SUrF TRaVeL ONLiNe offer you a great variety of boats that operate in the Mentawai Islands ...
The Mentawais (pronounced men-TAH-wee) lie off the western coastline of the Indonesian island of Sumatra -- 150 nautical miles southeast of Nias. They consist of four large islands and numerous smaller ones, some charted and some not, strung out along a line from 3.3S/100.5E to 2S/99.5E. Volcanic in origin, the islands are geographically dynamic, some sinking into the ocean, some rising and all of it happening much too quickly for the formation of South Pacific-style coral-limestone atolls. As a result, most good Mentawai waves break close into the islands along shoreline-based, coral-encrusted lava reefs, with swells being refracted into these reefs by deepwater offshore lava slabs. Refractions are so extreme that some of the better breaks in the region face almost directly opposite the open-ocean swell angles, with waves wrapping halfway around islands to strike the reefs.
Literally hundreds of ridable waves dot the islands. Many of them have magic days; many are known to only one or two boat captains. Several are way up in the world-class zone. The general tone is typical Indonesia -- powerful but not bone-snapping, with numerous hollow sections and some lengthy waits between bigger sets -- especially on the dying end of a swell. The islands are outside the southeast trade wind belt and susceptible to fluky, stormy equatorial wind shifts. Oddly enough, this suits the wide variety of reefs and angles; it seems as though no matter what the wind's choosing to do, somewhere's always offshore. (Of course, that somewhere might be four hours away.)
Broad exposure to all reaches of the southern Indian Ocean provides the Mentawais with unrivaled swell consistency, well beyond that of Bali. Background pulses keep waves breaking even between the stronger hits, and swells will often arrive over the top of each other in the mid-season boom. Few will push beyond the 6- to 10-foot range, however.
Out of the many, a handful of spots have made themselves the focus of most charters, partly due to their quality, partly to consistency and partly to ease of access. Another factor may be the lack of detailed regional surf knowledge among many captains, or their lack of personal surf lust -- not all are surfers. But we digress. Here's a look at four of the hot handful:
Facing almost directly into the prevailing southwest swell, Lance's Left is a "go-to" wave, easily ridden by all but the least competent surfers, yet challenging the skilled to a couple of deeper takeoff zones and accompanying barrels. It's a broad shelving reef that curves through around 45 degrees into an eventual closeout across jagged inside coral, but poses little danger, thanks to numerous easy exit points throughout the ride. When a new swell hits Lance's Left, it can take on the best attributes of Grajagan's Moneytrees section -- slabby, thick takeoffs, broad faces and a nice blend of barrel and rippability. It'll keep up this action into the 10-foot zone on a fresh swell before mushing out wide into the adjoining deep water. On smaller swells, that original takeoff zone mellows into a softer, playful drop and swinging peak that beckons the surfer farther and farther down the line, while a new section -- long, thin and cylindrical -- pops up way over near the outside dry reef. This new section is deceptive and should be left to the highly skilled; it conceals a grand risk of coral burn.
Other than that, it's a great starter wave for a Mentawais trip and often treated as such by captains good and otherwise.
Consistency: 8 to 10
Difficulty: easy to medium
Danger factor: low to medium
Barrel factor: medium
This spot -- just around the headland from Lance's Left -- has been renamed several times (see "History" section below). It's also semi-commonly known as HTs or Hollowtrees, after a typically Mentawaian dead tree trunk that once stood way out on the reef. The trunk is gone now, but the wave hasn't changed a bit. Although the reef faces east, it benefits from the outer-reef refraction theory to draw in as much swell as most other spots in the area. It's basically a squared off slab of lava-coral reef about 100 yards wide, with a rarely breaking cloudbreak outside that peaks waves up onto one of two distinct sections. Deeper and gnarlier of the two is The Office, well over in front of vicious exposed coral heads. A well-struck 6-foot wave at The Office is like flawless Backdoor Pipeline; a badly chosen one is extremely sketchy, with the inevitable wipeout being quickly followed by a pounding way too close to the coral for comfort. Safer, yet somewhat weirder, is The Cage, a wider-swinging walled-up peak that tubes on takeoff, but occasionally pinches shut. Low-tide Cage sports three perky little coral heads on the inside that'll gladly take some skin if permitted. Smaller days are a frolic -- tubes, airs, mad carves, whatever you can think up. Lance's undoubted allure is assisted by the Sumatran mainland's sea breeze, which creates a very light offshore most afternoons.
Consistency: 7 to 10
Difficulty: medium to high
Danger factor: medium to high
Barrel factor: high
Some darn good surfers have called this the best performance wave in the world. If they're wrong, it's surely up there in the rankings. Macaronis is tucked inside several other reef layers near a lovely green-water bay that makes a beautiful calm overnight anchorage. This, plus the wave quality and ease of riding, makes Macas the target zone for almost every boat captain in the islands, and the subsequent crowding in its tight takeoff area can get way out of hand. The wave itself is a section less left peeling across a curved lava-coral shelf that slopes up out of the water at an almost offensively perfect angle. An occasionally complex takeoff resolves swiftly into a long hollow wall with curves suited to any turn or tube you'd care to imagine. Theoretically, Macaronis has an upper limit around 6 feet, but has been known to hold bigger in perfect conditions. One drawback for the less-skilled surfer is that takeoff zone: like most excellent waves, Macas is not friendly to people who try to pick up the wave farther down the line, having by then established its dredging flow. Getting in from the start is the key to Macaronis' magic.
Consistency: 5 to 10
Difficulty: easy to medium
Danger factor: medium
Barrel factor: high
Also known as Rags, Thunders has suffered from the same syndrome as Lance's Right in the naming stakes -- it's too popular for its own good. Being broadly exposed to the southwest and a little farther off the Sumatran mainland, it's possibly the most consistent break in the whole chain. It's a left that superficially resembles Lance's Lefts, but upon investigation, shows itself to be a very complicated lineup, with numerous takeoff spots and massive inconsistencies in the reef. Wave choice becomes a very broad and open game, with wide easy faces and tight hollow barrels all over the place. Most waves tend to find their way into a peaky inside section and an eventual collapse onto craggy coral. Thunders shows better form early in a rising swell, when its true nature as one of the better large waves in the region becomes clear -- a solid, slabby wall bleeds quickly into a swinging hollow peak, which reforms on to the inside. Some surfers have been lured way up the line on less consistent days -- generally they've found themselves to have been magnificently sucked in by mirage-like dreams of barrel sections, which don't actually exist.
Back across the bay from Thunders lies one of the best rights in the islands, perhaps the world, on its day -- a rifling cylinder across nearly bare coral where 10- to 15-second tubes are a serious possibility. But be warned, this is a place for super-skilled surfers only, unless you enjoy the sensation of being cleanly stripped of flesh.
Consistency: 9 to 10
Difficulty: medium to high
Danger factor: medium
Barrel factor: medium
The handful of surfers who prowled the chain pre-1990 did it by taking an irregular ferry ride from the Sumatran mainland and hoping they ended up near some kind of surf. Today, almost everyone books a place in advance on one of the surf charter vessels that run out of Padang harbor on Sumatra's west coast. Padang -- a large smelly trade town of more than 500,000 people -- is a short plane ride from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. The planes ain't big and experienced Sumatra-trippers almost all have horror stories of board bags that never made in into the cargo hold. It's a 90-mile boat trip from Padang to the island fringes and a day's cruising between the main breaks.
When to go
Good swells can hit at almost any time of year, but scary weather during the monsoon season (November-March) should be avoided. Most charters do not run during this period. The best and most in-demand timeslot is May-June and August, which seem to be most consistent for high quality groundswells.
Boards: The wide range of wave types and conditions give a surfer plenty of opportunity to fool around with a quiver. But the ideal size and wave-weight -- 6 feet, hollow, fast and hard -- suits the competent surfer's magic 6'6" to 6'10" range. A quiver built around these sizes, plus your regular home-brand hotdogger for smaller days, will deal with almost anything you're likely to find. Even the bigger days can be handled comfortably without the need to resort to major guns. (Generally in Indo waters, boards over 7'2" will hang you up in the tube.) Expect to snap a board, so make sure you back up that middle range and you won't regret it. Many waves can be comfortably handled on longer fun boards and even longboards. Recommended quiver: four boards, one standard hotdog range, the other three midrange and interchangeable. Spare leashes!
Competent surfers of all stances and styles will find sweet spots somewhere in these islands. One key point: Indonesian waves are best ridden from the deepest possible takeoff spot. Much of the time, trying to pick up a wave from the shoulder will result in failure as the thing steamrolls right by. Stay relaxed and focus on the starting point of the wave, not the halfway point. Antsiness should be avoided. A desperate attempt to catch 30 waves an hour will burn you out by the third day. These reefs provide a God-given opportunity to work on rail-to-rail speed and tuberiding. Take your time and concentrate on clean, carving turns, holding the rail down in the turn as long as you can and breathing out through the end of the turn. Don't hunt the tube too fiercely; it'll find you.
Warning! This is not a surf zone suited to beginners.
Be clear about your skill level before tackling the heavier, hollower spots.
Gear: This is a surf trip without a land base and well away from any serious medical help or opportunities to back up your surfing equipment. You should be fully prepared for seasickness, minor cuts (up to a few stitches), reef scrapes and sea ulcers, sunburn and surfboard damage. Some boats carry functional first aid kits, but don't rely on it. Also, do not expect to be able to buy prescription medications. The ocean temperature around the islands is warmer than almost anywhere else you'll have been, hovering around 80 degrees. It's a good idea to re-wax your boards with warm-water wax before the trip. And it can be nice to wear a cotton T-shirt instead of a rashguard for UV protection because the T-shirt aids in evaporation cooling (and trust us, after six or seven laps of the reef, you'll be too warm for comfort).
1) powerful sunscreen, anti-UV rash vest or T-shirts (see above), sunburn relief gel, cap or helmet (optional)
2) reef walkers or hard-soled wetsuit boots for possible pursuit of board across reef
3) seasickness prevention pills (machismo is not an antidote)
4) easy to use UV resin ding repair kit/s
5) small medical kit including antibacterial wash (i.e. Betadine), antibacterial powder, minor protective bandaging, painkiller and anti-inflammatory (i.e. Motrin), suture kit
6) effective tropical insect repellent (not vital on board, but good if you're going ashore for a visit to one of the island towns)
7) warm-water wax/waxcomb
As with most remote surf locations worldwide, we'll probably never know who first surfed the Mentawai chain. People were consistently riding Lagundri Bay on Nias, not far to the north, in 1975, which may be some guide. A group of Australian surfers claim to have visited Macaronis in 1980, after a ferry trip across from Padang. Strangely, they never went back -- which perhaps says more about the rigors of overland travel in Sumatra than it does about the wave.
The islands were -- and still are, in places -- home to extraordinary bands of Sumatran-origin tribesmen, who lived high in the rain forest areas of the larger islands and practiced cannibalism. Indonesia's governing authorities have shown somewhat conflicting attitudes to the islands. They sometimes appear to be concerned with preserving their natural state and, at other times, open the door to giant tropical hardwood logging corporations and relocating thousands of mainland Javanese people to the area's small port towns.
A salvage diver and keen surfer by the name of Martin Daly happened to be working out of Jakarta in the late '80s and surfing Panaitan and other Javanese islands on his time off. He'd been looking at charts of the Mentawais for a while and became convinced the islands had to have good surf with Nias so close by. In 1989, he got together with a mate and headed up in a borrowed boat to look around. Over the next two years, Daly uncovered a wonderland of excellent reef breaks, only once stumbling across another surfer -- the Lance of Lance's Right, who'd beaten him to that particular wave by a day. In 1991 he let slip to an Australian friend and savvy Indo traveler, Glenn Stokes, that he'd found paradise. Glenn suggested they hook up with a few other surfers to cover costs and agreed to put together a crew for next season. Unknown to Daly, the crew -- among others of Glenn's mates -- consisted of Tom Carroll, Martin Potter, Ross Clarke-Jones and Stuart Cadden. At first Daly was furious, but relaxed when he met the surfers and realized they just wanted to go on a vacation surf trip. Their 10 days among the islands coincided with possibly the best swell conditions of the past decade of Mentawai madness. Only two images -- blurry, bootlegged and unnamed -- of Carroll and Potter riding a 15-foot left made it to the surf press.
Over the next three years, Daly ran cautious charters for an increasing clientele on board his 75-foot steel-hulled Indies Trader. The first magazine photo trip was in 1993 for Surfing magazine and Rip Curl, with surfers Tom Curren, Chris Davidson, Brock Little and Frankie Oberholzer, and photographer Jeff Hornbaker. Further trips followed, and the veteran Indonesian sail charter boat Katika began running charters as well. Although the islands remained unnamed in the surf press until 1996, they hardly remained unknown, particularly among the increasing number of surf vacation entrepreneurs.
As listed on the left hand side of this page , so take a look at what is on offer for YOU !!
By Nick Carroll