How Big Was Lagundri Bay?

July 25th 2018 at Lagundri Bay saw the biggest swell to hit Indonesia since…well ever. Sets were in the 15-20ft range and I doubt I’ll ever witness what I saw that day at Lagundri Bay ever again.

The Calm Before The Storm

Black blobs started showing up on all the swell forecasting websites two weeks in advance, but unlike most swells as things got closer to the day things weren’t getting downgraded, they were in fact getting upgraded.

4.5m at 19 seconds was getting forecasted, but at daybreak on the day before all seemed pretty calm.

Even so, most people sitting in the losmens overlooking the main break at Lagundri Bay already had big boards set up knowing that at any moment this swell could hit.

However, at lunchtime on the day before the huge swell was forecast to hit, it was only 4-5ft.

At 6pm, with dark approaching, it was still only 4-5ft and calls of a hoax swell started to fly around.

Just before dark, an 8ft set mowed the evening crowd down.

Five minutes later, a 10ft set roared in with the first wave literally running over and tubing over the top of a 4 footer to create the craziest mutant wave I have ever seen.

Someone paddled, but there was no entry. The only thing louder than the roars from the crowds in the losmens that followed as this man became a part of the lip, was the thunder of the wave as it very nearly snapped him in two.

That night it was difficult to sleep. Part of me didn’t want it to be as big as the forecast because I wanted to surf. The other part wanted to be so big that I had no choice not too.

As night dragged on the noise of the waves pounding on the reef outside my losmen became ever louder.

The Mega Swell – Day Of Truth

Matt Bromley pulls into a mega wave at Lagundri Bay, Nias Island
Matt Bromley pulls into a 15ft + bomb during the afternoon! PC Paul O’Connor

At first light I walked out on to my balcony to watch 8 footers double up across the bay. Not long after a 12ft set hit, then another and another, all of which were black.

All through the early morning the regularity and thickness of these waves was increasing. No chance I was going to surf today thank God!

The world’s best big wave surfers were in town and whilst I don’t want to detract from their skill and bravado, Mother Nature was the star this morning. Even though some amazing waves were ridden, the thickest and heaviest double ups saw no takers.

All morning, eyes had been on the keyhole between Indicator and main break. I myself have paddled through this keyhole on 10ft days without a thought for safety and with dry hair.

Today it was a washing machine and by mid morning those wanting to get out were opting for the paddle out in front of Hash’s place further inside the bay.

Local Boat Destroyed On The Reef

Just outside the keyhole, sitting in 30meters of deep water was a boat. All morning, every time a set wave unloaded at the Indicator reef, a current of water washed into this usually tranquil zone.

Each time this happened the boat began to do swirling 360 degree turns as the current violently tugged on its mooring. At other times side-wash from the indicator reef was rushing up and over into the boat. As a result, it was becoming clear that if this boat didn’t break it’s mooring, then it was probably going to be overwhelmed by water at some stage today.

The owner of the boat, Timmy Wau, was blissfully unaware of the situation at hand. He was captaining his other boat on a surf charter in the Banyak Island and had sailed out of Lagundri Bay two weeks earlier.

He himself was having his own problems at the time as he couldn’t find a sheltered cranny to park his terrified charter group as the swell continued to grow along the whole Indonesian Archipelago.

Then it happened, at around 10am the mooring snapped.

Timmy’s boat began to drift toward the impact zone at main break. The peanut gallery in the losmens began getting more and more animated as the boat slowly drifted in the lineup over the top of repeated 10ft waves. It only seemed a matter of time. And then it happened.

A 12ft wave squared up and picked Timmy’s boat up and pile drove it backwards into the reef. Further waves followed to wash the boat right over the reef and down the edge of the bay.

Luckily, no surfers were in the impact zone at the time. Even so, it was the heaviest thing I have ever seen.

The Phantom Reef

Lagundri Bay on Nias Island during the mega swell
The swell picked up just after lunch, with some 15ft + sets bombing on the reef! PC Paul O’Connor

All morning the ocean was just getting angrier and angrier with less and less waves being attempted by the surfers in the water. The biggest waves were offering entry to no one.

At around 12pm, a bommie a few kilometers outside Lagundri Bay lit up. According to the locals, this is the first time that waves have broken here. What then followed was a set of whitewater lines that marched towards Lagundri Bay from kilometers out to see. For minutes they just kept rolling in and it appeared as though for the first time ever, the bay was going to close out.

The Aussie in the losmen next to me started yelling like a madman, ‘It’s a 20 footer, it’s a 20 footer!”

Someone else yelled, ‘This could be the ultimate roll in!”

Just a few hundred meters before the whitewash lines hit main break they backed off over deep water, charged in and then delivered a set of backless double ups with the explosions shaking the losmens around the bay. No-one attempted a paddle in to any of these beasts. To me this set did in fact look 20feet, but who knows.

Meanwhile, huge pieces of coral, a few tonnes each at least, began rolling across the reef. The sound was akin to Mother Nature grinding her teeth.

With this it was becoming apparent that this was a swell that was actually going to rearrange the reef – something that hasn’t been done since the magnitude 8.6 quake in 2005 that lifted the reef.

The bommie did not light up again all day after that, and with this set, the swell had now peaked.

All morning and into the afternoon, the lower levels of all the losmens lining the foreshore were being flooded by waves. Similarly, the new rock wall in front of Hash’s and the bridge between his place and the losmens to the south had been obliterated.

A few extremely brave surfers stayed out past lunch with fewer and fewer waves being attempted. In the late afternoon, the world’s best big wave surfers began filling the line up again but still very few waves were being ridden – and those waves that were attempted were smaller insiders.

Session Of the Decade

Matt Bromely drops into Lagundri Bay on Nias Island during the mega swell.
Matt Bromley possibly rode the wave of the swell. Here he drops into a beast! PC Paul O’Connor

At around 4pm, things seemed to calm down just ever so slightly. And with the day heading towards a close it suddenly felt as though all in the lineup started to realise that it was becoming now or never. The spectacle that then unfolded is something I will never forget.

Matt Bromley blew everyone’s mind. He had two waves in the late afternoon that were incredible.

One 15ft free fall into a below sea-level pit had everyone in the losmens convinced that they had just watched a man die. I will never forget the feeling of disbelief and relief I felt, just a few seconds later, when he was spat into the channel, along with the disbelieving screams from the losmens. Matt is the undoubted King of Nias.

Mark Healey pig dogged two amazing waves too.

The second one he grabbed rail down the face of a definite 15footer before he pulled up into a giant black closeout on what is being touted as the biggest wave ever ridden at Lagundri Bay.

Many other people also put their lives on the line that afternoon too, but it was hard to know who was who from the land.

This said, Brazilian Lucas Silveira needs a mention for two horrible wipeouts during the day before getting the one he wanted in the afternoon.

Lagundri Bay surfer take a late drop in the Mega Swell.
Kiwi surfer James Mitchell was charging as hard as anyone.

Underground Aussie guy Carl Wright and New Zealander James Mitchell also need mention for charging some of the waves of the day too. Tyler Newton and Ola Eleogram also impressed.

As the sun set over Lagundri Bay, all who were there knew that they had witnessed something historic with Mother Nature putting on a show for the decades.

Days later, the cleanup of the foreshore is still taking place.

Travel Tips

Paul O'Connor under the shade in Lagundri Bay, Island
This has to be one of my favorite waves in the world. I couldn’t count the number of barrels I have had out this amazing wave! The author gets slotted!

Where

 Lagundri Bay is located on Nias Island 150km off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia

Waves

The focus for surfing is the classic right-hander at Lagundri Bay. Discovered in 1975 by Australian surfers Kevin Lovett and John Giesel, Lagundri Bay can get very crowded but with a willingness to look you can find dozens of other high quality and uncrowded waves all over the Nias Island.

How To Get There

A 45minute flight from Medan on Sumatra (Indonesia) will get you to Gunungsitoli on Nias Island. From there it is a further 2.5 hour car ride to get to Lagundri Bay.

Where To Stay

Dozens of losmens are located directly in front of the main break at Lagundri Bay with budgets starting from as little as $5 a night. I like to stay with Timmy at Nias Keyhole Surf Camp. All inclusive, about AUD$50.

Timmy can also arrange boat charters out to the Banyaks and Telos direct from Lagundri.

Hash and Family Surf Camp is another great option that I like with the best view of the break.

Another great place is Marlynto Surf Camp.

Nias is still very remote place so don’t expect anything in the way of entertainment for non-surfing partners and children. If you are looking for something a bit more upmarket that might keep your better half happy try Kabunohi.

When To Go

Lagundri Bay is in the tropics so winds are generally light all year round. Light off-shores occur most days, particularly in the mornings and late afternoon.

Swells can happen anytime of the year but Lagundri Bay especially likes the south swells that march all the way up from Antarctica and are strongest between May and September.

Photography

Heaps of guys are there to take photos. The best guy for a package is Justin Buulolo. His office is outside Marlynto Surf Camp.

Other Tips

There are no surf shops on Nias so bring everything including sunscreen, wax and leashes.

A few extra t-shirts to give to the local kids is a step in the right direction too and might help you get a few more waves out in the line up.

Be respectful of the locals. I have seen tourists paddle up the inside during their first session at Lagundri Bay to then be told that they are no longer welcome in the line up.

The water can be quite dirty at Lagundri Bay, particularly after rain, so bring antibiotics and ear drops because infections can be a problem.

Money

There is no ATM. To withdraw money you will need to travel 25minutes to Teduk Delam.

 

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Paul
Author

Hey My Name is Paul. I live in Russia but was born in Australia and cut my teeth on the reef breaks of the NSW South Coast. I have been fortunate enough to surf all over the world. Not much surf in Moscow but when I’m not working I track swells from Morocco to Nias to Ericeira to Thurso to secret spots all in between. I’ll do my best to help you seek out that perfect wave. Just ask :-)

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