Where the Breaks Are
Straddling the equator off Sumatra’s west coast, the Mentawai Islands are a surfer’s paradise. Story and photographs by JOHN S. CALLAHAN
Published on Oct 20, 2010
1 ON THE WATER
Surfing is the magnet here, mainly around Karamjet Island and north Sipora Island, which boast a number of spots suitable for beginners and experts. Guides at Kandui Resort (+62 714 369 8121; mentawaiislands.com/kandui), WavePark Mentawai (+62 751 812 837; wavepark.com) and Aloita Resort & Spa (+62 759 320 354; aloitaresort.com) know where the waves are and speedboats whisk surfers to different spots depending on swell and wind conditions. Kandui has a large selection of boards available for rent (US$300 deposit; US$30 a day or US$200 for 10 or 11 days).
There are cultural tours to the interior of Siberut Island, where tattooed tribal groups lead a traditional animist lifestyle of hunting and gathering. For an in-depth look at the cultural practices of the Siberut Mentawai, Native Planet (nativeplanet.org; 12-day trip US$4,934 per person), an NGO that works with indigenous peoples, leads travelers deep into the jungle in dugout boats for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Experienced local spear fishermen find trevally, barracuda and several varieties of tuna in the waters around Mentawai. When a guest spears a large fish, a barbecue is usually arranged with local Bintang beer for all. If you’re not a keen angler, sea kayaking between islands is also popular, and snorkeling over sheltered reefs offers a view of pristine coral and a plethora of colorful tropical fish. These activities are easily arranged through resorts.
Both Kandui Resort and WavePark Mentawai have Western chefs. Supplies are brought in regularly from Padang on mainland Sumatra, and Indonesian dishes and fresh fish are on the menu every evening. Look out for mangrove crabs, cuttlefish, squid, marlin, and yellowfin or dogtooth tuna. Most of the local villagers are Christian, so pork is a common dish.
Surfing might be the main attraction of the Mentawai Islands, but Kandui Resort takes things a step further by offering yoga classes, beach volleyball and world-class lounging. Aloita is fitted out with three treatment rooms backing onto an enclosed waterfall and fishpond; a two-hour massage and body scrub treatment is available for US$40.