Pahang, Malaysia: Surfing in Cherating
It’s funny how I grew up spending countless school holidays in Cherating, but I never learned how to surf. Until last year. Honestly, I didn’t even know we could surf in Malaysia, and that there is a whole community of surfers that frequent the waves of Cherating every time surf season comes along. Yeah, we even have a surf season!
Surfing in Malaysia
So yes, I grew up in the city of Kuantan, just half an hour from one of the best surf spots in Malaysia — Cherating. It is a small village beach town on the east coast of Malaysia, in the state of Pahang. Most of the best places to surf in the country is located on the peninsula’s east coast; and is most popular during the monsoon season that starts from mid-October to end of February or early March. There aren’t much waves coming in from the South China Sea during the rest of the year.
Besides Cherating, some of the other ‘lesser-known’ places to surf in Malaysia are at Tioman Island, the Desaru coast of Johor, several beaches along Terengganu; and I think there are also places to surf in Sabah on the island of Borneo.
How To Get to Cherating
Most of the time, I head to Cherating from Kuala Lumpur by car. Driving is the easiest way to get there, as it only takes about 3.5 to 4 hours along the East Coast Highway. However, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative (or if driving isn’t for you), then the next best way to get to Cherating is by bus. Depending on where you catch the bus in Kuala Lumpur, it could be a longer and more tiring process.
The best way to reach Cherating via bus is by catching it from the Pekeliling or Putra Bus Terminals. These are the only two places that have buses (the most common one is Utama Express) to Kemaman , which is a small town in Terengganu. Along the journey there, the bus usually makes a stop in Kuantan, and then passes by Cherating Beach before arriving at Kemaman. So if you take this option, make sure you ask (and remind) the driver that you want to be stopped off at Cherating Beach.
The other bus alternative would be to take a bus from any bus station in Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan. This way takes a little longer as you will have to make a pit stop in Kuantan. Once you reach the Kuantan Express Bus Terminal, buy an Utama Express (yellow bus) ticket bound for Kemaman, and tell the driver you’d like to be stopped off at Cherating Beach. Either that, or once at the station, look for Gate#1 and take the local public Rapid Kuantan (white, red and blue bus) to the Hentian Bandar (#303). From there, take bus (#600/#602) to Balok Makmur; and then transfer to bus (#604) to Cherating Beach.
When leaving Cherating, the best way via bus is by catching the Rapid Kuantan back to the Kuantan Express Bus Terminal (same bus numbers), and then back to Kuala Lumpur. Remember to check for bus timings during your journey to Cherating; so you’ll know approximately what time to wait for the Rapid Kuantan when you leave. The Cherating to Balok Makmur route can be pretty infrequent.
The Beach Town of Cherating
When I was young, Cherating to me was just big resorts like Club Med; where I get to enjoy all the facilities, sunbathe on the private beaches, and relax in its luxurious laid-back vibe. That was usually how I’d spend most of my holidays in Cherating. And it was only recently that I headed back to the beach town (after almost 20 years) that I discovered a whole new part of Cherating that I never knew existed before — plus a whole row of new (or refurbished) luxury resorts flanking the length of its beach ( I wrote a post about the Holiday Villa Beach Resort & Spa Cherating).
And that whole new part is where the surfs are — the public Cherating Beach. It is where the laid-back and lazy beach vibe is taken to a whole new level — imagine wooden chalets overlooking the beach, cozy cafes with chill-out music, and old kampung houses serving local cuisine. And then you’ll see the beach boys and girls in their board shorts, carrying their surfboards to the beach. Travelers come from all over the world, people are friendly, life is simple. During the weekends, families from nearby towns gather — picnicking, flying kites, and swimming in the sea.
Accommodations in Cherating
Accommodation in Cherating ranges from the luxurious international resort chains, to the basic backpacker chalets. The most recent 5-star resort that have now popped up on Cherating Beach itself (and overlooking the surf point) is the Royale Chulan Cherating. The other accommodation choices around the surf beach area are more basic — mostly small chalets, and there’s the new glamping tents of Tanjung Inn.
During my last few surfing visits to Cherating, I stayed at the Matahari Chalets. The chalets are about a 5 to 10 minute walk to the surf point — and what I like about it is that it’s cheap (especially if I wanna stay for a longer period). The chalets are extremely basic with a fan, and with either private or shared bathrooms. Though they are rather in need of a major overhaul — it’s a good place to just come back to freshen up after a whole day surfing, and to sleep. Cause when I’m in Cherating, I’m hardly ever in the room!
The Cherating Point Surf School
The Cherating Point Surf School is located inside the Matahari Chalets — which is really the main reason why I choose to stay here. During my first visit to this part of Cherating, I took my surf lessons here; and for the many other visits after that, I rent my surfboards here. It’s the familiarity really, because why go somewhere else, when everything is already great!
I first learned how to surf from Zairil, the owner of Cherating Point Surf School. Lessons are first conducted in a ‘classroom’, where we were taught surfing do’s and don’ts, the process of standing on a board, and stance positioning. We were then taken to the beach to warm-up, assigned our surf boards, posed for a group photo, and finally — into the water for the real deal. We were each assigned a surf instructor, who guided us in the sea — especially to help us catch a wave by pushing our boards.
Surfing in Cherating
I’d say the waves in Cherating has moods. During the monsoon season, there are days (and even different times during the day) when the waves are small with mild currents — and these are the times that are perfect for beginners like me. I like it that I don’t have to fight currents to get in, and because the Cherating waves come in batches, I don’t have to be knocked out of my feet all the time. White waters are easier to catch then, and sometimes, I could even try my luck to surf on the green.
And then there are times when the waves are big, and the currents are strong. These are the times when the seasoned surfers call ‘good waves’, and the times that I try to avoid going into the sea! And even if I did try, it’s always hard for me to catch a wave — firstly, they are too strong and I get washed out all the time, and secondly, there’s always an awesome looking person already on the wave. And the waves can get a little erratic at times too.
The surfs in Cherating start out from a point break, and runs sideways along the beach all the way to the other end. Many a time, I would see a seasoned surfer riding all the way to the end, and then having to walk back to the point break to catch another wave. I think it’s almost 100 meters ~ fuuuh!
I love surfing in Cherating. I like the whole vibe of the place, the people, the surfs — I like it that sometimes when I’m in the middle of the sea and feeling defeated, someone would paddle up to either say a word of encouragement, or give me an advice or two. Or even offer to help me push my board! I also like it that there are cozy cafes to chill in when the surfs get too strong; and at night, I could either sit by the beach with the waves and a bottle of beer; or party the night away at the beach bars. But most of all, I like that it’s the closest and most convenient place for me to continue learning to surf.
So because of my newfound excitement for this new sport, I will always anticipate my return to this little beach town when the surf season’s up. If you’re wondering how its like surfing in Cherating, here’s a little vlog to give you an insight into learning to surf with Cherating Point Surf School, and maybe some inspiration to join me. Thanks for watching and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel!
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