Passion Comes in Waves


Let us never forget that the Mentawai Islands and her magnificient waves lay in wait for us all. Haunting us. Like a monster under the bed, she is always on the edge of our consciousness. Ready to gobble us up in her life changing waves. And though she gives thousands of us our best fireside stories, here is her story. Of just who she is.

From the Encyclopedia of Surfing:

Located 75 miles off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, scant degrees below the equator; the Mentawai Islands are considered to be the world’s richest wave zone. The 200-mile-long Mentawais consist of four main islands, Siberut (a national preserve), Sipura, North Pagai, and South Pagai, along with dozens of smaller islets, most of which are populated by animistic tribesmen.

The May-to-September dry season is the best time for surf in the Mentawai, as the islands receive frequent four to six-foot waves generated from storms tracking across the Indian Ocean’s Roaring 40s and inexhaustible two to four-foot waves from smaller, closer storms. The October-to-April wet season brings smaller waves and intermittent stormy weather. Average daytime air and water temperatures remain in the low ‘80s all year. The Mentawaian surf takes shape along the dozens of perfectly tapered coral-lined lava reefs around the islands. Two of the area’s best-known breaks are Lance’s Rights, a shifting, tubing, dangerously shallow wave located at the south end of Sipura; and Macaroni’s, a mechanical left tube that has been described as the world’s best high-performance wave. Reef cuts and scrapes are the most common Mentawaian surf hazard; malaria is a risk for anyone on land.

Australian teenage surfers Scott Wakefield, Chris Goodnow, and Tony Fitzpatrick, all from Sydney, boated out to the Mentawais in 1980, camped for five weeks, surfed more than a half-dozen breaks, including Macaroni’s, and didn’t tell anybody about their discovery for years. Australian salvage diver and boat captain Martin Daly, working out of Jakarta, began trolling through the Mentawais in 1989 and 1990, and over the next year rode a handful of world-class surf spots, including what would later be called Lance’s Rights, named after New South Wales surf traveler Lance Knight, who was dropped off on Sipura one month prior to Daly’s arrival in 1990.

The following year, after Daly began telling others about the newly discovered surfing paradise, a group of famous surfers, including former world champions Tom Carroll and Martin Potter, visited the Mentawai. The Carroll/Potter visit went all but unreported in the surf press, but word was spreading nonetheless, and by 1994 the first surf charter tour boats were taking groups of surfers out to the Mentawai on 12-day excursions. More breaks were discovered and photographers and videographers began feeding a stream of ravishing Mentawaian images to the surf media. The surf charter tour outfits, primarily Great Breaks International and the Surf Travel Company, began looping constantly from Sumatra to the Mentawais during the dry season, while sparring among themselves for exclusive reef-use rights and engaging in endless political dealings with Indonesian officials and politicians.

By the early 2000s, as many as 30 surf charter boats were circulating through the Mentawais, carrying an aggregate total of hundreds surfers at any given time. A berth on a 12-day budget charter boat, can cost about $3,000; slots on a plush air- conditioned cruiser cost as much as $6,000. A number of land-based surf camps were in operation as of the mid 2000s. The Bali nightclub terrorist attacks in 2002 brought a steep reduction in the number of surfers traveling to Indonesia, and it was reported that up to a third of Mentawai charter boats were temporarily taken out of service.

Ocean Pacific surfwear and Surfer magazine sponsored a $102,000 “floating” pro surf contest in the Mentawais in 2000, won by Mark Occhilupo of Australia and Rochelle Ballard of Hawaii. Both surfers shared their prize money with the other competitors. Sports journalist Rob Story, covering the Op/Surfer event for Outside magazine, was impressed by the perfect surf and the magnificent performances by the pros, but described the general push into the Mentawai as “good old surf imperialism.” Occhilupo won the Op/Surfer event again in 2001, along with Hawaiian Keala Kennelly. Though the ASP world tour has yet to hold a significant contest in the Mentawais, the Indonesian Surf Championship tour began holding events in the island chain in 2011. Eight breaks in the Mentawais made the cut in Surfer’s 2011 list of the “100 Best Waves in the World,” with the epic right tubes of Rifles coming in at #6. The Mentawai Island experience remains to this day a rite of passage for any serious surfer.