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  • Writer's pictureEarl Sullivan

Bawa, the Phenomenon

Tony enjoying a lovely day at 'Flat Bawa'

We all love a surf trip, that goes without saying, but getting skunked on a surf trip, well, no one likes getting skunked. Onshore winds and a lack of swell are the 2 most common factors in a skunking.

Having done some lengthy trips to Baja and Mainland Mex, I’m familiar with whiling away windy afternoons, hunkering down through hurricanes, and getting through flat spells by surfing miniscule beach breaks with creative zest such as no fins. This was all just part of the game back then. This was pre-internet, pre-swell forecasting, and pre-Indonesia…imagine that!! If you can…

When I took my first surf trip to Indonesia in 2004, I was smitten. A slew of tiny islands in relatively close proximity, conveniently serving up off-shore conditions, on one side or the other, in just about any wind direction. A wide Indian Ocean exposure to the southwest with 2500 miles of fetch reaching from right below the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. This new surf experience changed my life, in a myriad of ways.

In 2007, I found the Hinako Islands. The description of the Hinakos in the Wavehunter pocketbook captured my intrigue. Key words such as ‘deep water right and left handers’, ‘swell magnets’, ‘complementing offshore exposures’, ‘dishing up juicy and powerful Hawaii-like waves’… I had to see for myself. And I did. Then the Hinakos reeled me back in, again and again.

In 2009, we took over Asu Camp on the point at Asu and never looked back.

I can attest that since 2009, I have never seen Bawa smaller than shoulder high and so much fun. The first year we moved out to Asu, Tracks, the Bible of Surfing, ran a whole issue on Indonesia. For the Hinakos, they ran a double page spread pic of Asu and claimed that Asu and Bawa were ‘wrecked’ by the quake and subsequent lift of the tectonic plates, and reefs, of Nias in March 2005.

Wrecked. Bawa and Asu wrecked. And all I had to say, having grown up in Northern California, was that if these waves are wrecked, then wreck me baby, wreck me all life-long!!!

I am more than happy to perpetuate this myth and when I meet people in lineups at Nias and Bali who regurgitate it, I don’t even try and inform them about what I’ve learned. If I can keep surfing these lineups with just a handful of humans, that’s just fine by me.

So, back to the Phenomenon. Bawa still functions with overhead sets when our virtual buoys are reading 2’ at 9 seconds, which translates to flat at most destination. In fact, 9 seconds doesn’t even count as groundswell, yet Bawa is still serving up super fun rights. Which is where I came up with the saying, ‘Bawa, so much better than flat.’

Jason enjoys watching a 'Small Bawa' nugget roll through. This session was just Jason and JD, 2 best friends catching up on a surf trip. Jason later remarked to me how special the trip was for him, as he's from Orange County where he is forced to constantly jockey for waves in a crowded lineup, in the Hinakos it was just him and the ocean, working out where to be and how to position on his own, just him and the waves. An authentic Asu Camp experience.

We have several names for the takeoffs at Bawa. We have ‘Flat Bawa’ on the inside which works from head high to slightly overhead, we have ‘Small Bawa’ which is not small on most people’s scale, then we have ‘Bawa’ which is about head and a half to double overhead, then we have ‘Big Bawa’ which is a very exciting wave, commonly renowned as the Sunset Beach of Indonesia. If you surf Big Bawa, you will no doubt encounter WOUS’s, or Waves Of Unusual Size, which we also refer to as ‘Bawa-lanches’, when a mass of ocean swell gathers up so swiftly that the wave caps over on the outside reef and rolls a massive avalanche of white water over most of the lineup. Which is why it is always recommended that you surf with your best, most trusted leash at Bawa.

Marty going hard backside on a 'Bawa' peak

Up the point at Bawa there are 2 more breaks that function when ‘Big Bawa’ is a bit too much and Bawa-lanches are coming through too often. We call these breaks ‘Walls’ and ‘Boils’. If there is not enough swell, we often call these waves ‘Fools Gold’ as many people get sucked up the point and bob around while we are surfing consistent ‘Bawa’ down the point in the right spot. But it’s good, that can help to spread out the crowd if there is a boat charter visiting, or if 2 camps are on it at the same time. As a recent guest put it, up the point is ‘more wall and less cowabunga’ than Bawa.

Bawa bottom turns are a long and adrenaline infused fin and rail game

Speaking of cowabunga, Bawa is famous for requiring a bit more foam in your stick, because the swell comes out of very deep water and stacks up on the reef so fast that getting into a jacking Bawa peak is not as easy up close as at it looks from afar. Another reason it’s not as easy as it looks is that Bawa is a dancer. She shows outside and then shifts over deeper on the reef, jacking, throwing, and going, so you have to be brave and patient, get to know the dance, and wait your turn, because Bawa pics the tune, and the partner. Those who put in the time to learn the ‘Bawa 2-step’ are payed in steep and deep take offs, long drawn out bottom turns, blue barrels, and juicy Bawa bowls for the snapping.

A serious 'Big Bawa' pit being man-handled by our man Pato from Reunion Is.

Here are some of my favorite Bawa images from 2022:

Angie and Annie had 'Flat Bawa' all to themelves in August

They surfed 5 different waves on their first 5 days, I think this was day 2.

Annie giving it a crack. Bawa has plenty of water over the reef, it's one of our waves where floaters and pulling big hacks down on the inside are possible without fear of coming down onto a shallow reef.

Osamu and Masa from Japan fell in love with 'Flat Bawa' in October

Coco smashing a 'Flat Bawa' lip in April

Jonas even found a little pit at 'Flat Bawa' in April

James Whitson from the Sunshine Coast gave a standout performance at Bawa in August

Matt from WA was in his comfort zone in some solid Bawa pits

Mike 'Dog' Hinton finds a bone at pumping Bawa in September

A small 'Bawa-lanche' catching me fishing for little ones on the inside

A newcomer slowly finding his dancing shoes and inching toward the takeoff

Shedding some speed

A lovely Bawa pit

I believe I can fly... A late drop at Bawa often gets the arms up or rolls up the windows, but it always gets the heart rate up!!

A big, long, drawn-out bottom turn at 'Big Bawa', there's just so much speed involved

Thanks for reading!! If you have any questions about taking a trip to the Hinakos, please feel free to reach out and get in touch --> Hey Earl, get me out into some Hinako perfection!!

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