Mentawai Islands, Sumatra Surf Trip

The Mentawai Islands, Sumatra are home to some of the best surf on the planet.  It is also home to the Mentawai people who live almost off the grid in some locations, maintaining their old ways of life. Some of them don’t place the same value on money or ‘things’ as we do in the developed world, so life is very different.

There is a lot of history and culture there. But I wouldn’t say there’s much to do there for the average tourist (non-surfing activities). On my last visit, I got to experience some of that history there first hand, by what I think was ghost who visited me when I was sleeping. Really.

It was on the third or fourth night of my trip and I woke up in the middle of the night because I felt a big weight on my body. It was as though someone was pushing down on me, it felt very real and I couldn’t get up. When I opened my eyes there wasn’t anything that I could see or anything weird through my mosquito net. Just a slight breeze through my open window and silence.

The next day I told my hosts about what happened the night before. They also told me they’ve experienced or heard of similar experiences too. They said it was likely a ghost given all of the different wars and killing that may have occurred between the different Mentawai tribes in the area. That was my first ever paranormal experience, if you believe in that kind of stuff.

But back to the surf, all the spots break over reef and so the shape is perfect and consistent. The ocean is aquamarine and when the surf is pumping there are only a handful of people out. If a charter boat shows up, as they usually do, there’s enough waves for everyone, usually. The water is horrendously warm, at 80+degrees you could be in the water all day without getting cold. Days can get very hot usually in the upper 80s to low 90s depending on the season. Also, since you are near the equator the sun is super strong. Occasionally a thunderstorm might roll through, but if it doesn’t its only temporary. Same with the wind, it might get very windy which blows out the surf, but it only lasts a few hours at most. The sunsets are amazing and so are the coconuts.

Nothing like having fresh coconut water, especially after a surf session. I learned that the younger the tree the sweeter and better tasting the coconut water is. If you can, you want to look for green coconuts, since the yellow or brownish ones are or have already dried out and won’t taste good.

The first time I visited the Mentawai’s was about 1 hour by boat in the Playgrounds area. The last two times I went, I stayed and surfed in the Sipora area. The good thing about Sipora is that there are a lot less surf camps than in Playgrounds. But I know last time I was there, there were some in development. So things are probably going to change. Most of the camps would have satellite internet and electricity by generator, or if you were lucky and close enough to a tower, 3G cell reception.

It is a trek to get there from California. It takes a minimum two full days of travel. My itinerary usually is from Los Angeles to Tokyo, Tokyo to Singapore, Singapore to Jakarta, Jakarta to Padang, and then Padang to the Mentawais by ferry. Finally, after arriving in the islands, you take a speed boat from Siberut (main city of the Mentawais) to camp.

There used to only be an overnight ferry called the AmbuAmbu, which would take about at least 8 hours. But now, they have several fast boats that can get you there in about 4 hours. Just hope that there isn’t too much swell or you will be swaying up and down the entire way. Yeck. If you are considering going there to surf, it is totally worth it and I can’t wait to go back.

Recent news for Mentawai Islands that they have slapped on a surf tax to all surfers who visit. With this, they want you to wear wristbands. It will be interesting to see how they enforce that. Have you been to the Mentawai Islands, Sumatra?




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