Surf Sumatra (If You Dare)

Lagundri.  Finally, excellent surf.  Reputedly the best right-hander in the world, Lagundri is amazingly consistent (at half tide +), breaking onto a coral table with few serious consequences – given our finely honed surfing skills, we were ready to sink our teeth into a wave of this caliber. Thankfully, it was bad surf by Lagundri standards (i.e., not double overhead), which was perfect for us.  Compared to closed-out, bone-chilling mushiness at Ocean Beach, Lagundri’s warm, glassy lines curling over the table-top reef were a stunning improvement.  On top of it all, there was a safe channel to surfer’s right of the break, making the paddle out safe and easy.

A quiet moment in Lagundri Bay

While it was advantageous to be unemployed and anchored nearby, there were still plenty of people around, and a definite rhythm to the place.  Weekday dawn patrol was run by Aussie geezers who would catch 5x as many waves as we could.  By mid-day the local stoners and hungover Aussies made it out, walking to the edge of the reef and jumping directly into perfect barrels.  Afternoons were dominated by 6-year old groms and their mind-blowing skills.

When we stopped back by Teluk Dalam to get an exit clearance, we expected to pay the customary “kado” (gift).  The guy asked for Rp300K – cheeky!  I explained that while this amount might be appropriate for a customs official with a legitimate grievance, it was absurd for a mere harbourmaster in some podunk port.  I graciously offered the industry-standard 50K bribe, which was brusquely refused, so we blew out of Nias on the wrong side of the law, confident that any consequences could be smoothed over for significantly less than 300K.  As the harbourmaster’s assistant took me back to the dock on the back of his motorcycle, he explained that we should really pay the fee – I told him we weren’t going to pay, and he smiled, shook hands, and wished us luck.   We still have the original exit clearance from Sibolga to use in a pinch.

We carried on with the passage to the Mentawais, pausing overnight in Telos and the badly sheltered Atanomakinu Bay before anchoring in Taileleo Bay on the southern tip of Siberut. We were now within an hour of several legendary surf breaks with promising names like Burgerworld and Chubbies (read: fat, fun waves). Compared to other spots like “Telescopes,” “Lacerations,” and “Suicides,” this seemed more our speed.

We visited the “main town” of Taileleo – wow, a long way from society.  They sold mobile phone credit, but no breakfast – indeed no restaurants of any kind. We couldn’t find a signal either. When we asked the phone lady, she pointed to a log on the beach where a girl was chatting to her boyfriend.  Apparently you have to stand on that log to get a signal.

We also invaded a private island, quite accidentally (there was a dinghy dock in the lagoon). While wandering around looking for food, we were interrogated, and denied lunch by the edgy staff – “what if boss finds out.” What is this, some James Bond villain running surf charters from his island lair?  We were informed that the entire island was private and we were trespassing.  “What about that island out there in the bay?”  “You can have that one.”

That's Chubbies?  Where's the wave?

So no breakfast, no lunch, no cell signal, no respite from the rain or the rolling boat – at least we found good waves, right? Well, it’s complicated. We think many of these spots have fickle rules, like, “only surf here in the three hours around high tide or you’re going to be skinned on the reef.”  Chubbies was insane.  I came down the face of the first wave quite happily before looking down at the brightly colored coral whizzing by about six inches under the board.  Yikes.  I didn’t have much time to panic before *bump* ….*bump* – the fins began hitting bombies, almost throwing me off the board.  I bailed as soon as the water got slightly deeper, and headed for shore.  Ian stayed out for one more wave and was rewarded with three new coral cuts.  Well done.

When we made it over to Burgerworld, Papa McHenry opted for shore leave while Ian and I went out to tackle the “most forgiving wave in Sumatra”. This was during the Japanese tsunami, about which we knew nothing at the time, but that may explain why we were surprised by heavy, punishing waves breaking over sharp coral. It could also be that we never bothered to check the tides – lesson!  We wrapped up two demoralizing hours of surf, weighed anchor, and got under way just as the day’s second squall hit the boat. On a typical Sumatran day (most of it squarely in the doldrums) we’d get 3-4 squalls, layered with calms.

When we asked folks where the nearest town was, the unanimous response was “Tua Pejat.”  We sailed 3-hours towards it based on a rough idea from our “not to scale” Lonely Planet map, but couldn’t find any trace of it on the charts.  We were in cell range – but there wasn’t any additional info on Tua Pejat on the Internet! We finally anchored in a different bay and landed the dinghy to ask a local.  East – through a narrow, but navigable channel.

Bapak McHenry in Nias

Back in civilization.  We ate some meat and bought Ian’s dad a ferry ticket to the mainland, where he would continue his journey.  We also completely failed to siphon LPG from a big bottle to one that would fit on the boat. Hint: even if you turn the full bottle upside-down and leave it in the sun, nothing is going to be flowing with the regulators on.  A regulator converts high pressure liquid propane to low pressure propane gas, so we should have known…

Finally, we found yet another mechanic to help us with our constantly overheating engine – this one with prior experience in Liberia of all places.  The problem?  We need to use two gaskets when replacing the raw water impeller – using one Yanmar gasket with a new Yanmar impeller in our Yanmar pump resulted in inadequate impeller clearance, which led to mental anguish and lots of antifreeze spewing into the bilge.  Fixed!

Without further ado, we stuck Mr. McHenry on the crowded ferry and set off for Jakarta – a mere 600 miles away.

GPS Tracks: Teluk Dalam > Lagundri | Lagundri > Pulau TelosTelos > AtanomakinuAtanomakinu > TaileleoTaileleo > Tua Pejat


About Adam Wible

Adam Wible graduated from Princeton University in 2005. After graduating, Mr. Wible moved to New York to join the Boston Consulting Group, where he worked as a management consultant to clients in the Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals, Entertainment, and Non Profit. Adam Wible left BCG in 2007 to join Francisco Partners (FP), a technology-focused private equity firm based in San Francisco. In 2009, Mr. Wible moved to London with FP to focus on deals outside the United States. In his personal time, Adam enjoys international travel, having visited over 60 countries. Most recently, Adam Wible spent one year as captain of a sailing yacht, completing a 5,000 nautical mile tour of Southeast Asia.
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One Response to Surf Sumatra (If You Dare)

  1. James says:

    yall cray cray. i wish i knew the lingo, but i’ve never surfed a day in my life. so jelly!

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