Only brought into the public eye in the past few years, the Marshall Islands have been surfed for decades, albeit sporadically and in a limited fashion. Now, with Martin Daly running both a land camp and one of his Indies Trader boats in the region, it is much easier to access the excellent waves this collection of atolls has on offer—but you’ll pay out the nose for the experience. With your own sailboat, however, the Marshalls are still wide open to exploration and discovery.
The Surf: All surfing in this area is over sharp, shallow coral reef that is very much alive. The best waves break into passes, which are numerous on most atolls. Wind can be a problem, as the Marshalls lie right in the middle of the trade wind belt, but with swell from both the north and south, there is nearly always somewhere going off—it’s access that is the main problem in this intermediate to advanced surf destination.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- The Bridge: The first wave to be surfed consistently in the Marshalls, The Bridge is a slabby righthander that breaks into a well-trafficked channel on Majuro, the world’s narrowest capital. Although this wave is a top-to-bottom barrel at head high, it can’t handle much larger than that.
- Dalap: Located in front of the Seventh Day Adventist school on Majuro, this bend in the reef produces a quality left on a north swell.
- Arno: A well-known atoll a short boat ride from Majuro, Arno has a righthand reef point that is quite good on a north swell. As an interesting side note, Arno was historically known as the Marshallese “sex university,” where young women were sent to learn a much-appreciated skillset.
- Kwajalein: Kwajalein Atoll is home to a US military missile-tracking base. As such, a large portion of the atoll is off-limits to non-military personnel. However, rumors circulate about a number of quality reef pass setups, and a quick look at Google Earth confirms that anyone with a dependable yacht and some time on their hands could find more than fuselages on this distant military outpost.
- Ailinglaplap: Martin Daly has purchased the rights to at least a portion of this atoll (details are kept very hush hush), and runs a land camp specializing in surfing, kite surfing, fishing and other varied aquatic activities. He also occasionally runs exploratory charters on his boat Indies Trader, with a one-week charter purportedly costing $35,000. While this may seem exorbitant (Okay, who are we kidding? It IS exorbitant!), Ailinglaplap Atoll boasts something like 15 reef passes, so if you have the money, it might just be worth it.
The Water: The Marshalls are largely undeveloped, and house some of the best water clarity on Earth. Year round temperatures of 84 F (29 C) only serve to make things better.
The Season: Due to its central location in the Pacific Ocean, the Republic of the Marshall Islands receives swells from both the north and the south, although the northern hemisphere winter is more pronounced. North swells typically pump from November through March, while south swells arrive between May and September. Although south swells are typically smaller than those from the north due to swell decay, the summer months see much lighter tradewinds—a pretty fair trade off.
The Vibe: The only surfers in the Marshalls are expats, and there are very few of them. No vibes here—although there are a lot of aggressive reef sharks.
Things To Do: For the history/war/scuba buff, Bikini Atoll is now open to diving excursions. A veritable graveyard of naval vessels, Bikini was bombed by the US as part of the first atomic test program in 1946. If you can get your mind past the leftover radioactivity (which the government claims is no longer harmful), this lonely atoll houses some of the best wreck diving in the world. And as if that isn’t enough, it is also rumored to have quality waves! (*Note: Although most people aren’t aware of the fact, the Bikini atomic tests constitute one of the greatest non-wartime injustices ever perpetrated by the US. Do some reading to find out more about this atrocity.)
Where To Stay: This area is not set up for backpackers, so cheap accommodation is rare and hotels are the norm–although you should be able to live with the locals for quite cheap on the outer atolls. The reality, however, is that if you plan to any kind of serious surfing here, you will either need to bring your own yacht or check yourself into the surf camp on Ailinglaplap.
What To Bring: A shortboard and a step-up that is comfortable in the barrel. All the surf accessories you’ll need—there is nothing available here. Sun protection, snorkel gear, and reef booties if you use them. An unbiased history of the Bikini atomic tests for educational reading. A sailboat.
Getting There: Majuro is on the United Airlines island hopper between Hawaii and Guam, and receives flights in either direction every other day. Tourist visas available upon arrival. Airport code: MAJ.