Just oﬀ Bali’s shores but a world away from its maddening pace is Nusa Lembongan, where the spirit of a tropical surf holiday is still alive and well.
This island paradise ticks almost every box of the modern surf getaway check list: waves to have a ball in, balmy temperatures just right for board shorts, mellow island vibes, palm fronds dancing to the breeze, cuisine to inspire the taste buds and welcoming locals with warm smiles.
Then, top it all oﬀ with luxury accommodation boasting a front row seat for every sunset.
Welcome to the Lembongan life.
Time seems thick and languid on Nusa Lembongan, slowed down in the humid incense-rich air and constrained by the gentle pace of island life. Located just off the coast of Bali and famous for all things in, on or below the sea, the island is governed not by the clock but by the ebb and ﬂow of the tides and the pulse of the Indian Ocean swells. Just keeping track of the day of the week can be difficult.
The mellow waves and pacified pace means Lembongan has been a favorite Longbreak destination for more than two decades. It was the first surf travel destination we ever featured. And the Lembongan Island Beach Villas remain the go-to place to stay, with an elevated cliff-side location for all-day surf checks in a setting of simple luxury. Now, the resort has introduced new surfers packages including boat trips, so accessing the island’s wave-rich reefs has never been easier.
Compact, laid-back and roughly kidney-shaped, Nusa Lembongan is a 30-minute fast boat trip from Sanur on Bali’s east coast.
Mushroom Bay, with its cute white-sand beach, has become a popular snorkeling location while Lembongan Village is worth a stop and a wander to take in the local temples or the spectacle of a cock fight. But the main action is at Jungut Batu Beach, with its sand-and-crushed-coral beach and sheltered lagoon protected by outer reefs that are home to the island’s best waves.
The main surf spots are all on Nusa Lembongan’s west coast, where consistent Indian Ocean swells from April to October wrap around the island and into three reef breaks within a kilometer of each other.
Aptly-named Playgrounds is the mellowest, with a short right and a longer left that peels across a fairly shallow coral bottom. Drawn-out bottom turns and down-the-line carves are the order of the day when the wave breaks on mid to high tide. At head-high, it becomes a super-fun, hot-dog wave.
It’s mellow nature means crowds are a given, with surfers of all ability levels from all over the world jockeying for a slice of the action, but the vibe is friendly
Just across the channel is a right-hander fearsomely named Lacerations. It is fast but playful on small swells but lives up to its name when the waves reach overhead and bigger, throwing open tubes over a reef bottom that is alive with plate, brain and staghorn corals. In fact, the reef is so pristine that during ﬂat spells it’s a popular destination for local snorkeling operators.
The jewel in the crown is a third wave further along the fringing reef called Shipwreck, named after a ship that ran aground here but has all but rusted away now. A right handler, it has a fast wall on smaller swells but, once again, comes to life on bigger swells when waves wrap down the reef and bend into a final horseshoe section that can produce barrels. Proficient short boarders populate the line-up but fun board, mini mals and longboards definitely have their place.
Like Playgrounds, both Lacerations and Shipwreck work on mid to higher tides – not just because there is more water on the reef but also because Nusa Lembongan’s strong tidal movements dampen the swell or cause it to disappear altogether.
More so than almost anywhere else in Indonesia, the tides rule the day here. Many a surfer has been fooled into thinking the ocean is ﬂat as the tide drops, only to be startled to see sets rolling in again as the tide pushes back towards high.
The little island next door, Nusa Ceningan, can also be accessed by land thanks to a bright yellow suspension bridge spanning the 200m-wide channel from Nusa Lembongan.
A fraction of the size of Lembongan, Ceningan is scenic and well worth a visit on scooter or bicycle. Here, open air warungs serving seafood sit on the edge of a lagoon that still has working seaweed farms, and there is also a surf break called Ceningans that catches all available swell. A shifty, left-hand reef break, it peels off next to a cliff and offers a marginal but sometimes rideable wave when everywhere else is ﬂat.
To avoid any hassles and to maximize water time, the resort has introduced a new surfer’s package that includes boat trips. From the beach directly in front of the resort, surfers can now jump on a comfortable outrigger motorboat and be ferried directly out to Playgrounds, Lacerations or further around the reef to Shipwreck.
The crew is on standby from dawn, and on several days during Longbreak’s visit it meant being the first one out in the line-up, scoring empty waves while other boardriders were still paddling out from the beach. It also means surfers can bring several surfboards and swap craft mid-surf.
Happily, there’s no need to cut a surf short because of hunger or thirst – each day the resort kits out an esky with cold bottled water and containers of fruit salad. Munching on sweet water melon and papaya as the outrigger slides over the swells on the way back to the resort is certainly a fitting way to cap off a surf.
Perched on a hillside with a superb view of Jungut Batu Beach and all three surf breaks, Lembongan Island Beach Villas is a collection of a dozen spacious bungalow villas built in 2003 and surrounded by lush, manicured gardens. Its elevated location means guests always know what the waves are doing.
A breezy front deck looks directly down onto Playgrounds and Lacerations, accessed by a five-minute stroll along the point and a paddle-out that takes about the same amount of time. Shipwreck is further away and surfing here is best approached by boat
While there is plenty to do in and out of the water, it’s hard not to spend long hours enjoying the villa. The elevation means the villas catch the cooling breeze and the north-orientation means the front deck is shady all day. The two and three-bedroom villas are bright and modern, with 8m-high ceilings, fans and air conditioning, and deck chairs made for lazing with a book. Each has a dining table, breakfast bar, TV and DVD player, fully-appointed kitchen and comfortable double beds fitted with mosquito nets. There are some mosquitoes after sunset but nothing some spray and a mosquito coil will not keep at bay. To do its part for the environment and reduce the use of plastic bottles, the resort supplies a water cooler for each villa with unlimited refills.
Longbreaks first visit to Nusa Lembongan was almost 20 years ago. It would not be accurate to say that all the change that has taken place is for the best. As in many parts of South East Asia rapid development has come at a cost. Visitor numbers have gone from hundreds to tens of thousands per year. In a desire for a better standard of living much of the traditional island pursuits such as seaweed farming and subsistence agriculture have been abandon by the locals and given away to servicing the foreign tourist.
Despite these changes the island has not been robbed of its charm, magical landscape and people. It is remains a special place for Longbreak and a destination we would happily return.