In the early 80s, your blog correspondent worked in a Vietnamese boat people refugee processing center on Galang Island, near Singapore (marked X on the image below). We would work three months in the camp and get two weeks downtime. I’d beeline straight home to Bali and go surfing.
I kept a surfboard in the camp there. Friday afternoons, I’d take the boat service (there are bridges now) to Tanjung Pinang on Bintan Island and for the weekend scour the east side of Bintan Island for surf. That’s the side exposed to the South China Sea.
I can tell you this with some degree of confidence. Even though they do have surf contests in Malaysia, there’s a reason you don’t see ads for South China Sea surf charters and surf resorts. I did indeed go surfing a couple times, but in murky brown stiff onshore wind-swell crap. Still, it was wet and salty and foamy.
I also had an opportunity to travel on a relief-aid ship to the Natuna Islands, circled in the map. Beautiful gorgeous turquoise reefs, and at night phosphorescence bright enough to read by, but nary a wave did I see. Of course, that was only for a week, and maybe there was no swell.
Below is an shot of one of the Paracel Islands, between Vietnam and China, and which they are arguing over. Looks intriguing, but I bet ya it’s crap surf: