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A Private Island Surf Paradise: Togat Nusa in the Mentawais

Ainsley Ocean in the Mentawais. Photo by Chris Hoy.
Forgive us for stating the obvious: living on an island that’s a boat or plane ride away from modern amenities and provisions — say, Tylenol and toilet paper — is truly exiting the mainland, and letting go of your fate into nature’s hands. If there were any risk worth the reward, its experiencing the raw beauty of Togat Nusa surf retreat in the Mentawais.

Like shipwrecked castaways, the founding couple of the retreat, John and Ainsley Ocean, live in bungalows constructed out of foraged driftwood, rocks and shells gathered no further than a mile from the plot. “The Mentawai Islands is such a special place. Still relatively untouched by the maddening pace of the busy world we have created, the environment is clean and wild,” says Ainsley.

Feasting on rice and fish, and fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the tropics, it's a beautiful reset into hunter and gatherer days and simplicity of communing with nature.

A view of Togat Nusa retreat from the water. Photo by Johnny Abegg. Courtesy of Togat Nusa. 
Ainsley wearing the Seea Hermosa Surf Suit in the Mentawais. Photo by Chris Hoy. 

She admits that the 12-year long road to creating this blissful sanctuary hasn’t always been a glassy paddle out. Being on a dot of land in the open sea exposes you to tsunamis, earthquakes, and thunderstorms, plus limited access to supplies while on the island.  Just last year, John became injured from a surfing accident and was medivaced to intensive care in Singapore for multiple fractures and a spinal fracture. She called the experience "stressful" and thankfully John's on the road to a healthy recovery.

If its not environmental forces, Ainsley says that desolation might be your downfall. “I think life in general has its challenges. A big one out here is not to do your own head in — too much time to think,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Togat Nusa.
What's for dinner at the retreat. Photo courtesy of Togat Nusa. 

But the waves make it all worthwhile. Dropping into overhead barrels like any other weekday, Ainsley shrugs it off saying, “I guess everything is relative, I do not think the waves I ride are big... Though I am no super model, I just love the water and trying to be the very best individual I can."

Ainsley learned how to surf at 17-years-old in chilly Vancouver Island, Canada. Then she discovered warm water. “I travelled to Central America and was hooked on the tropics, and made a goal to relocate to warmer water. I remember in those days, surfing in some cut-off hospital pants as they were lightweight before the creation of women’s surf wear, Roxy and the explosion that followed.”

It's not always heaving barrels. Ainsley goes out for a longboard session wearing the Palmas Surf Suit. Photo by Chris Hoy. 
Ainsley, calm and cool, wearing the Palmas Surf Suit. Photo by Chris Hoy. 

The retreat is staffed by local Mentawai people who commute from their village, in addition to staff that live on the island during the surf seasons. Ainsley says they do their best to be mindful of their presence on the islands, respecting the local culture and preserving the raw beauty of the island.

"The culture of the Mentawai is unique," she says. "They are heartfelt people, living very much so hand-to-mouth. Over the past decade, I have seen their isolation change, with the introduction of the cell phone, surf culture etc... They have been isolated for a long time, live in general in small villages, with big families. Marry young and make babies. Education, nutrition, and health care are issues for them, though I see a pattern of them all being influenced by education or lack there of. They are in general a happy people, laid back, on island time. Strong people. It will be interesting to witness, them grow as development seems to booming in the islands."

Indeed, its been a while since the abundance of perfect waves in the Mentawais were a well-kept secret. We spotted Ainsley on Facebook wearing our Hermosa Swim Shirt that she bought from the Drifter Surf Shop in Bali — which she lent to snowboarder Marie-France Roy during her last trip to the island. Ever since, we’ve been intrigued to follow along with her island life, and the impressive women that brave the days of travel and charge the waves with athletic confidence.

Snowboarder Marie-France Roy slices the water wearing the Seea Hermosa Swim Shirt. Photo by Damea Dorsey, courtesy of Togat Nusa Surf Retreat.
Ainsley wearing the Seea Hermosa Surf Suit in Sumatra. Photo by Chris Hoy. 

“Every year the tribe of women grows too,” Ainsley says. “Over the years I have seen more and more women venture out into the Mentawais, but 10 years ago there was about three. As more land-based options expand for women, the idea of spending ten days on a boat with a bunch of men at times is menacing, I think. There are all types of waves for every skill level in the islands. Though all of them are over reef.”

When the women arrive, she says the mood shifts. “I love surfing with other women. It is inspiration, the mood tends to be lighter, the energy is different. I always encourage and I am a strong supporter of women’s surf travel, get out there and explore. The world is a beautiful place. Togat Nusa Retreat is a safe space, with user-friendly waves for women.”

View from the island. Photo by Adam Kobayashi, courtesy of Togat Nusa. 
Ainsley, all smiles wearing a Seea rashguard. Photo by Chris Hoy. 

Thanks for being an inspiration to us, Ainsley! Check out more about Togat Nusa at their website, HERE.


Rhea Cortado October 15, 2015 1 tags (show)

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