As an owner of a surf travel company, I am extremely lucky to be able to get away a fair bit and check out some of the most amazing places on earth, and of course sample a lot of different waves.
As a family man though, it is hard to leave my family behind and travel to remote locations without them. So whenever I can, I take the opportunity to take the clan, or at least one family member with me.
On this particular trip I decided to take my eldest daughter Kali who is 8 year old for a little Mentawai family surf trip. Kali only just started surfing a couple of years ago, but she is an eager beaver, and already has the ability to paddle in on her own and do a few turns.
Our destination was Aloita Surf Resort and Spa in the heart of The Mentawai. Aloita has a great wave for Kali out the front, a real playful left. So with fresh new surfboards and our supplies we packed to assist a local village project, we hit the airport excited to board our flight to Padang.
After a comfortable flight to Padang via Jakarta on Garuda, we arrived at night to be greeted by Ronnie, one of Aloita’s ground service staff in Padang. We then checked in to the beautiful Mercure Hotel, the best hotel in Padang by far. The next day while I had a few meetings with Alex the GM of Aloita, and a few other local operators, Kali hung out at the pool with her new best buddy, Rob “Undies” Underwood. Rob is our head surf guide in the Maldives and loves to hang in Indo during the off season when the crowds are non-existent. There was a nice swell forecast, so Rob joined Kali and me on the trip.
To get over to the Mentawai, we took the overnight ferry to Tua Pajet (capital of the Mentawai) across the 79 nautical miles of ocean. There are a couple of alternative ways of accessing the islands. The overnight ferry is a pretty pleasant journey, if you have a private air conditioned cabin. If not, it is not that comfortable. The most popular mode of transport is by overnight charter boat which is also a relaxing option, weather permitting. Aloita also has speedboat transfers. The speedboat journey takes 3 to 4 hours depending on the weather. Obviously, the fastest mode of transport is a private charter flight or scheduled passenger flight that takes less than an hour. If you don’t like flying though, this may not be for you, as the plane is small and you can really feel all the bumps.
We didn’t have an ideal night crossing, as the air-con went down, and the cabin soon transformed into a sauna. Our arrival into Tua Pajet couldn’t come soon enough, but a memorable sunrise in the islands soon reset the scene.
The resort speedboat and crew were awaiting our arrival, so we jumped on board and enjoyed the quick dash to the resort, which woke us up quick smart. Our first morning was picture perfect with cloudless blue skies, and barely a breath of wind ensuring the ocean was pure glass for the speedboat to dissect.
Arriving at Aloita Surf Resort is always special as your first glimpse of the long stretch of white sand beach, and the long jetty protruding from the forage of the island, spells paradise. Our smiling, welcoming committee waiting on the jetty to greet us ensured the long journey was already a distant memory.
After check-in, we literally dumped our bags and immediately unpacked our boards, screwed our fins in and prepared to go surfing. A quick chat our guide Kahn, and he confirmed our suspicions that the waves were pumping.
So we loaded the speedboat up with boards and took off to Telescopes to get wet. The first surf on any trip is often more relief than anything, as anticipation and anxiety disperse, and you finally dive into the crystal clear, 28-degree Indian Ocean.
The waves were a perfect, 4ft and glassy, with only two of us in the lineup. We couldn’t help but smile and thank our lucky stars. After three hours of pumping waves, two broken boards and the first signs of paddle rash, we decided to head back for lunch. On the 10-minute trip back to the resort, you can’t help but stop and reflect on how beautiful this island chain is. No matter how many times I have been here, it still impresses me how amazingly untouched and remote the area still is. Sitting at the stern of the boat with Kali, wind in our hair, we were two of the happiest people in the world.
Lunch at Aloita is plentiful and extremely tasty, especially after our big night of travel and busy morning surfing. One of the best things about Aloita is that everybody gets to share meals, hang out with each other and chat about anything and everything. The conversation is mainly about the waves that day, or surfing in general, but with so many different guests from all over the world, topics can also get pretty diverse, which is great.
We decided to go back out to Telescopes for an arvo session, even though the wind picked up. When we arrived, the wind shifted cross shore; however there were still some solid 4ft sets, so it didn’t take long for Rob and Kahn to get in the water. Kali didn’t surf the morning session, but she insisted on going out now. After explaining that the waves were pretty solid and that I wasn’t sure she would be comfortable out there, she ignored me and grabbed her board and said, “I am going anyway.” Who was I to tell her hey? The end section of the wave is manageable for an 8 year old; however, the wide sets ensured she would remain anxious. After a few bail outs, I managed to push her into a few gems that had the grommet smiling ear to ear.
When you picture reef breaks, you usually conjure up crazy, sharp reef formations that can rip your skin off. However, surfing reefs is generally a great way to improve your surfing. One of the primary reasons is that reefs don’t move like sand, so waves normally break in the same place most of the time, usually making the take off zone easier to identify. I have seen it so many times: when someone who is learning to surf on a beachie tries a reef, there is usually rapid progression. Kali usually surfs beach breaks at home, and goes ok, but on a reef break in The Mentawai she progressed rapidly.
So with my happy little grommet, back by the boat snorkeling with the fish, it was my turn to get a few waves again. The afternoon session was fun, but not quite the quality we enjoyed in the morning, but we still paddled in at dusk extremely tired and content.
The day got better though, as Kahn handed me a crisp, cold Bintang and Kali a Sprite. The tropics are special at sunset as the sun turned bright orange on our way back to the resort. Happy days!
Most civilized human beings would head back to the bungalow for a warm shower and change of clothes. That’s what Kali did. Rob and I decided to wash off on the jetty and head straight to the bar for cocktail happy hour. The bar at Aloita is the focal point of the resort; it really is a massive drawcard.
We enjoyed some mouth-watering warm foccacia bread on the bar, and an endless supply of cold Bintangs or cocktails courtesy of our smiling Argentinian barman Nacho. Whether it is the pool table, table tennis, foosball or watching the football, the bar has it all. After kicking Rob’s arse on the pool table so many times I lost count, dinner was called. The assortment of dishes presented for dinner ensured I ate way more than I needed to, but hey, I earned it today with plenty of surf time racked up.
The next day I woke at 6am after an amazing 9 hours sleep in my king-sized bed in our air-conditioned bungalow. I was frothing to get back out there and surf the rights today as the wind shifted to the north and that was ideal for Tidor and Suicides. We smashed an early breakfast of bacon and eggs and a couple of coffees and jumped in the boat. We knew that it was low tide, so we had to wait for Suicides, a shallow enough wave at high tide, but we checked it anyway. It looked small but the tide was dead-low and the reef was exposed right down the line. We all agreed we weren’t going out there yet. As we took off to go surf Tidor, which is a mellower wave on low tide, some bomb sets hit Suicides and we got both excited and a little scared for when the tide comes in. Tidor is only a minute around the reef from Suicides. It was pumping with sets in the solid 4 to 5 Foot range. We were straight into it. We scored some good waves, but copped plenty on the head too. Tidor is a fun wave in deep water, but more importantly it’s a right, which as a natural ticks my boxes.
A few hours later, we bolted back to Suicides as the tide came in. The wave was a lot more manageable with at least some water over the reef. When we arrived it was small again, but we weren’t fooled, as we knew the sets would come through. We really wanted to see what the wave did. Suicides is a quality wave with a great barrel section and a running wall, but if you take off a little too deep, you will need to straighten out and lie down fast, as you skim across the shallow reef that is looking right at you with bared teeth. Last time I had session at Suicides, I came away with one of the biggest Indo reef tattoos I have ever received, so this time I was very cautious to not take off too deep and had a fun session. When we bailed, the local kids from the village jumped in and were ripping and hooting as we were heading back to the resort.
We got back to Aloita at about 2.30pm, and the kitchen still had our lunch ready for us as soon as we arrived. You have to love a flexible kitchen. As we have all had scored enough waves for the day, we decided to hang at the resort for the afternoon and go for cruisy late surf at Tikus (the house break). Kali the keen grommet pushed us to get back in the water, so we just strolled up the beach and paddle out. There is nothing quite like paddling out to get a few waves when the water is warm and the sun is setting while you paddle out with your kid and you are the only two anywhere in sight. We smile at each other and know right at that moment we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It was only 2 ft, but that is head high for Kali and she was on fire getting more waves than I could count. I don’t know if I even caught a wave, but I couldn’t have been happier helping Kali and seeing the smile on her face every time she paddled back out.
The next day we were up at dawn. We went down to Katiet village to meet some inspirational ladies living in the village, teaching the kids English and other water based activities like surfing. The boat ride was approx 1hr, so we hit it early and got down to Katiet at approx 7:30am. We were greeted by one of the most perfect waves on the planet, HT’s, looking a flawless 4 to 5ft. Wow, and it was as perfect as I had ever seen it and we all stood in awe watching perfect set after set roll through with nobody in the lineup at all. Kahn, our guru guide, was in the water paddling to the lineup before we even stopped the boat.
Although the waves were perfect, previous experience told me that at dead low tide, I should wait a while to get out there as the inside section was dry. My tactic worked perfectly, as we hadn’t just come down to surf HT’s – we were here to see Lizzie and Rachael from Liquid Future.
Liquid Future is a charitable organisation founded by Elizabeth Murray. She has been in the jungle off Katiet teaching the local kids English for the last 2 years. We were there help Lizzie fund the rebuilding of an education centre where they teach the local kids English and other arts etc. Tourism is the only real form of industry in the Mentawai, so working in the hospitality industry in the Island chain is one way the locals can stay in their home and not be displaced by foreign workers.
When we hit the beach, we were greeted by a few kids that immediately took us to Lizzie. After a quick catch up with the ladies, we headed off to check out the village and the location of the new education centre. The local villagers love having Lizzie around. They have donated some land and a rundown house where the educational centre will be built. It is a perfect spot in paradise, away from the main village. We are all very excited about the project and are starting to make the relevant plans to get started.
Next up we checked out the village and met with the kids that we brought the supplies over for. As we walked through the jungle along the thin concrete paths, the heat was intense and we all drip with perspiration. Kali was overheating, so we opted for a quick swim to cool off before venturing any further. It wasn’t long before we met the kids finishing school. They were immediately taken by Kali, using the English Lizzie has taught them to try and converse with Kali in English. Kali also practised her Bahasa with them. As we hit the village kids came from everywhere, and we were all laughing and carrying on with our new friends. Before long we were all holding hands skipping down the path singing a Beatles song Lizzie taught them. Language is only ever a small part of communication and with such beautiful kids that come from such a different world to ours, we all connected on so many different levels.
As we hit the beach to hand over the paints, paint brushes, sketch pads and stickers we brought over, we counted about 40 kids and so we all sat down for a short English class on the sand. Kali and Lizzie went through the learning posters we brought with us, and Kali started getting a little overawed by all the attention she was getting as all the kids laughed and carried on. It was a great experience for Kali to play and interact with the kids as they haven’t really seen a young white girl before. She was amazing, the way she took it all in her stride and connected with kids that had a language barrier. You hope as a parent that you can provide your kids as many positive experiences and lessons you can that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. After watching Kali that day, I am pretty sure she won’t forget the Katiet kids and now we can come back each year and grow older with them for many years to come. We can even spend time each year in the new educational centre and teach each other lessons for life. With our heart and soul filled with the amazing experiences we had just shared, it was time to get some barrels. HT’s was beckoning. We invited Lizzie and Rachel for surf and to join us up at Aloita for a few days. They didn’t need to be asked twice.
That afternoon we had one of the most perfect waves on the planet to ourselves. It was just us and a few locals kids in the lineup. It was amazing – definitely one of my best surf sessions ever. Rob gorged himself silly with more barrels than he had ever had in a single day. Kahn said, “I got the best barrel I have ever had at HT’s.” and that is from a man that has lived in the Mentawai for 8 years now. With the sun setting on what could be considered one of the best days of my life, we set off home with sunburn, reef cuts and an esky full of Bintang. We were a bunch of very happy campers indeed.
We were technically working on this trip, so it was time to get some marketing shots I required to promote and sell the resort. It just so happens we had two good looking girls, two tanned surf guides and a young grommet to appear in the shots I am after to promote the resort to couples and families. Now how did I manage that? So after I brief the team on what I need, we get to work with my beautiful honeymoon couple and young family on holiday in Paradise. The images speak for themselves, really.
All good things must come to an end. I couldn’t really single out my favourite part of the Mentawai Experience at Aloita. Aloita has been my favourite Mentawai stay now since 2007 and it continues to get better each time. The experience of travelling with my little girl, just the two of us instead of the rest of the family, was something that will stay with me forever. I will be able to reflect on the experience with total joy for years to come. There is nothing quite like paddling out for a surf with your kids and being able to share something that has shaped your life in such a positive way like surfing has. But when they take off on their first big Indo wave, you really do lose your shirt and scream like a crazy man.