Serious surfers and big-wave junkies may not think of Southeast Asia as 'the' surfing destination of choice due to the general lack of decent-sized waves curling along the coastlines. Wicked waves may be harder to come by in places like Thailand or Vietnam, but Indonesia is one very major exception.
Unlike other beach destinations in SE Asia, which tend to have somewhat unreliable wave formations, this country of many islands boasts over a hundred excellent breaks, and consistently ranks as one of the top ten surf destinations around the world. Professional and elite surfers flock to Indonesia (especially Kuta, Bali and to the Mentawai Islands) to experience some of the best waves around. These locales (especially Bali) often see consistent waves up to 4 meters high from April to November.
For the more advanced, G-land (Grajagan) in East Java is an internationally renowned surf spot and an excellent stomping ground for those wanting to ride the world's longest and fastest reef-breaks. Wave-hunters seeking awesome left-waves (waves breaking from right to left) will not be disappointed. Padang Padang is another recommended site, with waves coming in from almost every direction, making it an attractive place to find breaks offshore. The best time to visit is from March to October, while those big offshore swells peak during the June to September months.
For the past decade, SE Asia has seen increasingly bigger crowds of surfing enthusiasts at up-and-coming surf spots in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Because these sites are still relatively new and largely uncharted, accessing them tends to require a bit of time and patience. In the Philippines, checkout Bardic Island on the northwest of Luzon between October and March, where seasonal typhoons often bring waves over three meters high.
Sri Lanka, with its coastline stretching over 1,000 kilometers, offers a treasure trove of great spots to surf. Matara (Secret Point), set in the southern coast is one amazing place, boasting a left and right beach break over sand, and is a great spot for intermediate level surfers. Arugam Bay on the southeast coast, with its big swells in the early morning, is another beach to try. The Arugam Surf Point has long and consistent right hand breaks and overall excellent waves that will surely make the nine-hour trip from the nearest airport well worth it.
Novice and beginners might consider riding the waves in Thailand and Malaysia during the monsoon season between April and September. Thailand's popular beach destinations, Kata Yai, Kata Noi, and Patong Beach in Phuket, in particular, have thriving surfing communities, working together to make Thailand the next surf destination in SE Asia. Around these areas the breaks can get up past two meters.
With all the great beaches, weather and waves, likely the best thing about surfing in SE Asia is the cost. Most beaches in SE Asia are readily equipped with a wealth of budget-friendly accommodations that are guaranteed not to put a dent in your wallet.