Finding the Unexpected in the Mentawai Islands

Posted by Rhea Cortado on

Some pictures of the Mentawai Islands are so pristine and perfect you think they must be Photoshopped. The powdery white sand, the clear-as-glass water, the huge seashells that look like mermaid beds—is this real?

Seea ambassadors Rosie Jaffurs and Sierra Lerback can swear that yes, this paradise of about seventy islands off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia is as beautiful as the photos. But it’s not easy to get there and you better pack sunscreen and sleeves because it's abundant in sunshine and swell. Here, they tested the signature suits they co-designed, the Rosie and the Sierra, and shared the moments in between waves that make these islands worth the long journey. 

Photos by Keoki Saguibo and Zye Norris.

Both coming from Hawaii (Rosie on Oahu and Sierra on Maui, both beautiful islands), how do the Mentawais compare?

Rosie: It’s traveling back in time. There are no roads, cars, stores, power lines, or trash pick-up. Everything we have in our modern day life was not there. It is only accessible by boat and if you don't have a boat you are well, living off the jungle. You would have to catch your food, find your water and build your fire and also make some shelter. The craziest thing about the Mentawais was the ever-changing weather. It was changing every 20 mins. Every day I saw and heard lightning, the craziest rain storms either above you or off in the distance.

What’s the travel schedule to go out there?

Rosie: From Hawaii it is a lot further than Tahiti or Fiji. You are heading deep into Indonesia, two long plane rides, one short plane ride, and then two long boat rides. It is a mission and a half. We spent a couple of nights in the airport where we tried different ways of spending our time: an airport lounge, free food, hot showers and an uncomfortable seat to sleep in.

We also tried to ride out the longest twelve-hour layover in the quiet zone which quickly became very crowded with others having long layovers. The loudest snorer came and slept right next to me and gave me the worse headache with the loudest snore that I ever heard. That was definitely a hell of a way to spend a layover. The best way we spent a layover was to just get a cheap hotel right outside of the airport to be able to reset. Next time I’d spread out the time between each layover. Spend 24-48 hours in Singapore then another 24 hours in Malaysia. Once you get to Padang, get on the boat! 

Once you’ve finally made it to the islands, what’s the setup?

Rosie: The resort we stayed at, Alaia Mentawai was an absolute dream! It was very affordable, $190-$240 a night per person, everything included and unlimited boat use. If you were to go stay at a cheaper camp in the Mentawais, you might end up spending something somewhat similar because of all the amenities included. The small resort (10 people max) is owned by Nat and Dave, a Japanese/ Australian couple who have worked on other resorts for free until they made their own.

Some other camps get fried rice for three meals a day and maybe a fish to fight over for dinner so if you surf too long you don't get any. Alaia had the best food and made sure we were fed. It was a lot of pasta and salad to keep you well fueled!

We also were luxed out with wi-fi all day every day. Other camps got electricity for two hours a day and you would have to purchase wi-fi separately. Thankfully the resort had everything we needed which was food, water, electricity, and shelter. 

 

What types of waves did you get? 

Sierra: The owners of the camp, Nat and Dave were really good about swell direction and wind direction. Dave could look out in the morning and know which place was going to be good because the wind is doing this and the swell is doing that.

There were 20 different waves within a half hour radius and truly something for everyone. They are pretty similar power to Hawaii and reef bottom breaks with a few point breaks that would run along the shallow reef shelf. I’m a lot more afraid of the reef there because it is live fire coral. In Hawaii the reef is slowly dying but the reef there is more dangerous. If you were to get any cut you’d definitely have to scrub it out with lime.

It’s cool because the islands are so small, if the wind was bad on one side you could just go to the other side and it would be beautiful and offshore. You could always find somewhere where it was good. 

On a remote island, what did you do with your trash?

Rosie: We were in Indonesia and I'm pretty sure they burn most of all the trash. We would pack all of our trash in and out of the boat. Then the workers at the resort would go and burn the trash in the middle of the forest. The only way to tell if people were in an area was either smoke from their fire or a little campfire or light at night.

Sierra: We may have had a compost bin. All the Indonesians burn all their trash and it’s so stinky and horrible. I wish there was another way to do it but I think their culture doesn’t know any better? It’s the easiest thing for them to do because the island has no cars or motorbikes so all their trash is with them forever. Most of the sodas were glass bottles. The only real waste was candy bar plastic wrappers and beer cans. We had a lot of really nice curries and a lot of the food was made from scratch and not packaged. That helps eliminate a lot of the waste.

What items could you not live without or wish you had more of when you were there?

Sierra: The most important things that I brought were sunscreen and after-sun oil from Oshan essentials. It didn’t matter how much sunscreen you put on, you’re going to get sunburned somehow. We’d be so burned, put on the after-sun oil at night and wake up the next morning and be perfectly fine.

I’m stoked we had Hydroflask water bottles for keeping our water cold. They had a cooler but it don’t have ice in it so nothing stays that cold. 

I wish I brought more snack bars like granola bars, packets of almond butter—something easy to eat on a boat, not a big hassle to carry around, tastes good and will fill you up.

I wish I brought a rain jacket. I didn’t know it rained so much there. On the boat ride you splash so much and you never knew if you were going into a rainstorm. Bring bug spray. At night the mosquitos were pretty bad outside of the bug nets around your bed. I wish I brought a snorkeling mask. The reef is so pretty. There’s so many shells and pretty stuff to see underwater. I ended up stealing Rosie’s snorkeling mask all the time. 

You always find the best seashells on your surf trips. What did you find in the Mentawais?

There was an ancient giant clamshell that we stumbled upon. All I could wonder is why how and if I could only bring one of these home. I didn't though, because they were so big. 

You both packed your signature Seea suits that you co-designed. Tell us more about the design features and why worked for your trip.

Rosie: The Rosie was my go-to suit in the Mentawais after surfing 3x a day for ten days straight. I wanted a comfy free feeling one piece that still gives you a nice tan. I choose the spaghetti straps for this reason: thin strap tan lines with the low heart-shaped chest and a low back for that marathon surf session tan where the exact suit you are wearing is now printed on your back.  One of my favorite things about the suit is the low underarm.  I always am getting rash from surfing for too long and once you get rash it can end surfing for the whole week. The low underarm completely misses the spot where most suits lay and gives you a rash. The leg openings with soft edges were also designed with comfort in mind.

Clear water, good surf: this was a dream trip and continues to be what my dreams are made of.

Sierra: The Mentawai Islands was the perfect destination for testing my signature Sierra suit in a range of waves: from perfect logging waves to slabbing barrels. We got to put our suits to the real test: 10 days of non-stop surf and sun. 

I loved the idea of a slightly loose cap sleeve and a low back dropping into a different colored fabric. I wanted to showcase the traits I admire in women: simplicity and elegance, with a little sass of course. 

 


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1 comment


  • Gorgeous! What time of year was this trip? Thank you for sharing. :)

    Cat on

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