The Mentawai Islands are a far, remote, and а little-known destination for tourists and travelers. But not for everyone. People who enjoy riding the waves know this archipelago very well- Mentawai is one of the best surf destinations in the world. This guide is for such people. Let’s try playing with the ocean waves in this far, remote place, at the edge of the world!
Table of Contents
Mentawai- some geography
First, let’s look at the map of the Mentawai Islands, and zoom out to see the whole of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. You can easily notice that Mentawais lie at the very edge of Asia. To the southwest, it is completely open to the vast ocean, and until Antarctica, there is almost no other land.
It means that if there are storms deep in the south, they raise waves in the ocean. There is nothing to stop these waves. And the storms in the south are regular, especially during the winter season in the Southern Hemisphere.
At the same time, the topography of the ocean floor near the islands is excellent for forming perfect waves. These waves don’t get too tall like in Hawaii or Portugal (usually no more than 5-6 m), but they appear in beautiful tubular shapes.
History of surfing
Until the 80s of the last century, the Mentawai Archipelago was completely unknown to the outside world. No tourism, no surfing. There were only indigenous Mentawai people, living mostly in the jungle as they have lived for thousands of years, and a few more “modern” villages, related politically and culturally to the mainland of West Sumatra. Besides them, there was only a lodging company and a pastor from Germany- the only foreigners in the islands.
The first surfing expedition
One day, in 1980, a team of adventurers came to the Mentawai on an expedition. They were Chris Goodnow, Scott Wakefield, and Tony Fitzpatrick, Australians, from Sydney. At that time, they were young boys, university students, at the same time, passionate surfers. They were looking for new, undiscovered swells, starting from 1978 (Chris was only 19 years old).
Their made their first surfing-discovery expedition in 1978, to other Indonesian islands, but without too much success. They knew nothing about the Mentawai but considering the geographical position of the archipelago, they supposed that this place was expected to have good waves.
So, in May 1980, they went on an expedition to the islands, particularly to North Pagai Island. Traveling to this place was completely different and much more difficult than today- they had to obtain a travel permit and reach the islands by old local boats. No “fast ferry” at that time.
They arrived in Sikakap, North Pagai, and moved to the western coast, to the small island of Silabu. Here they noticed a perfect wave. Initially, it didn’t look so impressive to them, but after trying it for several weeks, they admitted that this is one of the best surfing spots in the world.
They called it P-Land, and returned again in 1981 (with another guy- Tim Anand) but decided to keep it in secret- they realized that such a perfect swell could attract a horde of surfers to a pristine land that was completely unprepared for the invasion of tourism.
More than 10 years later, other pioneers came to the southernmost point of Sipora Island and found another perfect swell. They called it Lance’s Right- the only ocean waves that hit the island from the southeast, instead of from the open ocean directly.
Meanwhile, again the beginning of the 90s, P-Land was rediscovered independently (it is unclear who was the discoverer), and it was called Macaronis (the “legend” says that someone has eaten only noodles and has made association with the shape of the waves, hence the name of the spot).
Soon after that, a video with the newly discovered surfing spots was released, and it changed the fate of the Mentawai forever- it has become one of the most famous spots on Earth among surfers.
Chris and his friends visited their “P-Land” again in 1996 and 2013. Everything was completely different. All the surfing spots in the archipelago were already well-known, and new surfing resorts (surf camps) were established strategically not far from them. Thus, the Mentawai Archipelago has become one of the best surfing destinations in the world.
Surfing spots on Mentawai
So, let’s take a closer look at the surfing spots on the Mentawai Islands- where they are, how the waves look like there, and more. These spots can be found on the western coasts of all of the islands.
Currently, there are about 25 то 50 identified surfing spots in the archipelago (various maps of various surfing services show some variations), depending on what is considered a “surfing spot”, because some spots can be divided into “two parts” or “two separated spots”.
Of them, at least 11 are located in the southernmost part of Siberut, 8- around Sipora, 3 (including Macaronis)- around North Pagai, and 7- around South Pagai. Most probably, there are more around the rest of Siberut, but since this area is a national park, it is limited for establishing surfing resorts there.
Let’s start with South Pagai.
This is the southernmost big island of the archipelago, which is open not only from the west but also from the south (there is only a small island called Sanding). Several excellent surfing spots attract surfers. Roxies, Rags (Left and Right), Thunders, and Rednuht are located on the western coast of the island. And in the south, there are another two: The Hole, and Lighthouse, around the small island Simungguk.
The most popular of them are Roxies and the Rags Left. Roxies is a right wave, considered the best and the funniest one on South Pagai. Thunders at the small Sibigau Island is good too- a big left wave, less visited than the other spots.
Here is the best surfing spot in all the archipelago, and one of the best in the world, one of the symbols of the Mentawai: Macaronis (P-Land). It is a left-hand wave, known as “the funniest wave on the planet”, offering endless options for creativity.
Besides Macaronis, there are two more excellent spots- Bat Caves and Greenbush. Greenbush (more difficult, only for professionals) is formed in a small bay on the southern coast of North Pagai, and Bat Caves is in the north, around a small sandbar.
The surfing spots around Sipora Island can be divided into southern and northern groups.
The southern group of surfing spots contains only three main spots, concentrated around the southernmost tip of the island. But they are among the best in the whole archipelago and the world. Here is Lance’s Right- the first “officially” discovered surfing spot, and the second surf symbol of the Mentawai after Macaronis. Its discoverer was Lance Knight who came here in 1991, and the break is named after him. It has also another, less popular name- Hollow Trees (better known by its abbreviation- HT).
Soon after the discovery of Lance’s Right, Lance’s Left was discovered too. It is less popular and attractive but is like a natural extension of the first one. The third surfing spot in this area is Bintangs- a right wave that can be bigger even when other waves (in other spots) are weak. Finally, there is another small spot called Cobra but it is often considered an additional part of Lance’s Left.
In fact, there are several more spots but they are smaller, like Mini HT’s, Shipwrecks, The Point, Monkeys, and Beach Break, far from the quality of the main three spots described above.
This is the most developed part of the Mentawai Islands. Here is the main administrative center Tuapejat, and the village of Mapaddegat. In addition, this area is rich in surfing spots. Although not as famous as Lance’s and Macaronis, they are still great, in high quality, and full of fun.
The most popular of them is Telescopes, located west of Mapaddegat- a long, left break with a perfect barrel, visited by the famous Kelly Slater. South of it are Scarecrows and Seven Palms- both left breaks, less crowded, in front of a relatively wild area of Sipora.
North of Telescopes is Suicides- a difficult spot in front of the mainland Sipora, with a right wave, only for professional surfers due to its extremely shallow reef.
Then, you go to the three small islands Pototoga, Silabok, and Siburu. At least five surfing spots can be identified here. They are Ariks, Ombak Tidur (left wave, also known as Sleepers), Icelands (right wave), Hookers, and Tikus. Of them, Icelands is the best and most popular. It can be very different depending on the swell. If the swell is big, Icelands are only for professional surfers.
Finally, we go to Siberut. It is the largest island in the archipelago, but as mentioned above, only the southernmost tip of it, with its adjacent small islands is a surfing area. This surfing area is called Playgrounds.
Here we can identify from 10 to more than 16 surfing spots (some not counted, some two counted as one). They are so close to each other that you can see breaks everywhere. The small islands around Playgrounds are the most crowded by surfers area in the Mentawai. Yet due to the high number of surfing spots, there is always enough space for you.
The most popular surfing spot here is Kandui, tried also by Kelly Slater. It is a left wave, crashing at the northwest coast of Karangmajat Island. In fact, the whole Karangmajat is surrounded by breaks- Pistols, Riffles (for professionals), Four Bobs (one of the easiest waves in the Mentawai), A-Frames, Karamba Left, and No-Kandui.
The small Siaim Island offers Hideways- a left wave that can change its shape- sometimes hollow tubes, sometimes different.
The large Masokut Island offers another cluster of spots: Nipussi, Bank Vaults (considered the best-looking right in the Mentawai), Pitstop, E-Bay (considered the best-looking left in the Mentawai), and Beng Beng.
Finally, Dodiki (Roniki) Island offers Burgerworld (one of the most consistent right waves), and Ngiau Island offers Promises (one of the most difficult and dangerous breaks, only for professionals).
Surf camps and other accommodations
With so many surfing spots, most of them of world quality, no wonder that the Mentawai Islands have become one of the most popular surfing destinations on our planet, and are mostly known as such а destination rather than anything else.
Consequently, it drew the surfing tourism on these islands with all of its attributes- proper accommodations, transportation, and everything else surfers would need to reach the surfing spots, stay on the islands, and enjoy.
To serve the needs of surfing tourism the best, many surf resorts offering surf camps were established in strategic locations, usually far from the villages but close to the surfing spots. So, they became not only luxurious but also inside a real paradise, far from “civilization”. Generally, these surf camps arrange almost everything you need, from welcoming at Minangkabau Airport in Padang and transfer to their surfing resorts to every activity, accommodation, meals, and entertainment.
Another exciting way of enjoying the surf spots is by charter liveaboard. There are liveaboards traveling around the Mentawai Islands, to the best spots in the archipelago. Some of them also include the neighboring Batu Islands.
All of them- surf camps or surf charters focus mainly on surfing but also offer various other activities like snorkeling, jungle trekking, beach relaxing, various sports, and more.
Surf resorts- surf camps in North and South Pagai
The main resorts on these islands are Solawi (on Solawi Island), Southern Mentawai Outpost,and Sibigau Surf Camp (on Sibigau Island), Surfcamp BTM (North Pagai Island), the famous Macaronis Mentawai Surf Resort (Pasangan Island), and a few more.
Surf resorts- surf camps in the south of Sipora
In the south of Sipora, there are the villages of Bosua and Katiet, located near Lances Right and Left, and the other breaks in this area. The best resorts here are Kingfisher Mentawai Resort, Lances Left Surfcamp, Hollow Tree’s Resort, Lances Right and The Point surf houses (more private than the normal surf camps), and Yunsenatra Villas on Siruamata Island.
Surf resorts- surf camps in the north of Sipora
These resorts are located closer to Tuapejat, but still in the wild. The southernmost of them is Togat Nusa Retreat (in front of Seven Palms and Scarecrows breaks). Then, on Pototoga Island are Awera Resort, Nasara Resort, Dream Beach Resort, Favela Mentawai, and a few more. And on Silabok Island: Aloita Resort, Tikus Mentawai, and more.
Surf resorts- surf camps in Siberut (Playgrounds)
Many surf resorts are established here too. The most popular among them are Kandui Resort (Karangmajat Island), Botik Resort (Bocek Island), WavePark Resort (Siaim Island), Hidden Bay Resort, MIA Surfcamp, Mentawai Surf Retreat, Driftwood Mentawai, Beng Bengs Surf Camp, Sabbit Mentawai Surf Camp, Surf Camp Siberut, and Playground Surf Resort (all of them on Masukot Island). A bit far from there is The Shadow Mentawai on the small Bauasak Island.
Several boats roam in the waters around the Mentawai and Batu Islands. The best of them are Sibon Java (catamaran), the traditional “Phinisi” Maki Boat, Sibon Jaya, Naga Laut, Sibon Baru, Moon Palikir, and more. Liveaboards are more expensive than surf camps, but they are more adventurous and allow you to try more surf breaks. They are real expeditions.
Of course, you can just go to the resorts mentioned above without joining a surf camp- just like normal luxurious accommodation. But if you are a surfer, it is a bit pointless- better join a surf camp. Because, if you want to arrange everything by yourself, it would be more expensive than if you just follow what they already arranged for you and is included in the price. Unless you want to go to one of the few luxurious homestays that don’t offer surf camps.
However, surf camps, liveaboards, and luxurious accommodations are relatively expensive. If you are on a budget, you can just go to some cheap accommodations, located mostly in the northern part of Sipora Island, and arrange everything by yourself. It would be still cheaper, and of course, not so luxurious. But you still can be able to enjoy various surfing spots and many more activities.
Accommodations for budget surfers
These accommodations are located mainly in the north part of Sipora Island- in the town of Tuapejat, and Mapaddegat village. They are homestays and cheap hotels. We spent several nights in one of them, and there were always other surfers in the neighboring rooms. For more detailed information, read our article Accommodation for budget travelers and budget surfers.
So, the Mentawai Islands welcome surfers from all over the world. Here are some facts surfers have to consider:
- The Mentawai Islands are located very close to the Earth’s equator, and the climate is equatorial. It is an endless rainy season with more (between October and April) or less (between April and October) rainy parts.
- The swell is constant during the whole year, but due to the winter in Antarctica, it is a bit stronger between April and October- it is considered the high season.
- Every surfer has to pay the Mentawai Surf Tax before going surfing there. It is 1,000,000 IDR (around 75 USD). It is valid for 15 days, and if you stay for a longer time, you have to pay another 1,000,000 IDR.
- There are additional ferry charges for surfboards: 1-15 kg: 230,000 IDR; 15-25 kg: 460,000 IDR; more than 25 kg: 690,000 IDR. This is for the Fast Ferry.
As you can see, the Mentawai Islands are incredibly rich in surfing spots. So, you can still find a break where you can be alone (or almost alone)- only you and the waves. But since the “official discovery of Lance’s Left in the 90s of the last century, the number of surfers visiting the archipelago has grown every year (except for the Covid-19 years).
Mentawai is an amazing tropical paradise. Will it remain a paradise, it depends on us. We can’t say “Don’t go there” to protect nature, but at least we can say: be responsible to the environment and the local people! Remember the reason why Chris Goodnow and his friends decided to keep Macaronis in secret and be a part of the Mentawai’s better future!
Take a look at the video about surfing in Mentawai:
Check some travel books about Mentawai:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.