It is not easy to travel to new locations where no one or very few people have surfed previously.
There are no maps, no surf guides, and no local surfers. You have to find the waves, if any, before you can ride them.
This kind of surfing trip is not for everyone. If you are the kind of surfer who wants to be getting barrelled two hours after getting off the plane, with a surf guide, a surf map and your accommodation and all details sorted, then perhaps you should stick to the package deals widely available from many travel providers to popular surf travel destinations like Bali, Nicaragua and Morocco.
If on the other hand, you have the patience, the budget and the meteorological, geological and near-shore bathymetric knowledge and experience to interpret a coastline for the best possible surfing locations and can do the research to know the best time of year for swell and wind, in an attempt to be in the right place at the right time to find new and unridden waves - then read on, as this feature will be of great interest to you.
Deep in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean is a string of coral atolls, running north to south and open to a long-period groundswell from the higher latitudes of the Indian Ocean.
With favourable seasonal winds and hundreds of potential reef breaks, Maldives has become a favourite tropical surf destination worldwide.
Maldives is a string of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean.
Maldives was completely unsurfed until 1973, in one of the more fortunate shipwrecks in surfing history, the yacht carrying Tony Hinde-Hussien and Mark Scanlon, two surfers from Australia, crashed onto a reef in the middle of the night.
The next morning, the two surfers realized where they were and started looking around, noticing the good waves and seasonal offshore northwest wind straight away.
Sunrise in the southern atolls.
Mark left after a few weeks to return to Australia, but Tony stayed in Maldives for most of the rest of his life.
Tony surfed and explored most of the known waves in the atolls, north and south of Malé; got married, had a family, became a Muslim and eventually founded Atoll Adventures, a surfing travel agency.
The classic lineup at Pasta Point, the wave that started it all in Maldives.
For our first project in Maldives in 1993, after some research on swell and seasonal winds and the purchase of a British Admiralty chart of North Malé atoll, I had come to the conclusion there could be some very good waves in Maldives, particularly the area just to the northeast of the capital of Malé. A group of islands in this area with local names I could not pronounce had a number of passes that could take long period groundswell from the south and would be straight offshore on a seasonal northwest wind.
A group of surfers wading ashore in the northern atolls.
We recruited a good crew of Brazilian Flavio Padaratz, Rick Irons from Hawaii and Jye Gofton from Australia, surfing with Tony for several weeks around North Malé atoll at most of the waves which are now some of the most coveted tropical waves in the world, with no one else surfing.
The island we stayed on at Kuda Huraa had a run-down resort with basic concrete cabins. As it was one of the earliest resorts built in North Malé in the mid-1970’s, it had been in use for twenty years and was scheduled for demolition by 1995.
Many waves in Maldives only work under a specific combination of swell and wind conditions.
After years of construction, the island eventually became the Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa, charging more than USD $1000 per night for luxury accommodations, which includes exclusive access to Pasta Point, on the island next door.
It wasn’t that there were no resorts in North Malé at the time of our visit, hence no surfers - there were, but like the equally run-down Italian-owned resort on the island next to Kuda Huraa, where Pasta Point is located (That’s why it is called “Pasta Point”) and like the original resort at Lohifushi, all these pre-surfing resorts were built by people who had no knowledge or experience with surfing whatsoever.
Sunrise surfing in the southern atolls.
I shot several times from the beach at Pasta Point, action and lineup images in an area of the resort that could only be described as a rubbish dump. I set up a lens surrounded by smashed toilets, large empty cooking oil tins and broken chairs out the back of the kitchen overlooking the waves. The original resort was built facing the lagoon, not the Indian Ocean, so wealthy Europeans could sit around on chaise longues with umbrella drinks and look at a calm sea all day.
The waves breaking on the reef point had no value to the original owners.
Surfers on a sandbar in the southern atolls.
Of course, today the luxurious Cinnamon Dhonveli Resort on the island has a huge wooden deck where the rubbish dump used to be, there are no smashed toilets or broken chairs and the deck is a very popular spot for guests to view the classic Past Point lineup.
Until recently, when several new airports were build in the region, many waves in the southern atolls were only accessible by boat.
We had been shooting and surfing non-stop for several weeks in 1993 when to get a different angle on one of our last days, Tony and I got a wooden dhoni and shot from the water at Pasta Point.
The swell was a solid six feet, and there were heavy monsoon rain clouds in the sky, so we knew the southwest monsoon was about to start in early May.
Tony and I were having a general conversation about Maldives and he suddenly asked me in a serious tone, “John, you have been to a lot of places, you have been here for a few weeks now and seen most of the waves in North Malé - do you reckon people are going to want to come all the way to Maldives to surf these waves?”
The suitability of an island in Maldives for human settlement is determined by the availability of fresh water - no water, empty island.
I told him straight away “Tony, that’s not going to be your problem. Your problem is going to be too many people will want to come to Maldives to surf these waves” He laughed and said “I hope you’re right”.
Early morning in the southern atolls.
Of all the places we have been on surfEXPLORE projects, the former Portuguese colonies are some of the most atmospheric and photogenic of all and Mozambique in East Africa is no exception.
Mozambique, a Portuguese-speaking nation in east Africa.
When Portugal abruptly pulled the plug on their African colonies and left in 1975 after almost 500 years of Portuguese rule, they took everything - leaving little other than the Portuguese language behind.
There were very few educated people remaining, as many of the qualified locals decamped to Portugal with the colonizers, leaving new countries like Mozambique with little to work with; in equipment or people, to build a functioning country.
Emiliano and Taylor were followed by a pack of curious feral children from the local villages everywhere they went on Angoche Island.
For our Mozambique project, we avoided the popular surfing areas in the south and instead went north to the former capital of the country in colonial days, the Ilha de Moçambique or Mozambique Island.
After Vasco da Gama visited the thriving settlement on the island on his first voyage to India in 1498, with boat-building and slave-trading the main activities, the island was the capital of Portuguese Mozambique until 1898, when the capital was moved south to Maputo.
The Ilha de Moçambique is a living museum, with hundreds of years of colonial history on display.
There is abundant history everywhere on the island, from old houses in various states of dereliction to restored boutique hotels and restaurants feeding a growing international visitor trade.
The right points started working at low tide and got better as the tide filled in.
Of greater interest to surfers, the Ilha also has several offshore islands ringed by coral reefs, which are far enough offshore to receive long-period groundswell from the Indian Ocean. Keeping in mind the significant tidal swings in this area of more than two meters between high and low tide and the constant seasonal southeast wind, there are good reef waves to be had a short boat ride from the Ilha with plenty of boats serving the visitor trade available for day trips.
The Church of Santo Antonio is one of the oldest buildings on the Ilha de Mozambique.
Further south of the Ilha de Moçambique but within Nampula province is the island of Angoche and the town of the same name.
Angoche Island is basically a sandbar on the Indian Ocean with the island separated from the mainland by tidal channels, full of the large camarão or shrimp for which the island is well-known.
Marco Giorgi taking advantage of the power boost from the incoming tide at a beachbreak on Angoche Island.
Angoche was one of the strangest places we have ever been on a surfEXPLORE project. The town was clearly built for bigger things than the depopulated obscurity it now enjoys. Several buildings in the centre of town have been restored, but others nearby are still empty with the jagged broken windows, charred walls and faded signage for “Supermercado” from the arson and looting that followed the departure of the Portuguese over 45 years ago.
Surfer Taylor Claire Miller and one of the first waves ridden at this right point.
Many art deco style houses in the town are also empty, with the occupants having left in 1975 and never returned. The three and four lane wide roads, well-engineered by the Portuguese and paved, are virtually empty of vehicles. Sitting in a roadside café having a cafezinho next to the main road into town, we counted one man on a bicycle and one motorbike for traffic in over 20 minutes on an eight-lane road leading into Angoche. Clearly built for bigger things that have never materialized.
Meanwhile, just outside of town on Angoche Island, there are many thriving villages where tens of thousands of Muslim locals are leading a traditional lifestyle of farming and fishing, having little to do with the imposing catholic church and colonial township that lies mostly abandoned.
A magnificent catholic church in Angoche, Mozambique.
There are also kilometres of tidal-influenced beachbreaks and two right points on the island with absolutely no one surfing anywhere.
The beachbreaks are influenced by the powerful tides of the Mozambique Channel, with incoming to high tide the best conditions, when the swell can double in size with the strong tidal push and get quite fun over the shifting sandbars. The points take more swell to work and can produce long rights on dead low tide coming up.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in the Indian Ocean on Angoche Island.
There are crowds of feral local children from the nearby villages, running screaming down the beach in packs to see what is happening on their sleepy island, where they see few muzungu (foreigner) visitors and have likely never seen surfers before.
Taking a local boat past the fort and out to the reef waves at the Ilha de Goa.
India is always a challenging country to visit.
If you are looking for waves, you won’t be gallivanting around famous temples or taking selfies at an ancient Rajasthan fortress crowded with other tourists. You will be in some of the more remote areas of the mainland coastline, where foreign visitors are not common or in the offshore islands, where access is highly controlled, and foreigners are not welcome at all.
India, waves and surfing on the east and the west coasts
If you are looking for waves on either the mainland or the offshore islands, it is likely you will have to deal with Indian government officials at some point. A word of warning: Indian officials are some of the world's most difficult bureaucrats.
Indian officials, from our experiences, have no incentive whatsoever to do anything foreigners ask them to do. On the contrary, they have every incentive NOT to do anything foreigners ask them to do. These officials love their positions of power and they can make your quest for waves and to do things other foreigners don’t do in remote areas of the mainland and on the offshore islands very difficult indeed.
Colourful architecture on Diu Island on the west coast of India.
As we have made projects in India on the east coast in Andhra Pradesh state, on the west coast at Diu Island and the state of Gujarat and several projects in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, we have perhaps more knowledge and experience of surfing in india than any other group of non-Indian surfers worldwide.
Checking the surf on Diu Island by motorised rickshaws.
For our first project in the Andaman Islands in 1998, I rounded up a group of sponsored surfers and media people. Chris Malloy recruited his North Shore friend Jack Johnson, who had recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara, to shoot 16mm for a film project and I signed up Sam George to serve as the journalist, who was the editor at Surfer Magazine at the time.
Kumari Point in the Andaman Islands has one of the best waves in India.
My conversation with Sam went something like this:
Sam asked, “Do you know where the waves are?”
“Do you know anyone who has surfed there before?”
“Do you have a map of any spots, so we know where to go?” He asked, with his voice rising slightly higher in pitch.
“So let me get this straight — you want me to spend thousands of dollars of magazine money on this trip based solely on your reputation for this kind of thing?”
“Ok, sign me up”.
Surfers on Diu Island, where the pre-monsoon heat was over 40 degrees Celsius every day.
Everyone except Sam met in Phuket, Thailand and we helped the boat charter company with the provisioning of the boat over several days, then sailed out of Chalong Bay for the 70 plus hour crossing at 8 to 10 knots to the Andaman Islands.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing one of the limestone reef waves on Diu Island.
On arrival in Port Blair, we had our first experience with Indian officials.
As the boat Captain had been to the Andamans previously and knew the protocol, as soon as they came on board, we distributed the bottles of duty-free Johnnie Walker scotch and the cartons of Marlboro cigarettes to the boarding party, and they casually accepted the gifts.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in the Arabian Sea.
The scotch and cigarettes were passed to their junior subordinates to be duly noted, and the officials processed us into the country with no drama, promptly stamping everyone’s passport in the wheelhouse and, as a courtesy, noting the Indian flag we had hoisted on the mast as per nautical custom was upside down.
“Orange stripe goes on top,” he said. Luckily, we brought the scotch and cigarettes.
We met Sam in Port Blair as he had flown in from Chennai, and we spent the rest of the day buying provisions in town like eggs and bread.
After pulling the anchor at 04:00, we left the harbour in the predawn darkness and made a course for Little Andaman island, our main target for waves.
Jarawa Point, named after one of the local indigenous tribal groups, was the first wave we surfed on Little Andaman Island.
As dawn was breaking, I woke up to find Chris and Jack on the bow, waving the Captain slowly towards what looked like a long and clean left point. We dropped the anchor and got in the dinghy to take a closer look.
It was a long left point wave with a morning offshore wind we named “Jarawa Point” after a tribe of indigenous people we had been reading about. Everyone jumped in and paddled for the lineup for what was very likely the first time this wave had ever been surfed.
Diu Island on the west coast of India has limestone reefs that can pick up long-period Indian Ocean groundswell.
We were still on the sheltered east coast of Little Andaman, what might we find on the more exposed south and west coasts of the island?
The waves at Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island are inaccessible without an Indian passport.
China is an interesting and important country that, similar to India, is always a challenge for travellers but for different reasons.
Whereas India is vast, chaotic and hobbled by incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats, China is equally vast but well-organized, and the appointed officials that deal with foreigners are far more efficient.
Surfing in China is always an interesting experience.
Where the challenges for western people present themselves in China PRC is in language, as very few foreign visitors to China speak any Chinese, standard Mandarin or one of the many regional dialects and most visitors cannot read a single character of written Chinese.
These two boys in Fujian Province had never seen a surfboard before.
Yangshuo near Guilin in Guangxi ticks all the boxes for classic Chinese scenery and is one of the most popular travel destinations in China.
The other area that is a major challenge is internet usage and phone apps. Many of the familiar applications used on a daily basis outside of China and in areas outside of Chinese control; like Taiwan such as Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and YouTube are blocked in China.
Professional surfer Holly Beck and a clean tube section at a beachbreak on Hainan Island.
With all the major western social media companies now having left China over issues of access, storage and control, these apps and many others are accessible only with a fussy and expensive VPN connection to get around China’s “Great Firewall” which effectively blocks western internet content (and any content which the government cannot censor or control) from entering the country.
The northeast monsoon in the western Pacific Ocean brings swell to Hainan from October to March.
The challenges for any western traveler are significant and for surfers, China is a vast and mostly unknown frontier of beachbreaks, points and rivermouth waves, ranging from the tropical island of Hainan in the south China Sea to the frozen extremities of the Yellow Sea near the heavily fortified border with North Korea.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing a beachbreak on Hainan Island.
Other than Hainan and a stretch of coastline north of the metropolitan areas of Hong Kong and Shenzen, there are few people surfing anywhere in China, locals or expatriate foreigners.
Hainan Island has more surfers than the rest of the country combined.
Erwan Simon, surfing on Sijiao Island in the Shengsi Islands group.
Situated in the warm, if highly contested waters of the South China Sea, Hainan gets a surprising amount of swell, mainly during the northeast monsoon season from October to March. A jetlike fetch of wind occurs quite often from the Taiwan Strait pointing south and sends weeks of nonstop high-pressure windswell towards the east coast of Hainan.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing a left point on Hainan Island in the south China Sea.
Surfers in Hainan enjoy a range of left points, beachbreaks and reef waves with the famous Riyue Bay, the site of several international events and the most famous surfing location on the island, to isolated beachbreaks on the north coast that seldom see anyone surfing. The mix of surfers in Hainan has seen a shift in the last decade, with many long-term expatriates leaving the island and China PRC altogether and the number of Chinese surfers increasing.
Surfing festivals in China are great places to make new friends.
Many of these Chinese surfers are well-educated women and many of them are from the mainland, having relocated to Hainan to enjoy an outdoor and athletic surfing lifestyle rather than working at an office job and living in one of China’s major urban areas like Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
A local fisherman at a jetty sandbar wave in Fujian Province in the People's Republic of China.
The huge island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa is a fascinating place, as big as the state of California.
Madagascar is considered by many in the scientific community to be a small continent; such is the diversity of the native fauna and flora on the island.
Madagascar, east and west coast of the island continent.
Human beings are a relatively new addition to the plant and animal life on the island, with Madagascar one of the last major land areas on earth to be populated by people and they came from an unlikely source - Indonesia.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in the Barren Islands of Madagascar.
Genetic testing has revealed most of the population of 20 million people on Madagascar are descended from a group of perhaps 20 men and women originally from villages on the south coast of Borneo. As there were both men and women in this initial landing party, the conclusion is they were a group of slaves, not an all-male contingent of warriors or traders, destined to be sold in a market in Sumatra.
Madagascar is famous for bad roads and when their are not bad roads, there are no roads at all.
Erwan Simon, meeting the local surfers with their boards in eastern Madagascar.
For surfers, much of Madagascar is still the great unknown, as large portions of the east and the west coast of the island have either never been surfed by anyone or have seen very few surfers.
The known areas in the southwest around Toliara and the east coast near Fort Dauphin and Mahambo are not crowded by international standards, with a few low-key surf camps entertaining their guests with offshore reef waves in the April to October season.
Erwan Simon, surfing in the Barren Islands of Madagascar.
Forecast check in an internet café in eastern Madagascar - text only, connection too slow for graphics.
While The surfEXPLORE Group and others have done exploration projects in Madagascar in search of new waves in locations like the Barren Islands in the Mozambique Channel, the obstacles are daunting. Bad roads are the main problem; when roads are bad in Madagascar, they are very bad and when there are not bad roads, there are no roads at all.
Winter season in Madagascar is nearly rainless, with cool dry weather and clear, cloudless skies.
Erwan Simon and Randy Rarick, surfing in eastern Madagascar.
Large portions of the island are inaccessible by road and hazards like washed-out bridges, long stretches of massive potholes from the rainy season and old-school highwaymen with home made guns who rob travelers at random are not uncommon.
The locals are skilled surfers on their wooden boards.
For the intrepid surf traveler, Madagascar is a frontier of new waves to be discovered, surfed and documented. Just be sure you have a working knowledge of French and plenty of time, as delays to where you want to go will be many and frequent and you will be required to solve many problems before you can actually get anywhere near where you want to go.
Local surfers with their boards in eastern Madagascar.
The swell window for North Africa on the stormy north Atlantic Ocean is one of the most consistent and productive in the world.
The winter season of October to March pumps out swell after swell for Europe, Morocco, Western Sahara and the most southerly nation in North Africa, Mauritania.
Mauritania is a French-speaking nation in North Africa.
Mauritania is a sparsely populated desert country, as the western edge of the Sahara Desert is a difficult place for human beings to live. Farming is nearly impossible in a sea of sand with little rainfall, so fishing in the Atlantic has long been the occupation of choice in this area.
Hundreds of shipwrecks litter the coastline in the vicinity of Nouadhibou, part of a lucrative insurance scam.
The Atlantic fishery is highly productive and fishermen are common on the coast of Mauritania. The Nouadhibou Peninsula was once a center of fishing in colonial days, when the peninsula was divided down the middle between Spain and France, with Spain on the Atlantic side of the fence and France on the calm bay between the peninsula and the mainland.
Emiliano Cataldi surfing in the north Atlantic Ocean.
After Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara, including the Spanish portion of the Nouadhibou Peninsula, in 1975, Mauritania, Morocco and the Polisario independence movement engaged in a shooting war over the territory that lasted until 1991.
The peninsula is now completely under the control of the Mauritanian Army with a de facto international border with Morocco about 20 kilometres north of the city of Nouadhibou, crossed daily by many vehicles without problems.
Emiliano Cataldi, shipwreck surfing in Mauritania.
The Polisario Front has largely been vanquished to camps in nearby Algeria, where they languish due to lack of funding for weapons and watch with frustration as their claims for an independent Western Sahara are ignored and their movement withers to irrelevance.
Brahim was a master desert driver, able to finesse his way through the dunes with knowledge and experience.
It is not so easy to visit the Nouadhibou peninsula for any reason, including surfing as the area is the territory of the Commandante and his men, a garrison of soldiers from the Mauritanian Army. There is no official procedure to visit the area, you have to make it up as you go along, dans Français, s'il vous plaît.
Erwan Simon, crossing the shifting sands of the Sahara Desert.
We met the Commandante on our first day on the peninsula, checking the surf at the destroyed Castelo, a former fortress in the old Spanish town of La Aguera.
We were escorted by armed men to their headquarters, a dilapidated building from the Spanish period with a bullet-scarred façade and a large diesel generator for a supply of electricity, with several vehicles parked outside in various stages of disrepair.
Woman walking past the offices of defunct Air Mauritanie.
Erwan Simon explained in French to the Commandante what we wanted to do, and after a few questions, he gave his permission, saying as long as we checked in every morning, we were under his protection and free to surf anywhere we chose on the peninsula. This was a relief as if the Commandante said no, there would be no surfing.
This is Africa, the men with the guns make the rules.
The Commandante did come by a few days later, when we were surfing in the shadows of El Castelo, the old Spanish fortress that now guards a well-shaped right point wave that works on the biggest winter swells. The Commandante and several of his soldiers with their AK-47’s came over to where I was shooting from the rocks, to film with his hand-held video camera.
The Nouadhibou Peninsula features several high-quality right point waves.
A set came through with one surfer on each wave, as per normal surfing etiquette. He filmed, but this wasn’t what the Commandante wanted.
With a series of shouted commands in French, he made it clear he wanted everyone to catch the same wave at the same time so that he could film. Our group complied on the next set with four surfers taking off at once for a party wave.
You can’t argue with the men with guns.
Fishing boats in the harbour in Nouadhibou.
The Commandante seemed pleased with the footage, we exchanged pleasantries in French and he and his men were soon off on their regular patrol of their territory.
Mauritania is a sea of sand on the western edge of the Sahara Desert.
There is a myth circulating out there in the surfing world that Japan has poor quality surf and going there for a surf trip is a waste of time.
How this rumour got started, I don’t know, perhaps because of extensive coverage of marquee contests held in one-foot waves in the 1980s or perhaps it was spread by people who wanted to keep the waves uncrowded with other gaijin foreigners or by people who are just racist; whatever the reasons, it definitely isn’t true.
Japan, a strange and wonderful place with great surf, sometimes.
Japan can have world-class surfing in many parts of the country, from the cold north in Hokkaido Island and the northern extremities of Honshu to the tropical south, the islands with coral reefs near Taiwan like Amami-Oshima and Okinawa.
Surfing has permeated Japanese culture on many levels.
Japanese magazines regularly run features on different parts of Pacific Japan, with some very good waves, surfers and photographers, completely unknown to almost everyone outside of Japan. More recently, features have appeared from Nihon-kai or the Sea of Japan side of the country, which can have good swell in winter or from passing typhoons.
Studio Alta is a trendy goods mall for fashion-conscious teenagers in the Chinju-ku District of Tokyo.
One of the first things to learn about travel in Japan is no matter how many travel websites or guidebooks offer assurances of foreigners (any foreigners) being able to travel on their own around Japan, outside of major tourism areas like Tokyo and Kyoto, this is largely a myth.
Gary Elkerton, surfing large typhoon surf in Kyushu, Japan.
If you are looking for waves, you are going to be in places that foreign visitors seldom visit. That’s where the complications start.
It is not that Japanese people don’t like foreigners; they do, for the most part - it’s simply that if they have no experience with foreigners and in remote areas of Japan, it is very possible the people there have never met any foreigners in their entire lives, so they are unsure if they have what foreigners may want - like throne toilets, beds rather than futons on the floor and western food instead of Japanese food.
Omikuji good fortune papers at a traditional Shinto shrine in Kyushu.
If the foreigners cannot speak Japanese, it is impossible to communicate enough to offer assurances that futons are fine as is Japanese food, so to solve the problem they simply say they are full and have no rooms.
You must have an actual Nihon-jin (Japanese person) with your group, as a Japanese-speaking foreigner won’t work and that means Brasil Japanese, Peru Japanese, Hawaii Japanese, or California Japanese don’t count.
Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan, selling everything from canned coffee to used women's underwear.
Most rural Japanese can understand perfectly well that the foreigner, ethnic Japanese or caucasian; is speaking correct Japanese, but something in their brain refuses to function and many people will stutter a reply in English, simply stare and remain mute or even turn and run away. It is not unusual so don’t take offense, it is simply that many Japanese expect foreigners NOT to speak Japanese and cannot comprehend when they do.
Having at least one native Japanese nihon-jin in the group solves all these problems immediately. If country folk can see you are traveling with Japanese people, that is a badge of assurance. You must be the good type of foreigner, not an animal who doesn’t know anything and will complain about the food or the futons, making the host lose face.
A flaming bright sunset after a great day of waves in Kyushu, Japan.
For people looking to surf in Japan, the best season is autumn, or typhoon season in the western Pacific Ocean. Typhoons form in the Pacific, usually east of Guam and then move northeast towards Japan, generating swell for the entire country from the southern islands all the way to Hokkaido in the far north.
Autumn is the best season for waves in Japan, with warm air temperatures and consistent western Pacific swell.
Depending on the course and strength of the storm system, typhoons can produce epic world-class conditions in Japan, with offshore winds. There can be days of incredible waves during the autumn season at many beachbreaks, points and especially the gravel and sand rivermouth setups, which can produce fantastic waves under the right conditions.
Australian Matthew Pitts surfing at a clean beachbreak in Kyushu, Japan.
Television weather reports in Japan are very aware of any approaching typhoons. Japan has its own weather satellite in geosynchronous orbit over the western Pacific, the Himawari-8, so if the storm appears to be on track to making a landfall anywhere in Japan, they will know and advise everyone to take all necessary safety precautions.
American surfing legend Tom Curren surfing typhoon waves in Kyushu, Japan.
3) The Philippines
Another country in Asia in which The surfEXPLORE Group has extensive travel experience is The Philippines, a group of 7 107 coral-fringed tropical islands in the western Pacific Ocean.
Surfing in The Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.
Traveling in The Philippines is much easier than in other countries in Asia. With the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and his tiny fleet of ships in 1521 after their epic crossing of the Pacific Ocean, Magellan claimed the territory for Christianity and for their patron, King Philip of Spain. Filipinos were colonized by the Spanish for the next 300 odd years.
While the Spanish did not find the gold, silver or spices they were looking for in The Philippines, they brought the Catholic faith to the country and with thousands of priests and other church workers, they set about building churches, preaching the Catholic gospel and beating the indigenous Filipino Muslims all the way back to the southern portions of Mindanao island, where they remain today in their simmering resentment and frequent armed rebellions against the Manila government.
Erwan Simon, surfing a secret spot in Eastern Samar province.
The rest of The Philippines is mostly god-fearing Roman Catholics and along with Poland and Argentina; one of the most intensely Catholic nations anywhere in the world.
After the tattered remnants of the Spanish Empire were defeated in the Spanish-American war at the turn of the century, the Americans came and added their 50 or so years of colonization, so Filipinos are quite westernized.
No chopsticks here, people - it’s hot dogs, canned peaches and doughnuts, eaten with cuchillos, tenedores and cucharas.
Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte province is the most popular surfing area in The Philippines.
The Philippines is oddly not a Spanish-speaking country as learning Spanish was banned by the government. Most Filipinos speak one or other regional languages like Ilocano, Tagalog or Cebuano with a smattering of Spanish vocabulary.
Thanks to the American colonial period, English is widely spoken everywhere and extensively published in the country, making communication easy.
Surf check from the top of the cliff in Davao Oriental province on Mindanao Island.
While no one has established exactly when or where, it is clear from numerous accounts that there were people surfing in The Philippines by the mid-1960’s, on the South China Sea side of Luzon in proximity to the large American military bases at Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark US Air Force base. The bases were very busy in the mid-1960’s, when there were tens of thousands of young Americans stationed there, working hard to supply men and material to the American war effort in nearby Vietnam.
When northeast typhoon swells meet with seasonal southwest "Habagat" winds, the result can be perfect waves.
Some of these Navy and Air Force guys were surfers and they were quick to note the right points, offshore islands and beachbreaks of Zambales, La Union and Ilocos Sur, having boards shipped in on US military flights from the states.
It took longer for surfing to arrive on the Pacific side of the country, supposedly not until an expatriate surfer from Subic was contacted by Francis Ford Coppola during the filming of “Apocalypse Now” in 1975. He gave directions to Coppola for the waves near Baler in Aurora Province and the film people proceeded to construct a huge set at “Charlie’s Point” complete with Vietnam-era helicopters and pilots on loan from the Philippine Air Force.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in the Pacific Ocean.
Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Kilgore shouts his famous lines “Charlie don’t surf!” and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”, at Charlies’ Point as surfers ride the waves while dodging bomb splashes on their Air Cavalry logo’d Yater Spoons. These are some of the most famous lines in the Apocalypse Now script, co-written by Malibu local and Big Wednesday director John Milius.
Surfing gradually percolated throughout the remote Pacific coast to the major islands of Luzon, Samar and Mindanao and further to the many smaller islands with high-quality waves like Catanduanes, Dinagat and one island in particular; Siargao Island.
Catanduanes Island is known for great waves and seasonal typhoons.
Siargao has emerged as the clear winner in the Filipino surfing sweepstakes, as the island is known worldwide for being the “Surfing Capital of The Philippines” and for one wave in particular, the hollow righthander at Cloud 9 which I named after the local chocolate bars on our first trip to the island in 1992 with Evan Slater and Taylor Knox.
Surfers from around the world have flocked to Siargao in the past 30 years, many of them starting businesses in the vicinity of General Luna town, leading to an economic boom for the area.
Where Siargao and Surigao del Norte province once had one of the highest out-migration rates in The Philippines, meaning people left the province to find a job elsewhere, there is now a shortage of local workers with new migrants from Surigao City and Dinagat Island arriving on the island to fill the demand on SIargao for labour.
Erwan Simon, unpacking his boards in a village where they don't have many visitors and have never seen surfers before.
There are now direct flights from Manila and Cebu City to the island and the recovery is well under way after Siargao took a direct hit from category 5 western Pacific Supertyphoon Rai in December of 2021, which was the first major storm to affect the area since 1984, well before there was any regular surfing or tourism-related development in the area.
Phil Goodrich, surfing in the Pacific Ocean in Davao Oriental province.
Another area in which The surfEXPLORE Group has extensive surf travel experience is the Caribbean nation of Haiti, in the news again recently with yet another breakdown in civil society, calls for foreign military intervention and an escalation of mayhem and suffering.
Haiti, the western half of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea.
There has been plenty of mayhem and suffering in Haiti since independence was achieved from France in 1804, the only successful slave rebellion in history.
After the French were vanquished from Saint Domingue by Toussaint L’Overture and his rebel army, they threatened to return to reclaim what had been the most lucrative slave colony in the Caribbean; but ultimately did not. Instead, the French slapped a punitive reparations scheme of exorbitant payments on the new Republic d’Haiti, which crippled the economy for decades.
Emiliano Cataldi, morning waves in the Caribbean Sea.
After the departure of the French and the freeing of the slaves, many areas of rural Haiti lapsed into a kind of suspended animation, in which many of the beliefs and customs of the West African homelands from which the people of Haiti had originated came to the surface in the form of the Vodou religion and by extension, the practice of Zombisim.
Emiliano Cataldi, early morning on the Caribbean Sea.
Vodou and Catholicism have existed concurrently in many Haitian communities for centuries, with many Catholic saints and deities incorporated into the traditional Vodou pantheon of gods and goddesses and referenced during ceremonies.
There have been conflicts of interests as well, with violence and attempts by both the government and the Catholic church to eradicate Vodou entirely, which have been unsuccessful as Vodou continues to thrive in modern Haiti with ceremonies and rituals being conducted daily in many rural and urban areas of the country.
Tristan Jenkin, surfing in the Atlantic Ocean near Cap Haitien.
Zombies are the one Haitian “thing” that all foreigners, including the few surfers who visit Haiti are familiar with, with the main question being: Are zombies real? Followed by: If they are real, how does one become a zombie?
The pretty Caribbean town of Les Cayes was mostly destroyed in a recent earthquake.
These questions were also on the mind of Wade Davis, a young Canadian ethnobotanist from Harvard, when he arrived in Haiti in April 1982 to research Vodou for “The Serpent and the Rainbow”, which was perhaps the first scientific investigation into if zombies actually existed and how they were created. The book was later made into a successful movie directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman, released in 1988.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in the Caribbean Sea near the old coffee port of Jacmel.
We have had our own experiences with zombies in Haiti and can offer some assurances that they are in fact real and there are zombies walking around in Haiti today, as we have seen them with our own two eyes.
It was a dark night in a town on the Caribbean side of the country, far from Port au Prince or any major urban area, near the reportedly haunted old French fortress at Fort Olivier. Emiliano and Yanouchka had gone into town on the motorbike to buy some water and snacks for our early boat trip at sunrise the next morning.
Haiti has many rural towns thadue to the lack of investment, which have not changed much for decades.
After they purchased the supplies, they were riding slowly down the main street, when they saw a man standing in the middle of the road. He was wearing a traditional chapeau and in his right hand he was holding a large metal christian crucifix. As the motorbike approached, he held up the crucifix and tilted his head back so they could see his face. His eyes were glassy and silver, with no pupils.
Yanouchka, a Kreyol Ayiti speaker who was born in Haiti, raised in New York and who knows everything about Haiti and Haitians because she is one, screamed “He’s a fucking zombie! Don’t look into his eyes!” Emi said he was scared, but of course, looked into the zombie’s silver eyes and said they were a shiny metallic color with no pupils. The zombie held up the crucifix as they sped past and they didn’t slow down or stop until they got to the hotel where we were staying.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in the Caribbean Sea with an audience of local children.
Yanouchka swore the man was a real zombie, under the control of a Vodou oungan and she and Emi were lucky to escape with their lives. As far as anyone knows, zombies don’t surf, so you are safe from the Zombie Apocalypse out in the water.
For surfers, Haiti is a rather unique opportunity, being a country in close proximity to the United States with flights from Miami, real zombies, warm water, consistent swell and good waves on two long coastlines at different times of the year with virtually no one surfing anywhere.
An empty left point on the Caribbean Sea. With the lack of both local and visiting surfers, most of the waves in Haiti are unsurfed.
Yes, that’s right. Except for a few local surfers in the Jacmel area and on the north coast in Cap Haitien, there is no one surfing at all.
Haiti has such a fearsome reputation for violence, kidnapping, zombies and more violence that waves go unridden year round as even the bravest and most intrepid surf travellers go elsewhere.
Erwan Simon, surfing in the Caribbean Sea near Jacmel.
In recent years, it has been widely established by consensus that Indonesia is the best surfing country in the world.
At The surfEXPLORE Group, we agree as the incredible variety of waves, warm water throughout the more than 18 000 islands of the archipelago and availability of good waves and favourable wind conditions at any time of the year somewhere between Aceh in northern Sumatra and Jayapura in Papua Province more than 7 000 kilometres to the east, makes Indonesia unbeatable as a surfing destination.
Indonesia, 18 000 islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
As you might assume, The surfEXPLORE Group has had a considerable amount of surf travel experience in Indonesia, everywhere from Sumatra to Timor on the Indian Ocean side and from Morotai to Papua on the Pacific side, with many islands in between.
Emiliano Cataldi, surfing in Pacific Indonesia.
Bali was one of, if not the first island in Indonesia to host visiting surfers, with Robert Koke, an American entrepreneur, setting up a hotel at Kuta Beach in the late 1930’s and bringing in a collection of wooden longboards from Hawaii and California which he and his guests used to surf the beachbreak at Kuta Beach. The hotel was destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Bali in World War II and surfing disappeared from Bali for decades.
Phil Goodrich, surfing in Pacific Indonesia far off the beaten track.
It wasn’t until the early 1970’s when word filtered back from visitors to Bali to their surfer friends in Australia that there were waves on the island, big waves, in the area near the cliff temple at Uluwatu and no one there to ride them.
Among others, filmmaker Albert Falzon took his cameras and two surfers, American Rusty Miller and young Sydney surfer Stephen Cooney, to Bali to try to film a sequence for his new feature film “Morning of the Earth”.
Alberto Lima Castro, surfing a remote beachbreak in Pacific Indonesia where we were the first guests in the village.
Falzon’s sensitive camera work, lush colors, hippie themes and above all, the incredible surf at Uluwatu he was able to capture on that trip to Bali set the wheels in motion and nearly every prominent surfer from Australia and quite a few from Hawaii like Getty Lopez and Jeff Hakman, visited Bali in the next year or two, surfing spots like Kuta Reef and Uluwatu that would soon become household names among surfers worldwide.
Villagers told us the ship ran onto the reef in a heavy rainstorm. We were more interested in the waves.
It wasn’t long before surfers figured out that these same long-period groundswells from the southern Indian Ocean must affect other islands in Indonesia, not only Bali.
The first island to host surfers besides Bali was nearby Java, where ambitious surf travellers crossed the Java Strait and accessed the uninhabited Alas Purwo National Park, discovering one of the best waves in the world, the long left reef wave in the vicinity of Gradjagan village now known as G-land.
Group of surfers at a morning beachbreak in West Java, no one surfing.
The recent publication of a new book, by Indonesian journalist Diane Hadiani “The Chronicles of G-Land” has shed light on this previously widely mythologized history, with the author taking a deep dive into the history of the federal Alas Purwo National Park in east Java and detailing the discovery of the waves by surfers and the establishment of the first surf camps in the 1970’s.
These camps have since hosted professional contests and serve the hundreds of visiting surfers to G-Land, who come to this remote part of Java to ride the area’s magical waves every season.
Pacific Indonesia is difficult to access but has a wealth of unsurfed waves.
While the Indian Ocean side of Indonesia has hosted surfers for decades on islands like Bali and Java, it is the remote Pacific side of the country that is slowly revealing a plethora of high-quality waves in the October to March northwest monsoon season.
Erwan Simon, shipwreck surfing in Pacific Indonesia.
From our first project in 2004 to Morotai, we have made numerous surfing projects in this area of Indonesia, visiting and surfing islands so remote they have seen little development since the departure of the Japanese Imperial Army at the end of World War II in 1945.
Plenty of power in Pacific Indonesia, on islands that see few visitors, surfing or otherwise.
This lack of development is slowly being addressed by the government in faraway Jakarta, with new regional airports opening in the area and improving access for locals and visitors alike.
Accommodation in Pacific Indonesia is basic but most welcome in this isolated area.
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