Surfing Doctors member Rachael Dawe headed out to the Mentawais for a surf/work stint, and scored the trip of a lifetime. We chatted to her once she had calmed down after her return to reality.
Was it your first time out to the Mentawais? If so, what did you think of the place?
I had never been out there until this year but had always wanted to go. It’s one of those places you dream of going always frothing after surf vids/magazines and epic write ups about the place. This trip in particular was my second time to the Ments, each time more mesmerizing than the last. I was lucky enough to visit the area in February (apparently off season, still got cooking waves) where I stayed and helped out at Pitstop Hill resort at a nearby island. I remember getting the boat over and thinking, ‘wow this is a lot of ocean we are crossing,’ and really started to understand how remote these islands are not only from Padang but from neighbouring countries.
The boat/ferry is always an adventure in itself, meeting guests from all over the continent, sharing stories and getting each other amped for what the next 10/11 days has on offer. Then I also heard stories from people who have done that channel crossing many times in crazy winds/swell that tell me of charters sinking and people falling off and going missing out at sea. So I made sure I packed a few antiemetics, spew bags and a good playlist. It’s pretty exciting after the 4-5 hour boat trip when you start to see land again, and its not just land, it’s the thickest jungle I’ve ever seen. Like palm trees growing on top of each other covering almost every atoll in our view. Then seeing the waves for the first time. Wow, never seen anything so beautiful and perfect!
I loved the consistency of waves even in February compared to July. I surfed every day. Yes
we had those massive swells come that teared up WA before reaching Indo, but there were so many options for the guests and their levels. No matter what swell direction and wind direction, we would always find a wave. It still spins me out that in the Playgrounds area itself there can be a 2 ft fun longboard wave at Bikinis, then stepping up to a 3ft burger at 4 Bobs, then straight across from there it can be fun little barrels at A-Frames, then just around the corner pumping 4ft+ Rifles and Pistols, all in the one area.
I definitely noticed a lot more charter boats and crowds in July compared to February but we always managed to get at least 2 or 3 solid sessions in a day and were able to adventure off to surrounding islands on the longboats to find uncrowded spots. So putting the surfing aside which we love, there are many more reasons why I love the place. The culture and the local people are amazing. I was lucky enough to work alongside some local crew, speaking basic Bahasa with them and trying to learn their Mentawai language, eating meals with them and learning from them.
Their forever grinning smiles and appreciation caught me. I have made some good friends over there who I still continue to keep in contact and look forward to seeing them when i return. The local Mentawai people have a strong sense of culture and also rely heavily on local shamans and medicines, which also interested me. Overall, I loved the place. It is a very special and untouched place on this earth and I hope it remains that way. Its’ beauty and nature amongst the most perfect poster waves I’ve ever laid eyes on, has got me hooked.
What were your best sessions like?
In February I had some amazing sessions at Burgerworld. I remember one day in particular I think it was day 3 into my month. We jumped off the boat at 8am and I paddled into the lineup, the water was so warm and glassy like warm honey. And the wave… it was this mechanical perfect right-hander about 2-3 foot just going and going…
Out of the 8 of us that were surfing it we could literally spread down the line and take off on like 6 different spots. Some sections were even throwing some little tubes.That day I was so mesmerized I got so into it I forgot about time and everything. Eventually I was the last one out and another boat pulled up and I asked the guests what the time was and it was something like 3pm. I surfed a solid 7 hours or something just swapping between my 6’0 goosebump, a 5’10 twin and my 9’1 longboard.
Everyone was sharing crafts in the water and the high later on that evening when we got back was incredible, trying to watch the days footage, sharing icy cold Bintangs, everyone with the most squinty reddest eyes and blistering noses! Best session this trip in July would have to be at Rifles. It was a smallish day for rifles still head high for me but just myself, Shane Dorian and the surf guide Dyl. I was bit nervous paddling out to this particular section that the boys were sitting on. There is one take off spot and the thing just jacks up, throws and then grows down the line. Shane was surfing with a cap on his head and no leggie and was making getting tubes and doing these crazy hacks look so fluent. Both boys were calling me into some of the sets and i just had to go, I tried to get barrelled but got clipped mostly! I must also add the big day we had i think on the 15th of July was pretty amazing to watch Kandui in the line up. I even sat in the channel (Very close proximity to the boat) on my board and witnessed the biggest most perfect barrels I have ever seen.
There was at least 6 drones in the air, maybe 5 charters, 6 longboats, music pumping and everyone just spectating as the swell started to fill in. Then there was like a 3 hour window where it was just so heavy. The tides were crazy big, and super frequent swell periods with this mega swell. It started to get pretty sketchy to even watch the odd 10 insane guys charging it. It was solid 10-12ft on the sets by this stage, and the lip was like 6 foot thick with a foot of water and sharp coral underneath it. I saw Craig Anderson take some beatings! he was surfing like a 5’4 or something crazy and was sitting so deep. Still looked so beautiful and handsome.
What boards were you riding mostly out there?
I was so underprepared this trip. I recently attended the annual Surfing doctors conference in G-Land few weeks prior and was really loving my board and kinda forgot to get organised for a month in the Ments. Anyways I went with one board, my 6’0 Goosebump shaped by Zac Ogram in the south west of WA. It’s a good all rounder and I really enjoy it. I didn’t take my longboard this time as I was expecting it to be massive and couldn’t be bothered carrying around that much foam in between crazy transits and airports. Anyways Day 4 into the trip after fixing most of the guests with reef cuts and grazes from the first swell, we went and checked Hideaways. It was big, definitely out of my league, but I just got new headphones and had a really good RnB playlist on and got way to psyched-up for my head, and decided to paddle out.
At first I hung on the shoulder for a bit, watching the big ones and trying to time sets. There was this older kinda unfit bloke that kept paddling on the inside in between the sets and was snagging off the smaller ones. He kept shouting out to his mate who was sitting further out “ Scream out to me if you see a set coming in bro”. I thought that was kinda smart so started to follow his lead. He got a small one and I paddled for the one after. I went straight over the falls, didn’t even get to my feet, just kinda hesitated seeing how shallow and steep the drop was I guess. Was held under for a while, enough to start pulling my leggie to get to the surface. It wasn’t deep, just so much water and power. By the time I got to the surface I got a breath in and looked up and there was a 6 ft wall of whitewash coming at me, I suddenly was standing on a big price of brain coral and had no choice to just jump and starfish at the whitewash. My leggie then snapped and I was getting dragged along the reef just anticipating a massive gash or a rock to the head. Then there was another and another and eventually I got my board and swam through this little key hole into the channel where I got back to the boat and had a beer, went to town on the antiseptics and took some photos. My poor goosebump was worse off then me. Thankfully that rock wasn’t wedged in my head. But that silly moment where I did hesitate cost me the rest of the trip surfing a board someone lent me.
What was the biggest waves you saw while you were out there? I think you were there for the big run of swell…?
I would have to say Kandui at about 12-15 foot, that was the big day. Crowd started to thin out to maybe 10 or so people but at least a 100 people sitting on vessels in the lineup watching, hooting and filming. It was pretty cool to spectate but it started getting pretty sketchy and i think maybe 80% of them weren’t making that end section and it was just clamming down on them. Then everyone’s eyes were on the white wash waiting for them to pop up before the next one!
That same swell we took Shane to Hideaways on sunset as the wind dropped, it was super glassy and crazy sunset yellow and pinky colours where it was solid 8 to 10ft and he was ripping so hard. I think there was only one or two others out and he was getting every set, taking off the deepest. Every wave getting fully covered, not thinking he is coming out then suddenly he would just appear and shoot out of the barrel to throw a critical turn that sent so much spray into the pretty sky and everyone in the lineup was clapping. I think it was his birthday too! I made pina coladas for everyone that night!!
What was the worst injury you had to deal with while out there?
When I was out surfing most days I would be chatting to people in the lineup and word would get around that I was the medic working at Kandui Villas, so it was handy for others to know as most resorts don’t have medics. And the worst injuries I saw were actually from outside charter boats with some deeper lacerations needing suturing. This one guy in the photo had a good fin chop to his side while surfing Kandui. Lucky it wasn’t the reef as again it was super low tide and it was also lucky he had a good amount of subcutaneous tissue and it was easy for me to close up. I think I gave him 12 stitches in total and gave him some straightforward advice about signs of infection, and attempting to keep it dry.
Other common injury were reef cuts that needed daily dressings, and antiseptics as nothing heals or drys in the humid tropical environment. Pretty much had my own dressing clinic running at night before people went to bed. A few of the local crew had some boils that could have done with incision and draining but a dose of flucloxacillin healed them up.
Also saw the usual Bali Belly stuff and was giving people electrolytes and some TLC. My surf guide colleague however had it so bad he was bed bound for a few days when he then started complaining of RIF tenderness, he was already on ciprofloxacillin, buscopan, hydralytes and frequent panadol. I did a little abdo examination excluding no specific rebound pain and listened to bowel sounds with this old rusty stethoscope. I even found a bag of normal saline in date! so I decided to cannulate him and run through that as he was dry as a chip. I had the basics so started observing him closely and contacted my respected college and founder of Surfing Doctors Dr Phill Chapman for some advice. Phil gave me great advice and also recommended starting some flagyl if I had any, which luckily I did, and to get him out as soon as possible as it sounded like appendicitis until proven otherwise. The next boat was at least two days away so I monitored him closely and eventually we got him out to Padang where he had an abdominal CT and bloods, Indonesian Drs diagnosed as severe gastritis with a small abscess. He was given IV antibiotics and they wanted to open him up- he liaised with his insurance and decided to fly to Singapore then back to Australia where by then he was on the mend and continued the antibiotics. I think he is well now and back over there probably getting epic waves and hopefully having an awesome time!
What is your favourite wave out there in the Playgrounds area?
I had such an epic session at glassy and big A Frames/John Candys! Just 5 of us out and it was pumping! So clean and the inside bowl was barrelling so consistently it was a dream. I also really enjoyed surfing Bikinis on the longboard when it was bit smaller, we ran some funny dress up competitions there when the swell dropped and had some good laughs with the guests!
What was the funniest thing you experienced on your trip?
Every day was filled with laughs with the guests and crew but i must admit that having Christian Fletcher (pioneer of aerial surfing) there as a guest was a an experience! He is such a nice, honest and funny guy! Even though he was covered in tattoos and has some pretty gnarly stories to tell he got on with everyone and made everyone laugh. Our oldest guest was this lovely woman who was 83 years of age and had come to be with her surfing family on their yearly vacation. She was one of the most modest, elegant and wisest women I had ever met, and she and Christian got on like a house on fire! She was so interested about each one of his tattoos and wanted the story behind each one of them and his brutal honesty and craziest stories didn’t bother her! It was great! The dress up longboard comp was also pretty funny! I surfed with the umbrella.
What was the most important lesson you learned about surfing/traveling in the Mentawais?
Be prepared! Always take a few boards, extra leashes and fins and take your own First Aid kit as you can’t rely on what is there and you are so remote. Another thing I learned is don’t hesitate! Otherwise you will eat the reef like me and have ulcerating leg wounds weeks on!
What was the scariest thing you saw while out there?
As I finished my session at 4 Bobs I was getting back onto the boat, and as I was climbing up the ladder, there was the thickest and biggest banded sea snake I had ever seen! It was wrapped around the outboard on the boat and I swear was bigger then me. I screamed which made the local boys freak a little and when they saw it they screeched and we had to unravel it with some shoes. Apparently sea snakes love hanging around 4 Bobs and that pontoon there so be careful! They are super poisonous with fangs on the back of their head. Other then that experience watching Kandui on that big day on low tide was pretty heavy. When the tide changed it turned into carnage as it got so gnarly and shallow and people were still charging… that was scary to watch!
Where are you headed for on your next surfing trip?
At the moment I have been working and surfing a fair bit, even bought myself a small 12ft boat to get out to more spots that are only accessible via boat which has been an adventure! But another Indonesia trip will be on the cards next month, would love to go back to Lombok and help out if I can and then surf my way up to Sumbawa and beyond.. Safe to say I got the Indo fever!