ANTHONY ‘YEP’ COLAS IN THAILAND
Thailand gulf, location not disclosed
To tell you the truth, I did not go to Thailand to surf. My girlfriend convinced me that it’s one of the most beautiful country on earth blessed by the most tolerant people, “Same same but different” being their hospitality baseline. During last X-mas, I had just negotiated a 2 day escape to check a completely ignored coastline in the Gulf of Thailand. But that was out of Phi-Phi island, in the Andaman Sea, only 1h30 from Phuket by ferry boat but a long way from my target area. Since Mike Kew and Chris Burkhard surftrip last September, we’ve seen some serious surf on the west shores of Thailand N°1 tourist area.
Phuket waves are usually fueled by the strong SW monsoon fetch in the Andaman Sea. From May to September, there is some decent surf to be tapped on the western coasts, the conditions obviously getting better as you head north towards the border with Myanmar. Around the main beaches of Kata, Kalim and Kamala, Phuket island hosts a small surfing community with a few surf shops, like Saltwater Dreaming which produces his own wax (Gecko Glue) and provides and rent a large range of boards.
Maybe, the fact that Cobra near Pattaya is the largest surfboard manufacturer in the world with brands like Surftech helps Thai locals to find the good boards. Don’t forget also that Sheiko factory near Bangkok is the largest neopren wetsuit producer in the world ! But who needs a wetsuit in Thailand anyway ?
Thailand gulf, location not disclosed
Because December is the heart of the NE monsoon, there is no swell likely there but the eastern shores on the Gulf of Thailand get occasionnal wave action. Most of the reports have come from Koh Samui where the popular beach of Chaweng Malibu seems to host regular close-outs rights. Other spots can be surfed on Samui as well as Koh Phangan and the good news is you can rent a surfboard there. Travelling with a boardbag in Thailand is not an easy task as usual small ferries and minivans don’t quite match with oversize luggage. That’s probably why I could only take a bodyboard along.
The main problem is that my X-mas base was Koh Phi Phi, as PP, not ideally located to jump on a swell. Although the fabled islands, greatly displayed in the movie The Beach, offer a breathtaking scenery and a near-perfect beach lifestyle. No airport, no harbour, no roads, no cars : PP is a travelers dream and Thai people really know what laid-back tourists expect : live on the beach, attend fireshows at night unless youre watching Muay Thai boxing in Aswindum stadium, eat healthy dirt cheap food in small friendly tree-house restaurants, go to full moon parties, get a 7$/hour quality Thai massage, check your internet or simply get Baths from a cash-machine. And those who dont necessarily come for partying, can simply hire those funny long tail boats or a kayak to check one of the remote beaches unless youre on a diving boat looking for leopard sharks or climbing one of those super steep limestone cliffs. On a really strong ENE wind, I even saw ridable 1-footers at Tonsai Beach and I bet beaches like Rantee Beach were a messy 2ft.
Thailand gulf, hanging out with the locals
It took me all day to escape Phi Phi and hit the Malaysian border on one of those frequent ENE storm churning from the South China Sea. I found out that Pattani area was flooded so I went all the way to Narathiwat after 9 hours of easy travel. Asking for a vehicle for the next day, I was told that on Eid (muslim celebration day when they hit Mecca), no taxis would work ! A few years before, I had surfed Malaysia and it was raining every 15 minutes so I was dubious about my potential to check a lot of coastline with equipment.
I had some hints after intense search on Google Earth so I yelled at a guy on a scooter and happened to drive 100 km on that day. Because Malaysia is much wealthier than this province, there is some controversy and occasional bombings on that side, thats why army road blocks are numerous. Although places like Ao Manao can be tourist friendly, there is no surprise that guidebooks dont say much about those southwest provinces.
First place I wanted to check with a cape for potential right pointbreaks with deeper waters was smack dab in a military zone so access was fully denied. There has been a lot of beach erosion on those shores where small rock jetties do their best to keep the sand. The main coastal road simply disappeared on the way to the south and many properties have been abandoned quite recently. Does sea level rise there higher than other places ?
Despite being quite shallow, the 6ft windswell would hit the bank with some power and produce 2-3ft waves, fairly clean with morning offshores. I finally put all my stuff and confidence into my drivers hands and got wet at Naratat, where fun rights were peeling off the rock jetties. Despite some training to operate my camera, my scooter guy did not managed to shoot many sharp shots but at least, he was not running away with my stuff !
There is definitely potential around Narathiwat as Ao Manao owns a semi-point and the town itself could host an offshore beachbreak during bigger storms. Thailand is far from being a surfers paradise but if you go there to have a good time, you may catch some fun waves ! And yep, despite heavy suffering and deep mental trauma, the aftermath of 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami is over and most islands have fully recovered !