Going on a boat trip to the Mentawais is something that every surfer should do at some stage.
Many people expound on the spirituality of a boat trip, of how it transcends normal surf experience and becomes one of dreamy surf sessions, bonding with people who are set to become friends for life, through thick and thin. Getting such long tube rides that your whole perspective on life changes, that dramas become irrelevant, that your kind clicks into a new gear. This wasn’t one of those trips. This was a trip to get out of the freezing cold of a terrible British winter.
Two of my good friends came along for the ride. We had been doing all sorts of terrible jobs in London. Working construction, washing dishes, making sandwiches for old people and cutting lawns. Eventually we were all working for garden services, and working outside in frozen winter slush is no joy for a surfer dreaming of warm water and barrels.
We were obviously all earning pounds, but as everyone who has ever ventured to England knows that the inverse to earning pounds is that you’re spending pounds, and sometimes life becomes so hard that you don’t think twice before blowing a week’s salary on particularly big night on the jol, or another week’s salary on a ghetto blaster to make your dismal living conditions slightly more fun. The hardest thing about earning a foreign currency is saving a foreign currency. Still, we had been squirrelling away for a while now, had some boards ready, and were prepared to blow our savings on one amazing boat trip.
We had picked one of the best boats in the Mentawais. Our friends had used it before and had come back to London with tans and blonde hair, telling us about the amazing staff, incredible food, and waves at some place called The Hole. We were all a bit rusty from seasons in the UK, and descriptions of the death pits at The Hole were not really what we were looking for. Innocuous-sounding waves like Bikinis, John Candys, Burgerworld, Beng-Beng’s and A-Frames sounded like so much more fun for the slightly out of shape and out of rhythm surfer. We decided that when we got there we were going to hang around the Playgrounds area for a while just to find our grooves.
The trip from Heathrow all the way to Padang was a breeze. Our flights connected, there were minimal layover hours and we were soon disembarking on Indonesian soil, ready for our adventure.
We were picked up and taken directly to the port, and ushered onto our boat. It was to be our home for the next two weeks, and it was a sweet ride. Having done some homework, I busted down below and found a cabin with single beds before the rest of the party discovered that a few of them would be getting nice and snug in a few double beds.
That night, after a few beers, we headed out for the crossing. One hundred kilometers due west would bring us to the Mentawais overnight. After a quick chat from the skipper on dangers of falling overboard during the night, we soon passed out as the boat rocked and rolled.
The next morning the sea was still. We had all slept remarkably well, and had lost no one on the crossing, with all the boys using their common sense when pissing in the night. We were in a quiet bay, and in the distance we could see a left breaking.
It was so warm, and we were all in our board shorts already, in which we would live the next two months. Feeling like a warm-up surf would be ideal at this stage of the game, my mate and I asked the skipper if he would quickly run us over to the left in the tender. He obliged, and the three of us motored over, for a quick session before breakfast.
He stopped right in the line-up and we jumped overboard and paddled into position in the soft but fun little left set-up. It had been a long time between sets, and the two of us were ghostly pale in the turquoise waters of the Mentawais. The first set came through and it was a bit bigger than what we thought. We both got caught too deep, and had to duck under the whole set.
We repositioned ourselves for the next set. In the distance we could see lines coming around the tip of the island and heading for us. We were in position. I looked across at my mate, on the inside position for the first wave.
“Well….” I said.