surfEXPLORE Indonesia - Papua Province

Upon arrival in the provincial capital of Jayapura, it is immediately apparent this is not an ordinary Indonesian city.

Built in a stunning location on a series of hills inside a protected bay, the city is scenic as well as functional, not words usually associated with urban areas in Indonesia.

The province of Papua has abundant natural resources, waves and warm and welcoming people.

The city was previously known as Hollandia, and was built by the Dutch as the capital of Netherlands New Guinea. It was renamed “Jayapura” after the Indonesia takeover of the territory in 1963. It has a population of over 300 000 and is now the fastest growing city in Indonesia.

Alberto Lima Castro, on the low tide sandbar at a rivermouth wave in Papua Province, Indonesia.

Emiliano Cataldi, negotiating a shallow coral reef wave on an offshore island in Papua Province, Indonesia.

Jayapura, meaning "City of Victory" in Sanskrit, serves as the center of the province of Papua with its incredible mineral deposits, rich cultural diversity and growing tourism industry.

With terrible roads and expensive petrol, boats are the preferred mode of transport in Papua Province.

From Wamena in the highlands to the Asmat area on the Arafura Sea, where indigenous tribal groups live much as they have for thousands of years, to the vast open-pit mine at Grasberg, one of the world’s largest mining operations from which millions of dollars worth of gold, copper and other metals are extracted annually and is Indonesia’s largest taxpayer, Papua provides revenue, resources and peoples not found anywhere else in Indonesia.

Colors and waves from a surfing trip to Papua Province, Indonesia.

Indonesia has struggled to assimilate Papua into the mainstream of Indonesian society. Led by several indigenous Papuan groups, there has been active political resistance to Indonesian rule since the territory was awarded to Indonesia after a controversial referendum in 1962 with this resistance often spilling over into acts of violence.

Yes, that is a shipwreck on the outer reef and next to it, a well-shaped right-hander.

Getting to the beach in time for an evening surf in warm water and fun waves.

The main concerns and source of dissent between the indigenous Papua people of the province and the Indonesian government are centered on the policy of “transmigrasi” or transmigration.

Erwan Simon, surfing a coral reef wave on an offshore island in Papua Province, Indonesia.

The transmigrasi policy was instituted by the Dutch when the territory was the Netherlands New Guinea, in an effort to bring people to the province from other, overcrowded areas of Indonesia, like Java and Madura, to provide labor for plantation agriculture.

Morning waves off the steel hull of a shipwreck in Papua Province, Indonesia.

The many small islands offshore from mainland Papua are easily accessible by boat.

The problem with transmigrasi from the Papuan perspective is, most of these people being paid by the government to relocate to Papua from other places in Indonesia are ethnic Malay Muslims.
Papuans are ethnic Melanesians and thanks to the efforts of Christian missionaries, the vast majority are Christians, not Muslims.

Emiliano Cataldi, surfing a sand-bottom beachbreak in Papua Province, Indonesia.

Never mind the fact that these ethnic Malay Muslim migrants are Indonesian citizens, free to live wherever they like within the boundaries of the Republic of Indonesia, including Papua province.

Unlike Indian Ocean Indonesia, Papua features many beachbreaks and fewer coral reef waves.

The indigenous Papuans see the transmigrasi program as a government-funded effort to out-populate them in their own ancestral lands with hundreds of thousands of ethnic Malay Muslims. The tense political situation has frequently led to episodes of vicious violence between the two groups.

Emiliano Cataldi, finding some shade from the relentless tropical heat in Papua Province, Indonesia.

Transmigrasi has been suspended by the government of President Joko Widodo since 2016, but the indigenous groups fighting for independence for Papua Province vow to reverse decades of migration and forcibly return all ethnic Malay Muslim migrants in Papua to their provinces of origin, should they achieve their goal of independence.

Two surfers walking through a village in Papua Province, Indonesia.

As a result of all this political and social turmoil, Papua is a province; like West Papua, where all visitors must apply for a Surat Jalan upon arrival. The Surat Jalan can be obtained at any police station for a nominal fee, provided the visitor is not a professional journalist and does not have a political agenda in visiting Papua province. Surfers generally have no problem obtaining the document in an hour or less, it should be carried on your person to be shown on demand.

This reef wave was a swell magnet, amplifying any available swell into 2x and 3x bigger waves than anywhere else on this coastline.

While Jayapura is quite protected from any incoming swell and the seasonal northwest monsoon, there are several waves within driving range of the city, particularly to the east, towards the border with Papua New Guinea.

Alberto Lima Castro from Brasil, lunchtime coconut snack on an offshore island.

The long black sand beach at Pantai Holtekamp was something of a beach resort in Dutch colonial days and can have the odd clean beachbreak peak when sandbars form; there are other beaches toward the PNG border that have the same conditions.

Emiliano Cataldi, surfing at a reef wave only accessible by boat, there aren't any roads in the area.

It is to the west where the real action is, despite the terrible roads and expensive petrol. Surfers will want to have a decent 4x4 vehicle, at least for the sections of the coastline of Papua not practical to access by boat.

Erwan Simon from France, looking over a lineup of empty waves in Papua Province, Indonesia.

Surfing in Papua Province, like everywhere else, is seasonal. The time to be there is from October to March, in the northwest monsoon season, when swell from the northeast is consistently in the 1 to 3 meter range (2 to 8 feet) and the prevailing wind is from the northwest.

Erwan Simon, surfing next to a shipwreck in Papua Province, Indonesia.

We had this location on our research charts and hired a boat for the day to get our there and see if it was a good wave. It was.

As this is also considered the rainy season, be prepared for tropical downpours at any time, especially at night, when the sound of heavy rain on a corrugated metal roof can be very loud indeed.

Alberto Lima Castro, enjoying the power of Pacific Ocean swell in Papua Province, Indonesia.

Swell in Pacific Indonesia is quite different from the Indian Ocean side of the country, with a shorter swell period than is rarely over 12 seconds and rarely over 3 meters (10 feet) but what it lacks in size is made up for in consistency, with few flat periods in the six-month wave season.

Erwan Simon, surfing over a coral reef in Papua Province, Indonesia.

In addition to the many reef and rivermouth waves on this coast, there are numerous heavily vegetated offshore islands with fringing coral reefs, with interesting names like the unfortunate Pulau Anus, which doesn’t mean the same thing in Bahasa as it does in English.

Emiliano Cataldi, surfing a punchy reef wave in Papua Province, Indonesia.

The many islands offshore between Jayapura and Sarmi are easily reached by boat, of which there are many on this coast available for hire for the day as fishing is a main economic activity for all local communities.

They don't see many visitors in this village in Papua Province, surfers or otherwise.

With the terrible roads and expensive petrol, boats are also much preferred by the locals for any long-distance travel. The big problem, which should be addressed the day before any boat trip, is getting petrol for the engine. If you turn up with your own plastic 25 liter jug of outboard petrol ready to go, you can save a lot of waiting around as the boatman disappears for hours in search of any available petrol in the immediate area.

Having a conversation with a local man, as our boatman disappears for hours in search of petrol for the outboard engine.

This area was subjected to heavy fighting during WWII between the Japanese Imperial Army and US forces and there are several Japanese airfields and other war tourism locations between Jayapura and Sarmi.

Erwan Simon, surfing in the Pacific Ocean in Papua Province, Indonesia.

There are frequent groups of WWII veterans on War Remembrance visits to this coastline, with some of the groups made up of mixed nationalities. There are groups of elderly Japanese, American and Australian veterans, visiting together the jungle locations where as young men, they once tried to kill each other more than 60 years ago.

The surfEXPLORE Group crossing an old wooden bridge. There is some road-building going on, to fix the bridges and upgrade the terrible road network in the province.

In Sarmi, a town far to the west with an “end of the world” atmosphere and a mixed population of indigenous Christian Papuans and ethnic Malay Muslims from the transmigrasi program, the local government-appointed tourism officer told us they had 22 visitors in the last calendar year of 12 months. Twenty of them were participants in WWII Remembrance group tours and there were two independent travelers.

Surfing in Papua Province in the far east of Indonesia.

No surfers at all, to the best of her knowledge. She speaks good English and Japanese and it is her job to know if any foreign visitors make it to Sarmi and what they are doing there.

A few surfing lessons with the local children is always a fun way to spend the afternoon.

It is safe to say, you won’t see many surfers on this coast despite the many quality locations and highly consistent conditions.

Emiliano Cataldi, shopping for fresh fruit from the market ladies at the weekly street market in Sarmi.

Text and Images © John Seaton Callahan/surfEXPLORE

Want more from  ?

Join azylo to get the latest stories from the author in your feed. Don’t miss a single story.

Recomended for you

View All