Mentawai Surfing for Beginners
I visited the Mentawai in 2013, and since then, this place has never left my mind. The Mentawai is an archipelago located in Indonesia, consisting of dozens of islands considered one of the best-surfing destinations in the world.
The waves here are fast, mostly tubular, and break under a sharp reef bottom. Many believe you need to be an experienced surfer to ride them… and they may be right. But depending on the size of the swell and the island you are on, even the most novice surfer can try his luck and make waves that will never leave his/her memory.
That’s what happened to me. I don’t consider myself an experienced surfer. Maybe more of a regular one, but there wasn’t a day I didn’t surf the Mentawai.
On my surf trip, I concentrated on the waves near Siberut, known as the “playground,” but right on the island where I stayed (yes, I chose to stay on land and not take the traditional boat trip), there was one that conquered me the most — Pitstops.
Warning: the Mentawai are not for learning how to surf!
If you want to have a first surfing experience on your next trip, choose a destination other than the Mentawai.
Although there are options for what we can consider beginner surfers, in no way is this an advisable place for those who don’t know what they are doing at all.
But what distinguishes a beginner surfer from a first-time surfer?
The beginner surfer has already had a first approach to surfing:
- He knows how to paddle into the waves;
- Knows how to distinguish a “left” from a “right”;
- Knows how to duck dive (go under the wave) or dodge other surfers;
- Knows how to distinguish a set wave and knows the priority rule;
- Can ride the face of the wave.
What about a first-time surfer?
- This is someone who has never experienced surfing before;
- Doesn’t know or can’t quite stand up on the board yet;
- Has difficulty paddling or duck diving;
- Doesn’t understand in-water etiquette or doesn’t know the priority rule.
The most beginner-friendly waves in Mentawai
As I said before, most of the waves in the Mentawai are no joke, but some can make the experience more accessible.
However, keep in mind that when we talk about reef bottom, the smaller the waves, the more dangerous they are. So, in fact, if you have more water, it’s always better for the falls, and usually, small waves break shallower.
That said, those who know me know that I’m not a big waves enthusiast. So at the Mentawai, I concentrated on medium size swells (when it was bigger, I stayed on the boat) and on waves that had a water channel (an area where the waves don’t break) so I could “escape” when a set outside my comfort zone came.
These were the waves that I surfed and that I think maybe more suitable for those who are not yet expert surfers:
On the island where I stayed, Pitstops is accessible on foot and can be a good option on small swell days. But don’t let the size fool you. The wave can be quite fast, so pick the one you want to catch well and don’t surf on low tide.
This is a wave worthy of a computer screensaver. It runs parallel to the palm-filled coast of the small island where it is located and has an incredible channel where boats stop, and you can get on and off the wave without problems.
In my case, I stuck to the inside (the section of the wave closest to the end) because it was easier to catch. You just have to be patient to catch a wave when no other surfer is coming.
Of the Playground area that joins six waves almost within paddling distance, 4Bobs is, for me, the most accessible. But, again, to experience this right-hander, it’s best to surf from mid to high tide as the bottom is a sharp reef.
This is a reasonably accessible wave for all surfers but requires some skill to deal with the crowd. It works almost with all winds and tides and therefore attracts surfers from all over.
Have you been in Mentawai for a few days now and are feeling more confident? Then it’s time to try Beng-Beng. This wave needs some size to work and is said to be best at low tide. Personally, I always prefer to have a little more water. It’s a fast wave, but not as aggressive as others in the area.
And speaking of aggressive…
Waves to stay away from
Again, all the waves in the Mentawai require total concentration, even if they seem easy at times.
It’s a bit like being in the desert and suddenly finding an oasis! They are mesmerizing, beautiful, perfect… but dangerous.
And there are some more than others. The following are the ones I advise you not to try if you don’t feel 1000% confident with your surfing and don’t have solid experience in the water.
Be aware that the nearest hospital is in Siberut (and even there, the capacity is minimal) and that the chances of getting hurt here are huge!
This was the wave right in front of where I stayed in Mentawai. However, I didn’t see it working.
It’s a tubular left that gets better the bigger it gets. The problem is that it’s super-fast and breaks in front of rocks, and at the end of the wave, we have water below the knee, so there’s not much margin for error.
For big wave lovers, here is Bank Vaults! It’s a heavy right-hand wave and works when the sea is huge, but it also works when the sea is small, but it is a wave with a lot of energy and requires a determined paddling to get into the wave and the necessary experience to get out of it before it gets too shallow. Those who have experience in this kind of wave can catch the barrel of their life here… but, if it goes wrong, also the scare of their life…
Ideal at high tide, to leave the reef very far away, Hideaways is a left that offers unbelievable barrels, often anticipated by challenging take-offs. The surfer has to have the skill to catch the wave well back and gain speed to finish the tube. Otherwise, it will always fall. Be aware that, when surfing with the tide out, the current pulls you into a channel between the islands… into the middle of the sea!
Kandui, or No-Kandui as it’s also known, is a super-fast wave that runs over a very sharp bottom. Around here, even the most experienced surfers can have trouble keeping up with the speed of this wave. You definitely have to be an expert surfer to ride it.
For many, this is one of the best right-handers in the world, such is the perfection of this wave. But don’t go by appearances because the wave is high-speed and only happens in “accessible” conditions a few days a year. So despite the perfect tubes that you can see here, the conditions (tide, swell direction, and wind) have to be perfect, or you will be in a real horror movie.
Where to stay
Most travelers who take a surf trip to Mentawai opt for a boat trip, as it allows for the mobility needed to experience several waves in a short amount of time.
But if, like me, you tend to get seasick on a boat and want to have other activities on your trip, such as hiking, snorkeling, or just lying on a beach, the best option is to stay at a land-based resort.
Usually, reservations include some boat trips (one or two per day), and this way, you can have the best of both worlds.
In my case, I stayed at one of the lodges on Masokut Island, which meant being within walking distance of waves like Pitstops, Beng-Beng, and E-bay. So once a day, I would take the boat to surf waves further away and spend the rest of the time on the waves near the lodge.
Of course, it all depends on your wallet. As in most tourist destinations, there’s a little bit of everything. From the simplest stays (and even of dubious hygiene) to all-inclusive luxury resorts. Do the math on your budget and decide for the best.
What to do in Mentawai beyond the waves
You know I love surfing, but for me, a trip has to have something more. It can’t just be waking up, surfing, eating, sleeping. So I stayed on land.
The days I spent in Mentawai had lots of beaches, snorkeling, and hiking. The latter allowed me to get a little more into the local culture, watching the coconut harvesting or drying the spices that end up in the local tobacco blend.
And speaking of getting to know the local culture, you can visit one of the Mentawai Indian communities that inhabit the Siberut rainforest. The way of life here is tribal. The people live in Umas (traditional houses) and subsist on what they produce. It’s also normal to see them tattooed from head to toe, as these identify their role and social status in the tribe.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go visit the Mentawai people in Siberut. But I certainly won’t miss it the next time I’m on these islands.
What did you think about this article? Are you a beginner surfer, or do you know someone who is? Share your opinion in the comments box.
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