All Photos: Seth de Roulet
Being a teenager is tough. Raging hormones. Spiteful teachers. Chemistry class. Fortunately, there’s always an escape to fantasyland. Sofia Vergara. That new car (once you get that license). But, mostly, perfect waves. Waves that break with mechanical perfection over coral reef. Waves that you can only reach by jumping over the side of a stately boat. Well that fantasyland exists, kid. It’s called the Mentawais. And as soon as you save up enough cash working over the fryer, that fantasy can become a reality. –Leo Maxam
At A Glance
Best airline: First get yourself to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. Singapore Airlines occasionally offers sale fares and boards fly free as part of your regular baggage allowance. Once in Jakarta, take a domestic flight — Garuda or Lion Air — to the port city of Padang, Sumatra. Garuda has stepped up its game in recent years; Lion is pretty sketch. They’re the guys who missed the runway and landed in the water off Bali last year. Yeah, might avoid flying them.
Best swell: South-Southwest
Best months: April-October
Best boards: You wouldn’t wear boardshorts to prom, so don’t bring anything but the most high-performance boards to surf the best waves on earth. And bring a coffin full of ‘em. Reefbreak barrels equal lots of broken boards.
The Mentawais are in Indonesia, right? Correct. The Mentawais are a chain of islands roughly 100 miles off the coast of Sumatra, which is a much larger island in Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world. If you’re confused, just know that Indo is filled with islands holding the kind of waves you’d repeat the ninth grade for.
So, how do I get there? It’s a long trip — a full day of planes and airports from the States. After you land in Padang, you’ll board your charter boat and make the overnight crossing out to the Ments (it can get rough; pack the Dramamine if you’re prone to seasickness). Oh wait, this is your fantasy — just take a helicopter from the harbor straight out to the luxurious Indies Trader 4.
This all sounds expensive. It is. A 10-day boat trip typically runs about $4,000 per person for an 8-10 person group. There are some budget operations out there, but a boat trip isn’t one of those things you want to try and do on the cheap, unless you don’t mind breaking down or getting sick from the food.
Wow. It’ll take me forever to save that type of coin. Are the waves really that good? Yes. They are worth every. Single. Dollar.
But I’ve heard it’s crowded. Sure, at the big-name spots like Macaronis and HTs. But there are so many waves in the Ments, from Playgrounds in the north to lesser-surfed spots like the Hole down south, there’s plenty of room for everyone to spread out. And, aside from the pros, a lot of surfers who come out here can’t surf very well (most folks who can afford a boat trip spend more time at work and less time in the tube). As a rule, if they’re wearing reef booties and a rash guard, it’s OK to drop in. (As long as you aren’t wearing them too.)
Should I worry about malaria? Don’t trip if you’re on a boat. Those little bastard mosquitoes don’t make it out there. But be sure to use that mosquito net if you’re staying at a land camp.
What about the cannibals!? They love the taste of tender grom meat. Just kidding. You won’t run into them in the Ments. The South Pacific, however, is a whole ‘nother story….
Where can I buy a present to bring home to my mom? You don’t have to go anywhere. The local Mentawai villagers will paddle their canoes out to your boat and sell you their handmade wares. Bargaining is expected. Just give ‘em a T-shirt to finalize the deal.
What happens if I get hurt? Good question. If you get sliced open, someone will sew you up, usually your surf guide. He may not have finished the fifth grade, but he can do stitches like a plastic surgeon. Be prepared to squeal; you’ll need to squirt some lime on it to kill any nasty bacteria, and it’s going to hurt like hell.
A lime? Really? Stop being a sissy. The more it hurts, the better it works.
Is there anything to do other than surf all day? Nothing. But after eight hours in the water, 10 days in a row, you’ll be too crispy to move anyway.