Bali, known worldwide as the Isle of the Gods, drew a staggering 4.4 million visitors in 2016 and is the destination of choice for even more tourists today. Much has been said about the island’s growing popularity for tourists, becoming the top travel destination in the world. While this influx is great for sarong hawkers, hotels, and yoga retreats, more humans also mean more surfers, more traffic, and potential for more stress. Bali’s yesteryear of cheap accommodation and uncrowded waves has disappeared to make way for massive hotels and trendy coffee shops.
Indonesia is more than just Bali, though; an archipelago of over 17,000 islands. Just a 20-minute flight to the east is Lombok, an island just coming into its own as a tourist destination. Lombok is quickly becoming the go-to destination for so many people who’ve had enough of Bali. To love Lombok, you must adjust your expectations. Remember, this is not Bali. There are no colorful offerings, the landscape is arid, and while Bali’s predominant religion is Hindu, Lombok is a Muslim island.
The best base camp for surfing adventures in Lombok is also called Kuta. Even with recent development and some Indo-style gentrification (think Aussie coffees and acai bowls), Lombok’s Kuta is a different beast from Kuta in Bali. It’s dirt streets are lined with inexpensive hotels, fish cooking on an open flame, and a ton of motorbikes.
Make sure you take time to get to know the local people. They are very proud of all things local – you will hear them praise the local food, waves, people, dogs, etc., often. Withstanding this pride, forging a connection to the people of Lombok will radically alter your Lombok experience and your general perception of Muslim culture. Speculation that Lombok will never become the next Bali because of Islam may be right. But, some may say that’s a good thing and I challenge you not to like the people of Kuta.
Photo: Audrey Hills
A definite perk of getting to know the locals is that they will help you score better waves. No beating around the bush here, notwithstanding Desert Point, Lombok does not have the Bukit Peninsula’s arsenal of world-class waves. But the truth about surfing in Bali for us normal humans is that it is very difficult to catch many of those amazing waves. More often you’ll find yourself fighting for the scraps or worse, being heckled, back paddled or dropped in on. You can grapple with 40 guys at shoulder high Bingin or go to Lombok and choose from at least ten waves with less than a handful of people. Last year, we never shared a break with anyone besides the people we showed up with. Plus, Lombok has variety: lots of large bays with inside this or outside that, which work on various swell sizes, hollow reef bottom waves with barrels, super rippable rights, overhead lefts steamrolling over sand and reef. With a little local knowledge and a bike or rental car, you have enough options that can handle all different wind and swell directions within a 40-minute drive of Kuta that it just doesn’t get that crowded. Be sure you surf: Mawi (small to medium swell), Ekas Outside (all sizes), Are Guling (seasonal, all sizes), Outside Gerupuk (small swell), and Tanjung Aan (big swell).
Without a doubt, the beaches in Lombok beat every beach in Bali in beauty. Forget about it. The beaches on the Bukit Peninsula are gorgeous but they come with a cost: the hike back up 10,000 stairs to get home. Forget about Canguu. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me the stretch of beach from Kuta to Canguu is “beautiful.” The dark black sand tumbles with the turbulence of the waves and creates anything but the crystal clear waters you expect in a tropical paradise. Every beach I’ve seen in Lombok has that postcard blue and green water and white sand.
Breakfast in Lombok costs $2.00, not $30.00. Each day starts with surfing, is sustained by coconuts and mie goreng, and finishes with the most exquisite sunset at another gorgeous beach. This is why surfers come to Indonesia. Lombok’s back to basics charm – its less crowded waves, friendly people, beautiful beaches – coupled with the ease of getting there and away from Bali is enough for me. So next time you’ve had enough of the Bintang head-to-toe outfits and the vacation of the masses, give Lombok a try!