Mutiny on the high seas

This is Chapter Two of Riptide Magazine’s on-location issue, with eight of the world’s best bodyboarders, in the Mentawai Islands.

“How old are you?” Ben asks Lewy after another standard grommet comment. “Eighteen,” he responds, unsure. “Fuck. I feel like a creepy old paedophile hanging around you eh?”

The big brother bond between Lewy and Ben continues to forge throughout our 5am breakfast, during which Lewy prods at a strange fruit on his plate, perplexed. “Are you serious?” Ben asks, ready to drop some wisdom. “It’s a papaya. But you gotta be careful, there are all different types and some of them taste like poo.”

It’s steamy, overcast and drizzling outside, but everyone’s charged up on grainy Indo coffee. The harbour’s just minutes away and on arrival we find a cesspool of Ebola Virus-proportions. A thick layer of trash and sludge sits on the surface, rubbish bags and construction waste float steadily downstream. There’s a dead dog floating gingerly metres from our feet, but Spex assures Jerry, “It’s OK, it’s just having a sleep underwater… and trying to cool down”.

We’re off on the fast boat at 7am through the Padang harbour, piercing a straight line through the trash and occasional jagged rocks that wait patiently to sink the vessels of foolhardy captains. Ours, however, is an affable 50-something Californian surfer with his hair tied back in a ponytail, his leathery skin covered in faded tattoos. His name is Terry. Each time the boat’s rocked by a bigger than usual wave Terry yells out his catchphrase “Get some!” But when a decent-sized swell rips the windscreen wiper clear off and into the brine, he becomes a little more subdued. The rain is pelting down now.

Conversation continues to err on the weird side, the product of too many hours in transit. “Do you reckon if you never introduced your dog to another dog in its life, it would never get fleas?” Ben asks no-one in particular from his bunk. “Or would it naturally accumulate them somehow?” He’s genuinely puzzled. Film-guy Jennings responds he’s not sure, then goes on to say something about the nature of scabies and I tune out completely.

Two hours later and there are two camps. Out on deck Lewy giggles like a schoolgirl every time the boat hits a big lump and drenches him or someone else with water. One big lump almost throws him overboard, and Terry says, “Yeah, you don’t wanna do that, visibility’s not great so I don’t know if I’d be able to find ya”. Jerry’s out on deck too along with Isabela, who’s laying down and taking everything in languidly and with her beaming grin. Ben, Winny, Spex and Jase are among those inside trying to get some shut-eye and battling the thick, steamy air and violent rocking of the boat. Their faces are painted a sickly green. PLC is in a coma-like state up the front and doesn’t move the entire four-and-half-hour trip. Terry regales us with tales of recent off-season swells with nary a soul in sight, which keeps our dwindling stoke levels alive.

Arriving in Tuapejat, the capital of the Mentawai Islands, there’s a sense of excitement and sheer relief. One more leg to go – we’ll be surfing this arvo. It’s no great panic when we dock in the harbour and can’t see our final transfer boat – the Aussie resort operator, who we were in contact with yesterday, has to come from an hour away so maybe he’s just been caught up a bit with the weather too, we reason. Minutes turn to tens of minutes, then drift dangerously close to an hour. The whole team looks worried sitting on the dock with all our gear piled up. Dark clouds – both figuratively and literally – are circling us. Finally, we find an Indonesian phone number for the enigmatic resort owner, and Terry lends us his phone. The resort guy is talking a mile a minute, but we gather from his explanation that his staff were meant to pick us up, but bailed in favour of celebrating some local public holiday. Worse, the guy says he’s stuck back in Padang and with daylight slowly dwindling he says he won’t be able to pick us up today. “There’s a hotel there you guys should check into, it’s right near the harbour,” he tells us, with a strange lack of any real apology for the botched pick-up. “I’ll pick you up first thing in the morning.”

The mood is grim and Terry, while he can’t help us out with a ride to Lance’s Right, helps us find the “hotel”. It’s not a pretty sight. Each room is largely a small window-less concrete box, with grubby walls and a sheet-less bed. Some rooms have a chair or small bedside table. A couple of rooms contain a fan, but they do little but spread the stale air. Morale is at an all-time low, but with nothing else to do than wait for our ride in the morning we decide to go for a walk through town to check it out and buy provisions and mossie nets for our rooms (malaria and dengue fever aren’t uncommon in these parts and Ben has had two bouts of the latter – like a big brother he’s telling us to cover up). Our spirits are raised through hanging out with all the stoked local groms who flock to the long-haired, strange-looking whiteys wandering through their town. Many high-fives and “Hello Mister’s” get thrown about, while a local butcher starts culling poor chooks in front of our eyes. Some, apparently, have it worse than us.

The local cafeteria near the harbour seems to be the social hub of the dilapidated town so we head there and pull a couple of tables together, while Ben – the only real member of the group that speaks at least a few words of Bahasa – orders us 12 nasi gorengs. Food lifts our spirits a little more, and having only lost one day of the trip, we agree the going’s not that bad. There’s only one thing you can do in a situation like this and that’s crack open a Bintang. Back at our digs we simply sit and talk shit, watching the rain – which hasn’t stopped since we arrived – pelt into the ocean in front of our rooms. The air is soothing and the Bintang hitting our lips is the perfect companion for weary heads. It’s hard to be really mad. Lights are out at 7.30pm. Rain and mosquitos are the only sounds.