Timing and luck can bring rewards

Surf of Madagascar

It's there, but you need timing, and luck.

It doesn't take much figuring to realise that Madagascar's southwest and southern coasts are positioned to pick up the same swells that feed the breaks of South Africa, and later Indonesia. And we're talking groundswells here, with wave periods typically in the mid-teens, and sometimes higher. That means power and penetration; enough to get the swell to bend 180° at one particular left said to be the best break identified on the island so far.

But there is a catch: well several. The window of opportunity is limited to the relatively short stretch of the Indian Ocean between South Africa and Madagascar. If there's no low-pressure activity in that zone there's no substantial swell. Even when there is activity the swells can come and go rapidly. The winds can be fickle as well. The trades tend to blow cross-shore to onshore at many of the exposed reefs and might just start up a bit earlier than you would like. Surfing might be limited to the morning, though not necessarily. The same left that bends 180° is offshore and actually works best with a southeast trade.

If there is swell and if the wind is right, the tide might still let you down. Most of the waves I saw and surfed were breaking on coral reef. They can be very tide-dependent, becoming dangerous when the water gets too shallow.

But catches aside, Madagascar offers many rewarding surfing opportunities on all its coasts. There are known spots, there are secrets, and there are spots waiting to be discovered. Don't expect perfection and you won't be disappointed, but you might be surprised. And whatever surfing experience you do have in Madagascar, it will be without a crowd.

This baby bends 180°

The Southwest

The southwest is Madagascar's surfing wonderland. Many high-quality breaks can be found among the area's coral reefs. Given the orientation of the coast, and the direction of the prevailing swells, the best of these breaks tend to be lefts, although rights are also present.

Inshore reef at Anakao. If this reef is breaking the offshore reefs may be on

During my short stay in the area I saw one world-class left, one almost as good, two other lefts, a right, and a peak - all within relatively short boating distances of one another. And you do need a boat to get to these places, most of which are between one and three kilometres offshore.

With hundreds of kilometres of reefs, bays and points stretching up the Mozambique Channel, the southwest also holds the real possibility of many more surfing discoveries. One rarely surfed and remote sand-bottom left was described to me as being as hollow as Kirra and at least as long as the "super bank" on Australia's Gold Coast.

The Lavanono left could be classy, if only the wind went offshore

The South

South of Itampolo (pronounced It-am-pul) the coast swings east, increasing the exposure to the swells, and to the winds. The water is still warm and corals still grow, but the fringing reefs begin to break apart, opening the way for inshore setups. Rock shelves and beach breaks start to predominate, all easily accessible from shore.

At Lavanono (pronounced Lava-nu) there is one recognised left point break as well as dozens of other unnamed reefs, including many with real potential to turn it on in big swells. But again you need luck as trades can blow onshore to cross-shore around the clock. Once the swell does come up and starts churning the sediments you also need to be prepared for water that is less than crystal clear.

Fort Dauphin's answer to Fairy Bower, minus Winkipop. The inside section is quite makeable

From Cape Saint Marie, Madagascar's southern-most point, the coast starts to bend around to the northeast, completing the swing at Fort Dauphin (also called Taolagnaro). A minor surfing centre with a small local crew, the options in Fort Dauphin are limited to iffy beach breaks and Libanona Point, a reef break that reminded me of Fairy Bower in Sydney. It even has its own version of Surge Rock, though unfortunately there is no Winkipop-style outside section and the wind always seems to want to blow cross to onshore.

The East

This break is short but sweet

Heading north from Fort Dauphin much of Madagascar's East Coast could be described as a featureless wave desert. Long straight beaches tend only to be interrupted by river-mouths. Sharks are also said to be present.

North from Ambila-Lemaitso the coast gets more interesting and the opportunities increase. Coral atolls and reefs become more common-place, and the coastline starts to be broken up with points and bays. There could be dozens of quality waves along this largely unexplored stretch.