Thailand has become many things over the years since a young Leonardo Dicaprio blessed the world with his performance in The Beach, a lot of them negative. Overblown tourist hellhole, over developed, sex tourist mecca, and cliché backpacker paradise all jump out as prominent tag lines when South East Asia’s original hotspot is brought up in conversation these days. While these sentiments hold a certain degree of clout, one still cannot deny the fact that Thailand still has great beaches. Great beaches, but no waves, right?
Wrong. But before you start thinking, “I’ve been to Thailand 14 times and seen nothing more than a jet ski wake,” hear me out. Most of Thailand’s coastline and the majority of tourist islands including Koh Phangan and Koh Samui lie in The Gulf of Thailand. While these places are rumored to have rideable waves occasionally throughout the year, the Gulf is consistently flat. Really flat. Stick to the Red Bull vodkas and full-moon parties in those parts.
However, this is not the case for Thailand’s Andaman coastline, which is geographically part of the Indian Ocean. Although Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands do a good job of blocking the southerly groundswells that bless Indonesia from making it through to Phuket and the surrounding region, southwesterly swells can find their way through and provide a nice treat to wave starved locals outside of the regular swell season.
April to October is a great time of year in Phuket. Most of the chubby, thong-clad Euros have returned to their native beaches and the northwest monsoon begins to blow like mad, bringing with it consistent, warm, surfable waves. While it may be a small hop, skip and a jump to Indo from Phuket, don’t picture Indo waves. Think Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes. Think lots of onshore wind. But speak to locals in any of these places, including Phuket; if you live there, know how to read the conditions and are able to patiently persevere, you will score some great waves. Having been surfing in Phuket for eight years, it has taken some time to figure the place out. Over time I have become familiar with the various beaches, reefs and points, which can offer up some fantastically un-crowded waves.
Kata Beach on the south end of Phuket has become the island’s surfing epicenter. Quiksilver has been hosting an annual contest there for several years while the emergence of several surf schools and surf shops has increased the amount of people surfing in the area. Rip Curl has just opened up a brand new shop there and more are sure to follow. However, the bulk of Phuket’s surf spots remain mostly empty (These spots are not a secret either; just log on to Magicseaweed or Wannasurf to find out). I suppose this is in large part because of Phuket’s close proximity to Indo, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and a variety of other world class surf destinations. Why bother with the Kraft Singles when the Brie is the same price one aisle over, right?
Fair enough. Most Phuket surfers are well traveled throughout the region searching for their wave fix in the off-season themselves. That being said, I have had some of the better waves of my life along the Thai coastline. In less than an hours’ drive from Phuket, one can find themselves surfing glassy, overhead peaks without another person for miles on either side, the only sounds coming from the jungle behind the beach. The local Thai and ex-pat surfers are generally friendly and welcoming. No matter where you are on Phuket, you are never more than 20 minutes away from surfable coastline. Though the waves aren’t happening all the time, when they are, you’re never far off.
While I often find myself defending the surf here in Phuket to people who’ve never been here, or even to people who have, I wouldn’t ever tell someone to invest in an expensive air ticket, quit their job, pack up their quiver and move on over here. It just isn’t that kind of surf destination. Spend the extra hundred bucks on an AirAsia ticket to Jakarta and move on from there. That being said, if you find yourself in the Thailand during the right time of year, bring a board and a horseshoe and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.