A Graduation To The Mentawais

By Dylan Slater

For your average ten-year-old grom, a surf trip can be a journey to waves that resemble the opposite of the local closed-out beachbreak. For your average 35- to 40-year-old man, a surf trip can be an excuse to relieve the stress of a nine-to-five job, a nagging wife, and runny-nosed kids. For Anthony Petruso, Timmy Reyes, and myself, our most recent excursion to the Mentawai Islands off Indonesia was sort of a graduation gift. All three of us concluded our amateur careers at the NSSA Nationals during the last days of June, and after battling each other in heats since our squeaky-voiced, cartoon-watching days, we all agreed to celebrate our official maturation with an Indo boat trip.

We met up in Padang, Sumatra with Floridian Phillip Watters and Hawai’ians Kai Henry, Makua Rothman, and Kahea Hart. Driving through the poverty-stricken streets of Padang, it was somewhat surprising how it’s grown into the base of interaction for surfers all over the world. All the surfers stay at the same hotel, and every surfer there shares the same anxiety to get on their boat and start finding perfect waves.

I tend to believe in the saying, “All’s well that ends well,” because everything that could have gone wrong in the beginning of the trip did. With cancelled flights, poor communication, stormy seas, and engine problems on the boat, we were left with a three-day delay before departing on the boat. We arrived in Padang just as a severe storm was rolling in and surfers who flew in overnight had horrific stories about their boat ride home. “I thought I was going to die!” said one distressed surfer. “Our captain said it was the worst conditions he had seen in his life!” This was not the start I had anticipated to the supposed “trip of my life.”

We boarded the Naga Lout, a 70-foot boat with semi-weak air conditioning, but a good crew. We named one particular crew member “Boner” for his around-the-clock watch for female talent on other boats. I guess you can’t blame him¿he spends most of his days in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of guys.

I think everyone on our boat will take at least a one-month break from fish and rice when they get home, because our meals consisted of those two foods so frequently. I was surprised we weren’t served a fish and rice smoothie by the end of the trip. Makua brought his fishing equipment along with his fishing skills, and he speared a solid fifteen-pound fish and caught another ten-pounder. Makua probably fed the boat three or four nights out of the nine nights we were there.

When we got out to the surf, our problems seemed to become very insignificant. We pulled up to the left as a new swell was hitting. Solid overhead surf left no one complaining. However, a bad call on not heading over to the right for the afternoon session left us with onshore winds and stories from the other boats on how good it was there.

We stayed at the right for two days and received decent waves with mild crowds. The number of boats and surfers in the Mentawai Islands was very surprising. On our three-day stay, we encountered five boats at one time (one of those boats catering to thirteen aggro Brazilians). However, the annoying Portuguese hooting and hollering seemed to become silent while driving through a gaping left tube.

All of us were fortunate enough to check out those left tubes every day, thanks to videographer Tim Reardon. We would plug his camera into Kahea’s laptop computer and reminisce on the good and bad waves of the day. Personally, I would get a little nervous during this time, because if he happened to video that barrel attempt with a lip to the head, you could bet that you would hear about it from the other guys. Kahea controlled the mouse when we watched the footage, which resulted in every one of his waves being slow-mo’d, which was fine¿it was his computer.

Reardon actually had some of the best waves of the trip, as he would be out there at first light whhen we were eating or it was raining. During a fierce squall, Reardon, Petruso, and Reyes paddled out, while the rest of us watched Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Sure enough, the swell picked up, the wind turned offshore during the storm, and the three scored perfect barrels. “Those were some of the best barrels of my life,” said Reardon, “without a doubt.”

After all was said and done, everyone was pretty worn out and ready to go home. It seemed as though there was no swell on the way, and everyone was disappointed that we didn’t score the stand-up barrels we had anticipated. A last-day miracle left us with overhead waves at the right¿barreling as wide as it was tall, sunny skies, and what photographer Brian Bielmann (who’s been going to the Mentawais since 1994) called, “The best I have ever seen it.” All the boys got their best waves this day. “It was like a really good day at Sunset,” said Kahea on the boat ride home, “except it was more perfect.”

The last day was memorable for everybody on the trip. Kai’s power gauges left everybody in awe, while Makua’s and Kahea’s barrel riding kept them out of the hot Indonesian sun for most of the day. Phillip’s smooth style and precise surfing made him one of the more fun guys to watch on the trip, while Petruso and Reyes both clocked into some applaudable stand-up tubes. As for myself, I don’t think I could have gotten a better graduation present: surfing perfect waves with my friends¿without a blaring contest horn for thousands of miles.