How do you tell a true surf story? In this pretty island chain called the Mentawais, one-and-half degrees off the equator, there is a daily play of cat and mouse. The old themes of deceit and gamesmanship, act themselves out among the fifteen boats, the resorts, the camp and the home stays that populate the surf in the 120-mile long chain.
There is no model of human behaviour or restraint in the Menatawai islands. Boats pile on top of each other at popular waves, the surfers hurriedly jerking their boards off racks to attain a sort of local status at the wave. Often, there are elderly, and one supposes, embittered men who growl at the new arrivals.
There is no escaping from reality. And this is true.
There is escape from reality. And this is a truth, too.
When I was last in the Mentawai islands, at the turn of the century, I was a prisoner of a slow boat and a gloomy captain who lay down drunk in the wheelhouse most nights. Crowds and small waves were our haul.
This time, the captain, a Mr John Shawcross, a relaxed humorous man who weight-lifts in the wheelhouse, has neither the financial constraint of fuel usage nor the chains of inexperience that might render a bold late-night journey dangerous.
For many years, he was the super-yacht captain billionaires begged to hire. First, Shawcross skippered the 114-metre $100 million Octopus in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Later, a very rich Russian for whom no words can be spoken nor written due to a confidentiality agreement, sought his rule. In a darker time, Shawcross, a century or so earlier, this master mariner would be hauling Sperm Whales alongside for slaughter.
The surf guide, mate, Eric Soderquist, is 11 years into his Mentawais. He makes decisions that are part-consensus, part-order and startling in their correctness.
So this is our truth.
Today Shawcross and Soderquist present their guests with four-to-six-foot lefts, empty, but with eight-foot wash-throughs, for the early morning session. Three-to-four-foot waves, slow, and again lefts but defined in a way a surfer rarely sees, are served for brunch.
We are promised six-foot right hand barrels for supper.
There is a spring carnival mood on board.
:: Derek Rielly is the founder of Stab magazine and, now, BeachGrit.com