Surfing and our longing for it can take on an almost religious zeal. One, which at times demands our most ardent reverence and worship.
The Mentawais island chain would then be the equivalent of a surfing Mecca, one which all good surfing pilgrims should visit at least once in their lifetime. Its simply hard to imagine any place on the planet, with a greater density of world class waves. Each unfurling their liquid perfection across coral reefs with poster card backgrounds. Its no wonder that over the years they have formed the canvas for some of surfing’s most mind melting imagery and footage.
Its also personally one of my favorite locations to surf, from the perfect waves to incredible sunsets and the camaraderie over a few evening Bintangs. With another trip lined up in the very near (not soon enough) future, I thought I would share a bit of experience and general info.
Embers of the day
Situated 150km off the west coast of Sumatra in wave rich Indonesia. The Mentawais or “Ments” are constituted of around 70 sparsely populated islands. Which can be roughly be broken down into southern, central and northern regions.
The standard route to the islands, is via the fishing port town of Padang. Padang is a rough ramshackle of a place that owes constant rejuvenation to regular seismic activity. Padang also has some of the most pimped out taxis you will see anywhere but that pretty much rounds out the sight seeing aspect. For most itreally is just the arrivals/departure lounge to getting to the islands.
Getting to the island chain requires a trip across the Mentawai strait. Usually undertaken overnight to limit the mind numbing sensation of travelling 100km+ across open water. The strait is naturally sheltered from most swell by the island chain itself but can be prone to severe wind chop – an uncomfortable delay to any surfer onboard. One year, we nearly even lost the front transom of our boat. That was an uncomfortable crossing.
Still nothing is as uncomfortable as going overboard at night. As Brett Archibald discovered, when he spent 28 hours floating alone in the current, after being seasick over the side rail. Always hold on to the boat – and use the inside toilets during the crossing.
It all depends on your appetite for waves and crowds, but you can pretty much break it down into three blocks. Naturally, given any year these may shift and overlap or due to an unseasonal weather pattern be out of character. I have had 10ft swells in early season and then south winds in prime season (horrible cross shore when it should be light trade wind)
There are basically three options available to travelling surfers depending on your finances, hardiness and inclination for mobility.
For most – the entire journey is encapsulated aboard a live in charter boat. This option is the most flexible as it allows for transit across the entire island chain. The pay off, is little connection with the locals, cabin fever and watching yourself and crew mates go completely feral in a small space over the fixed time of the trip.
Ever expanding and ever encroaching. Every trip seems to reveal new surf camps springing out of the previously uninhabited jungles. Varying from luxurious to basic, the cost is fairly relative to charter boat as most amenities still need to be shipped in. Getting to surf breaks where they aren’t out front, is done via resort speed boat. So if you don’t like living in close quarters aboard a boat or want to extend your trip time – then this is probably your go.
For only the most hardy and fiscally conscious. This your best bet to emerge from the jungle looking like a mosquito bitten version of Tom Hanks from Castaway. So if the uber lean, tanned with bumps and bearded look is your thing. Then look no further!
In the next installment, will cover some of the awesome waves on offer in this incredible location.
Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.