Not many people would think of Malaysia when listing dream surf destinations, but the truth is that SE Asia’s other Islamic country (besides Indo) has a surf scene that is both vibrant and unique. The country’s coasts are already world famous for their beautiful beaches and five-star luxury resorts, and the fact that there are surprisingly good waves in the region is the icing on the cake.
Over the past five years the Malaysian surf scene has grown by leaps and bounds, with annual regional competitions and specialty events (Occy ran his grom-comp there in 2010), surf shops and schools and even a few local semi-pros. One of the most interesting members of the fledgling surf scene is Khairil Ibrahim, the friendly, talented, British/Malay nephew of the Sultan of Johor, who also happens to be one of Malaysia’s best surfers and owns the country’s biggest surf shop.
With warm water, fun waves, cheap accommodations and convenient flights to Indo and the rest of South East Asia, Malaysia is worth a second look, and just may dish up the surprise trip of a lifetime!
The Surf: Malaysia’s noteworthy waves are all located on the South China Sea coast, and include a number of fun beach breaks and a few surprisingly perfect lefthand sand-bottomed points. With only short interval swell on tap, this is a beginner to intermediate surf destination.Cherating is at the center of the local surf scene, and boasts a wave that resembles a lefthand version of Noosa Heads. There are also a number of reefs on Tioman Island, and the Sunway Lagoon wave pool is in Kuala Lumpur if that kind of thing gets you excited.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Cherating: The center of the local surf scene, Cherating is a lefthand sand-bottom point that peels for 1.5 km on good days.
- Tioman Island: Tioman has a number of quality reef breaks, providing some of the hollowest waves in Malaysia.
- Desaru: A fun, rippable rock/sand peak.
- Tanjung Resang: An out of the way beach break setup with surfable (if somewhat soft) sandbar peaks.
- Sunway Lagoon: A waterpark wave pool in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, this novelty wave is certainly “surfable,” but any pictures of high performance ripping you’ve seen from here probably involved a jet ski tow-at.
The Water: There is a reason Malaysia is a popular tourist destination. The water is clean, warm and idyllic—definitely of the tropical paradise variety. Water temps are around 80 to 85 F (27 to 30 C) year round, so a wetsuit is never needed.
The Season: The South China Sea monsoon creates favorable swell from October through March, with December/January being the most consistent months. April through September is basically flat.
The Vibe: Very mellow, very friendly and occasionally very crowded. Although nearly everyone in the water is either a stoked beginner or a cheery local, a few of the more popular spots can see a lot of traffic (50+ people in the lineup on weekends), with surfers driving up from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Weekdays are generally quiet and empty, and even when there are people in the water, waves are pretty easy to come by.
For those who are concerned about traveling in a Muslim country, rest easy. The Malaysian people are very welcoming and kind, and in tourist areas bikinis and other western garb are totally acceptable.
Things To Do: Even if the surf is down, the Malaysian beach towns are a great place to spend a relaxing holiday—whether that includes lounging in a hammock, kayaking the coast or exploring underwater reefs through scuba and skin diving. Or, if you fancy a few days away from the ocean, you can always arrange jungle tours in the country’s interior, or on one of the many islands, such as Tioman.
Where To Stay: Malaysia is a popular stop on the backpacker circuit, and as such has no shortage of budget accommodations. For the more discerning traveler, there are also a number of five-star resorts, both on the mainland and on the offshore islands. For surf, your best bet is probably Cherating, where beachside bungalows can be obtained for between $10–40USD/night.
What To Bring: Most local surfers ride short, stubby Dumpster Diver type boards, as the swell period is typically pretty short. But the left points are surprisingly shapely, so a normal shortboard will work fine if you score a solid swell. To really take advantage of the waves on offer, think about bringing a traditional log, fish, alaia or pretty much anything else that excels in perfect waist to chest high sand points.
Wax and other accessories are available in Cherating, but everywhere else you’ll be on your own. Sun protection is a must, as is a book for downtime between swells and hiking shoes to explore the jungles. Mosquito repellent could also come in handy. DO NOT bring any type of drugs, as the punishment for trafficking is death and recreational possession can result in lifetime imprisonment.
Getting There: Air Asia, a budget carrier modeled after Virgin Airlines, hubs out of Kuala Lumpur and is a great way to get into and around South East Asia. This is especially convenient for Australians, as Air Asia has recently added a flight to Coolangata and often offers extremely affordable promotional fares.
The more popular surf spots are a five-hour drive north of KL, and you’ll add another couple of hours to that if you are coming from Singapore. Visa’s for both Singapore and Malaysia are obtainable at airports and land crossings, and involve a very simple, inexpensive process. Airport codes: KUL (Kuala Lumpur) and SIN (Singapore).