Remote beaches of Malaysia’s east coast offer excellent windsurfing
The coast is lined with huge palm trees, with leaves that almost touch the South China Sea. They have survived heavy storms and rain floods. The long sandy beach looks untouched, running relatively steeply down toward the ocean where the periodical sound of a powerful beach break can be heard.
The scenery is impressive, with low sunlight over the green, mystical hills. We park George's white Pajero between two palm trees. We have arrived in Kijal, a typical Malaysian small town in the east coast state of Terengganu.
I have travelled to Malaysia twice before, always during the windy season, which starts at the end of October with the onset of the monsoon season. During the 1990s, prominent windsurfing races were held in Malaysia. The Asian windsurfing tour made a stop here once a year from 1998 to 2007.
I first surfed at the beaches of Malaysia in January 2007 when I was invited to the Monsoon Madness challenge. I stayed in the city of Kuantan, the capital of Malaysia’s third largest state of Pahang, competing with surfers from Australia, Poland, Southeast Asia, Japan and the UK.
The competition was tough. We struggled with high humidity and temperatures. But with the relaxed atmosphere after the race in the local restaurants, the stable wind and warm water, I knew I would return someday to surf at Malaysia’s beaches again.
Fast forward several years later and I’m back in Kuantan with my partner and photographer, Kerstin. Kuantan is the perfect base in our search for new windsurfing spots in the South China Sea. It is also the city where our friend George Warren, a passionate windsurfer himself, lives. The city is the largest along the east coast and has all the facilities to accommodate the needs of Western tourists.
The best months to windsurf in Malaysia are January, February and March, although the winds could get pretty strong from November till the beginning of April, George tells us. During this time, the northeasterly winds could go up to 20 knots or more, with swells and surf reaching three metres during peak conditions.
“What generally happens is that for the first two weeks of the monsoon season, in November or early December, you have a period of rain for one or two weeks. It can rain almost every day but after that you usually get sunny windy weather again,” he says.
We were blessed with strong monsoon winds on the first few days. At Balok beach, 13 kilometres north of Kuantan, the wind picked up to 20 knots, which allowed us nice jumps. Nearby, the Teluk Cempedak beach, with huge granite boulders, is another good surf spot with orderly waves. Farther up north, Tanjung Cherating, well-known in the Southeast Asian surfing scene, has a left-handed break said to be the most consistent on the Malaysian east coast.
In our quest for new windsurfing spots, we drove away from Kuantan until we came across scenic views of riverine settlements, houses with thatched roofs and buffalos grazing in the fields. These villages have a laid-back atmosphere and a rustic charm.
There, we chanced upon Kijal’s Penunjuk Beach. Facing southeast and framed by massive granite rock formations at the eastern end, it has an awesome set-up.
As we began to rig up, a local car drove towards us at high speed and parked next to our Pajero. A local man who introduced himself as Ibrahim jumped out and began asking us about the wind conditions. “How is the wind force? Is it too strong? 4 to 5?” he asked. We were impressed and thrilled to meet him. Someone from a remote village understood the windsurfing code. “Yes, close to 5,” I said. He explained that he was a windsurfer too but he found the wind conditions there too rough.
I decided to try my luck and walked down the steep, sloping beach to the water’s edge. I jumped in and began to paddle out. As soon as I launched my sail, the pressure I felt on it was great. After a few nice turns and jumps, I returned to the beach.
Ibrahim was still there, and he invited me to his house. Sitting there on the wooden terrace with the great view of the sea as the backdrop, I was convinced that Kerstin and I had made the right decision to come to the Malaysian east coast. With its culture so rich and people so friendly, the discovery of a hidden gem in Penunjuk Beach made the trip truly unforgettable.