Two Weeks Surfing in the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

By Dan O · Aug 17, 2016

Perth, WA
Mentawai Islands, Indonesia
Main mode of transport
Aeroplane (Air Asia)
Cost per person
Mid range
A small island near Siberut

Dan in the Mentawais

Best Bits

Surfing an uncrowded wave next to a secluded island with your mate.

Worst Bits

There weren’t really any bad bits! I had an interesting experience on a ferry but you can read all about that later.

Trip Dates and Comments on Timing

March — Great timing.

Arrival Logistics

Flew from Perth to KL, then from KL to Padang. From Padang it was a big slow ferry to an island called Siberut, and then a smaller faster boat from Siberut to our destination island. Oh, and we missed our flight from KL to Padang but it didn’t matter because we had a one night buffer along the way!

Dan in the Mentawais

General Overview of Itinerary

Get up at sunrise, surf until we had jelly arms, eat, Bintang, sleep, repeat.

Main Activities

Adventure, beaches, boating, fishing, surfing.

Food and Drink Highlights

Eating a dog-tooth tuna that we’d caught that day.

Essential Packing for this Trip

I did forget solar res for fixing dings. Didn’t have a cap to wear in the surf which would have been good. I got roasted.

Dan’s experience:

It was unlike anything I had seen before. Everything that I could see, the water, the sky, had a silver, shining, metallic chrome effect. The air seemed stickier, denser but not in the normal humid way; more gas like. The glare spots from staring at the sun impaired my vision and the water was like mercury; heavier and slower than usual.

That strange and particular feeling one gets when travelling, and you suddenly come to a realisation of where you are and where you are not on the planet. It rushed over me. I struggled to place my significance compared to the enormity and timelessness of the universe and the tangibility of my existence slipped away from me for that split second.

A solar eclipse.

But not the usual solar eclipse, not one where you leave the classroom or your office to go and look at the sun for 10 minutes then go back to what you are supposed to be doing. I was in the Indian ocean sitting on my surf board, in front of coconut tree lined white sand beach of Pulau Masokut, waiting for the next amazing wave to roll in. It was incredible. It demanded my full attention, I thought of nothing else in the world except for what was happening at that exact moment, and that moment seemed to last forever.

I was in the Mentawai’s.

Dan in the Mentawais

I blinked, looked across at my mate Troy and yelled “can ya see it!?”

“Yer” he replied “Sick ay!”

We had done it. Life had finally got out of the way. All of the dollar saving, justifying to girlfriends, holidays from work, waiting on mates to say that definitive “yes, I am coming”, and in the end we just had to say “F*** it, we are going”.

Although the trip was only 12 days, it was years in the making. It started like any other surf trip. Boards checked in, flirt with the check in counter girl, beers.

It was 7:30am but it didn’t feel right to not to have a celebratory drink to mark the occasion. We marked the occasion a couple of times at the airport and probably 8 more times on the plane from Perth to KL. We chatted away to everyone and told all passengers in proximity about our upcoming trip as if it was a matter of great importance that they should be informed of. I think they were generally interested…?

The Mentawai Islands are one of the most consistent surf destinations on the planet. The southern Indian Ocean storms are pointed to these islands and amplified. The Indian Ocean is also a swell machine so the combination of big swells and the right wind creates a consistency and quality of waves to surf that has been said by many as unsurpassable.

Dan in the Mentawais

Couple amazing waves, with beautiful water, reef, islands, and beautiful, laid back Indonesian people and you have a recipe for awesome.

Any surfer or anyone that has an appreciation for surfing knows the significance of the Mentawai Islands, or at least the significance of crystal clear water above beautiful coral reef, white sand, coconut trees and most importantly amazing uncrowded waves. It’s a dream, a once in a lifetime (at least) experience that every surfer must have.

We land in KL and suddenly realise that we only have an hour and a half or so to make our next flight to Padang. We also realise that that does not seem like enough time to get our boardsand luggage, pass customs, then check back in again. A little bit of panic sets in so we jump on the back of a motorised cart designed for disabled and elderly people and tell the bored driver to gun it. We wave at the other passengers that disembarked the plane prior to us as the guy swerves and beeps his horn at them. We dismount, run down stairs, and realise we are screwed. The immigration lines are huge and seem to not be progressing. We jump in the shortest line and wait impatiently. We talk to an Australian couple and ask if we can get in front of them. They agree. Hope! We then have a larger group of men with Asian appearances in front of us now, lined in rows of 2. We gesture to the pair closest to us that we are in a rush to make our next flight and ask if we could move in front of them. We receive blank looks of incomprehension.

Troy is a pretty tall guy, 6 foot 4 with long arms. He uses these arms frantically and with a loud English speaking voice tries to explain the situation we are in once more. We receive less eye contact and their stares become blank and directed to the front. Either I don’t know what to do, am too drunk to think about it, or both more likely, so resign myself to miss the flight. Troy on the other hand is possessed. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out cash and shows it to me. “We’ll bribe them!”

I think this is a good idea and confirm this by saying with unjustified prejudice “Yer they probably don’t earn much”. More long arm waving, loud explanations and cash presenting ensues, but nothing. Either because of misunderstanding, pride or just the mere fact that they did not want to be associated with tall, loud drunk Australians offering money in the immigration line. They were not going to give up their position. We sigh and say, “oh well, f**k it, we’ll get another flight”.

We clear customs and race to the check in counter but we’d missed our flight by 15 minutes. What the heck - another ticket to Padang for the next morning, check into a cheap hotel near the airport, a few more beers and some airport food and hit the sack early.

Dan in the Mentawais

The next morning we board our plane feeling a little shady and arrive in Padang an hour later. After dumping our bags at a hotel in the main part of town Troy, not wanting to laze around, suggests we check out the sights of Padang.

Padang is the capital of Western Sumatra. It’s on the west coast and has a population of about a million people. Walking through the city saying hello to children and adults alike we are flashed with a million Indonesian smiles as we make our way to the fishing boat filled river and start to follow it to the ocean. Its about 35degress and 100% humidity so sweating profusely we buy a Pocari Sweat (the Japanese equivalent to PowerAde and ubiquitous in Indonesia) and smash it down as many hung-over and/or dehydrated foreigners before us. Semi-rehydrated we look for beers and walk into any little convenience store, hardware store or basically any store that looks like it has some sort of refrigerator, and with a rising intonation use the first Indonesian word most Australians learn: “Bintang?” We are met with many more “tidak Bintang” or “Sorry, no Bintang” than was expected but no giving up!

The new government legislation has made it illegal in Indonesia to sell alcohol in convenience store, and although still done in Bali, the bigger cities seemed to be following orders. Undeterred we eventually find a small store that had a few big Heinekens stashed away in the back of their fridge. Feeling relieved with a cold beer in hand we walked on through the streets of Padang marvelling at the curiosity and friendliness of the people and the degradation of the rubbish filled streets, dusty parks and waterways where they live. We make it to the oceanside where congregations of Muslim men dressed in their crisp, white traditional clothing for the Friday Prayer day are socialising and periodically attending sermons given by the Imam.

A large group say hello and invites us to join them by directing us to an English speaking mid-30 year old man named Anton. He lives in Padang and among other jobs organises transportation for surfers transiting from Padang to the Mentawais and back again. We chat about our planned trip and what it’s like for him living in Padang. Periodically the older men would come to chat and practise their English or to take a selfie with us. Indonesians have a great way of making you feel like a celebrity.

Dan in the Mentawais

Anton soon turns the conversation to religion. Our beers are running out and knowing that sex and religion are two subjects best spoken about when inebriated, Troy and I gestured to each other that more beer would be needed. Noticing this, Anton offered to ride on his scooter to find us some. Pleasantly surprised and perceiving an unspoken agreement for us to help him fulfil his responsibility of spreading the word of Islam to us infidels, and us needing alcohol to actively engage in such a conversation, a pact was made.

After a few hours, many beer runs to the supermarket for Anton and a whole-hearted effort from him to convert us to Islam, we parted ways with the friendly agreement that Troy and I, at present, were not willing to adopt Islam as our primary religion just as Anton was not willing to become Atheist. We thanked each other, exchanged emails and parted ways. We ventured back to the hotel, meeting a few more people along the way and content that we had seen some of what Padang was about.

From then on our trip was organised and facilitated by the surf camp we were staying at in The Mentawais. This suited Troy and my laid back/drunk demeanour very well at the time. We met Irene whose husband and brother would help with the boat to Siberut. Shane the surf guide - who lives at the surf camp - would take us to the island with two other guests, a South African couple name Rob and Steff.

We load up, grab some takeaway kway teow, and bus it to the port to board a large passenger and cargo boat, find our room for the night and head off for Seiberut at 10pm. Our room is a private room, with AC, toilet and a bucket, while most of the passengers are staying on the deck with bunk beds and thin leather mattresses stacked against each other. Troy and I walk around to check out the ship, find a lovely lady with a plastic washing bucket of Bintang and ice on her head and sink a few while watching a lightning storm flash over Padang from the deck.

We hit the hay with the gentle rocking of the boat for the 10hr ride.

Blaring screams startle me awake at 4am from a speaker that I hadn’t realised was 40cms from my head when I went to bed. I had ‘scored’ the top bunk and hadn’t noticed the speaker before, but the offensive, crackly yelling was something that could no longer be ignored. I have heard many morning prayers in my time, some are quiet and soothing, and if the guy can sing an you’re well rested than it can be a pleasant way to start the day.

This guy could not sing or chant and I think he probably would have had an intolerable speaking voice by the tonality he was cranking out that morning. Literally, his voice breaking like a pubescent 15 year old mid way through a note!

Apart from the prayer startling my brain awake, my bowels were also startled into movement. Movement that warranted some sort of relief but relief I did not trust to try when not clothed in bed. 6 explosive trips to the toilet over a 2 hour period later confirmed my suspicions and the kway teow from the day before was thankfully gone, never to be seen again.

Dan in the Mentawais

We packed up and disembarked from the ship on the island of Siberut. All kinds of chaos was unfolding as we manoeuvred our way through the people and cargo being unloaded. The jetty was completely packed with all kinds of stuff: noodles, building supplies, clothes, chickens, leaving only a thin corridor for a utility to drive in and out to the cargo drawbridge. At one point the truck got stuck between the point where the metallic drawbridge and the concrete jetty joined and could not move as one wheel was off the ground. Despite the 15 year old drivers attempt to rev it as hard as possible the tire would just spin and smoke as it bounced and hit the jetty. We joined in to help bounce the car up and down to gain traction as onlookers stood centimetres away, seemingly oblivious to the danger that I perceived. The car gained traction and sped ahead through the corridor of people and boxes, with no injuries to either, and everyone cheered and carried on.

We loaded up our wooden boat from the surf camp with boards, bags and supplies and sped away from the jetty. The sun was rising over the ocean as we raced across the clear glassy waters between the coconut lined islands and salt water splashed into my face as a pod of common dolphins played at the bow.

We were so close.

An hour and a half later, surf guide Shane points at an island that we are speeding towards and yells, “That’s our island”.

Dan in the Mentawais

The details of the island started to become visible as we got closer. Every cliché about an idyllic island paradise applies here. We see a small peeling left hand wave breaking over shallow reef as if in slow motion.

“What break’s that?” Troy asks.

“That’s Hideaways” Shane says.

We would find out later that it is the ‘local’ break of our island and one of the best waves in the Mentawais when the conditions are right.

We slow down as we approach the main U-shaped bay of the island, looking north to south the tips of the island have coconut trees stretching out over the sea denoting the tip of each. The blue water turns turquoise then a translucent bright green as we get closer to the beach landing. The colourful reef is clearly visible from the boat. The engine groans to a stop and the boat coasts up onto the white sand with a crunch. We jump out and feel the warm water and walk up the short stretch of beach towards the coconut trees. Troy, Rob, Stef and I high five and hug.

“How good is this!?” Rob yells.

I look at Troy and say “We made it bro”.

After meeting the Mentawai people that work at the surf camp, we all unload the boat of supplies for the next 10 days and are shown to our rooms.

Dan in the Mentawais

The surf camp we have chosen is the first camp to be established in the Mentawai Islands that an American guy and his girlfriend built from scratch on a barely inhabited coconut plantation. The people that live on the island now are only the people that work in the surf camp and periodically coconut harvesters will come and stay while they harvest. The camp is crazy good. AC bungalows, outdoor bathrooms with hot and cold water, flushing toilets, power almost 24/7, a games room, communal bar/dining/lounge area and gardens. It has everything you need, but I guess it should as it was definitely on the expensive side. As Mentawai virgins Troy and I had decided to splash out.

This was a first. We had a boat and surf guide to go surfing (or fishing) at any time we wanted so we figured we would maximise the best possible wave count and quality we could.

We met in the communal area and went over the island tsunami procedure (climb a coconut tree) had some food and Shane asks if we’d like to go surfing.

“Yes”, we reply. “Yes we do”.

We grabbed our boards and walked down to the beach as Rahim the captain brings the boat ashore and we load up and take off. We scoot around the island checking breaks, taking it all in and end up at a break called Nipussis. It’s a nice walling right hander, not too heavy, and a great way to break myself into the first surf in a couple of months. We surf it alone, taking turns and calling each other in. It was nuts to have such a quality wave that was uncrowded, staring at an island paradise and floating around in warm, crystal clear water. Troy and I would say to each other “Mother f**kers have got it all wrong! This is livin…”

Dan in the Mentawais

The next nine days were full of nothing but the ideal surf holiday. We would wake at sunrise, paddle out to Hideaways or take the boat to another break, come back for food, surf again, rinse and repeat this day after day.

We’d surf between 4-6 hours per day, sometimes 3 sessions, sometimes 2. We’d start early and usually end the day with a sunset session at Hideaways and paddle in at dark. The waves weren’t out of control massive perfection but they were challenging, a tad scary at times and at the very least absolute fun.

We pull into a few barrels, crank some turns, gumbied some waves but most importantly we improved our surfing and loved it. The sheer amount of waves we surfed in those days would add up to a year’s worth in my other surfing world. We’d surf the waves 90% of the time without other people, but sometimes we would share with locals, the occasional boat, or a few other surfers staying on other islands. I’d ding up a couple of boards, hit the reef a few times and rip up rashies or rip up my back but never anything too serious. I got more sunburnt than ever before and every day after a feed and a couple of beers we would be joyously exhausted and fall into bed with an air of accomplishment.

Dan in the Mentawais

We went fishing a couple of times, waiting for swell, and caught decent sized Dogtooth tuna that we ate for days. We would walk around the island, snorkel, have beers in the tower and watch the waves laying under coconut trees. A massive dead dugong washed up onshore one day, and one night a crazy squall hammered between the islands with lightning that lit up the whole sky and thunder that shook the bungalow.

Everything was simple. No work, no phone, no worries. The surf and the sand, the sun and the shade, the island and the ocean.

The last day we had two great sessions, caught some fish, played music together, got drunk and swam naked in the bay while a huge squall rained and thundered over the top of us.

We said goodbye and left with the feeling that we’d surfed, seen and learnt all we could in 10 days.

Dan in the Mentawais

We took two fast ferries and went back to Padang, ate, and headed straight out to the only night club in town called T Box which was hilarious.

The next day we bought Sumatran coffee and went for some hot oil massage. Minutes before the massage, Troy decided to drink the hot oil, not knowing what it was, much to the absolute hilarity of me and the two massage guys.

We jumped on a plane and landed in KL. We had an 8 hour stop over before our flight to Perth so we put our board bags in storage and went back to the cheap hotel where we had stayed on the incoming flight. We pretended we were staying there so we could use their lounge chairs and the 7/11 nearby that sold beer. Strong beer too, 9%. We drank and played music and spoke about all the amazing waves we had, we high fived and congratulated each other for ballsing up and finally doing it. The 10 days on the island were relaxing but also pretty full of activity and now was our first chance to properly reflect. A guy in his mid 30s joined us for a chat. Pedro, a Columbian UFC fighter, with Norwegian citizenship, living in Thailand turned out to be super interesting. We all drank together and chatted about all of the great things and the great problems of the world.

At one point he pulled out something a little stronger that he took a sip from, and being the kind chap that he was, offered it around. The conversation kicked up a gear. At some point he asked, “so what time is your flight anyway?”…

Troy and I looked at each other and we just knew we were in trouble. We retrieved a phone from a bag and realised we had about 15 minutes to get to the airport, get our boards, and check in. The walk to the airport was 7 minutes alone.

I said “Let’s go”.

Troy said “Even if we can make it, I don’t know if I can go!”

I think we had just remembered that turning up pissed to a flight was not a great idea.

Anyway, we went for it and failed by 15 minutes or so. The complications of air travel had bewildered us yet again. We bought another ticket for early the next morning had an amazingly good Malaysian clay pot dinner and slept in the airport. We made our flight to Perth in the morning.

I love that we missed those two flights because I like to think that subconsciously we were denying the need to follow a schedule, the obligation to be somewhere at some time, all the time. We were so focussed and content with what we were doing right there and then that nothing else mattered other than the moment, just like the moments in the Mentawais.

Those 10 days on the island seemed to last much longer than 10 days anywhere else. Hurling yourself down the vertical face of a wave with just a piece of fiberglass underfoot, being held under water as you bounce along sharp reef, being amazed as a lightning storm crawl across the sky as you swim naked at night in warm clear water or watching the moon pass across the sun as you sit in the middle of the Indian Ocean off the edge of a secluded island are moments that demand your attention, demand your presence, and in turn offer you a tangible connectedness to the atmosphere and what is happening around you.

What started as just a surf trip ended in a realisation I will have for life. And I will always have the Mentawais to thank for that.

Dan in the Mentawais

About The Traveller

Gender & Age Range
Male, 31 - 35

I’m from
Bellingen, NSW

I live in
Perth, WA

My favourite trip as of late
Two weeks surfing in the Mentawais

Travelling Style
Book the first night and wing it from there!

I like to go on the following types of trips
Adventure, 4x4, Beaches, Surfing, Scuba Diving, Camping, Surfing, Surfing.

It’s a dealbreaker when
Nada. Dealbreakers make the trip. The more unexpected difficulties the better!

Continent I know the best
Australasia / Oceania

First Last Name

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

I’m from Perth, Western Australia

My favourite trip as of late is New Zealand, solo travel in lots of nature for a soul-refresher.

My travelling style is to Book the first night, then wing it from there!

It’s a dealbreaker when I’m stuck around large groups of package tourists.

Continent I know best is Asia.

See profile

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