The Indies Trader III showed up too
San Diego Last August, a crew of nine Southern California surfers -- seven from San Diego County, two from Orange County -- traveled to Indonesia for a two-week cruise to the surf breaks of the Mentawai Islands, which dot the coast of Sumatra, southwest of areas devastated by December's tsunami. The crew: Mike, Tim, and Terry, a trio of brothers from Coronado and Imperial Beach; James and Sutherland from the South Bay; Patrick and Rusty from Huntington Beach; Andrew from Coronado; and Imperial Beach surfer Todd Westfall, who kept a diary of the trip. Each crew member paid nearly $5000 for airfare and room and board on the Indies Trader II surf tour boat. "We're all here," Todd wrote in one of his first entries, "to surf the best waves of our lives."
Friday, August 20, 2004 Twelve hours from LAX to Taipei, another four hours from Taipei to Singapore, four hours from Singapore to Jakarta, where we stayed a night. Nice city. Humid but not uncomfortable, plumeria blooming everywhere. Julian, the ground guy for our surf-tour company, Indies Trader Marine Adventures, met us at the airport in Jakarta and transported us and our boards to our hotel. Nice guy, 50ish, Kiwi who's been in Indonesia for 20 years. Has an Indo wife and two kids. He told us the islands are a bit crowded [with other surfing tour boats], but a wicked south swell is to hit in a few days.
Aboard the Indies Trader II heading south -- the plane from Jakarta landed in Padang around noon. Mick, the cook and captain's mate, met us at the airport accompanied by an Indonesian crew member. We loaded all our stuff in two vans and made our way to the harbor -- crazy Vespas and taxis everywhere, no rules on the road, and driving on the left side of the street. Street vendors are all over the place. Muslim women covered from head to toe. We made it to docks where the hardworking Indonesian crew did all the loading onto the Indies Trader II. It's around 70 feet long and 20 wide. The hull's painted blue while the superstructure is white. There are four two-man staterooms, a main room for meals and movies, and a couple of bathrooms. It's all air-conditioned. Tony, the captain, is a classic -- a grizzly Aussie with a heavy, gravelly accent. Super nice.
Everyone's ruined with jet lag and we've turned in to our cabins pretty early. I'm bunking with Andrew.
We cruised 80 miles south overnight through rain, lightning, and rough seas, at least that's what Tony tells me. I slept through all of it. Woke up to a nice left-hand point along a small, uninhabited island. Tony says it's called McFright's. Mike, Andrew, Terry, and I are the first out. The others soon follow. One of the crew drives us to the break in the "tinny" -- a 15-foot center-console aluminum boat that is towed behind the big boat. The waves are lots of fun but difficult -- a very fast, hollow wave. The coral is two feet under the surface (sometimes less). And we all got some cuts, scrapes, and board dings. Rusty got slammed into the reef when his roommate Patrick cut him off. We all saw it and were shocked. Surfed three hours and came in for breakfast of muffins, coffee, fruit, cereal.
Second session of the day is with Tony the captain, who is a good surfer; Mike, who is an incredible surfer, though it's only been a month since he broke his femur; and Sutherland, who is a talented surfer despite the fact he's surfing on a prosthetic lower leg. Perfect surf, warm clear water, shallow reefs, and a comfortable boat with a large flat-screen TV for DVDs. Surfed five and a half hours today. After a dinner of Thai curry with asparagus and fresh fish, I crashed out.
While I was on board, some of the guys were putting around a nearby island in the tinny when they spotted a red flag. They motored up to find four Indo teenagers on a raft made from six pieces of bamboo held together by palm fronds. Their intent was to sail from one island to another, but their raft was sinking and they were miles from any inhabited land mass. All they had was a machete and a bag of sugar. Mick, Sutherland, and Tim transported them to the nearest village. One teen was shaking and near death from dehydration. As they arrived at the island, villagers came to greet them. Mick says he's "100 percent sure" they'd have died had we not spotted them. Mick says kids like these die all the time here and that life expectancy is low in the islands. A person is lucky to live past 30 or 40 years because of malaria. Tony, Mick, Terry, and James party outside late into the night.
Awoke to heavy rain. Catch a few waves off a small, jungly island. We paddle back to the boat and head to McFright's. The Indies Trader III, another boat from the same company, is there with a few guys out in the water. I'm bummed to see another boat since we've been alone so far. But the two captains communicate, and the Indies Trader III guys paddle in and Mike, Tim, and I paddle out.
After a while, our crew of nine paddles out and our first internal conflict erupts. Patrick has been aggressive in the water. Yesterday he put his own friend on the reef. Today, he's paddling around people, cutting people off, mushing out waves for other guys. Terry and Tim say, "What the hell, Patrick? Is this the way it's going to be?" He's apologetic and mellows out...a little. People are giving him the cold shoulder, and he paddles in with his tail between his legs.
Wind changed so we bailed back to the boat. We cruise a couple of miles to another one of the 13,000 islands in the Mentawai chain and paddle out at another left-hander called Moots.
Woke to stormy seas, rain, and wind. Seems like the typical morning around here. We motor an hour or so south. Terry is seasick, poor guy. I think the hard partying he's doing every night might have something to do with it. We end up in front of a big island -- low, flat, and wide, kind of like Coronado. Tony says we're so far south we're no longer in the Mentawai chain. Andrew asks him, "Is this on any navigation charts?" Tony answers, "Maybe."
Paddled out at a shallow right-hander -- never did get the name. Got a few long barrels, but when one tube closed out, and I dove off, I took a shot to the ribs from my board as I tumbled. It hit me so hard that the skin split.
After lunch we surf a right-hander across the bay. Tony calls it Meat Lockers. It's way overhead -- 10- to 15-foot faces -- with big drops, but it's rideable and it's not shallow. The waves are big enough for a guy to stand straight up inside the tube. I got out my 7´2´´ -- been surfing one of the two 6´6´´s I brought up till now -- and paddled out. Lots of fun, but I got pounded a couple of times. We all got pounded. Sutherland got the barrel of the day but broke his favorite longboard. We surf three hours, then motor to a mangrove for a dinner of steak with peppercorn sauce and garlic mashed potatoes.
The Indies Trader 3 is available for exclusive charter in the Mentawai Islands or anywhere else in Indonesia.
Day four, I think. Losing track of the days. Woke to rain and wind and motored among the islands looking for surf. Hit a spot called McFright's Rights -- three to five feet and deep. The reef shouldn't be a factor. Mike and I were on it first, but the rest of the crew paddled out and the Indies Trader III showed up to spoil the fun. On one wave, I got held under a long time, started to panic a bit, couldn't find the surface. Got dragged down the reef. Then I lost my $25 hat.
Some guys are a little surfed out and are fishing today. Caught a bunch of "coral trout" and had fish tacos for lunch. Talked a bit with Mick and Tony -- total Aussie watermen and protective of these islands. Tony says it's supposed to get huge in a few days.
Been away from the journal and missed a few days. Toured around some mangrove swamps in the tinny one day. Doing lots of fishing. Got some fun surf, but we had to share breaks with one, sometimes two other boats. I think I'd be seasick if I didn't have the patch. (You put it on behind your ear and change it every two days.) Even with it, I get a little sick. The Indian Ocean is rough.
Patrick's been sulking and some days does not leave the boat. He can tell everybody's unhappy with him, but I don't think he's smart enough to figure out why. We watch DVDs in between surfs, play cards, backgammon, and eat.
We're still in the south end of the islands, but we're no longer alone. Other boats at every break. Tony knows what we want and we motor three hours or so north to "Thunders." It's stomping big -- 20- to 25-foot faces at times. I say, "Hell with it, I don't want to die," and I sit on my board in the channel out of danger. I saw Tim, who will paddle into anything, drop into a wave -- must have had a 30-foot face -- and make it to the bottom when the whole wave closed out on him. I thought, "I'm going to have to go save him. And I don't want to because I'll get hurt myself." But Tim made it up okay. His leash broke and his board washed up on the beach. A couple of crew members got in the tinny and raced to retrieve it.
A native guy in a canoe paddles out with a bag of shells to exchange. We give him some candy, soda, and a pair of shorts.
We end the day surfing a spot called Rags. When I saw how shallow the reef was, I understood the name. As we pulled up, Tony quipped, "Get out the suture kit," but somehow nobody got cut up. We decided it was like Ralph's [a break on Point Loma] on steroids.
Woke up to the sound of gigantic Thunders. We took a look at Rags, but it's not working. Tony hears over the radio that Macaronis, one of the most famous waves in all of the Mentawais -- it's in all the surf movies -- is off the Richter scale and there are only three boats there. It's a two-hour cruise north and, by the time we arrive, the place is packed -- 15 or 20 guys in the lineup, four or five boats bobbing offshore. Andrew, Terry, Mike, James, and I head to the right-hand break across the bay called KFCs. It's big -- 15- to 20-foot faces -- and sketchy. I got cleaned up while waiting for a set wave, and it was one of the worst hold downs I've ever had. I was bear-hugging my 7´2´´ and still going down. I decide to hang in the channel and watch Terry, Andrew, and James risk death. I saw Andrew catch the wave of the trip -- a barrel you could have driven a car through.
Across the bay, Macaronis is maxing out. Tony says it's the biggest he's seen in seven years. Most everyone is spooked and won't paddle out. But Mick comes in from Macaronis and says it's really fun, that we should give it a go. So we paddle out -- it's dropped size from the 20s into the teens. Got three or four good ones. At least I can say I surfed Macaronis.
Two more days. Nobody wants to admit it, but I think we're all ready to go home. Two weeks is a long time on a boat. In the morning, we spent three hours on a perfect right-hander breaking off a tiny island in the middle of the bay, with rides a mile long or longer. Lots of fun, but the day is crawling by.
We were back on the boat by midafternoon, cruising north, looking for smoother conditions when we come across a boat adrift. It's an old wooden junker full of a bunch of surf tourists just off the plane -- their boards are still in travel cases. The law of the ocean says they need help, so we help them. We tow them to the nearest inhabited area.
Cruised an hour north to Playgrounds, a bay with four or five quality breaks within tinny distance. The bay is packed with boats, as it's the closest spot to Padang. Patrick is a total disaster. Rusty decided to paddle to shore to look for shells. Turned out he used the board Patrick wanted to ride. So, Patrick started walking around the boat, throwing stuff, and cussing. Then he got on another board, paddled to the island, ripped into Rusty, grabbed the board he wanted, and started paddling out right as a big set was coming in. He tried to jump over a wave, but the wave took him, pounded him into the reef, and broke the nose off his board.
Our last day. We're all surfed out, sunburned, and people are cracking under the monotony of doing the same thing every day. I'm burned out, quiet, and my back's killing me. Mike's leg is extremely sore, and he's eager to get home to his eight-months-pregnant wife. Other guys are getting into each other. Tim's kind of bitter all the time: "Ah, these waves aren't that good. I'd never pay to come back here."
After cruising past a lot of jam-packed breaks, we pulled into a bay with no obvious surf. But we find a peak with good lefts and rights. We named it Over Easy's and surfed it twice that day.
On the boat headed back to Padang. I'm ruined and glad we're heading for home.
Mentawai Islands - Surfing Indonesia On The Indies Trader