As far as surfing goes in Indonesia, the Bay of Sorake and Lagundri Beach on Nias island is THE ultimate destination. Nias’s Sorake Bay is an internationally renowned surfing spot, and has become one of surfing’s most exotic wave-searching destinations. Every year, surfers flock from across the globe for a chance at its legendary point break. International surfing competitions have been held in Nias since 1993, and even the World Championship Surfing competition in 2000. Touted as the second best surfing spot in the world after Hawaii, the bay is located in the district of Teluk Dalam on the Southern tip of Nias Island.
Nias is the name of the archipelago off the west coast of North Sumatra consisting of 131 islands. Nias Island is the largest, covering an area of about 5,000 square kilometers—slightly smaller than Bali. Of the 27 islands immediately surrounding Pulau Nias, only 11 are inhabited. Pulau Nias itself is approximately 125 km west of Sumatra.
Before the island’s discovery by three wandering surfers in 1975, Nias was known only by a few hard-core travellers — the island’s main visitors being archaeologists who went there to study its ancient culture and megalithic traditions. The “tourism boom” brought about by the surfers caused a rapid growth in eateries, accommodations and attractions, but much of the culture and tradition have survived and maintained their authenticity despite outside influences.
Sorake Bay is enclosed by the beaches of Lagundri and Sorake, giving it both left and right hand breaks. Unaffected by winds and tides, the constant flow of waves is perfect for novice and professional alike to practice, play and perform! Waves are typically 3 to 5 meters, but have been said to reach as high as 15 meters. Some start from as far as 200 meters from the beach, can have up to 5 levels, and even rolls unbroken all the way to shore. The catch-phrase “All time Nias,” comes with the understanding that unlike most parts of the world, Sorake Bay delivers non-stop waves throughout the entire year, making any time of year the best time for surfing. The highest waves are between May and September, with most competitions being held from June till July.
On December 26, 2004, an earthquake of enormous proportions struck just a few kilometres north of Pulau Nias. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, it was one of the deadliest recorded natural disasters in history. The tsunami that followed the earthquake changed the island’s coastline remarkably, with the coast moving 50 meters inland in some areas, and as much as 100 meters of new land exposed in others. Hundreds were killed and much of Nias was destroyed. The number of tourists declined dramatically after that, but now they are slowly beginning to filter back in.
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There are a large number of accommodations on the beaches of Sorake and Lagundri, most of which are homestay style guesthouses and a few bungalows facing out to sea. Rooms are generally simple, but clean and inexpensive. It is possible to book ahead, or just show up and shop around. Keyhole Surf Camp is a convenient and economical guest house, with the Sorake beach right at your doorstep. 7 rooms are complete with sheets and beddings, private bathrooms for each room and large wall fans. Food and drinks are available, including cold beers. Fresh fruit such as bananas, watermelon, apples and papaya, as well as tea, coffee, fruit juices and bottled water are all included in the surf camp package price, and are available at all times. Surf lessons are also available.
Oichoda Losmen and Surf Stayis located just 100 meters from the legendary Nias Break, Sorake Beach. It is owned and operated by a local Nias family, who have opened their home to surfers since 1985. 12 rooms are available, each with private bath and three excellent meals a day included in the packages.
Offering some of the best waves in the world, surfing in Nias is the absolute highlight for professional and advanced surfers. For beginners, the best time to surf is in the morning, before the waves get too big, and the current too strong and dangerous. Boards can be rented from the beach surf resorts, and reliable surf trainers are ready to help you balance and catch your first waves.
Aside from surfing, spend the day partaking in other available water sports, playing beach volleyball, sunbathing, or just taking a leisurely splash in the cool waters. If you stop and observe, you may even catch a glimpse of sea turtles and other marine life swimming alongside you. A myriad of beautiful beaches surround the coast of Pulau Nias, many of which are most often deserted. The beaches are not only plenteous, but also diverse; from gently sloping, soft, white sands, to rocky reef lagoons and high cliffs.
From Lagundri beach, you can take a walk to visit the traditional villages of Batuhili, Hilimaetano and Lagundri. In times past, villages were built on top of hills for security, and were usually rectangular with a row of houses on each side. The people of Nias built their houses on colossal ironwood pillars with towering roofs. Not only were they almost impenetrable in former tribal warfare, but their flexible, nail-less construction proved effectively resilient to earthquakes. Each village functioned as a separate entity, and up until just a few decades ago, mini-wars would break out with people killed. Warriors would attack other villages to find slaves, and in many villages you will find the sites that were once used to sacrifice victims. Ancient stone sculptures can still be found, as well as huge, round stones which were used for money.
The people of Nias have an interesting history of Animism and Ancestral worship, although the majority is now Christian. Towards central Nias, in the Gomo area, ancient stone carvings as well as free-standing menhir stones can still be found today. All menhirs are erected at least 500 meters above sea level, to avoid possible destruction by tsunamis, which have frequently swept the island for thousands of years. Many of Nias’s menhirs are carved in the form of the female body. They stand 2 to 3 meters tall and are symbolic of human fertility. In many areas of the world, Menhirs have lost their function as a sacred object, and are left merely as archaeological remains. But not on Nias. Till today, Niasans preserve the megalithic rituals, and new menhirs are still erected. Great megalithic structures can also be found built in circular or arch shapes, some dating back over 3,500 years — the oldest found in Indonesia. They were built in commemoration of the great ancestral chiefs who had died, or in praise to the Creator of the universe. These monuments can be found in Lahusa Idanotae, Tetegewo and Tundrumbaho.
Due to the island’s remote location, it’s easy to presume the people of Nias to have lived for centuries in isolation. Strangely though, this is not so. This marvellous island holds almost prehistoric records of trade with merchants from the Middle East, Europe and Mainland Asia. In fact, until the 19th century, Nias was known as the location of the slave trade. Though not alienated from the outside world, Nias has managed to keep its own unique culture remarkably intact; bypassing Indian, Islamic and European Influences that have swept across Asia. Some historians and archaeologists argue the island to be one of the few remaining Megalithic cultures still in existence. The predominant religion today is Christian Protestant at about 86%. The remaining 14% are equally divided as Muslim and Catholic. Nonetheless, until this day, Niasans continue to practice their indigenous culture and tradition.
Like most places worth going, Nias Island is not easy to reach. To go by sea, start at the Sibolga Port in Sibolga city on the Northwest coast of Sumatra. Take the ferry to the port of Gunung Sitoli on Nias Island. The trip takes between 8 and 13 hours, depending on the weather.
By air, start at the Polonia Airport in Medan, North Sumatra and catch a flight to Binaka Airport, Gunung Sitoli. Daily flights are available from Medan to Gunung Sitoli on Sriwijaya Air and Wings Air.
International flights to Medan are from Singapore, Bangkok in Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Malacca and Subang in Malaysia. Domestic flights are available from all major cities in Indonesia including but not limited to Jakarta, Surabaya, Aceh, Bandung, Padang and Pekanbaru.
Once in Gunung Sitoli, continue by land to Sorake Beach via minibus. Sorake Bay is about 60 kilometers from Gunung Sitoli. Tourists are advised to bring enough cash, as ATMs are few and far between. Malaria has also been reported, so be sure to take the proper precautions.