Off Sumatra’s west coast, just south of Nias, lie the fabled Mentawai Islands—home to some of the best waves on the planet. The first surfers to explore the area did so throughout the 1980s, at a time when the Indonesian surf scene was limited to Bali, Nias and G-Land.
Among these surf adventurers was an intrepid Aussie captain by the name of Martin Daly. Aboard his boat the Indies Trader, Daly and his mates went on to discover an abundance of waves, many of which are considered world-class. Remarkably, Daly and his companions managed to keep much of what they’d found a secret for several years—right up until a few snaps from a trip with pro surfers, skippered by Daly, leaked to surf mags. The rest, as any surfer knows, is history.
Today the Mentawais are frequented by hordes of surfers each year, especially between April and October when conditions are at their best—think consistent, solid Indian Ocean swells and light, favourable winds. The vast majority of the Mentawais’ best waves, and all those listed below, break over coral reefs, which surround much of the region’s four main islands: Siberut, Sipura, Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan.
Given the Mentawais’ astonishing wealth of quality waves, the task of selecting the islands’ best breaks is a tricky one. Below is a list that, for reasons of quality, consistency and renown, make up the 10 best surf spots in the Mentawais.
(Due to COVID-19, all tourist travel to Indonesia has been banned until further notice—the 10 best surf spots in the Mentawais will have to wait. But no one’s said anything about mind surfing. Indulge below.)
A relatively fickle wave by Mentawai standards, what E-Bay lacks in consistency it more than makes up for in scenic beauty and the perfection of its waves when the conditions line up. Perched just off the southern tip of the Mentawais’ northernmost island, Siberut, on the tiny islet of Masokut, E-Bay is a fast barrelling left that’s not for the faint of heart. Its idyllic tropical surrounds have made it a favourite among surf photographers and videographers alike.
Bankvaults is a heavy righthander that serves up consistent kegs. The break lies just around the corner from E-Bay, off Masokut’s southernmost tip, and its exposed position means that it cops the full force of prevailing south-west swells. With the right winds, Bankvaults can handle anything from waist high to double overhead.
A few kilometers up Masokut’s eastern coast sits Nipussi, a consistent, rippable right and the most-user friendly wave on the list so far. While not as intense as its neighbours, Nipussi’s unique position means that it’s both a swell magnet and a wind-protected corner. When north winds plague nearby breaks, Nipussi goes offshore. What’s more, it remains surfable on all tides.
4. NoKandui (Kandui Lefts)
NoKandui is a ferociously tubing lefthander, and one of the most famed breaks in the Mentawais. When the conditions are right, pros flock to the wave from around the world, and the slew of video clips that usually surface in the aftermath of these swell events are nothing short of insane. One of the most iconic clips to come out of a NoKandui session features a severely undergunned Craig Anderson battling with an absolute beast and somehow prevailing. NoKandui can be found on a small islet just south of Masokut.
5. Rifles (Kandui Rights)
On the same islet as NoKandui, but on the opposite side, Kandui Rights boasts immensely long rights with multiple barrel sections along the way. Fast and unforgiving, Kandui Rights could give you the best barrel of your life—or a broken board.
6. Lance’s Right (Hollow Tree)
Lance’s Right, which sits off Sipura, the midmost of the Mentawai’s four main islands, is one of the most legendary waves in the world. But its legendary status doesn’t stem from the wave itself (though its quality is exceptional)—rather, Lance’s Right is renowned for the story of its discovery. On one of his surf exploration trips in the early 1990s, Martin Daly happened upon the break, but to his surprise, he hadn’t got there first. Lance Knight, an adventurous Aussie, had already been there two weeks, and had been living with a local village family and accessing the break by canoe. Lance’s Right is now a popular spot, affording surfers perfectly barrelling rights.
Macaroni’s is one of the best waves on the planet. When Tracks magazine—one of the biggest, most established voices in surf publishing—put together a list of the top 10 surf spots in Indonesia, Macaronis took first place. A hollow take-off section gives way to a long, rippable wall, making it a wave tailor-made for high-performance surfing. It breaks towards the southern end of the Mentawais off the island of Pagai Utara.
Island: Pagai Utara
Down the coast from Macaronis sits Greenbush, one of the best waves in the southern Mentawais. Shallow and steep, the lefthand tubes Greenbush offers are best left to experienced surfers, as demonstrated in this epic barrel-fest session from last year.
Island: Pagai Utara
9. The Hole
The Hole breaks off of Pagai Selatan at the southern end of the Mentawais. In the spirit of Greenbush, it’s a heavy lefthander suited to advanced surfers. Its isolated location makes it less crowded than some of the more accessible waves in the Mentawais.
Island: Pagai Selatan
Like Nipussi to the north, Thunders is ultra-consistent. Unlike Nipussi, Thunders is a Left, producing heavy barrels on bigger days and mellower sections on smaller days. The wave breaks on all tides, and is often the best option when there’s minimal swell elsewhere. Thunders breaks off Pagai Selatan.
Island: Pagai Selatan
From freight train barrels to rippable walls, the waves of the Mentawais are truly some of the best on earth, and surfers will no doubt continue their pilgrimage to the region for decades to come.
Tragically, however, many of the Mentawai people live in poverty, owing to their isolation and a string of natural disasters which have decimated their coastal communities. SurfAid works on the ground in partnership with many of these communities, helping to develop food security, mother and child health, and access to clean drinking water.
Recently, Owen Morris, a SurfAid Program Support Manager, visited the Mentawais, and his write up of the trip provides a great insight into the positive impacts being made by the SurfAid team and its local partners.