“The last true Polynesian culture” is how Tonga likes to bill itself, and although Christianity’s hold on the country might dispute this claim to some extent, it can’t be denied that there is still a rootsy feel to the place. Populated by a people as welcoming as they are…well, big!…the Friendly Islands, as Captain Cook called them, are situated smack dab in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Copping swells from both the north and the south, they are an ideal surf getaway no matter what time of year. Even Duke Kahanamoku traveled here for surf, teaching the King of Tonga to surf and sowing the seeds for a local surf culture. Today, the country’s 170 islands play host to a burgeoning surf scene, with ground zero being the Ha’atafu Beach Resort on Tongatapu.
The Surf: Tropical reef breaks are the only thing going here, and although not as notorious or consistent as nearby Tahiti, the waves are girthy when present. In general, Tonga should be considered an intermediate to advanced surf destination.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- ETs: The best (and best-known) wave in Tonga, ETs is a fickle, perfect right hand barrel similar to Lance’s Right in the Mentawais. It is located on an island off the coast of Tongatapu, so you’ll need to be staying at the surf camp or hire a local to boat you out, but no matter the cost, if you score this wave it will be worth the expense.
- The Pass: One of the most consistent waves on the Ha’atafu coast, The Pass has a left with south swells and a right with north swells—both of which are fun and user-friendly.
- The Lighthouse: Another wave on the Ha’atafu stretch of reef, Outside and Inside Lighthouse are two hollow right handers separated by a stretch of closed-out reef. Shallow and heavy, these are two of the more challenging waves in the region, but are definitely worth it.
- Kamikaze’s: The name says it all. A heavy, fickle peak that produces 50-meter barrels in both directions when perfect, this one is for the experts—and even then a helmet and booties are suggested.
- The Outer Islands: Although Tongatapu is the capital and houses the international airport and only surf camp in the region, it is important to remember that there are 169 other islands in the country. Vavau is the northernmost island group, and has huge surf potential that requires little more than a small motor boat for access, while the central Ha’apai group is more isolated and will be best explored on a yacht.
The Water: With water quality as good as it gets and temps ranging between 70–82 F (21–28 C), Tonga is truly a tropical surfing paradise.
The Season: With swell windows facing north and south, Tonga has two distinct seasons, both of which can be quite good—although it is important to remember that it is a somewhat fickle destination. The southerly spots light up between April and August, while the north swell spots (such as ETs) fire from November through March.
The Vibe: Somewhat of a scene has sprung up around the Ha’atafu area, and rumors circulate about the surf camp owner and his large, somewhat agro surfing family dominating the best breaks. If you are going independent and doing some exploration, though, you’ll probably be surfing alone, and interacting with “the friendly islanders” while on land.
Things To Do: Tonga is the sailing capital of the world—or one of them at least—which means that if the swell is down or the wind is wrong for whatever wave you are planning to surf, you’ll still be able to stay wet kiting, windsurfing, or sailing. The snorkeling is also world class, and on Tongatapu the blowholes are worth a visit.
Where To Stay: Most visiting surfers will end up at Ha’atafu and stay at the surf resort. For those who are looking to go independent or explore the other island groups, hotels are available and homestays can be arranged.
What To Bring: A shortboard and a couple of round-pin step-ups. A 2-mm wetsuit top will keep you warm in winter, and you’ll definitely need sun protection year round. Booties and a helmet are a must if you plan to charge the heaviest waves in the region. Wax and other accessories are hard to come by, so try to bring your own.
Getting There: The international airport is Fua’amotu, located near the capital Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu. From there you can catch a rickety old two-prop WWII bomber to Vavau, or rent a sailboat and head for Ha’apai. Visas available upon arrival. Airport code: TBU.