By Rob Barber and Anya Gilbert
Every October, we head out to a tropical outpost on the edge of civilisation, for 10 days of almond shaped barrels and empty line-ups. It’s a place surrounded by 28°C water, huge ocean swells and waves renowned for their consistency, variety and perfection.
This ladies and gentleman, is the Mentawai Island Chain.
Our old friend and top Cornish bodyboarder, Mark Thomas recently headed out to these Sumatran islands to experience them for himself and we couldn’t wait to ask him about the trip.
Where are you from sir?
I’m from Penzance but my main local breaks are Sennen and Gwenvor.
Where have you travelled?
I’ve done multiple European trips including Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands. I’ve also lived in Oz for 3 years and had 7 years living in northern Chile, plus my favourite; 18 months spent in Indonesia over a series of 9 trips.
Why did you want to hit the Mentawais?
The Mentawais was always the dream destination since the first time I went to Indo. Images of perfect waves wrapping around deserted tropical islands accessed only by boat. The place looked so untouched and the waves seemed insane. I hate surfing in crowds so the place just sucked me in. I travelled with a crew of 9 other bodyboarders and surfers from the Penzance area. We surfed around 10 different set-ups over the trip, cruising around most days to find waves, depending upon swell and wind.
What did you think of the waves?
There’s a nice mix of rights and lefts, some really hollow, others less so. Some of the setups blew me away just seeing perfect waves stacked up bowling around the reef for miles. The water was the most crystal clear that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Sometimes you think that the boat is moored up over really shallow reef then they drop the anchor and it’s at least 30 or 40 feet deep.
What was the lifestyle and way of life like up there?
Living on a boat at the end of the Earth was absolutely epic. Most of the islands up there have little to no one living on them. There’s a feeling of complete freedom cruising to the next spot after a hard days surfing with the wind in your hair, full moon rising and perfect starlit skies. Everyday is like a Kinder Surprise, as you never quite know what’s going to await you when the sun rises at the next spot. Almost everyone we met was super chilled and friendly.
Describe your best session and why?
Probably my most memorable session was a few days into the trip when we’d been having fun in smaller waves, and decided to try a new spot as the swell peaked. After steaming across some pretty raw open ocean swell with everyone standing up on deck checking out the waves in the distance, we rock up at this spot called Telescopes. There are no other boats around and only 2 guys in. The wind was offshore with solid 6 to 8 foot sets running a few hundred meters down the reef. As soon as we got in the other guys got out and it was just me, my brother and a couple of mates out in some deserted chunks of Indian Ocean. I got completed worked that session but I remember being out there thinking that this is what we came for; long perfect reelers all to ourselves.
What did you think of the sunsets?
The whole setup in the Mentawais was so beautiful, the islands, the clarity of the ocean and the light is awesome. The sunrises and sunsets are unreal; the way the light interacted with the clouds, the ocean and the jungle just blew me away. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
What was the highlight of your trip?
The 2 best waves that we surfed in my opinion were Hollowtrees (long, hollow right) and Macaronis (a long, hollow left). Macaronis is an amazing setup but needs a solid swell to get it going as it pretty protected. But that’s the beauty of over there as there’s waves for all sorts of wind and swell conditions.
What was the variety of waves like?
We had offshore waves in the head high to triple overhead range for the whole trip. Based on the fact we’d organised this trip a year in advance, which can be hit or miss, it shows that the variety of waves on offer are pretty amazing. Long, fast barrels, more walled up setups for carving around with less grunt, or shallow slabs, it’s all on offer.
Join us this October for a bodyboard holiday you will absolutely never forget. The world’s most perfect waves await you.