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SUMMARY
+ Top swell consistency
+ Light, variable winds
+ Variety of world-class spots
+ Year-round waves
+ Warm, clear water
+ Exotic Islands, unique culture
- Very expensive charters/camps
- Crowded line-ups
- Malaria
- Dangerous navigation
- Long transit times
oneill



Northern Mentawai Islands, Indonesia, EAST ASIA


No Kandui, Photogerson

Surf Spots

Promises
Burgerworld
Taileleo
Losmen Right
Pearlers
Beng Bengs
E-Bay
Pitstops
Bank Vaults
Nipussi
Pirates
Hideaways - Mentawai
No-Kandui
Chubbies
Karamba
Four Bobs
A-Frames
Rifles

The Surf

In a very short period of time, this wild and remote chain of islands, lying about 90k’s (55mi) off the Sumatran mainland, have become the most sought after destination for surfers looking to ride “the best waves in the world”. This bold claim is rarely disputed, as those who score a solid SW swell will testify and few return from the Mentawais disappointed with the wave quality and quantity. The key to this rapid ascension to the pinnacle of world surfing lies in the sheer concentration of truly world-class breaks and an unmatched flexibility when it comes to handling different swell and wind combinations. Being a degree or three below the equator helps massively, as the light, flukey winds provide a variety of directions unseen in other parts of Indonesia and it often transpires that proper glassy conditions bookend the day. Furthermore, the geomorphology of this seismically active region seems to cause unusual swell refraction and diffraction, creating unexpected waves round the back of islands and islets where none should normally exist. These coral encrusted lava reefs fringe a still relatively untouched rainforest and many of the tribal inhabitants of the remoter regions still cling to a traditional subsistence lifestyle, maintaining little contact with the outside world. Progress is unavoidable though and whereas 15 years ago, yacht charters were the only way to go, now a half dozen land camps have been established at the banner waves and many more are planned. This has led to Silabu Village installing 2 buoys in Pasongan harbour next to Macaronis, requiring boats to book in a week before arrival and pay a $30 mooring fee plus the $1.50 per head surfer fee, which are used for community projects. This limits the numbers to around 36 maximum, shared evenly between the resort and charters and stops anchor damage in the bay. This precedent may expand across the region if resorts can obtain the various government licenses. Threats to revoke charter licenses for boats not registered in Indonesia have been rumoured and would drastically reduce surf fleet numbers if implemented.

The hulking mass of Siberut presents a primal vista, with the hardwood forest shrouded in mist and it exudes an air of power and mystery, emanating from the mountainous interior. This largest island in the Mentawai chain has only been lightly surfed by long-range charter crews grabbing an opportunistic wave on the way to the Nias area. That means spots on the backside are more often seen from the northern tip at Tanjung Sigep, down to the impossibly sheltered Teluk Tabekat and out to the headland at Sikabaluan, but most will pass by like ships in the night. A good deal of the SW-facing coast is straight line reefs, exposed and messed up by wind and swell, but a few obvious jinks in the coast could produce a left or two at Tanjungs Sakaladat, Sataerataera and Simasuket. Many captains will have a few spots sussed for certain conditions and there are some mellow breaks in the playgrounds area that get ridden like Taileleo, a fun mal slide facing south, Pearlers peak nestled behind Masokut and a righthander round the backside near the Muara harbour. It is important to recognise that while there are 40-60 named breaks, many more are out there, being surfed by experienced captains who know the deal.

When to Go

The southwestern flank of the Indonesian Archipelago presents the perfect foil for the super-consistent Southern Ocean swells that constantly circulate the planet, unhindered by land masses. Sumatra’s angle is square on to the predominant SW swells, the latitude is just the right balance between long distance orderly swell and at the same time not suffering too much swell decay. During the March-Nov southern hemi swell season, regular 6-12ft (2-4m) groundswells arrive from the S to SW and occasionally WSW to due W, translating to a maximum triple-overhead at the most exposed, big wave spots, but more likely averaging around headhigh to double overhead wave face heights. The peak months of May to August show the highest average size around 7ft (2.3m), with July and August offering the biggest days, longest periods and a very high percentage of forecasted 5 star rated days. This is also the time when the SE winds dominate and pick up in speed. Early and late season often gets almost as good with less consistent, but equally lined-up 5-6ft (1.5-2m) swells, an average 11-12 second period and a NW wind regime that rarely exceeds 10mph (16kph). Glassy conditions prevail for a whopping 15% of the time and the dominant winds run parallel to the islands, so most consistent spots are offshore either on a NW or a SE wind, although there can be sudden squalls with strong, variable winds. Keeping an eye on the weather and being able to move with the wind shifts is key to maximising wave count and is another reason the Mentawais are so suited to charters rather than 1 break land camps. There’s also a chance of some 2-6ft (0.6-2m) cyclone swells coming from the western quadrant, plus locally generated SE wind swells may provide some waves in flat spells. Tidal ranges are only 2-3ft (0.5-1m) and the spring/neap factor is less pronounced here, but this will affect the many shallow spots where coral heads break the surface at low tide.

SURF STATISTICS
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
D
dominant swell S -SW S -SW S -SW S -SW S -SW S -SW
swell size (ft) 5 6 7 8 6-7 5
consistency (%) 70 85 90 90 90 70
dominant wind W -NW W -NW E -SE E -SE SE -S W -NW
average force F3 F3 F3 F3 F3 F3
consistency (%) 42 37 41 53 60 46
water temp (C) 29 28 28 27 27 28
wetsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts
Population
70,000

Coastline
960km (597mi)

Timezone
GMT +7h

Travel Information

Weather

The Mentawai’s have a typical equatorial climate with very high temperatures and humidity. Temperature variations are minimal year-round with a night/day range of 21-32ºC (70-90ºF). Equatorial Indo “dry” season is Jan-Aug, but frequent 1-2 hour showers can be expected, usually falling at night. Rainy season is Sept-Dec, which requires an umbrella or poncho as it rains frequently (Sumatra means storms!). The water is some of the warmest to be found in any surf region averaging 27ºC (80ºF) and sometimes creeping up to 30ºC (86ºF)! Old hands often wear white cotton tee-shirts instead of lycra to stay cool, since the lack of wind is good for glassy surf but doesn’t help with evaporative cooling. Night time humidity remains high so modern metal-hulled cruisers need air-con below decks while traditional Indonesian ironwood vessels are often open air, sleep on deck affairs.

Nature

The virgin forest, rugged topography, rare flora and fauna and a unique tribal society make the Mentawai’s an ideal spot for trekking. Neolithic material culture has evolved for 2-3000 years on Siberut, which is the place to experience daily life in an authentic Mentawai village. The southern islands were colonized far later (2-400yrs) and recent immigration has brought some modernisation. Eco-friendly tours offered by various surf and trekking companies are now doing more to benefit the local populations and the land-based camps are increasingly sourcing food and labour from local villages. A local government tax on every visiting surfer (land or sea) is earmarked to help create infrastructure. The non-profit organisation Surfaid International has already vastly improved health care by fighting preventable diseases like malaria, through education and mosquito net distribution. Walking paths criss-cross the islands through dense tropical lowland rain forest, home to endangered endemic monkeys (Mentawai macaque, Kloss’s gibbon, pig-tailed langur, leaf-monkey, snub-nosed monkey) deer, snakes (reticulated python, king cobra, viper), saltwater crocodiles and a range of amazing birds. 60% of the forest is intact, but logging and cash crop clearing threaten the local wildlife.

Hazards

The surf is intense. Be prepared for long hold-downs and nasty reef cuts; take a well-stocked first aid kit. Boat operators can provide basic first aid assistance like suturing, but any major injury this far from expert medical attention can be fatal. Only choice is one of Padang’s 3 hospitals, which were all damaged in the ’09 quake. Staph infections are commonplace. Strong rips are a hassle and the sea-lice can be extreme. Heat exhaustion can occur after super-long sessions – stay well hydrated and screened from the midday sun. Sea sickness can strike anyone – take prevention measures (pills, bands, etc). Rampant and very dangerous strains of malaria are a serious threat and many anchorages are close enough to shore for mozzies to attack.

Hints

Bring lots of spare surf equipment like wax and leg-ropes. In the prime season, bigger boards can help at spots like Thunders and Iceland, but not too long to fit and turn in the perfect barrels. Try to charter with a group of surfers all at the same level of ability. Avoid paddling out en masse when other boat guests are already out. A bit of patience will help the ambience as will avoiding the thought that “we were here first, this is our wave!” Sharing what is obviously a huge resource by surfing some of the less crowded waves will often be more rewarding than hassling for bombs at Lance’s and Maccas every day.

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