There aren’t many places left in the world to surf uncrowded breaks in paradise. And while the secret of Simelue Island is fast leaking out, it is still possible to surf a perfect right-hander with a few people out. I know, because I just did it.
In June and July I spent two months living and surfing around the remote Island paradise of Simelue in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. I was travelling on my own and surrounded mostly by men. As such I spent many days dreaming of returning with a group of women. At first glance it can be a little complicated as a woman on Simelue so I wrote this piece to let the ladies know how to have a stress free trip to this magical island.
You see, Simelue is part of Aceh, a province in Indonesia known for enforcing Sharia Law. It is a place you must only visit if you’re willing to take respect along for the ride. The local people are wonderfully kind and happy and also deeply entrenched in the faith of Islam. This means that they do things a little different to you and I and they can feel really uncomfortable with some of the behaviours that we consider ordinary.
In Simelue an unmarried man and woman don’t spend time alone or touch one another. They court through conversation and presence alone (it’s kinda adorable). Married couples are affectionate only in private so you’ll never see a public kiss or intimate touch. The women are covered with conservative flowy dress and men keep their shirts on too. When outside of their villages women are always in hijab to cover their hair.
As a westerner we aren’t expected to cover our heads but appropriate dress is key. Just imagine if you’d always lived in a place where people wore clothes and then suddenly a foreign group shows up and insists on doing everything naked. It would be totally weird and pretty uncomfortable right? That’s how our usual booty shorts, tank tops and g-string bikinis feel to them. Weird.
I came to think of clothing as a form of respect: the more you wear the more you show. When I left my resort I wore long flowing pants and a long sleeve shirt. I was only ever greeted with huge smiles and enthusiastic waves. The locals will love you for any effort to be part of the culture so learn a few words of Bahasa Indonesia and have a go at using them, even if you mess it up. And get ready for lots of selfies if you stop at a beach or hang in town.
Showing respect bleeds over in the surf too. I had a stack of Dkoko leggings and rashies with me so I could be covered from neck to ankle. At first I felt a little strange as I was so accustomed to being in a bikini but after experiencing no sunburn or nasty rashes between my thighs I realised what a blessing this was. I am now a convert and no matter where I am those leggings are coming with me!
After a while I’d see new western women arriving to the island who didn’t understand the culture and would come out in bootie shorts or tank tops and I would feel a little totally shocked to see their bare skin. As I got to know the locals better I came to understand how offensive it felt to them too. So ladies I tell you: if you’re coming to Simelue order yourselves some leggings and rashies or grab a couple t-shirts and please remember the rule of clothes: the more you wear the more respect you show.
The important thing to know is that there is no reason to be turned away by Sharia Law. The people on Simelue are some of the most loving, friendly and kind that I have met anywhere. As long as you are willing to clothe up the island is yours for the taking. There are waves where it will be near impossible not to learn how to get barrelled and if you come in shoulder season (see my recommendation below) you will be surfing with just a few people out.
Where to stay
There are many options on the island and a quick google will show you the way. I chose Mahi Mahi Surf resort as my home, as it is the most modern with the best food, hot water and AC and it sits right in front of the most consistent break The Peak. There are three resorts in front of a wave named Dylans, which is 30 minutes from the Peak and the most mechanical wave on the Island (see below) though they are more simple in nature. There are also many home-stays popping up around the Island though expect extremely basic accomodation without the bells and whistles.
Where to Surf
Like anywhere in Indonesia, none of these waves are suitable for beginners. It is best to have some skills up your sleeve to come here. You should be able to paddle into your own waves, duck dive, go down the line and take care of yourself near reefs.
The Peak sits right in front of Mahi Mahi resort and is the most consistent wave. It is not below head high very often but is easy to paddle out to and has both a right and left option. The right is mellow. The left is super fast and can be hollow. Be warned that the peak is shifty and sometimes big sets come of nowhere and snap your board in half and then cut your head open with your own fins (yes this happened to me!) The beauty of the Peak is that if the right is crowded you can paddle over and take some lefts and vice versa.
Dylans is set inside a ridiculously beautiful bay and is a textbook perfect right hander. It gives off mechanical barrels on the right conditions and was where I learnt how to get proper barrelled. It never gets very big but can get wide if the swell is pumping. You can always sit on the end if the pack is tough and getting in and out is easy. There is no nasty end section and honestly: it is one of the best waves I have ever surfed to improve my game. If the swell is too big for the rest of the island this can get quite crowded. In the middle of the day I had it to myself more than once. For real.
If you want to get your big girl panties on you can head out on a boat to T-Bags and try your hand at some super-intimidating super-real barrels. The wave is always 2-3 times the size of Dylans as the island it is on faces south. I went out once and had an absolute blast and was pleased to come away unscathed. Many do not come away unscathed due to the wave ending on sharp reef. Two boards were snapped the day I went out. This is definitely the most beautiful place I visited in my time on Simelue: absolutely breathtaking and worth simply going to watch or snorkel.
An amazing fun option, Thailands is a big rolling left hander accessed by boat. It has a long gliding take off and occasionally walls up on the inside. Think gentle giant, it is a great place to practice being comfortable with size while still being safe.
There are many other waves that are fun on the right conditions: Alus-alus is a right hander over a slab that is a little bit like Dylans with super friendly locals. I never actually made it to One-thongs but I hear its a great left hand option when the swell is smaller. One of my fave spots was Monkey Trees, a more open left hander that is only 15 minutes up the road from the peak (and an epic scooter ride through gorgeous landscape). There are also many other waves: the benefit of staying at a resort like Mahi-Mahi is that they have multiple surf guides that will take you to the right place for you and boats to get you to T-Bag’s. You can also take a 3 day trip to the epic Banyak Islands where you’re sure to score world class breaks to yourself.
Other things to know
I was in Simelue for peak season and noticed that the larger swells didn’t seem to suit the island and there were more crowds about. I’m dying to return on shoulder season and have heard many times that off season is amazing there. Due to how close it is to the equator there are no troubles with trade winds so any time of year there is variable weather and usually light winds. It would be my recommendation to skip June July and August and try for the rest of the year instead.
There are many beautiful drives on Simelue so take advantage of scooters and get out there. There is a magical waterfall that we hiked above and swam for hours in a deep clear pool. It was one of my best memories. The local coffee is incredible so make sure you try it out and enjoy watching the unique way they brew it. Goats, chickens and water buffalo roam freely and are so damn cute (especially the baby goats). You’ll also want to try to pet one of the docile buffalo or perhaps see if you can ride on one- they’ll let you I promise.
Simelue is truly a magical place. Trading baggy pants for the usual sexy denim shorts is not what most of us are used to and at first that can feel like something has been taken away from you. Until you settle in, relax and let your eyes open then you can really see how much you’ve been given.
Written by Kate Duncan. All photos were given by Kate to Dkoko for this post. You can read Kate's website here