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Surfing the Gili Islands

The three small islands that make up the Gili Islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — offer an authentic remote Southeast Asian island experience along with some nice surfing for those willing to make the trek.

Surfing the Gili Islands has not yet taken off like in some other Indonesian locations such as Bali and Lombok, so crowds are smaller. The locals are also very laid back, friendly and welcoming towards visiting surfers. As more and more surfers and travellers discover these three beautiful desert islands, expect word to spread and numbers to grow. Although there are efforts in place to keep the islands rustic — there are no motorbikes present — now is the time to take advantage of the Gili Islands’ status before it becomes “the next big thing”.

The Gili Islands in a nutshell

Though we often refer to the islands collectively, each has its own unique character. The same is true when it comes to surfing the Gili Islands.

While Trawangan or “Gili T” is the most developed, Gili Air offers the most local character and is closest to the large island of Lombok. For those wishing to simply get away from it all, there is Meno, which is where to head for the most authentic desert island experience.

The main advantages to surfing the Gilis are the unique quality of their breaks, the absence of large crowds and an authentic desert island experience in a tropical paradise.

gili islands surfing

Gili Trawangan wave. Pic from

Surfing the Gili Islands: When and where

  • Gili is unusual in that it is the place for those rare right-handers!
  • While there are spots that break all year round, the dry season of May to October is best
  • Beware of tides because they can make the difference between good surf and none at all
  • In general, the Lombok Strait is somewhat fickle, but can provide some excellent surf
  • Bring a wetsuit and booties! Coral reefs are nothing to mess around with

Gili Trawangan

Gili T can be a secret blessing when the surf is good. Surfers that can drop fast waves will be rewarded with long rides and big swells with steep barrels in some parts. The spot is a fast right-hand reef-break about 300 meters off the southern end of the island. Surfing can be tricky here and large south-southwest swells are necessary in order to clear the coral, which is also a popular site with snorkelers. The wet season (January – June) can provide 1-2 meter (3-6 foot) swells.

  • Good for experienced surfers
  • Small to no crowds
  • Strong, hollow and fast
  • Best during high tides
  • Look out for sea urchins and rocks
  • Friendly locals
  • Lots to do when surf isn’t up

Gili Air

gili surfing

Surfing Gili Air pic by Lalu Zul Helmi

Another reef break, which like Gili T, is also off the southern tip of the island. A great although somewhat infrequent right-hander, the break here is fast, short hollow and fun. Gili Air is the closest of the islands to Lombok and the break is accessible via a long paddle or you can head there on a boat. Be careful of strong currents and a somewhat treacherous reef.

Surf is best when winds are blowing from the west and northwest, coupled with a large south-southwest swell to create some nice short barrels. The left break also provides some swift close outs or straight-handers. While the surf can be good during all tides, low tide can be treacherous.

  • Short and hollow break
  • Be careful of reef
  • Avoid surfing at low tide
  • Friendly locals
  • Beautiful views
  • Un-crowded

Gili Meno

The break here is known as Secrets and is located 100m off the beach at the island’s southeast corner. When conditions are good, Secrets can provide an impressive swell resulting in a fast, long, hollow right, which can provide some nice walls and barrels at parts. Beware the shallow reef, however, and do not be shy to ask locals for help.

The somewhat inconsistent nature of Gili Meno’s surf helps keep the crowds down at Secrets, which can really pay off for those with a bit of patience.

  • Recommended for experienced surfers
  • Long hollow walls and tubes
  • Helpful locals
  • Careful of shallow reef
  • Inconsistent, but rewarding
  • Rustic desert island atmosphere
gili meno surfing

Sea turtle, Gili Meno. Pic by Francesco

In summary

While Gili T is the most developed and most popular place for surfing the Gili Islands, Gili Air and Gili Meno are worth checking out, especially for something new. For those in search of “hidden” and “secret” spots, ask around, do a bit of exploration and on-site research. Experienced surfers shouldn’t be afraid to break new ground. Just use your head and respect the locals and the environment of these fantastic island treasures!


Graham Land is a writer who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, earning an MA in History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham writes on a variety of topics including the environment, politics and history.
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