Surfing paradise in the Mentawai Islands

The Mentawais may not mean anything to the average person, but to anyone who knows surfing, it invokes powerful images and dreams of one of the most wave-rich surf regions on the planet.

While Bali is a great place to surf and visit, the crowds can get overwhelming and frustrating. Nate, my travel partner for this surf trip, and I figured that we should take some time to explore more remote areas of Indonesia away from the hustle and bustle of Bali.

There was no question that the Mentawais would be the best option for such a side trip, but due to their remote location and limited lodging availability, it also was one of the more pricy options. We went back and forth for a bit and decided that if we were going to fly halfway around the world, we might as well go all in and surf the best waves available. The Mentawais it was.

The trip to the Mentawais is a long one. Even if you are already in Indonesia, you need to block out two days of travel. From Bali you need to take two flights to the town of Padang on the shores of western Sumatra, just a tad south of the equator. From there, you take a 5-hour ferry that only runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays out to Siberut, the largest of the Mentawai islands. Then your surf camp picks you up from the port and it was another hour and a half on a small speed boat to the tiny island of Masokut that we called home for ten days.

We opted to stay at Beng Bengs Surf Camp, a wooden cabin structure with a palapa-style, palm-thatched roof surrounded by jungle in a small, picturesque bay. The place is run by a gregarious Italian man from Rome who now has married a local Sumatran woman with whom he has a newborn baby. We slept in 4-bed, dorm-style rooms with access to hot showers, lounging areas, lukewarm Bintang beers, and amazing Italian/Indonesian cuisine.

The lodging has room for about ten guests, so we were matched up with a group of three friendly Frenchmen from Reunion Island, a Dane, a Brit, an overly stoked Australian, three Italians, and our young, 22-year-old South African surf guide. Also bunking in the house were the Indonesian staff including the cooks, boat drivers, photographer, and helping hands. We were a big family for those ten days, surfing together, eating together, and getting Indonesian language lessons from the staff.

Then, of course, there was surfing, the main attraction.

Nate and I had both been daydreaming of all the crystal clear, ‘easy’ tube rides we were going to be getting in the Mentawais. However, we got brought back down to Earth once we actually got in the water, reminded of the mere mortal surfers that we are. We did get some tubes, but we were also humbled a bit by the power and technical difficulty of the waves. It’s easy to look at a video of a tube draining across a coral reef and think to yourself, “I would totally be in there,” and to actually make it happen when you are staring down at a reef that can, and will, tear off your skin.

The reefs are shallow and sharp, which creates some treacherous, split-second decision-making moments. Not every fall throws you onto the reef, but enough falls and you will pay the price. I discovered that on the fourth day when a failed backside tube ride rolled me across the reef and left me with a scraped-up back and knee. We knew this was going to be part of the price of admission, but that didn’t make it any more fun.

Regardless, we surfed for hours on end every day, one session in the morning, another in the afternoon. I worked myself probably into the best paddling shape that I had ever been in, and it’s amazing how fast you can feel your surfing improving when you get lots of repetitions in quality waves.

All in all, I surfed some of the best waves of my life and met some amazing people from all around the world. I definitely didn’t regret my relative splurge on the trip. Although, after ten days the isolation and lack of comforts that society provides start to wear on you. I would definitely go back, but I wonder how long I could live on this little island before craving something else. Still, good waves definitely help suppress that feeling.

Two weeks later I am still beaming about my time in the Mentawais. I went with the mindset that it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but now I am realizing that I should most certainly return. Hopefully, it’s sooner than later.

Hideaways, on an adjacent island, had some days of perfection. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get deeper on my backhand barrels.
This wave, Bankvaults, ended up being one of our go-to spots as one of the most consistent, barreling rights on our island. However, you have to watch out for the shallow end section.
I don’t care about looking cool these days so I opted to go all out on the armor with a helmet and booties. My body later thanked me.
There were a few turns here and there.
A mellow session at Beng Bengs.
The Beng Bengs family.
They cooked me vegan meals every day, even though I insisted I didn’t want to be difficult. I was blown away by the service provided.
First bad run-in with the reef, which at the end of the day, wasn’t so bad.
Hard to complain when this is the view out your front door.
Afternoon session hunting for waves.

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