The moment you step onto the spongy grass, crack the top on the offered Bintang, and soak up the view over the home break, the arduous journey to get to the legendary Pitstop Hill is quickly forgotten. Froth levels begin to rise, and you feel the need to get into the water as fast as possible.
I joined a group of mates on a surf trip to the Mentawai Islands a few years ago. Whilst they surfed, I had a blast bodysurfing both the Telos and Mentawai Islands famous breaks. Since returning to Sydney, I’ve often thought about organising a bodysurfing trip. Fate often plays a part, and when Paul Clark from Pitstop Hill reached out about some handplanes, the idea pretty quickly turned into reality. And then 30 minutes later I had 10 keen bodysurfers ready to go, and the trip was full.
Pitstop Hill is located on Nyang Nyang, which is one of the five main islands that make up the Southern Siberut region of the Mentawai. The island plays host to five amazing surf breaks ranging from the friendly and ever-consistent Beng-Bengs and Nipussi, to the fun-park of Pitstops, to the more challenging world-class barrels of Bankvaults and E-Bay.
The first evenings bodysurf was extremely memorable. Coming from winter in Sydney, the tropical water, pristine reefs and sun setting over the water make for a pretty powerful endorphin rush!
The daily routine of life quickly defines your time at Pitstop Hill: wake at 6am, reach for coffee, check the weather report and maybe taking advantage of the local home front break to score some quick barrels before breakfast. Yes, I’m talking about you Jae Marr!
Pitstop have a couple of traditional boats used for ferrying you to different breaks. Its generally a 30-45 minute ride, and then a couple of hours in the water or until conditions change. During our trip, we unfortunately had consistent trade winds blowing. This is unusual, and ended up shutting down a number of surf breaks. Thanks to the guides at Pitstop, we still had many options to choose from including a new break (now called Coconuts, which is what it looks like with 10 bodysurfers in the line up), Beng Bengs, 4 Bobs, and E-Bay.
Lunch is usually back at the resort, followed by a quiet period of meditation (or maybe a quick nap), and then an afternoon session to finish up the day.
Dinner is a rowdy affair. Great food, the odd Bintang, and stories retold. Waves get bigger, drop-ins more outrageous, and barrels get longer. And of course, we had the awarding of the ‘Bloods’ shirt! When transiting to the islands, Jake R. managed to swap his shirt with a local for fun. The new ‘Bloods’ shirt may have never been washed. It was quickly made a tradition that whoever made the biggest blunder (or was observed claiming a wave), had to wear the unwashed ‘Bloods’ shirt for the day. I’m pretty sure we all got a turn!
“What’s it like bodysurfing reefs?” is a question I’m often asked since returning. In my experience, it’s a little similar to surfing slabs around Sydney. A good sized swell is important as the waves break a little deeper (giving you more clearance from the coral). I’m convinced that the water moves a little differently. Rock slabs and beach breaks are solid surfaces, and I find waves ‘bounce’ off these underwater. Coral is a lot more porous, and I found that water tends flow through reefs, not giving you that reflection force underwater. As a result, I was careful not to exit downwards off a wave. When to duck diving under a wave, I always kept my eyes open looking for coral passages to weave through, or to hold onto as the wave passed. If you were sucked over the falls, I would take a big breath, and float high rather than diving down. Anything to avoid being pushed onto the coral. Cuts don’t heal well in the tropics. As a group, I think we got off pretty lightly with only a few minor cuts and scrapes.
The Pitstop Crew were keen bodysurfers, so they ensured the breaks we visited were bodysurfing friendly. Some of the more critical waves were too fast. We experienced a big swell pulse midway through our trip and decided to spectate some of the more infamous waves. Watching only 1 in 10 surfers make the amazing triple overhead Kandui break was like visiting a Roman Gladiator tournament.
However, times are changing as bodysurfers begin to innovate. Jake Rosenbrock showed us that using his double handed Cosmic Transporter handplane from Ben Wei, he was able to generate enough speed to make the critical section at E-Bay, scoring hoots and hollers from the spectators and surfers alike.
How are bodysurfers treated in the line up? We found the experience pretty good. As long as you were respectful of others, showed that you weren’t wasting waves, and had a sense of humour, surfers welcomed you to the line up and enjoyed the company.
Here are a few tips for those of you planning bodysurfing trips to Indo:
A big thanks to the Pitstop Hill crew of Paul, Megan, Dylan, MC, Kieran and John for making our trip such an epic adventure!
I am now currently looking at a Oct/Nov 2020 trip. If you are interested drop me a line at email@example.com and I'll keep you in the loop.
Check out more content from the crew who joined the trip on 'the Gram':