Back to Basics in the Mentawai Islands

Downtime in the Mentawai Islands. A blog about surfing in Indonesia’s fabled surfing Mecca and what surfboards I rode.

Somewhere between the Hinako islands and Palau Nias in May 2017 I’m looking through the board racks whilst aboard the Sumartran surf charter vessel “Jiwa”. The board racks are now bulging with all the latest surfboard finery from each of our coffin travel bags. Travelling from three continents we had met up for the annual 'mates boat trip' and between us brought latest model shortboards, fish, single fins, grovellers, egg’s, twinnies, quad’s and step-up’s, Epoxy and Polyester. In all, a very broad selection of boards globally manufactured, designed or redesigned for a group of middle aged board hoarders.

My own quiver this trip consisted of a 5’7 quad fish, 5’ll round nosed Twinny with trailer, 6’0 conventional thruster and a 6’2 'step up’ quad. Basically i’d bagged all my favourite boards from home that i surf regularly in Southern Morocco or South West England and thrown in a token ‘step-up' for the better days. I’m sure this is a pretty common board packing technique as its safe to stick to what you know and most of us will probably rightly rationale before a boat trip to Sumatra, “its not like i’m gonna charge 12ft Kandui anyway”!?

The warning signs for me however had started a few trips back in Indo. I was beginning to pick and choose waves a bit (lot) more, especially on the bigger days and i was no longer that keen to backdoor a solid peak or take a chance and hope it would work out like previous decades in Indo. It was bugging me slightly if i’m honest but I was also comfortable enough to reason this lessoning of confidence against being the wrong side of forty with a few ongoing injuries and a general decline in surf fitness. I was still surfing the ‘A list' breaks in and around the Sumatran islands but it was most defiantly with my handbrake engaged somewhat.

Fast forward to May 2019 and i’d just picked up another quiver of boards en-route to Northern Sumatra. A collection of uncomplicated, practical thrusters manufactured by Flanagan surfboards on Bali. All have been made and designed to cope with a variety of Indonesian conditions. The last two trips aboard the Jiwa have left me feeling like a boat trip 'born again’ which is pretty ironic as apart from a few tweaks here and there this quiver is not that dissimilar to what i was riding there 20 years ago. My personal fitness defiantly hasn’t changed but the confidence and performance levels i've regained from bringing the right boards and going back to basics has increased my wave count and pushed me over ledge more often not on the bigger days. I’m still a believer that all boards work, they just fit in different parts of a wave but i think Indo has its own rules in regards to what boards work better than others and i’ve broken down my current Indo quiver in the hope it gives you an idea on what to take next trip and maybe what to leave at home. Its pretty pointless travelling with four boards and only riding two.

I’m around 78KG, 5’10 and 44 years old. I stated surfing at 10 and i guess i’ve never had more than two months out the water. My standard ‘every day’ board has around 28 litres of volume. This is where i’m at with my Indo Quiver currently.

Small wave board | Head high or Less

5’10 x 19.5 x 2.35 | Round Tail Thruster

I defiantly buy into the 'shorter and wider’ theme currently popular with small wave boards however I've found a standard fish or something similar in plan shape has too much tail area and width to be a starter for me in the boat trip board bag. The dimensions above are apparently around 29 litres and the board works great from waist hight to head and a bit. The round tail gives it good control at speed and i ride it with a set medium sized future fins without too much rake. I particularly like this board if its hollow and sucky as its shorter length fits comfortably in the barrel and it's easy to negate any twists and turns in there.. Its curvy outline also gives good rail to rail transition with a high performance feel. For me its a great ‘Average Day’ board in Indo for turns and a few cheeky barrels.

Small to moderate day Board | Head and half or less

6’0 x 19.25 x 2.35 | Rounded Pin Thruster

In all honestly this board is not a great deal different than my smallest board which is what i wanted as its great to have a back up in case one or the other becomes a casualty. Its pretty easy to break one or two boards in quick succession in Indo so i defiantly like having a quiver that overlaps slightly. This board is a couple of inches longer however and slightly narrower which does pull the template more parallel. This board does have slightly better down the line speed due to the straighter outline but at a slight loss of rail to rail transition. We are talking pretty fine margins however.

It's also slightly flatter throughout therefor a touch better paddler than the shortboard. Its tail is more pulled in and this board is defiantly geared up for the head high to head and a half range. I’ll ride this also with a standard medium set of futures as its still essentially for the average to moderate days.

Moderate to pumping days | Head and a Half to Double overhead

6’4 x 19.5 x 2.35 | Rounded Pin Thruster

Defiantly something for the solid days and rather ironically the board that i essentially had sacked off from my board bag. Not sure what i was thinking to be honest? On a boat trip this should be your 'comfy sofa’, Something you feel confident with and it will hopefully give you the best moments of the trip. I’m still keeping the width of this board around the same as my shortboards as i know it floats me adequately and more importantly i don’t get a ‘hangover’ swopping between boards in my quiver with varying widths. If the waves are pumping i think your 'step up' should feel essentially no different to your normal ‘go to’ board apart from a touch more length in front of you, a little extra thickness under the chest and maybe some extra rake in your fins for control at higher speeds on a larger wave face. I wouldn’t recommend however increasing the size of the fins as your step up will have a narrower tail area and you don’t want increased drag on a day when your trying to get from A to B quickly. This board is a complete essential in the board bag from April to October in Indo and most weeks should see a swell worthy of riding a 'step up’. Its a board that i thankfully have re-recognised as essential in the Indo Quiver!

Paddler | Double overhead plus

6’10 x 19.5 x 2.5 | Pin Tail Thruster

Now this one was a complete accident to be honest. I had it shaped for treble overhead plus days in Morocco where i live and work a lot of the year and was picking it up en-route to Sumatra from Flanagan surfboards to store away for next winter in Morocco. The point breaks in Morocco have a deep water feel on XL days and having a ‘paddler’ is essential. I didn’t think it would be appropriate for an Indo boat trip but it proved to be a revelation. Indo has a lot of deep water reefs between the Hinako Islands to Mentawi's and although they probably wouldn’t be on everyones wish list prior to setting sail they can be saviours if the swell is small to moderate during your stay or if you need to get away from the crowds. I surfed this board 3 out of 11 days last trip and it was amazing to be honest. Swing in to a solid peak and pass others on the inside struggling to paddle into the waves. If you get back on the tail of a board this size it still turns well and it will definalty carve better than anything on the open face. Again i’m using a medium size future fin with some additional rake compared to small wave fins. Some trips you may use this board regularly and other times it may collect dust but it's a great insurance policy if things get hectic with the swell or you surf a wave that requires a 'Paddler'.

So this is where i’m at with my Indo quiver currently. It's nothing new in terms of design but going back to basics with a more tried and tested formula has definatly increased my confidence in moderate to large Indonesian swells. Maybe it's partly due to my age and being a part of the ‘Thruster” generation but i have defiantly enjoyed my last couple of boat trips more than ever and increased my wave count also. I’m sure the surf industry will create new and improved models and i’m sure i’ll continue to dabble at home but taking the wrong tools for the Job to Indo won’t he a mistake i’ll make again. Hopefully there might be a few idea’s in this blog that help you select the right boards for your next trip to Indonesia, choose wisely as this can really make or break your trip as i found out.

For more information and trips to the Mentawai Islands visit Surf Camp Sumatra.

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