“I am never coming back. You guys all know that none of us should ever come back here again, right? We won’t ever get it this good this many days in a row. Never. Ever. We scored!” –April 30, 2012, Mentawai Islands.

It’s rough to come back home. There is a blurred focus both physically and mentally that borders the medical definition of “exhaustion.” Work hates you. Wives and girlfriends miss you at first and then hate you for acting like a jet-lagged zombie. Most Indo vets will say it’s seven to ten days before the body is fully adjusted back to civilization on your own time zone. All will agree it’s a small price to pay for a few weeks of perfect waves.

Back home, as the California summer peaks with a seemingly non-stop set of BBQs, bikinis and long days of playful surf, the memories of the Mentawais drift a little deeper in my mind. Then, at some point during November, the day draws shorter and the nights colder. The thoughts of clear tropical water, perfect channels and spinning tubes rush toward the front of my mind once again. I wonder if maybe I should go back?

Forget how hard the travel is. I remember the soft and gracious flight attendants on Singapore Airlines. Forget the sunburn and reef cuts. I remember those mystical Indian Ocean sunsets and magical rides. Those magical rides. I can’t forget the waves. Getting lost in the ride and deep in the tube. No matter what you do, those waves make it feel like pure magic. I started thinking, “What is wrong with me?” “How can I not go back?” I needed to go back.

The rationalization was a short, swift, three-part dialogue with myself:

1. “I mean no matter what happens, the waves there will be better than home, right?

2. “Maybe, just maybe, there is a tiny sliver of a chance, however small, that we score it even better than last year’s incredible conditions and solid overhead swell. At least for a few days anyway.”

3. “Besides, some of my friends that didn’t go last year really wanted to go on the next charter. How could I let my friends down?”

By the end of November, the deposit is paid for the April 2013 charter. I’m going back!

Fast forward through five months of surfing, paddling, planning, e-mailing, texting, anticipating and wondering. Will it be as good as last year?

We joined together at LAX as an 11-man group mixed with both goofy and natural footers. Half of the group was returning from 2012. Half were Mentawai virgins and all of us were friends in some way, shape, or form.

Earlier that morning, I had observed an unfamiliar cut off low-pressure system on LOLA. It didn’t look good but still had time to change before we’d be dropping in.

Two days later at Padang Harbor, I had a certain sense of comfort and familiarity with the same surf guide, same boat and most of the same crew as the last trip onboard the Melaleuca. We settled in, quickly unpacked our gear, and as daylight dwindled, we pulled anchor and left comfort at the port. We motored out of Padang as I struggled to understand what 8 feet at 10 seconds from the west will mean in the Mentawais. I kept thinking that forecast is meant for places like Oregon, not Indo. Without whining to the captain, I surmised by myself where we might find surf in these conditions.

It didn’t take long to find out what the LOLA forecast meant. Heavy seas, 30+ knot winds and three different swells mixing in the water. There were plenty of waves out there. No doubt about that. It was ugly. The angry seas turned several of our group green and shaky with at least one admitting to the full heaving of his guts.

With a bit of luck, we got out to the islands about 24 hours before things got really risky. A Saffa surfer fell overboard during his boat crossing and was miraculously rescued clinging to life the following day. Other boats turned back and waited two days to brave the channel. Conditions were heavy. Rain came down hard and fast. The wind gusted and swirled. Short windows of offshore conditions were fleeting and those that waited for it to get better missed out on surf sessions.

I resisted the temptation to talk about just how good it was last year. It would only bring us all down. Besides they’d all seen the pictures, and they knew. Half of the guys were with me last year. We all knew. Doubt crept in. We shouldn’t have come back. Cloudy. Windy. Wet. Choppy. Ugly. I knew it wasn’t going to be as good as last year. Not even close.

However, in spite of – or maybe because of – the rough conditions, this surf trip was becoming something else. Something more than just another charter with perfect waves. With the lack of quality surf, we were actually taking more time to talk to each other and get to know each other better. In addition to the typical surf conversation and stupid nicknames, we also had some real “happiness comes from within” type of vibe taking hold of the group. I was still surfing. I was still with my friends. I was still having fun. A fiercely positive attitude was taking shape in all of us.

We held out hope that the storm would miraculously move away and we would be blessed with the kind of perfect hollow 6-10 foot surf we all dream of. The reason we were all here in the first place! We even went so far as to sacrifice a brand new, never-been-ridden board to the Indian Ocean with some sort of strange fire ceremony powered by diesel fuel and sponsored by Tiger beer. With that, our luck began to change and the first New Moon of April brought us fresh swell and great conditions.

We surfed Maccas with Miguel Pupo and Adriano de Souza, two of the most humble and considerate pros I’ve ever surfed with.  They let heaps of waves go by and then blew us all away launching and landing huge airs over the shallow reef. With no wind and plenty of surf we celebrated in the lineup and made the most of the perfect waves. Too bad it didn’t last. Soon the wind returned and shifted to another direction. Hard.

Somehow we all continued to live in the moment and stay positive. Surfing. Laughing. Just having fun the rest of the charter. As we returned to Padang, we didn’t care that the waves were better last year. We had all learned something. We had the surf trip you don’t see in the mags or the brochures. Windbreakers, long-sleeve Ts and sheets of rain. It didn’t matter to us any more. Our group experienced rough seas together. We fought through the winds and chop together.  We shared the type of adventure that very few men do nowadays. Even in this age of pre-paid, pre-planned and pre-packaged luxury surf travel this was still a real adventure. That’s why we travel together.

Photo credits go to BHP, Brian Dery, Tim C. Gibbs, Antman, and Eddie P.

Check out to book this trip now. #gothere.


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