Surfing in the Banyaks – Tales of Empty Waves
Mick Butt is the skipper and partner in Seriti, the premier boat that takes you surfing in the Banyaks, North Sumatra. Mick is a very experienced 38 year old who grew up surfing the southern Gold Coast point breaks, but swapped the crowds for serenity and a life of seemingly endless perfection. The Perfect Wave’s Ben Horvath figured it was time to catch up with Mick for a chat after TPW photographer and filmmaker Craig Parry returned from a mid-August Banyaks trip on Seriti with tales of empty barrels and some mouth-watering video and still footage as a proof.
Perfect Wave (PW) – How old are you Mick, and when and where did you start surfing?
I am 38 years old. I was born in Newcastle, but moved up to Tweed Heads when I was 3yrs old and relocated to Kirra in my primary school years. I could see the waves peeling down the end of Greenmount Point, now known primarily as the “Superbank” from the back fence of school and I loved to get out of class for a toilet break about 2 pm daily to watch the surf for 10 minutes. During my schooling years, I was tortured by having to ride my bike past Kirra’s perfect peeling barrels on the way to school.
My mum was a surfer in the 60’s and that enabled me to hang around the beach and start surfing pretty young about 5-6 years old with my older brother. My parents had a surf shop business at Kirra which allowed me to ride the second-hand board-rack, so I’ve ridden literally hundreds of boards over the years. It has been a great experience.
PW – What is your favorite break globally?
Kirra. Deep, long, spitting barrels over sand – through the 80’s and 90’s. Now I don’t think I’d get a wave out there.
So I’ve found the next best thing in the Banyak Islands with numerous world class breaks including the better known Treasure Island – a consistent world-class, long, right-hand point break which a lot of our guests say is the easiest wave to get barrelled on that they’ve ever surfed.
PW – What did you do before you got into the surf travel operator gig?
Quite a lot. I spent years surf retailing, ding repairing, delivering pizzas, shaping surfboards, consulting as a travel agent, I’ve been a restaurateur, an English teacher (in Indo), I did time as a chef on surf charters for 5 years before working my way into a partnership with my best mate Suzuki on a surf charter boat in the Banyak Islands. Now we have the Mighty 85foot “SERITI” together.
PW – What prompted you to get into surf travel?
I got my first taste of Indo at the age of 16 when my parents allowed me to go to Bali with a few mentoring guys, namely Jacko from Kirra Surf and Al from FAR KING and pioneer of MRS PALMERS WAX. I was hooked after that, and continued to travel constantly year in, year out. Indo was my main focus, but I went to a lot of other places also. I get stoked getting barrelled and seeing guys get the best wave of their life.
PW – Who is your biggest influence in surfing over the years?
Tom Curren for style. Thornton Fallander, the shaper and Nias Pioneer. Thornton actually shaped me some great boards over the years and he drove me to Lagundri in the mid-90’s. Thornton is a great mate, so I am stoked to finally have him on our next trip with a bunch of his mates. I ordered a special 6-channel swallow tail off him, hopefully to live its life getting slotted in the Banyaks.
PW – How has the 2014 season been wave-wise?
It has been a great year so far, and it looks like continuing as the Indian Ocean has been pretty relentless, sending us non-stop back to back swells. 2014 has definitely been better than last year. Indo is in my opinion still the most consistent surf destination in the world… year round.
PW – How have the crowds been?
Overall pretty good. There’s a few boats around, but given that we work out our trip schedule, doing our best to dodge other operators, we have had a lot of days surfing by ourselves. We put a lot of time into reading the charts, there’s been a lot of light variable winds and no shortage of swell, so we have enjoyed plenty of uncrowded sessions.
PW – Standout swells or weeks?
I would say the stand-out months were June, July and August, there’s been so many great swells. September is shaping up incredibly too.
PW – You guys are running charters right through November right?
Yes. We usually always do and sometimes through to December also. This year we are running our final trip on November 10 beginning at the Banyaks and finishing in Phuket, Thailand around November 26. The plan is to surf the Banyaks, then surf our way up the Sumatran coast. We have a few of our repeat guys on the trip and there is also the flexibility to jump off the boat early if the 16-day trip is too long to get a leave pass. There will definitely be no crowd issues on this one.
Generally, early and late season delivers less big swell in the Banyaks. Fact is though, we don’t need macking swells to get great waves. We still get swells at that time that produce head-high waves. We also have accessible swell magnets that generally never get flat.
PW – When do you kick off again in 2015?
At the moment, we should be looking at February from Phuket to the Banyaks. We have a few crew interested on this but it is not 100% locked in yet.
PW – What do you do with your time on your break?
The so-called off season is not generally off. We go to the shipyard and work hard on making improvements and undertaking maintenance. There is definitely some downtime for the occasional sleep-in and we get to spend some quality time with family.
PW – Tell us a bit about the mid August trip Craig Parry just did. Looks like you guys scored?
Yeah, they definitely scored as you can see from the footage. There was no shortage of swell and favourable, light winds. We had epic waves and managed to surf by ourselves every day. Not bad. Peak season and nobody around at the chosen surf break. Craig also managed to get the first “Drone Shots” of a few of the Banyaks uncrowded line-ups.
PW – What would you say separates the Banyaks from other regions – what are the points of difference?
The Banyaks are not as crowded as the better known Mentawai area, Yet, we still having a number of world-class waves, including Treasure Island. It is not too heavy and that makes it suitable for the majority of surfers- requiring only an intermediate skill level. There is no shortage of rights and lefts, we have them both covered. The majority of our guests are over 40 and keep coming back “treasure hunting.”
PW – What type of boards did you recommend crew bring on a trip to the Banyaks?
In the Banyaks, we ride our shortboards 95% of the time.. A lot of more fish-style boards work well out here, and I ride my 6’4” in pretty much anything. As the swell gets bigger and maxes out, we move on to something head-high and more perfect. If you want to back up the short boards, something 2-3 inches longer takes care of that.
PW – Finally, any other little tit bits of advice or tips for crew heading to the Banyaks?
Number 1 – Keep your wife or partner happy! That way you can lock in a surf trip every year, we all need that. We have double beds if that’s what it takes. Some guys meet their girls in Bali or Singapore before or after the trip, and that keeps the girls happy especially when you don’t mind shopping and relaxing when you are completely surfed out! We have pretty much everything you need on the boat for you. Just bring your boards and board shorts and we’ll keep you covered in the tube.