Even though the waves rarely rise above three metres and it’s not a year-round option to ride them, there are several reasons to come and check out the surfing scene in Phuket. The water’s warm; the island’s infrastructure is solid; it’s not overcrowded on the waves, and there’s a tangible surfer-dude camaraderie. Another pleasant aspect about surfing in Phuket’s low season is that flights and hotels are cheaper than usual so it’s a win-win situation.
Still, you won’t get much surfing done here in Phuket’s high season from December to April – it’d be like trying to surf a pond – but once the breezes swing from northeast to southwest and those trade winds bluster in from the Indian Ocean from May to November, surfers are in business.
Unlike other worldwide surfing destinations, Phuket’s waves are storm driven, meaning the worse the weather blows the better the subsequent aquatic action and residual winds of a storm can power waves along the island’s west coast for days on end.
So where are the best places to hang ten on the island? Well, the epicentre of all things surfing here is Kata Beach; it’s long been the most popular hangout and even hosts a surf school run by champion of the waves Jimmy Smith. He says, “Kata is definitely the best all-round surfing beach. It’s great for learners as it’s a sandy beach with no rocks. Bali can get too powerful at times for normal surfers, as can Nai Harn and Kata Noi. The only thing you have to watch out for here at Kata is the board itself.” RE KA TA Surf School offers three levels of classes; beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Topics include learning to catch waves, reading and riding better waves, turning, and with special emphasis on surfing etiquette – often a point of contention for longtime surfers encountering greenhorns, sometimes physically. If you’ve never seen an experienced surfer wiping out because of a beginner getting in the way your vocabulary is all the poorer for it.
To the south of Kata, Nai Harn Beach is a great favourite with expats and locals. Its southern end has a permanent sandbank that creates long and fast rides while the swells are pretty impressive at its rock-lined northern end but this part of the beach is not ideal because of swimmers and wading children. Just north of Patong, Kalim Beach is another favourite but due to rocks and a coral reef it’s really best to surf here only at high tide. Kalim is fast, with annual surfing contests, some of which are hosted by Quiksilver. Further to the north along the west coast, Kamala Beach has three surfing opportunities, and its northern end is markedly better for catching a wave but is recommended only for advanced surfers. The central part has sandbanks while the southern end is great for beginners. Surin Beach is great for advanced surfers but a big ‘no-no’ for beginners as things can get pretty fast and furious here with regular wipeouts.
But what to do between December and April? One all-year-round surfing destination is Surf House Flow Rider, also at Kata Beach. Here, you can surf away to your heart’s content – until midnight if you’re that way inclined. Surf House is built around a high pressure wave generating machine that projects a four-inch sheet of water up a slope. There is an inflatable divider through the middle of this arrangement that is removed at night when the activities get a little more relaxed – no doubt due to the effects of happy hour. Still, the safety factor is high at Surf House, with a padded vinyl bottom and walls so the inevitable falls and wipeouts are cushioned and even fun – at least to watch with a cold beer at hand. The surreal sight of someone actually falling upwards does add to the entertainment value, it has to be admitted.
Surfing in Phuket is best regarded through the half-full or half-empty glass approach. It’s a great surf destination if you regard your glass as half full but if you want premium barrels, long pipelines, and thunderous white capped monster waves the surfing scene here can appear a little tame. Still, as the old surfing adage goes, it’s a pretty good place to "test your surfing skills against your opponents’ luck".