Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia - Surf Safari.... / by Mark Boyd

I touched down in Padang airport on Sumatra where Franky, the business side of things, kindly picked me up from the airport. Over recent days he'd been trying his best to source me a decent bodyboard and fins, but alas when we reached his place he showed me what he'd managed to find. I appreciated his efforts, but this foamy little board wasn't going to carry me along big vertical walls of water, this was designed for kids playing in white water at the beach.... I pondered.  We transferred from car to scooter.  Backpack loaded on and foamy, sponge board under my arm Franky rode me to my nearby accommodation.  My room was, let's say 'basic', a tiny little sweat box with a wall fan/hair dryer. It was the penthouse suite, opening up on to the roof terrace, so this made up for the room itself.  I messaged Ricky (the guy who put the group together and the number one member of the surf crew) with regards to my lack of board and fins etc telling him I'd try and find something around town the following day. I also asked how much I owed him for the trip.... Now have you ever gotten the wrong end of the stick and totally misunderstood the price of something? You get to the counter and think, I'm sure that was £1.25, but it actually turns out to be £4.75.... But you crack on and pay for it regardless out of some sort of weird embarrassment.  Well when Ricky first posted about this surf trip around the Mentawais he mentioned 10 million INDR (about £625.00) for 10 days in total (which was basically 8 days as it's a day to get there and a day to get back). He tolde me that there was currently three of us but he was hoping to get five. More the merrier I thought, with three of us it was around £200 which still seemed awesome value for accommodation, food and a fast boat to take us to the surf breaks each day, including the return ferry from the mainland to the Mentawais. I could stretch to that.  I'd heard these sort of trips could easily stretch to £1,500. By the big day there were still only three of us, so when I asked Ricky the price his reply was, 'Hi Mark, it's the 10 million I originally said.'  Oh poop! I thought this total sum was to be divided between the three of us!!! With apologies being bandied around from him to me and me to him I said I'd try and access the money but I'd have to pay some when we returned due to the ATMs only allowing limited withdrawals. Ricky's a good guy and totally understood. All sorted.  OUCH!!!!

The terrace outside my sweat box room was nice. That evening I wandered along the beach front and in to town to grab some local food along with my first instalment of cash for Ricky.

I wandered a long way and was even informed by Franky the next morning that his friends were asking was the guy wandering all around Padang his surf buddy! There's not many 'White Boys' around here apparently, especially ones that walk for hours around the city at night.  That morning we headed to the only surf shop in town. They sold fins, but they were way too small, but they were the only ones in Padang so I coughed up £60.00 and hoped I could stretch them.

 It didn't work, I ended up taking the knife to the fins and allowing my toes out the end... Again!

It didn't work, I ended up taking the knife to the fins and allowing my toes out the end... Again!

Alas there were no bodyboards to be had. I decided to grab a fishing rod, reel, line and a couple of lures.... Another £75.00, crikey this was becoming expensive.... I returned to the hostel wondering how the hell I was going to survive riding big Indonesian waves on this kid's bodyboard... I went in to the surfboard storeroom and lo and behold right there, wedged in between two surfboards was a 'Science' professional grade adult sized bodyboard.  My eye's lit up.  My own board at home was also a Science board, though this one had definitely seen better days.... rugged, weathered and a little battered.  A bit like myself. It also needed a good clean. Again more similarities.  I removed the leash from the kids board and reattached it to my newly 'borrowed' Science board.... It was even the perfect size for me! Job done! What were the chances of the only bodyboard in all of Padang residing in my hostel, gathering dust amongst the longboards.... Perfect!  Thank you universe!!!  This was a real trip maker or breaker!

The following day we boarded the fast craft to the Mentawais. There was Franky, the logistics man. Ricky the group organiser (Java born and raised, a trained chef who had been working in the Antarctic for the past 3 months)....

........and his best buddy Bonzai (he's a little fella) along with Peter from the US who is now a business owner in Vietnam and last but not least, well maybe a little bit 'least', a 'sponge rider' called Mark from the Isle of Man.

We also had young Additya with us, one of Franky's helpers. To cut a long travel story short, it took a total of 12 hours from leaving the hostel to get to where we were going. Fast craft, little bus and finally another boat through the backwaters and mangroves to get to our island accommodation.

There had been plenty of hanging around due to failing logistics, although by Indonesian standards Franky's efforts could have been classed as a blazing success! To Franky's surprise another group were already residing at our Surf camp, but there were plenty of rooms and beds so all was good.

I checked out the awesome beach.... This was quite the place....

The following day we rose with baited breath.  Beng Beng, the reef break straight out from the beach wasn't working. Sad faces all around, but we had a boat to take us out.... Or did we? No we didn't. The boat had gone back to the main island to pick up supplies and wouldn't be back for the day. There was a little grumpiness amongst the crew, but no one said anything. This was an expensive trip without losing a day on the water, the second day we had no boat either as it had to do a pick up from the main island.... Now Peter and I were disgruntled. We decided that it was only fare that we receive at least a refund of boat fuel for the days lost.... But just in case there were more days lost we would wait until the penultimate day to raise our disappointment. If this had been elsewhere other than Indonesia, I think I'd have been looking for one fifth of the money back, as we were there to ride waves and there we were with no transport to do so.... But hey ho, this is Indonesia so you have to roll with the punches.

On that second morning Beng Beng was flat again. So with no boat Peter, Bonzai and I decided to join the other group and walk an hour to another break called Nypussi. Maybe it was catching swell, but I wasn't holding my breath.

As we walked along the beach...

Through the shaded palms and foliage...

Along more beach...

Through more palms....

An hour later we arrived..... and WOW!!! I mean WOWWWWWW!!!!! It was absolutely pumping, throwing solid 4 to 5 foot waves through with the odd 6 foot.... Big, clean and delightful.  Now for those who don't ride waves the 4 to 5 foot I mention this isn't the face of the wave, this is the back of the wave measured from the surface. These waves were hefty, fruity and hollow on the end section, which meant I could chase some barrels (get inside the hollow section of the wave as the crest folds/loops over on to the face of the wave). We had an awesome and tiring couple of hours. I'd clipped the coral reef a couple of times whilst riding too shallow chasing cover ups, and managed a couple of tiny, but stinging lacerations.... But all was good. The old dog of a bodyboard was holding out and performing well. It seemed totally at home in these solid Indo waves. An hour in and my leash came away from my board as I was  being beaten up by one of the bigger waves.... Swimming in is never fun when there's big swell trying to smash you on to the reef. Half an hour of repairs and I was back out on the water again. There were only 11 people out on that session, there were plenty of waves for everyone! The walk back felt like a slog, but with the waves still fresh in my mind it passed by fairly quickly. Ricky who hadn't been feeling great that morning had stayed back and prepared a lunchtime feast for us all.  That afternoon he went out spearfishing and caught us all dinner! The guy is a legend and a hell of a chef! He taught the girls in the kitchen a thing or two (about food!!!). They learned a lot from Ricky. It wasn't his job to prepare food, but he couldn't help himself. And we were all overjoyed for this!

With use of our surf boat we managed a few smaller sessions (smaller waves) at Four Bobs and A-Frame.... We even got our own reef break, Beng Beng working....

I managed to slash my heel, ankle and fingers on the reef at Pussies whilst chasing stupidly shallow barrels. The really annoying thing was that the wave that turned me over was pretty small too, but even the small sets have the power to injure you here in Indonesia.  This is mainly due to the shallowness of the water and the sharpness of the reef.

Then a short lived session at Four Bobs picked up and sent a few decent waves through!

Our evenings were filled with laughter, Scrabble, relaxing and eating. These guys were great company. As were the members of the other group. Brian, Danny, Ricky, Peter and I played a lot of Scrabble.... Non-native English speaking Ricky won the first game! Ha ha! As I said, 'legend'.

Each afternoon/evening I'd wander the beach with or without my fishing rod. I caught a couple of small fish (not really justifying the cost of the fishing gear I'd purchased), one which came back for the pot, but most of the time was spent taking in the vista, breathing in the air and dipping back in to the warm waters. It really was a beautiful spot.  

On day 8 our group became one less when Peter left to catch a flight to Vietnam....

The following day, our last day in search of waves we headed out with hope in our hearts... The boat bounced it's way to Four Bobs, but for some reason the break was tiny... The guys played for a while before getting bored, I watched from the boat, there was no fun for me in tiny waves.

We headed across to A-Frames (a few days earlier when A-frames looked good we were warned away due to the presence of a group of bull sharks working the reef) where the waves were okay but not really playing ball. We headed across to a tiny patch of paradise for lunch.  The boat was anchored to a chunk of rock, we jumped overboard and walked ashore onto the white sands of Snake Island to relax and eat lunch.

After eating Ricky grabbed his spear gun once again and went fishing whilst Bonzai and I chilled.

We decided to drop back via Nypussi to see if there was any more swell that side. We weren't expecting anything, but as we approached we could already see that a huge swell was hitting the reef. There was no one in. I tried to convince everyone to get in for a few minutes just to grab a wave, to see if it was doable, but I wasn't convincing enough. I have to say it was looking a tad dangerous.... So we moved across to Bank Vaults, which we knew would be big, powerful, barrelling and out of our league.... But as we sat watching it in all it's glory I was once again tempted to get in and just catch one wave, one huge barrelling leviathan for the most awesome of bodyboarding photographs. I was nervous, but thought I could do it... 'Hospital' said Franky.... Hmmmm maybe he was right, and hospital was at least 10 hours away, at least 10 hours!

We moved along the coast a little more and stopped at the infamous Ebays which hadn't worked in over 3 weeks but this evening there it was pumping the length of the reef.  Wow!!!  At this time of the year you have to be lucky to see Ebays working.  Apparently it only works once or twice each month.  Ricky and I jumped in, no questions asked. The skipper of the boat thought we were insane. He wondered why we weren't willing to get in at Nypussi, but here at Ebay's a shallower, faster more dangerous wave Ricky, Bonzai and Addit were now all jumping over board and paddling towards a pretty insane looking break. This was going to be fun!

We watched the waves do their things as we paddled towards the break.  There were four of us.  This was going to be perfect!

The waves at Ebay's build slowly then wall up fast powering and barrelling their way along the edge of the shallow reef. It was definitely dangerous.

My first wave went a little wrong and I almost ended up getting smashed against the two foreground rocks!

But the second wave.... Wow.... I was riding the most breathtakingly fast wall of water I had ever had the pleasure, exhilaration and nervousness to ride.

I could feel the wave barrelling just over my back and shoulder, I could see the curl of the crest in the top left corner of my eye, and it's here that I'd normally drag my fins to slow myself down to allow myself right inside the wave, but not today, not here. I didn't dare drag my fins, I was fearful of losing too much speed and being smashed to bits on the reef. This was the fastest wave I had ever ridden, it also turned out to be the longest and most exhilarating! That particular wave was up there with my top three waves ever.... It was incredible.... All the guys caught incredible waves... With little Bonzai getting a lovely stand up barrel. On my third wave I almost rode over Ricky as he surfaced from his previous ride. He said what allowed him to duck out of my way was whooping, hollering and screaming he heard.

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He said I sounded like a girl at a Justin Beiber concert. I couldn't stop whooping the entire ride. This time I knew the wall of water was going to hold up so the concern I had suffered on the previous bigger, heavier wave was no longer present. This one was also an absolute belter.

A few more waves later and I was riding a less sizeable wave, but Tommy (the skipper) was using Ricky's camera from the shoreline and he captured me on this one.... I was tearing along the face, superfast, having a whale of a time when I realised things were about to go horribly wrong.... And they did.

The wave ate me up, dragged me up in to it's belly, rolled me up to the top and then spat me head first on the rocks and coral... CRUNCH!

I was underwater unable to work out which way was up until my head cracked in to the bottom. I felt the sharp, dead coral break against my skull, softening the overall impact. Then my arm then my ankle hit the reef... I resurfaced. Bugger!

My leash had cut on the reef and my board was floating shoreward.... I swam out past the waves and around the break to get to shore. I was knackered by the time I staggered up on to the beach. Franky met me and asked if I was okay, he was carrying my board. I was out of breath but grinning like a Cheshire cat. My scalp was a bit bloody, along with my left arm, but other than these scrapes, and a slight headache I was totally full of adrenaline and exhilaration. An epic session to finish our trip.

This was an amazing adventure, and although my really awesome rides probably worked out at about £75.00 per wave I had an incredible time. Thanks to Ricky, Peter and Bonzai for being absolute legends, and Franky for trying his best with the logistics and last but not least young Addit for stealing a few of my waves.... Ha ha!

 Ricky... Tired... There's a smutty joke here, but I'll leave it....

Ricky... Tired... There's a smutty joke here, but I'll leave it....

 Bonzai leaps towards his best buddy.... Save me Ricky!

Bonzai leaps towards his best buddy.... Save me Ricky!

 Addit looks for a barrel....

Addit looks for a barrel....

 Peter takes a clean set at Four Bobs

Peter takes a clean set at Four Bobs

 Ricky bottom turn at Four Bobs....

Ricky bottom turn at Four Bobs....

 And me.... checking out a little wall of water over some very shallow reef!

And me.... checking out a little wall of water over some very shallow reef!

I really do hope we all get to hit the water on another Indonesian surf safari some time in the near future. Thanks for taking this 'Sponge Tray' rider in and making me feel totally at home. You're a top bunch of guys!