(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

“I think you’re a lit­tle bit of a witch,” Lua­na said with a slight crin­kle of her green-grey eyes, her hair pulled back in a pony­tail to com­bat the Mentawai Island’s humid­i­ty. We all sat around long tables eat­ing din­ner. She said this shy­ly, a lit­tle embar­rassed at her admis­sion. She said when she felt my hands ear­li­er, she sensed heat ema­nat­ing from them. “But a good witch,” she clar­i­fied.  I laughed. I had been tend­ing to all the surfers’ ail­ments all week with my lit­tle trav­el­ing home­o­path­ic kit. It involved a pen­du­lum so I could see why she’d think that. I was still learn­ing about home­opa­thy and the guys we had met dur­ing our fam­i­ly adven­ture trip to surf in Indone­sia, at a surf camp, lux­u­ry resort, sit­u­at­ed between 15 world-class surf­ing spots in the North Mentawai Islands, Hid­den Bay Resort, gave me plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice with their var­i­ous injuries and head colds. 


(See Part 2 at the bot­tom of the article!)




Where Is Indonesia and the Mentawai Islands?



Real quick, just so we know where we are, known to friends sim­ply as Indone­sia, its more for­mal name is the Repub­lic of Indone­sia. Indone­sia is a coun­try com­pris­ing more than 17,000 islands spread across South­east Asia and Ocea­nia, between the Indi­an and Pacif­ic Oceans. Suma­tra, Java, Bor­neo, Sulawe­si, and New Guinea are all part of its crew.


Also, tech­ni­cal­ly, the Mentawai Islands are called the Mentawai Islands Regency and are a chain of about 70 islands and islets, approx­i­mate­ly 150 kilo­me­ters off the west­ern coast of Suma­tra. Let me be clear here. None of these islands are eas­i­ly acces­si­ble but Siberut, the largest of the Mentawai Islands, is the eas­i­est to get to.


Mentawai Island map


The peo­ple of the Mentawai Islands are thought, by experts who study these things, to have orig­i­nat­ed around 4000 years ago on the south­ern islands around Tai­wan and the Malay Penin­su­la because of their shared lan­guage, with­in the Aus­trone­sian fam­i­ly, cus­toms and beliefs. Arriv­ing in Siberut, about 2000 years ago, many Mentawai Islanders still live tra­di­tion­al, sub­sis­tent lives with­in the forests though some have moved into the vil­lages on the out­skirts of them. When Indone­sia became an inde­pen­dent nation in 1945, it required all its inhab­i­tants to only prac­tice one of its rec­og­nized reli­gions: Islam, Chris­tian­i­ty, Catholi­cism, Hin­duism or Bud­dhism. Many islanders resist­ed and chose, instead, to retain their belief in Ani­mism, the con­vic­tion that every­thing, plants, ani­mals, rocks, and objects, were sacred and had spir­its with­in them. In 1954, police start­ed raid­ing the vil­lages and burn­ing the rit­u­al objects of non-abid­ing islanders, there­fore, destroy­ing their prac­tice for future gen­er­a­tions. It was­n’t until the 1990s, when Indone­sia rec­og­nized the appeal of their ancient prac­tice to tourists, that they final­ly let them prac­tice their own reli­gion.


Natives in the Mentawai Islands


Getting to the Mentawai Islands


I usu­al­ly put this part at the end, but I have to say. This is a big part of the sto­ry. There is no easy way to get to these islands. A per­son would have to be super moti­vat­ed to endure the three flights and 34 hours of trav­el that it took for us to do it. This trip also involved the com­mit­ment of a day in Padang in the begin­ning and end of our fam­i­ly trip because of the fer­ry sched­ule, the only trans­port that takes peo­ple to the islands, in what they call the “fast boat.”.  Now, “fast” is a gen­er­ous descrip­tion. I would prob­a­bly call it the “scenic boat” and I’ll tell you why. The Mentawai Fast Boat is tech­ni­cal­ly a 3–7 hour fer­ry com­muter boat. Islanders, as well as vaca­tion­ing surfers, use it to go between the Mentawai Islands and the main­land of West Suma­tra (as well as oth­er places depend­ing on the day) as it trav­els back and forth from it’s cap­i­tal city of Padang. It took us about 6 hours to make the trip. There would have to have been a giant tsuna­mi, blow­ing us across the ocean, for us to have got­ten there in half that time. How­ev­er, once we hit Indone­sia, every­thing was so dif­fer­ent, the most mun­dane thing became inter­est­ing. Our fer­ry jour­ney involved two stops at island ports that felt like we were descend­ing into an arti­cle for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. Even lunch in the port of Sik­a­balu­an, on the largest of the Mentawai Islands, Siberut, became a bright patch in the quilt of our fam­i­ly vaca­tion story.


  • On the way to Siberut at Mentawai Islands  to Surf Resort Hidden Bay Resort


For his mile­stone birth­day, my surfer hus­band, Howard, want­ed to surf around the Mentawais Islands in Indone­sia. His life’s dream is for our fam­i­ly of five to ride on one wave at the same time (and for there to be a pho­tog­ra­ph­er to cap­ture this moment). This is an ambi­tious dream, as we are all at vary­ing degrees of com­pe­ten­cy as surfers. Espe­cial­ly me, who needs a host of per­fect con­di­tions to align in order for me to hap­pi­ly par­tic­i­pate. Ini­tial­ly, he asked if I thought our eight and ten-year old sons could han­dle 33 hours of trav­el to get there. I laughed and asked if he had met our boys. So, instead, we brought only our 20-year-old son.


After much research, Howard chose the small surf camp, lux­u­ry resort, Hid­den Bay Resort Mentawais, which only hosts 12 surfers at a time.


Indonesia Surf Resort: Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais


Hid­den Bay Resort’s long, thin speed­boat, nick­named the “lim­ou­sine,” picked us up at the Sik­a­balu­an port, and sped us for anoth­er half hour to the south­ern side of Siberut, drop­ping us off on a white sand beach. 


Hidden Baby Resort boat

At Your Service


A wood­en path cut through the pow­der sand and led us across a bridge, over a lagoon with sleep­ing, pink lotus flow­ers, that opened only in the morn­ings, to the largest of the resort’s build­ings, a com­mu­ni­ty hub they call the Sik­erei. Named after a spe­cial class of male shamans, who prac­tice the art of ancient for­est heal­ing on the Mentawais Islands, the Sik­erei is an open air pala­pa with a thatched roof and shiny, dark wood­en beams, over 3,000 square feet of three floors used for yoga, eat­ing, nap­ping in the ham­mocks and socializing. 


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais

Sik­erei pho­to by Ciex “Artie” Ardiles


When I did­n’t join the surfers on their morn­ing and after­noon surf ses­sions, I spent my time in the Sik­erei, read­ing, writ­ing and gaz­ing at the unob­struct­ed view of the baby blue water and sway­ing trop­i­cal trees.  I went into the ocean to snorkel and used the standup pad­dle­board to cruise around the crys­tal ocean. 


Snorkeling around the Mentawai Islands



I loved my pri­vate walks around the island, as far as its land for­ma­tions would allow me to go. When the surfers returned, they napped, ate and nursed wounds inflict­ed by the shal­low reef, laugh­ing and shar­ing vic­to­ry stories. 


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawai

The In-Between


A Brazil­ian fam­i­ly are the pro­pri­etors of Mentawai Islands’ Hid­den Bay Resort. Tall, long-limbed Lua­na Panek, with pierc­ing blue eyes and hon­ey-blonde hair, her hus­band, Alexan­dre “Alex” Ribas, also a surfer, and their adorable daugh­ter, Gaia, who had just turned two when we vis­it­ed. Alex and Lua­na made every­one vis­it­ing for a surf hol­i­day feel like they were com­ing to see long lost fam­i­ly. Lua­na chased Gaia around, held her at her hip or relaxed as the lit­tle girl wan­dered between guests, steal­ing hearts with her deep dim­ples. Today, I hear, Gaia is joined by lit­tle sis­ter, Ayla.


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais

Gaia, Lua­na and Alex


Alex looked like a man who had come to the oth­er side of some­thing. His big, white smile opened his whole, tanned face. His warm, brown eyes shone with the delight he felt at hav­ing us share his favorite place on earth. “I had been work­ing in the movies doing light­ing. Six days a week, morn­ing until night, some­times even on Sun­days. I nev­er saw my wife or baby. I decid­ed it was enough.” So he built Hid­den Bay Resort from the ground up with the help of investors. He said when he first arrived to where he would even­tu­al­ly build the resort, it was as dirty and strewn with plas­tic as we had observed the trash lit­ter­ing the port of Sik­a­balu­an, where they had picked us up, and also in the city of Padang. Alex said he hired locals to col­lect the trash and paid them by the pound. Even cig­a­rette butts earned 1000 Rupees, which was about a pen­ny. It worked. The island we vis­it­ed was pris­tine. Not a sign of trash any­where to blight the emer­ald and turquoise hues of nature. Gold sand beach­es with jagged coast­line, trees in repose, roots hang­ing out obscene­ly, crabs in var­i­ous sized seashells scam­pered across rocks.


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais


When we first arrived, it was just our fam­i­ly of three and I could­n’t have loved the qui­et soli­tude more. Alex likes to hire locals as there aren’t many options for them to earn mon­ey on the island. Most sub­sist on the coconuts and fruit they gath­er and the fish they catch. Alex hired them to cook, bar­tend and main­tain the resort. They brought plat­ters of food to the top floor of the Sik­erei when we all ate. When they served us, we said “Trey makasi!” which means thank you. They replied “Sama-sama” which means you’re wel­come. Lit­tle elec­tric lights twin­kled over­head like the real stars, only the real ones num­bered in the millions.


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais

Trey Makasi! (Thank You)


Then the Brazil­ian surfers arrived. When we heard they were com­ing, I imme­di­ate­ly pic­tured the swag­ger­ing, loud ones from my teenage years and expect­ed the placid nature of the island to become rau­cous and row­dy. This did­n’t hap­pen. The men could­n’t have been more friend­ly and invit­ing. Their love for their sport brought them annu­al­ly to the Mentawais Islands from Por­tu­gal, Spain, Aus­tralia and Brazil to ride what they con­sid­ered one of the most per­fect waves in the world.


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais

Sweet Right


Guests have their own pri­vate bun­ga­low, or “uma,” with­in the 1.5 km of beach­front land, con­struct­ed by builders using indige­nous wood and mate­ri­als that also fol­lowed tra­di­tion­al Mentawais Island design. The bun­ga­lows are set far apart with­in the rich, beach land­scape of banana leaves, but­ter­flies and crabs hoist­ing their shell homes around the sand paths, lined by stones, that con­nect­ed the bun­ga­lows to the Sikerei.


Hidden Bay Resort Mentawais Bungalow

Home Sweet Uma



Mentawai Islands: The Surf Spots


The resort is locat­ed in what is called the Play­grounds area, 15 surf spots with­in a 15-minute speed­boat ride from Hid­den Bay Resort, the clos­est called Hide­away and only a 3‑minute speed­boat ride away. 

The resorts have surf guides but the camps don’t.

Alex told us. 

The guides assess where the opti­mal con­di­tions are to take guests every morn­ing and evening, mak­ing sure not to vis­it areas that are already too crowded.


Surf Indonesia Mentawai Island Surf Camp Resort


Their web­site says there is always a pro­tect­ed wave with an off­shore wind somewhere. 

Our swell win­dow is huge, from 240 SW through to 165 SE, our area gets con­sis­tent­ly hit by a lot of swell from the Indi­an Ocean. Our waves are the clos­est Mentawai waves to main­land Suma­tra, which means less trav­el time for you to access our per­fect waves. We have waves that suit every­one from begin­ners to pro­fes­sion­al surfers. Our guest capac­i­ty is lim­it­ed to 12 surfers, which means more waves for every­body! Every dif­fi­cult wave has an alter­nate and eas­i­er wave near­by. This means we can divide our group by dif­fer­ent surf lev­els. In addi­tion to the huge vari­ety of famous waves of inter­na­tion­al qual­i­ty, there are still many oth­er secret or semi-secret spots of excel­lent qual­i­ty which we do not share on our website!


I accom­pa­nied the boys and the vis­it­ing yoga teacher, Ina Strid­de, on a few of the surf trips. Yes, I want­ed to cheer for my son and hus­band but I also want­ed to ride in the boat around the islands. Green explod­ed from the banks of the small­er islands as we passed them. Although many of the beach­es had trees and plants push­ing against each oth­er into the ocean, some were bet­ter behaved, stand­ing tall with dig­ni­ty and even allow­ing a bit of room for sand to spill into the blue water. 


around the Mentawai Islands

Rush Hour


When we arrived at the pre­s­e­lect­ed spot, I took pic­tures beside Ciex “Artie” Ardiles, the pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er the resort had hired to take videos and pho­tos of each surfer for an option­al pack­age they could buy. We bought this pack­age. The drone footage, and many of the videos and pho­tos that appear with­in the edit­ed video of this arti­cle, was tak­en by Artie and Alex. Alex got into the waves to take to catch those stel­lar surf shots and under­wa­ter footage. In the evenings, after din­ner, the surfers gath­ered in the TV room to review the day’s footage. At first, I thought they came togeth­er to high five each oth­er’s badass­ness but it turned out, Alex and the oth­er surf coach­es dis­sect­ed the per­for­mances of the surfers and gave them tips for the next day to improve on their tech­niques. Though, there was def­i­nite­ly an appre­ci­a­tion of a well-rid­den wave there too.



The Best Waves


I asked some of the surfers which surf spots were their favorites and why.

Howard told me he loved Nipussy “because of how beau­ti­ful the back­drop of the island right in front of it looked.”

Daniel Tejo Fer­reira, 23 years old, a stu­dent and car­pen­ter, the dark-haired Brazil­ian who now lives in Aus­tralia, who you see flash­ing the first sha­ka sign as the cam­era pops out of the water, said his favorite waves were in “Hide­aways because of the tubu­lar left and Burg­er World because of the long right for maneuvers.”

Eduar­do Azam­bu­ja, 30 years old and a Muay Thai gym own­er, said, “that would be Rifles, it was the best wave there.”

Diego Prates, 34 years old, a surf coach and brick­lay­er, now liv­ing in Aus­tralia, the one with the bloody head in the video, said: “Hide­aways, it’s a pow­er­ful wave, it’s a left hand not far from the resort, but for me what’s makes me love that wave the most is the bar­rel that you can get there and also the reef there is very sharp and alive.”


Mentawai Surf Resort

Lucas Alvaren­ga, Alex Ribas and Mauri­cio Sil­veira (left to right)



Read about oth­er Extreme Fam­i­ly Vaca­tions, this one while vis­it­ing bee hives!

What did I do, as a non-surfer, when the guys got off the boat and I was done tak­ing pic­tures? I put on fins and a mask and jumped from the top of the boat into the warm water. I kicked away from the waves, which agi­tat­ed the sandy ocean floor and mussied the view of col­or­ful ocean life. Once away, the qui­et beneath the water filled my ears and the tech­ni­col­ored fish filled my eyes.



Other Things To Do At Hidden Bay Resort


If you aren’t a surfer, there isn’t much to do at the resort and that is per­fect for some­one who often does too much. The day could start with light yoga, fac­ing the ocean with salu­ta­tions to greet the ris­ing sun. After the com­mu­nal break­fast of yogurt, cere­al, fruit and juices, plus the best cof­fee we’d ever tast­ed, the surfers would load the thin, long boats with gear and whizz off into the hori­zon. The resort would sud­den­ly lose its sound. Only birds call­ing from palm trees and the crow­ing of roost­ers, walk­ing around the gar­den beneath the Sik­erei, could be heard with the back­drop of the crash­ing waves. 


Mentawai Surf Resort

Per­fect Start to the Day


Because I am an active trav­el­er, I often bring books on trips I nev­er read, instead, opt­ing to adven­ture. Dur­ing the 10 days we spent at the Hid­den Bay Resort, I sat on an Indone­sian couch, fac­ing the sap­phire ocean, and read more than one. I filled note­books with thoughts and ideas I sud­den­ly had time to think. When I took breaks, I’d walk along the edge of the water around the island. The sand cov­ered sin­u­ous lines of shells, shaped like the pro­trud­ing bones of the island. 


Mentawai Surf Resort, shells sticking out from sand

This island needs to see a chiropractor


Hun­dreds of crabs click-clacked their way across these piles of seashells. I nev­er made it all the way around because a large riv­er even­tu­al­ly blocked my pas­sage but I did walk by aban­doned and occu­pied huts with natives out­side liv­ing their lives. They seemed sur­prised and pleased to see me, one stopped from the work of shap­ing the bot­tom of a canoe to wave and smile, anoth­er with coconuts strung to his back smiled a tooth­less grin, bob­bing his head up and down in greeting.


Mentawai Surf Resort




Guests could take fins and a mask to kick around the water. We could take a stand-up pad­dle­board and cruise from spot to spot explor­ing the unspoiled ocean and the sea life with­in. Once, we all took a ride behind the “lim­ou­sine” with a board attached to the back that allowed us to cruise under­wa­ter, con­trol­ling our descent and ascent through anoth­er world. 


Lua­na also offered very afford­able mas­sages which were a joy to the boys after their two dai­ly surf ses­sions and a joy to me just because. Ina led yoga in the morn­ings for every­one to stretch their mus­cles before using them against the cur­rents. She led some pri­vate pilates class­es for me in the after­noons when she returned from rid­ing waves. 


One day, Ina returned with giant gash­es on her shoul­der and foot from the wicked sharp reef and one of the oth­er surfers, Diego, had a bleed­ing hole in his head from anoth­er surfer­’s board. The resort had a first-aid kit to deal with minor abra­sions but they took the boat to a near­by island to see a doc­tor just in case. They came back dazed and stitched up. Of course, I tried to aid them all with dos­es of Arni­ca Mon­tana from my kit. My method of heal­ing was unfa­mil­iar to most of them. But through the week, they had wit­nessed me reliev­ing con­ges­tion and chills and trust­ed this rem­e­dy would work too, espe­cial­ly since they did­n’t have to wor­ry about any side-effects due to the nature of home­opa­thy. Luck­i­ly, this all hap­pened toward the end of every­one’s trip. I thought the next and last full day, they’d stay with me, recu­per­at­ing at the love­ly island but no. They took their wounds back into the ocean so not to miss that last oppor­tu­ni­ty to ride those per­fect waves. 


Mentawai Surf Resort



Surf Mentawai Island or Boogie Board!

Felipe used a boo­gie board to ride the waves


On our last night, Alex and his crew pre­pared a roman­tic, sur­prise din­ner for me and Howard in our uma. Can­dle­light lit up dish­es pre­pared with the local ingre­di­ents we had enjoyed dur­ing our entire vis­it but these dish­es were spe­cial and unique and the first time we had got­ten to savor a meal alone. 


Mentawai Surf Resort romantic meal


After eat­ing, we walked along the water, gen­tly lap­ping, reflect­ing dia­monds from the moon above. We had nev­er spent so much time away from our lit­tle guys. We missed them but we also appre­ci­at­ed the time we had to our­selves. We looked for­ward to bring­ing them back, intro­duc­ing them to our new Mentawai fam­i­ly and try­ing to get that pic­ture Howard had always want­ed. Maybe, for his next mile­stone birthday.






A Guide to the Best Family Surf Trip in Indonesia to the Mentawais Islands