11 things you need to know about the greatest archipelago on the planet.
It’s the best place in the world to go and sweat. You can join a gym for five years and you won’t lose as much weight or get as toned as you will in two weeks in Indo. Why? One is you are going to perspire my friend, even if you’re travelling first class and can afford air con, the minute you step outside it is going to be dripping off your body like a waterfall. What is more, you’re going eat plenty, but you’re going to burn it all off as well, that’s the best way to tone up. In Indo you are going to paddle a lot, waves are long, you want a lot of them, and you’re only going to stop when your shoulders physically give up. Last Mentawai trip I did, and that is staying on a fancy boat, I dropped a stone and a half in ten days. I wasn’t tying either, I was getting through my quota of Bintangs and Banana Jaffles, but I was just paddling a lot. My advice is work out that gym membership cost, and I bet you can get to Indo for the same price.
It is the fourth biggest archipelago on Earth. Only fourth? Yep we were surprised, but the others don’t really count, The Swedish and Finnish archipelago sit in one and two and the Canadian Arctic one in third, none of which really get any swell to worry about. So for us as surfers it’s the biggest in the world, and what is more it covers two oceans. The Indian Ocean side is by far the best known, but there is also the Pacific, with literally thousands of miles of coastline to explore. But of course what makes it really special is the angle at which it faces into the Indian Ocean. It is just perfect to receive everything the Southern Ocean can throw at it, which brings us on to number the three.
The Southern Ocean is the biggest year round generator of swell on the planet. The North Pacific and Atlantic fire up in the winter, but not year round. Meanwhile the Southern Ocean just has a cartwheel of low pressures circling Antarctica for every month of the year. They get deeper in the southern hemi winter, but they don’t stop in the summer. All that means there is a constant supply of swell, there is virtually never a flat spell in Indo.
More surf spots are created here, and destroyed every year than anywhere else. OK so it doesn’t happen every year, but the subduction zone along the Java Trench is one of the most active major earthquake areas in the world. It is here that the Boxing Day tsunami started life, and since then there have been hundreds of quakes, big and small. They all have something in common, they have a tendency to move reefs. The reefs of Nias and Mentawai chains are constantly changing. Some are nowhere near as good as they used to be, like Rags Right, and there are some new ones, so whilst this unstable zone is bad news for everyone who lives there, it makes surf spots even more interesting.
Bintang. It isn’t a classy beer, it definitely isn’t triple brewed for smoothness, and it definitely doesn’t fall into any hipster craft brewery shit. What’s more the bottles have almost certainly had rats crawling all over them, and whatever you drink it from is probably really unhygienic. But after a days surfing, that first cold Bintang is like an orgasm on the oesophagus. Ice cold to the belly, more rehydrating than a glass of water (this may not be true), and by the sixth one that two second head dip at Ulu’s is a full on 10 second Desert Point lockdown. It is simply the best beer in the world, when you’re in Indo.
Bali is a bit hectic. Pre-bombings it was hectic, but pretty carefree and easy, yeah Kuta was mental, but outside of the beach town Bali was cruisy. Down at Uluwatu you could spend three quid a day on jaffles and stay for free, scoring at least an hour to yourself in the morning before the hordes descended. Now the cliff top at Bali is more the scene of DJ sets and pool parties and less ferals sleeping on mats. Yeah I’m an old fart reminiscing, but Bali has gone hectic all over and just kinda isn’t the same. Well except one thing, the waves are still sick, doesn’t matter what you say, you still get those sessions with just a handful out, yeah they are few and far between but they still exist.
Your tube riding will get better. Indo is the only place I can remember having time to think and adjust what I was doing in the barrel. Then paddle back out and do it again, and again, and again for three weeks. Before I went to Indo my tube riding was some lip in face head dips in the UK and some very quick in and outs in France, but Indo is the real thing. What is more it will lock you in and let you sort your style out for days, weeks, months on end. Indo is all about the tube,nowhere else can match it for the amount of time you will spend in the barrel.
The economy is rampant. It’s one of the emerging markets in South East Asia, which is great for Indonesians but it has significantly pushed the prices up for us lot visiting. That’s not to say it isn’t cheap, just not ludicrously cheap like a decade ago. Back then you could arrive in Bali with a quiver of boards, one pair of shorts and a t-shirt and then get a wardrobe of counterfeit surf goods for next to nothing. Then the surf industry thought hang on a minute, we’re getting screwed here, so they all went rover and started making their own cheap gear there, although you can still pick up knock offs. Although not as good as it was, it still beats the crazy prices of Europe.
Don’t do drugs. Indonesia has a pretty gnarly stance on drugs, distribution, smuggling and even in some cases possession can result in the firing squad. At the very least you’re going to rot in a hot prison, probably within earshot of the beach. So seriously think twice about a biffta, and snort lines and shoot up at your peril. Even the well publicised Mushroom shakes technically carry a custodial sentence.
The waves are the best in the world. Let’s cut to the chase here, there is nowhere better, the combination of long distance, well groomed groundswells hitting perfectly foiled reefs and sick beach breaks doesn’t occur anywhere else. It’s why we’re all obsessed with the place.
With that perfection there is always a sting. In this case the disease. Malaria, Dengue Fever, Hepatitis and just the good old Bali Belly, they’re all out there ready to take you down. You’re likely to pick something up on every trip, just got to pray it’s just a mild case of the shits, remember take a mozzie net, and those tabs because you will get bitten by the little blighters no matter how careful you are.
WRITTEN BY TIM NUNN / PHOTOS BY BEN SELWAY