Bruce Brown, famous surf filmmaker and director of “The Endless Summer” once commented that surf exploration can be incredibly disheartening. “You travel halfway around the world and you’ll rarely find someplace as good as Malibu” However, Australian surfers, both derelict and bohemian, hit the jackpot when they went searching for waves in Nias during the mid-1970’s. Today, surfers make up the great majority of travellers and tourists who visit Nias hoping to score one of its many world class waves. With a true sense of solitude, it’s not uncommon to find yourself alone in the line-up on Nias, even during peak season. There’s a little bit for everyone on Nias, regardless of your experience or skill level so be sure to read on to discover where, when, and how to surf in Nias.
Known as the undisputed best left-hander on Nias, Afulu is named from a nearby town and surrounded by countless un-named beach breaks. Afulu is known for long hollow barrel sections that break over a shallow section of reef. The northernmost break on the island, Afulu tends to feel a bit more secluded than other waves on this list. Your best bet is dawn patrol as winds tend to be off-shore in the morning. Hop in the water on the Northern end of the beach to steer clear of the rocks and head straight for the peak. Considering the razor-sharp coral just 2.5m below the surface, Afulu is not for inexperienced reef surfers. That being said, you’ll find an array of fun beach breaks for inexperienced surfers and the occasional reef break all to your lonesome.
Asu is a fast and predictable left-hander that opens up to a fast and open shoulder with almond barrel sections. Known to break anywhere from 2-15 feet, Asu is sometimes considered one of the greatest waves in Sumatra, especially with offshore conditions. Asu handles larger swells with grace and poise, expect longer barrel sections where speed is essential. Located on the northern tip of Pulau Asu, a separate island from Nias, you’ll want to consider accessing this break by boat or crashing at Asu Camp which is the islands surfing accommodation. From Asu Camp, you can access plenty of other surf breaks on the island as well that vary in left and right hand waves that all work on different winds and swells. Either way, be sure to bring your booties as you might find yourself trekking over a section of the reef before paddling back outside.
Accessed ideally by boat from Saroke, or local-lead bushwack through the jungle, Dipi offers a sheltered reef that sucks into a hollow barrel that requires full commitment. Known as Hiliduha, DP or 8 Frame, Dipi is considered one of the more expert-level waves on the island. It can be tough to tell from shore weather the wave is breaking which often deters crowds. Expect peaky waves ripe for tube-riding both left and right over shallow reef with an easy paddle-out. Not recommended for beginner or intermediate surfers.
Hilisataro, or more commonly known as Rock Star, is another world-class wave on Nias. A tricky take-off transitions to a right reef break that often offers a quick and clean barrel section for 50 meters. You’re likely to find this reef to yourself, even in peak season. Recommended for expert level surfers, Hilisataro breaks best when the Point is maxed out with strong South or Southwest swell and light North to Northwest winds.
The Point has long since reigned among the top 10 greatest waves in the world. Known as Nias, Lagundri, and Saroke, the point is a quick and easy paddle out to the line-up. Once outside you can expect a predictable take-off and long, clean, barrel rivalling perfection. The point is known to break clean regardless of conditions and holds swell anywhere from waist high to double overhead plus. Expect some crowds, slight localism, and general tom-foolery.
Located just above the point at Lagundri Bay, Indicators is the point’s needy and gnarly cousin. Under the right conditions, Indicators can throw some of the thickest barrels in Nias let alone the world. Indicators breaks over a short section of sharp and shallow reef which fires hairpin barrels. On a high spring tide, under ideal conditions, Indicators can offer expert level barrels for those willing to take the risk. If you’re willing to test your limits and you can’t handle the crowd at the Point, Indicators might be the spot for you.
While Secret, or Northern Secret, sometimes called Walohiu Left is by no means the only secluded and “secret” wave you’ll find on Nias. A way north of the more popular spots in Lagundri Bay on the West Coast of Nias, Secret tends to be secluded and void of crowds. A bit of a swell magnet, Secret breaks well under most conditions. After a 30 minute trek through the jungle or slightly shorter boat ride, you’re likely to find clean and peeling lefts for the rogue goofy footer in your crew. Considering there are so many un-named and “secret” spots throughout this region of the island, it might be worth your time and cash to hire a local surf guide. Always a bit of a journey, you’re likely to score empty line-ups and fun clean surf at Secret.
The Machine is one of the few waves that has sprouted up in Nias since the earthquake in 2004. The Machine is reminiscent of a laundromat; a deep hollow spitting left that breaks on the highest tides and largest swells. A 5-minute drive across the bay from The Point at Lagundri Bay, you’re likely to have fewer crowds at the Machine simply due to its expert nature. Difficult to access via the channel from shore, it’s ideal to paddle out at the Machine by boat but easy to make your way back to the point after your last barrel. In addition, the Machine is in close proximity to some of the other mellower waves on Nias like Rivermouth, beach break, and Sobatu.
It may seem a bit repetitive, but Walohiu is another world-class wave on Nias. A near perfect left-handed shoulder and inside. Walohiu peels along a point towards a river mouth at the shore. Just 30-minute walk or 15-minute boat ride from Lagundri Bay, Walohiu is a great place to skip the crowds and do some exploring. You’re likely to find clean open faces for upwards of 100 metres. Definitely, worth the trek, Walohiu should make your Nias surf list.
Afulu: Left reef break
Asu: Left reef break
Dipi: Left and right reef break
Hilisataro: Right reef break
The Point: Right reef break
Indicators: Right reef break
Secret (Nias): Left reef break
The Machine: Left reef break
Walohiu: Left reef break
The Point: Intermediate-advanced
Secret (Nias): Intermediate-advanced
The Machine: Advanced
Dipi: Left and Right
The Point: Right
Secret (Nias): Left
The Machine: Left
Afulu: Sharp shallow reef
Asu: Dead coral reef
Dipi: Shallow reef
Hilisataro: Dead coral reef
The Point: Reef
Indicators: Sharp shallow reef
Secret (Nias): Reef
The Machine: Reef
Dipi: Not necessary
The Point: Not necessary
Indicators: Not necessary
Secret (Nias): Recommended
The Machine: Not necessary
Walohiu: Not necessary
Afulu: Standard thruster to step-up pin-tail
Asu: Standard thruster to step-up pin-tail or gun
Dipi: Standard squash tail to pin-tail
Hilisataro: Standard squash tail to pin-tail
The Point: Standard thruster to mini-gun or gun
Indicators: Pin-tail to step up
Secret (Nias): Standard squash tail to mini-gun
The Machine: Pin-tail
Afulu: What crowd?
Dipi: No crowds
Hilisataro: Low crowds
The Point: Crowded
Secret (Nias): No crowds
The Machine: Low crowds
Walohiu: No crowds
Afulu: Sharp shallow reef
Asu: Sharp shallow reef, super shallow end section
Dipi: Shallow reef, fast hollow waves
Hilisataro: Shallow reef, boat traffic
The Point: Crowds, rogue boards
Indicators: Sharp shallow reef, fast hollow waves, deadly end section
Secret (Nias): Uneven reef, difficult access
The Machine: Shallow reef, fast hollow waves
Walohiu: Shallow reef, difficult to access
The Point: SSW
Secret (Nias): SW
The Machine: SSW
The Point: N
Secret (Nias): NE
The Machine: ENE
Afulu: All tides
Asu: All tides (Shallow and sketchy on low)
Dipi: High – Mid tide
Hilisataro: High – mid tide
The Point: All tides
Indicators: High tide
Secret (Nias): All tides
The Machine: High tide
Walohiu: Mid to high tide
Afulu: Rising mid tide
Asu: Rising to high tide
Dipi: Lowering high tide
Hilisataro: Lowering high tide
The Point: Rising
Indicators: High tide
Secret (Nias): Rising
The Machine: Rising
Walohiu: Rising mid tide
Afulu: Can be consistent
The Point: Consistent
Secret (Nias): Consistent
The Machine: Inconsistent
Afulu: April – October
Asu: April – October
Dipi: April – October
Hilisataro: April – October
The Point: Year-round
Indicators: April – October
Secret (Nias): April – October
The Machine: April – October
Walohiu: April – October
Afulu: usually friendly surf travellers
The Point: Competitive hassling
Secret (Nias): What line-up?
The Machine: Challenging when its on
Dipi: 8 frame, DP, Hiliduha
Hilisataro: Rock Star
The Point: Nias, Sorake
Secret (Nias): Northern Secret
Paddling out at Afulu: Walk to the northernmost end of the beach and turn towards the peak. You’ll notice a jumble of rocks south of the channel that you’ll want to avoid. After you’ve headed out past the rocks, turn towards the peak. After each wave, head for the shoulder which will bring you back into the channel and keep you clear of shallow reef.
Paddling out at Asu: Unless you’re staying at one of the surf camps located on Asu, you’ll want to access this wave via boat. If you’re headed from land, pull on your booties and be prepared for a bit of jaunt over the sharp exposed reef. Head north of the break and look for the channel but be prepared for a few encounters with the reef.
Paddling out at Dipi: A 20-minute car or motorbike ride from nearby Lagundri bay, 8 frame is just outside of Hiliduha village. Considering it’s somewhat finicky nature, it’s nice to have the greater vantage point of access by boat. If it’s not breaking, it’s a short car or boat ride to Rockstar, Hiliduha’s other world-class break. Hug the channel on the paddle-out but access is relatively easy once you make the trek from local accommodation.
Paddling out at Hilisataro: Hilisataro breaks relatively close to shore and is a quick and easy paddle out through the break. While you won’t have your feet on the ground for long, expect to trek through a bit of coral on the way outside. For this reason, it’s a safe bet to rock a pair of booties but not entirely necessary. A short ride from Hiliduha village, Rock Star is easy to access despite its expert level wave.
Paddling out at The Point: The Point put Nias on the map as one of the greatest waves in the world and potentially one of the easiest accessed breaks in the world. Surfers paddle out through a small break in the reef called the keyhole located directly in front of Sorake beach. A quick 1-2 minute paddle puts you at the peak. While the Point is predictable, easily accessed, and by far one of the best waves globally, know your limitations and be prepared for thick, heavy, reeling barrels.
Paddling out at Indicators: Paddling out to the Keyhole is about a 250-metre paddle from the keyhole at the point. Head far to the right and you’ll see Indicators peeling over the reef. Stick to the channel until you make it to the peak and keep your eye out for dry reef on the inside. If it’s your first time surfing indicators, stick to the line-up for the first few waves and keep an eye on where and when other folks are kicking out. It’s good to be conservative on your first session anywhere, but under ideal conditions, it’s worth the extra balls it takes to score a 10-second barrel.
Paddling out at Secret (Nias): Head northeast along the coast from Lagundri bay and keep your eye on the ocean. Secret is a short drive from Lagundri followed by a 30-minute walk through the jungle. You’re likely to find a few other hidden gems along the way. If you’re looking to spend more time surfing and less time exploring, hire a guide and hop on a boat.
The Machine: Just a quick 5-minute motorbike ride from The Point at Lagundri Bay, the machine is a bit easier to access by a leisurely boat ride across the bay.
Paddling out at Walohiu: Just a 30-minute walk through the jungle north of the Point, Walohiu breaks along a bank of the shoreline that turns in eastward past Indicators. If you’re not up for the hike, consider taking a 15-minute boat ride straight out to the line-up.
Nias is one of the most beautiful islands in the Sumatran archipelago. Beautiful white sandy beaches fringed with often dry coral submerged in crystal clear turquoise water. While the true draw of the island is surfing, there’s plenty of jungle to explore and coastline for sunbathing for the non-surfing travel partner. The culture of Nias is relatively conservative and most people work 6 days a week. On Sunday, their one day of rest, you’re likely to find local families picnicking and enjoying beaches you may have found deserted the day before.
Pork is a large part of the people’s diet in Nias and you will find it prepared in many different and delicious ways. There are always a few options around to eat out however Homestays typically have a “guesthouse” where guests are fed fresh and local food on a daily basis. One of the best things about Nias is due to its remoteness you’ll find nearly all fresh and locally harvested ingredients.
The Nias Stone Jumping Ceremony is an ancient tradition that is still performed to this day and is an amazing spectacle to witness. This ritual of leaping over an incredibly high stone wall combined with hazardous objects designed to cause injury if a jump isn’t successful is the final step where a Nias boy becomes a man.
Tourism in Nias is still a relatively new industry and occasionally you may run into a few folks who have never encountered a foreigner. Be sure to smile and keep a positive attitude. The people of Nias are warm and welcoming and often feel proud that travellers are visiting their home. Considering the remoteness of the island, be sure to brush up your Indonesian. While it’s not the local language, most people are fluent in Indonesian but won’t speak much English beyond “hello mister!” or “good morning!” The last thing to think about before your journey to Nias is your wardrobe. While this may seem a little intrusive, the island’s conservative culture stands in stark contrast to many of the beach resorts you’ll find in Bali. Outside of Sorake, be sure to only rock your swimsuit on the beach and toss on a shirt before walking through town.
Nias is a small island bordering the western side of the Sumatran archipelago. With open, unhindered access to swell from the Indian Ocean, it’s no surprise the surf here is epic. While Nias is the name of the island itself, people typically use the name to include the smaller Batu Islands and Hinako Islands.
Road conditions on Nias tend to vary with the changing seasons.
In the wet season, roads on the interior of the island are likely to be flooded or occasionally covered by landslides. There are taxis on the island you can take, typically unmarked minivans and are a little on the luxurious side. It’s not common to rent a motorbike or scooter, most accommodations you choose from will have a prefered form of transportation.
If you’re looking to access any of the smaller outlying islands, consider taking a boat or private plane. If you’re headed to Saroke, the main surfing area of the island, keep your eye out for cabs “going home” which tend to be a bit cheaper. If you’re planning on staying in the east, or in any of the larger cities, don’t worry too much about transportation as there are plenty of rickshaws and shorter transportation options.
Historically, Nias has been a pretty difficult place to get to. Today, due to a new airport, the great majority of tourists arrive by plane.
Step 1: To fly into Nias, you’ll need to travel to Medan, Indonesia’s 4th largest city, and only airport currently offering flights to Nias.
Step 2: You’ll fly from Kualanamu International Airport in Medan into Binaka Airport in Gunung Sitoli on the east coast of Nias. Flights on and off the island are relatively cheap ($90-120 USD).
Step 3: Then it’s about a 3-hour car journey around or across the island to Nias’s more famous surf breaks in the southwestern corner.