Waves that disappear, salt-water crocs and an upcoming apocalypse! Come to the Mentawais before it all goes to hell!
It’s a surf-photo studio, these pretty little islands halfway along the Sumatran coast, neither west nor east. Their proximity to the equator, one-and-half degrees off it in most places, means y’get, mostly, desultory winds and, in season, roaring south swells, coming all the way from the tip of South Africa.
But I wonder, how much do you know about these islands that fill our magazines, that decorate our websites and provide the promotional material for every surf co and colour all performance surf films?
Did you know, for instance…
1. Doomsday approaches!
Geologists believe we have 150-year earthquake cycles. And the Mentawais are at the epicentre of the Pacific Ring of Fire where tectonic plates meet. It’s an even chance there’ll be a monster rumble within 30 years; something that’ll make the quake of 2009 look like a kid’s party. Plenty of villagers got the message when the Boxing Day and Nias tsunamis went down a decade ago and moved shop into the hills thus surviving 2009’s quake.
2. But not the village at Greenbush
You know Greenbush? Craig Ando, Damo Hobgood, etc, riding the most picturesque of lefthand barrels? There used to be a village of 200 people right there. They got… swatted in the 2009 tsunami. The village evaporated. An entire community wiped out. Go there now and it looks like a steamroller drove through the jungle.
3. Boat SOP for surviving a tsunami
When the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 killed quarter of a million people in 14 countries and sunk hundreds of boats, an English sailor-surveyor was in Aceh, got his boat off anchor and climbed … just… over the tsunamis. What did he learn? That you need to anchor in a minimum of seven metres of water to have a chance of survival and you need to have some kinda quick-release on your anchor. Good boats will anchor… deep. Fifteen metres or more .
4. Salt-water crocs and orcas too!
Rare in the open ocean, but it happens. They live in the estuaries that meander up the islands. If you wanna buy one, and who doesn’t, go to the right village and they’ll get you a baby for a couple of hundred thousand rupiah. Keep him on chain. Feed chicken. Little pods of orcas come by every season too (impossible to catch or buy).
5. The waves disappear!
Every time the tectonic plates shift, reefs move upwards, in feet, not inches. Back in ’91 Martin Daly took Pottz and Tom Carroll to a monster lefthander. When a quake a decade later hit, the reef moved five feet. Gone. Happens all over the chain. It’s called “uplift.” Waves appear; waves disappear.
6. Illegal logging is mostly over
Illegal logging was rife forever in the Mentawais. Who didn’t want some of that gorgeous Sumatran lumber? Then, two years ago, the governor of the Mentawais got sprung with $17 million in his account and was slapped in chains. Since he split, the logging has stopped.
7. Jamie O’Brien keeps a container at Lance’s Left
It contains SUPs, a jet-ski and a mother lode of surfboards. He visits a lot with his guy pals.
8. Locals won’t stay at the Bumi Minang Hotel in Padang
In the 2009 earthquake, it was pancaked. Hundreds of westerners died. Locals say it is haunted by the ghosts of all those poor souls and refuse to go there. One skipper I spoke to said he saw dozens of bodies being stacked like cord wood.
9. Overcrowding is hitting a critical mass
At least it is around the Playgrounds area, home to the well-known waves Rifles, Bank Vaults, E-Bay, Nokanduis etc. There’s at least seven resorts, various boats and innumerable home stays. Thirty people in the water? It ain’t rare. Who wants to fly, drive, fly, sail, and squat in a crowd?
10. It’s mostly Christian
Did you know that in this vast archipelago, the greatest and most wonderful concentration of muslims in the world, that the Mentawais is… Christian? Gorgeous little infidels right here in Allah’s paw! Turns out the missionaries were the only ones who could give enough of a damn to trek through the jungles and build and pay for infrastructure. The biggest structure, therefore, in this chain is a church. The payback is the Mentawais don’t receive the kind of government funding as, say, the nearby Telo islands where Islam dominates.