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Surfing in Sabah
Published on: Friday, November 21, 2014
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KOTA KINABALU: Surfing in Sabah is relatively still a new adventure sport but it is catching up among a very small fraction of the local population, who are mostly youths and young adults.But when people think of surfing in Asia, Indonesia comes to mind, having established itself as a destination for surfers much earlier because of its big waves.

And it was about five years ago when a surf enthusiast, local Ivan Nicolai, banded with some friends and decided to give the waves, initially at Tanjung Aru, a go.

From thereon, there was no turning back for the small group of friends and as word spread around, the number swelled to more than 20.

Ivan started with bodyboarding about 1990 and switched to surfing only eight years later in 1998 after he went to Bali and got his own board.

"Most of my bodyboard buddies left the scene and back then I never see or hear any surfers (in Sabah) so I stopped (surfing).

"I only started to really surf again when I met my friends Charles and Kanesh in 2005," he said.

While the waves in Sabah are considered mild, which are more suitable for beginners, it didn't stop the interest on it from growing.

There is even a surf lesson that will be held soon for those who want to give surfing a go.

For the benefit of those who are unaware of it, there is the Sabah Borneo Surf Club or Sabah Surfing Association (SSA), which is about to be formed soon.

A website that is dedicated to surfing in Sabah said Ivan and his friends regularly invite friends from other parts of the globe such as Japan, Brazil, Australia and the UK.

And they usually hit the waves at Simpang Mengayau in Kudat where the size varies from two feet to nine feet.

"December to March is when the wind changes to the Northwest monsoon and that's when the swells start coming in more frequently in Tuaran and further up north in Kudat," according to Ivan.

Because there's hardly any surfers around, they get to enjoy the practically deserted beach at Simpang Mengayau.

However, the waves there are not for beginners, he said, because it can be quite rough and there are no lifeguards around.

"Unless you are a very experienced surfer, it would be best that you stick to Tanjung Aru," he said.

Nevertheless, Ivan said Tanjung Aru during the southwest monsoon season (July to November) has some whitewash that is perfect for some rides on the waves.

But to enjoy the waves, one does not need a surfboard because body boards and rafts can be as enjoyable too, he said.

"But remember to be safe, always. And because there are no lifeguards on Sabah's beaches, you have to surf smart and never try to be a hero.

"Experienced surfers will share with you on certain safety tips but ultimately when you are in the water, you are at your own risk," he said.

But for those keen, you can check out Sabah Surfing Association Facebook page and get in touch with Ivan at [email protected].

There's plenty of photos and information about surfing in Sabah in Ivan's blog at

During the southwest monsoon and the occasional typhoon that hits KK, most of the local surfers will head down to Tanjung Aru Beach after work.

Caption: A surfer riding the waves on his surfboard in a beach location in Sabah. – Pic courtesy of Charles Mawan


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