By David Archer, 15th October 2015
Note: Abridged version available at http://www.coastalwatch.com/surfing/15118/the-best-spots-to-bodysurf-in-the-mentawai-s-telos
Every two years, some good friends of mine go on a two week surfing holiday. They’ve been to some pretty exotic spots, and this year I joined them for a fortnight in the Telos and Mentawai Islands, Indonesia. Dave, Andy, Paul, Pete, Rosco and Kent are old hands at the surf trip. For Chris and I, it’s our first time and the froth level is high. And I’m not really a surfer. I’m a bodysurfer. I plan on bodysurfing the reef breaks of the Teleos and Mentawai’s, and I haven’t a clue if this is a good, or very bad idea.
The lead up to a surf trip is exciting. There are discussions about gear, surf forecasts, medical kit items, boards … did I mention gear? My medical kit ends up being a good part of my luggage. The thought of skimming over shallow reef breaks wearing only a rashie and speedos has prompted me to put some effort into this exercise. If Murphy’s Law works, the bigger the medical kit, the less likely it is I will need it!
It might be 9am on a Saturday morning, but the bubbly promotions lady at the bourbon counter at Sydney Airport has no trouble in convincing us to participate in a Jack Daniels tasting. This is how all holidays should start. Then follows a flight to Jakarta, a flight to Padang, and a taxi to the harbour. The bush fires in Sumatra have covered the islands in a thick haze, grounding all light aircraft, so we board a ferry for a 16-hour ferry ride to Resort Latitude Zero.
I was pretty happy to arrive.
We wake on the ferry with a few more hours to go until we reach the Telos Islands. After arriving and getting setup, we head straight out to get wet as fast as possible. Adam introduces himself as our surf guide for the week, then we board the speedboat and head to our first break, called Easy Peasy (EP’s).
EP’s is a beach break that peels right and left. The waves are pulsing 3-4 foot glassy and clean. It’s a great way to start the trip – warm water and fun, glassy waves.
No-one likes to say they have ‘ripped the bag’ out of Easy Peasy, so we rename the break ‘Gates of Hell’. We rip the bag out of the Gates of Hell!
Choosing the surf locations for the day is a combination of local knowledge, swell size/direction, and wind. The wind can change often given the island topography. Today we check Ranga’s (a shallow, hollow right), Pinnacles (a spectacular jungle point break), and finally settle on Missions.
Missions (or Misho’s) is a left handed reef break right in front of an island Mission building. It’s presenting 3-4 foot fun glassy waves, with some larger sets breaking outside. We discover Belinda Baggs (pro long boarder, Patagonia Ambassador, bodysurfing advocate and all around good guy) in the line-up and chat to her between sets. Her grace and style are an absolute pleasure to watch!
The swell has eased a little overnight, so we head for an early morning session at ‘The Gates’. There is a crew from Newcastle in the line-up when we arrive, however they soon depart for ‘second breakfast’ and we are once again the only people in the water.
The surf ranges from 2–4 foot. There is not a breath of wind. Monkey’s play on the breach. I could stay here all day.
After lunch, we decide to chance a break called Bojo’s. It’s a bit of haul in the speedboat, however and hour later we are rewarded for the effort. The sun breaks through the haze, and we are score our first brilliant sunny afternoon. And Bojo’s is perfect. 5-6 foot waves peel left across a long reef break, with the shoulder perpetually peaking and the wave eventually petering out in a deep reef pool.
The water is a clear azure blue, with the swell breaking in deep water. Being a bodysurfer, I find this very comforting! I’m getting the longest, cleanest rides of my life and do not want to leave. Its only when I feel the fins wearing permanent holes in my feet that I crawl from the water.
Best. Day. Ever.
The breakfast talk now turns to the predicted swell pulse heading our way from storms in the deep south. The surf forecasting web sites have lit up, claiming next week might just be the swell of the season. We all start to get a bit excited! The strategizing begins! Do we head north to the Banyaks area? Do we stay around the Teleos? Or will the Mentawai’s have the3 best options? The Mentawai’s seem to have the biggest choice of wave, but there is also a bigger crowd. Decisions, decisions.
Back to the present, and the swell is really starting to ease. We decide on an early start to make the best of the conditions before the wind picks up. Pinnacles is the first break, and it is a picture. Named after the lone pinnacle of rock on the point, it just doesn’t get prettier. Reef, jungle, and spectacular rock formations. The waves are small, with the odd 4 foot set lurking to catch you on the inside. We have a fun morning.
Next we try Missions. The surf is pretty small, and this means waves are breaking in shallow water. And it happens. I milk a wave a little too long, and drag my knees across the reef on the pull out. The cuts are minor, but a good reminder of the different techniques required for reef surfing. Lime juice is used on coral cuts to kill the beasties that end up causing infections. ‘Liming’, even on small cuts, is not fun. Unless you are the one administering the lime – then its awesome!
We call it a day early, and head back for massages and resort life.
Easy Peasy / EP’s / Gates of Hell
We debate having a day off given the glassy, calm conditions. But you can’t give up just like that! We head to EP’s/GoH and have a fun surf in 1-3 foot swell. When the wind picks up, Adam suggests that it’s probably a good fishing afternoon.
Four small Barra’s make it a successful expedition! Pete’s lucky fishing shirt is an obvious winner. Ari (the boat hand who lives in the local village) is even more stoked when he takes the fish home for dinner.
Given we have only spent 2 hours in the water, we actually have excess energy that night. Assisted by the airport bourbon, 4 guitars and some frustrated rock stars, we manage to keep blasting out the songs until 3am. It turns out that Adam the surf guide is also pretty handy on the guitar. I’m not sure he felt to happy the next morning when he was called on to work. But then, we’ve all been there before.
A big storm in the morning delays our start. I think Adam performed some sort of rain dance the night before. He gets to sleep in.
The nice thing about the tropics is that storms come and go pretty quickly. We soon head out to a break called ‘Bum Cracks’. We anchor up in a deep channel just off another island paradise. Either side of the channel is a reef break (hence the name). You can choose either a hollow tubing right, or a mellow left.
The swell is a fun 2-3 foot, with the odd 4 foot bomb coming through every now and again. The short boards head to the hollow right, whilst I try my hand at the resort SUP on the mellow left. Having the two breaks splits the crowd and eventually there are only Rosco and I on the left. We both catch plenty of waves and have a ball.
By lunch, the wind has wrecked any nice swell, so we head back for a relaxing afternoon at the resort. This time the fish win, and the Bintang’s lose. Ari is not happy and blames Pete’s lucky shirt.
All eyes are now on the swell pulse that is due to arrive any time now. There are reports of nice waves arriving in Bali, so it’s definitely going to arrive. We do more strategizing!
The current swell has continued to ease, and we spend the morning at EP’s on a glassy, but small wave. It’s the day of the AFL Grand Final, so we pull up stumps and head back to the resort to watch the footy. And pack. And strategize!
It’s our last day at the resort. This afternoon we transfer onto the Nomad and the next phase of the holiday begins. The swell pulse has finally arrived overnight! We head off early in search of the best waves.
The first break we investigate is Ranga’s. This is a fast, tubing right handed reef break. Already, there is a crowd and the wave is pumping! As we watch, there are a couple of near reef encounters. This is a fast, heavy wave breaking on a shallow reef. We move on.
We visit JB’s next. There is no-one here and the waves look epic. JB’s is a left hand point break with a critical take off and a fast barrelling section. Perfect waves just keep rolling through. They are beautiful, hollow 6-8 foot waves with an increasing swell.
The boys all get amazing waves. One of the local resort managers shows up on his day off and shows us how you get deep in the barrel. This wave is perfection. He mentions that they call this wave ‘Dislocators’ after 3 people from the resort break bones. Hmmm. I’ll stick with JB’s.
My bodysurfing experience is ‘exciting’. The very first wave is a monster that rips my board shorts clean off. They lasted a nanosecond around my ankles and then they were gone. A gift for Poseidon. I have no time to look for them as getting caught inside today is not my idea of fun.
On the way home we check out the Latitude Zero home break called Depth Charges (DC’s). With the increase swell size, this wave looks amazing! A crew of Brazilian surfers are ripping up these fast moving, hollow tubing rights in front of the islands reef flats. A guy on a boogie is sitting in a barrel forever. You could watch this all day.
On returning to the resort, we transfer our gear on to the Nomad and meet our guide for the next week. Wal is one of the partners in Latitude Zero and a pioneer of this area. He’s spent over 20 years trawling through the Mentawai and Telos Islands – a more experienced person would be hard to find.
The Nomad starts the journey south towards the Mentawai Islands, while we jump in the ‘Boomerang’ speedboat and head towards one of Wal’s favourite big wave breaks called Sipika.
Sipika is a deep water wave that breaks a way out to sea. While swimming into the take-off zone, I notice that the size is really picking up. The swell here bends around in a large arc, looking like a huge stadium Mexican Wave pitching over and breaking. After only 30 minutes in the water and a few fast waves, the wind changes direction making it difficult to surf. On a glassy day, this wave would be awesome.
We head off to join the Nomad. When we get into the passages between islands and the sun has gone down, it’s a smooth ride with the smoke from the Sumatra bushfires creating a London fog like affect. Its s surreal and beautiful.
For all our strategizing about where to go, I suspect the surf guides have already made up their mind about our destination. They will take us where they know we will get the best surf experience. They humour us by ‘helping’ us with our destination decision.
That night, we steam towards the Mentawai Island group.
We wake up to a stormy morning near a break called Hideways. The break is pounding 6-8ft+ waves onto an exposed shallow reef with exposed tombstones. A small boat deposits a couple of surfers from another group. Within 15 minutes, one is washed across the shallow reef into the lagoon where he retreats back to the boat. Paul, Pete, Dave M and Chris join the line-up. They don’t have much luck either. A close lightning strike prompts a quick exit, and we are off to another break!
We head for Kandui, however the winds change before we arrive making it unpleasant. We head to a small protected left in the Playgrounds called Karangbat Left. It’s not a great wave in these conditions, and pretty soon we are back on the speedboat, chasing down the Nomad which is heading for the legendary Telescopes.
The crossing is a rough couple of hours in the speedboat. Andy vows to never choose to sit at the front of a boat again. and we’re all excited to finally board the Nomad which is now anchored off the legendary Telescopes.
Everything you ever heard about this spot is true. Telescopes is another gorgeous left that starts breaking in reasonably deep water. The wave sections and bends at various points. The sections are makeable and the bowls are steep and fun. The wave goes forever so you can sit deep and wait for the bombs, or sit inside and get the ones missed. The bottom line here is that the wave can handle a crowd, and everyone is happy.
We have 3 boats for company. With 5-8ft waves pounding through on a regular basis, there are plenty of waves to share. We make plans to stay a day or two.
The surf forecast shows steady pulsing swell from the SSW with a slight offshore wine from the SSE. It’s hard to imagine more perfect conditions.
It’s a fantastic bodysurf wave. You can’t easily make the initial section however sitting inside this lets you pick off steep A frame walls for some epic fast rides that just keep going. I’m getting better at positioning myself on these reef breaks. Not too far inside or you tend to get cleaned up and rolled across the reef. But not too far outside either as you need to be in the critical part of the section to ensure catching the wave easily.
We are in the water early to take advantage of Telescopes to ourselves. The swell has backed off a smidge overnight, and the glassy clean conditions at first light make this an epic session. We stay all day, alternating between surfing, hydrating, eating, (maybe a midday kip …. it is holidays!), and repeat.
Everyone is tired and happy by the end of the day. Sleep is good.
We steam to a new location overnight and wake at a break called Scarecrows. Scarecrows is very much like Telescopes with a little rawness from a more exposed location. Scarecrows is pulsing 5-7 foot with the odd bomb. The fun part of this wave is the curry bowl that forms on the inside, forcing the wave to become steep and then bending in an arc around the reef section.
It’s another cracking morning with multiple water sessions. The reactions to a bodysurfer in the line-up is interesting. A few surfers ask if I have snapped my leggie. Others comment that I must have drawn the short straw, having to film my surfing mates. Most are bemused when I say I have chosen to bodysurf. I’m happily surprised at the respect granted to a bodysurfer. When I get burned on a wave, it usually a genuine accident.
When the wind kicks in that afternoon, we head to the infamous HT’s.
HT’s is extremely picturesque and the swell is perfect. The waves are clean and a consistent 6 foot with some bigger outside bombs. There are at least 5 charter boats, and I count 30+ surfers in the line-up. The tide is quite low, and the take-offs critical. There’s a young grom who is totally ripping up the wave, scoring more barrels than any of the seasoned veterans. Kent, Dave and Chris head out from our boat but find it hard to get a wave. All eventually get a few rides, but not without consequences. Chris gets washed across the reef after not making the section. This is affectionately (?) called the Surgeons Table and is super shallow. He ends up breaking 2 fins off his board. Dave goes down the mineshaft on a ride and has one of his booties gets ripped off. Eventually, all 3 score some epic waves and paddle back to the boat smiling.
As a bodysurfer, I lurk inside hoping to get a wave that is not going to kill me. I can’t go deep as there is no way I can make the section, and I don’t want to end up on the Surgeons Table. I get one ‘exciting’ wave, and call it a day!
We steam on overnight and wake up at a break called Rags Left. There is a renewed pulse pushing through from the south, and the waves are pushing through consistently 6 foot plus.
We surf all day at Rags, ending the day with a glassy fire red sunset session. Word of the day was ‘Epic’.
The guitars come out that evening, and we do our best to ruin the serenity.
The pulse has subsided, so we head to another right hand break called Roxy’s. The swell size is only 2 foot, but it is glassy, clean and empty. The last 5 days have been heavy and adrenalin filled. It was a nice change catch some fun mellow waves with friends. Schools of fish jump all around us, sometime causing the whole face of oncoming waves to shimmer. We stay until after lunch, scoring multiple sessions in the water.
After lunch, we head to a well-known break called ‘Thunders’. The wind had kicked up and there were a number of people surfing from one of the large charter boats. We watched for a while and decided to head back to Rags. Unfortunately, Rags was wind affected so we decided to retreat and try fishing for the afternoon. The fish are safe. Pete’s lucky shirt is now very unlucky.
Wal decides on an early assault in the morning on the popular wave, Macaroni’s.
The Nomad positions itself overnight for an early dawn patrol at Macca’s. Paul and Kent have surfed here before and can’t wait to return. It’s a popular break, managed by the local resort and village. They restrict the number of boats allowed on the moorings in the area, so we head in early to chance our luck. The speedboat stays with us, while the Nomad steams on to our next destination.
The waves end up being smallish (2-3 foot) but great fun, with the odd larger set sweeping through. The problem with the smaller waves is that they break in shallower water, and at times you get reminded by this with a scrape across the knees on a late pull-out. There is no wind, and a friendly vibe. We stay here for 3 or so hours, before motoring off to join the Nomad at the legendary ‘Lances Left’.
Lances Left is another famous wave that works nicely with a southerly swell. The wave has a number of sections that traverse a shallow reef section, ending up in a deeper water pool. Today, the waves are 2-3 foot, with the odd 5 foot set catching people off guard out wide.
We happily surf here until the afternoon.
It’s a beautiful day, and we start the journey towards Padang for our flight out. After stopping for a look at HT’s (which is considerably smaller than earlier in the week), we steam through a large school of sailfish leaping out of the water, then a large school of dolphins bow surf the Nomad for a good 10 minutes.
Our holiday is over, and tomorrow we start the long journey home. Our bodies are tired from a minimum of 6 hours of water time per day. The prescription anti-Inflammatories are now like gold. Already, we are starting to plan the next trip. I take this as a pretty good indicator of an epic holiday. That you can go away with 7 friends for 2 weeks, live in the close confines of a communal bunk room boat, and be seriously planning the next trip on the last day. That says it all.As a bodysurfing experiment, I am stoked. I had no idea at the beginning of the trip how many breaks I could manage. I threw away the surfboard after one day and bodysurfed every break. I was often asked by other surfers ‘Have you snapped your leggie?’, or ‘Did you draw the short straw and have to film your mates?’. I think most were surprised and bemused to hear I was there voluntarily to bodysurf. I had some epic waves – some of the best I have ever ridden. I will definitely be back.
Comments will be approved before showing up.