike most of the losmens. Unfortunately many of the travelling surfers are quite inexperienced from Europe and have not learnt surf etiquette. Like everywhere else, the locals do get priority over tourists however if you are cool to them as you know, they will call you into set waves. The kids try their best to be-friend you and if they see an opportunity they will take advantage of your generosity. We encourage guests to be courteous to them but not too friendly. It’s true that on the MEGA swells there will be crowds of pro’s etc. flying in for stealth missions for 3-5 days and then they disapear and generally between swells even in peak season the crowds do mellow out. Our Wet season is Oct/Nov only in Nias and then it’s pretty dry from Dec onwards. We do call this Off peak season as you are less likely to get a ‘mega’ swell over these months but it’s not uncommon to get a 6′ swell in Dec/Jan and pretty much rideable waves every day of the year. We look forward to welcoming you back and hopefully changing your perception of Nias.

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