Once upon a time I was very competitive. I wanted to be a professional surfer. I would paddle out in the surf and always fight for the best waves. That's how my enjoyment was defined in the ocean. As I grew older, competing over waves didn't matter so much. I'd found who I was as a surfer the further I moved away from competitions. These days, approaching the mid 30's, I prefer surfing with less people. It's where I can connect with nature, and be myself.
Visiting the Mentawai Islands for the first time, there was an element of surprise. Little did I realise that are were hundred's and thousand's of surfers like me, who had the same childhood dream of surfing the best waves in the world.
After living this story for a few days in a more popular part of the Mentawai's, the home of waves like Rifles, Kandui, E-bay, and a few too many surfers after their ‘postcard-perfect’ wave, I luckily got to visit Togat Nusa Retreat… A little island with a big heart.
TIME TO GO
I find myself in the foyer of Padang’s Mercure Hotel. 20 board bags live close by, a sign of fellow dreamers. Lucky there's only eight guests allowed at Togat Nusa at any one time, so I know the company will dissipate shortly.
Aboard the three-hour speedboat transfer, murky green water morphs to a deep turquoise in a matter of minutes, and we hammer across the ocean away from Padang.
Touching down, my feet caress the white sand while tiny crabs carrying little homes on their backs scurry for food. The water sparkles like an emerald jewel, while palm trees sway in relaxation. A left-hand wave makes it's way along a reef pass. This is my home for 10 days.
We are greeted by John and Ainsley Ocean, and their 4-year old pet Monkey "Beaker", named after the Sesame Street character, who we discover loves foot rubs, beer, and shampoo bottles. There is "Kitty", a cat John traded for a pack of cigarettes, and a one eyed Dog "Jojo". I get an instant feeling this was going to be a very different experience; Johnny could pass as Dr. Doolittle.
Togat Nusa means 'baby island' in Indonesian, a whole 12 hectares which you can circumnavigate by foot in 30 minutes. Pitojat Island is the official title, and this little haven is located off the North Western tip of Sipura Island.
The partial eco-retreat has taken seven years to build from recycled timber and driftwood collected from the surrounding beaches, using local builders under the creative guidance of John, an absolute magician with wood. This place has to be ‘seen to be believed’. Each piece of furniture is built to reflect the natural environment, styled with old Dutch lamps and Japanese glass fishing buoys, and walls are adorned with traditional carvings, shells, skulls and collected treasures.
A large pilot whale skeleton hangs from the roof of the bar, holding two glass bouys for eyes. The bar/restaurant was the first building John created on the island, and is the focal point for the retreat. You need to walk in something John has built to feel how incredible it is. His creations are alive with passion and intimacy. Togat is what an intelligent Fred Flintstone would’ve built if he wanted a luxury retreat in Bedrock. Mix that with a touch of Robinson Crusoe adventure and the film Night at the Museum and you come close to what John and Ainsley have created.
Let's start with the house rule. If you claim a wave, you buy a round of drinks for the island. Keep that stoke modest.
Obviously the main draw card is the waves. "Telescopes", a mechanical left-hander is just 20 minutes away by boat and is one of the main jewels in the Mentawai crown. The wave also draws in surfers with it's alluring perfection, arriving in boats, from neighbouring land-camps, and in local fishing vessels from the feral camps ashore. If you get it on, it's a dream wave but needs more swell to get going. One of the funnest waves I caught on the trip was here, in desperate two-foot side-shore winds. After the 7th turn, feeling the momentum of the wave under my feet wrapping back towards the land, I was in forehand heaven. Don't get me wrong, it gets better than this.
"Scarecrows" is the wave out front at Togat Nusa, a shifting left-hander up to 200-metres long that gets better with every beer consumed at the bar. By the trips’ end it’s become my best friend, I’m drawn in by its moods. We score a memorable day at 5ft, glassy and Indo-perfect. Some waves are more makeable than others. John has the place wired, navigating through 4 tubes (on 4 different waves) in 20mins, weaving through the inside "curry bowl" to freedom. As the wave changes, John simply moves with the motions. Some call him the 'Yoda' of Scarecrows. He’d probably hate me writing that. I meet the reef twice trying to navigate the inside bowl but it’s well worth the pain.
This is just two of the waves in the region. There are plenty of others. Best to discover for yourself.
OH MY… THE FOOD
Visualise a freshly cooked donut, warm with anticipation after your three-hour surf. Pour a soul enhancing lemon sauce over it. Kick back with new friends and share in the waves you've just had. Togat Nusa has awesome food which ignites the experience further. If there's one thing in my book that will be spoken about more than any five-second tube, it would be about how happy my stomach is. There's no eating Nasi Goreng for 10 days straight at Togat Nusa. Everyday is different. I become Chef Rachmet's best friend.
The culinary highlight is the coconut infused bread, with swirls of coconut. There are also dishes that make you feel right at home like lasagne, pizza and lamb chops with mashed potato. A local treat is the pandanus leaf cake. And you get bacon and eggs for brekkie.
LEAVE YOUR EGO IN PADANG
Surfers and their lust for perfect waves…it’s all about obsession, to fulfill ones ego. The countless barrels eaten by a jungle full of hungry animals. We go home and speak of the best waves of our lives, but don't divulge how many were there with you.
The Mentawai Islands has some of the best waves in the world. What can’t claim, however, is being uncrowded. Places like this ignite the wave-hungry, perfect-wave obsession in a surfer, sold-out by surf videos and perfect lineup shots in magazines. Speaking with Ainsley post donut, there is doubt in how she wants Togat Nusa perceived, with the experience behind them of running Kandui Resort, and dealing with the success and commerciality of what it became. They basically packed up and left while it was successful and started Togat Nusa anew: "Kandui wasn't a true reflection of who John and I are, and we want to attract like-minded people", Ainsley says.
Togat isn't just for the surfers; it's a place for families, a place to float in the warmth and dream, to snorkel, to do yoga and to meet some new friends. You will get some of the best waves of your life to top it off. Even though I missed out on seeing my one year old boy walk while I was away, updated with videos my fiancé was sending me (they also have wifi), this experience too was one of those once-in-a-lifetime type deals.
One word of warning, if 'Beaker' the monkey leaps out of a tree screeching and grabs onto your leg, it's just her sign of affection.
COSTS - TOGAT NUSA RETREAT
Prices start at US$250 per day, with packages working to a 10/11 day cycle. There is an additional US$400 charge for general transportation. For bookings of 8 people (you get the island to yourselves), there is a US$1000 discount on your stay.
Also bring some rupiah spare to tip your favourite worker on the island, or you can leave a tip for all the staff to share.
WHEN TO GO
The Dry Season (March to October) is best for Western Sumatra with light winds. Unfortunately this area is not governed by the trade winds like Bali. Rain is a little more regular, with passing storms and fluctuating winds.
I travelled with two surfboards - a big and small wave, 6'6'' and a 6'0". If in doubt bring more. I preferred riding smaller boards for the Mentawai Islands. Again, best to fly Garuda Indonesia as they don't have any restrictions on boards and sizes.
A spare leash, tropical surf wax, booties and a snorkel kit with flippers are recommended. Also bring antiseptic for reef cuts.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Medical - Bring something like Collodial Silver (a natural antibiotic) and any immune boosting things with you like multi-vitamins, etc. Chemists in Padang are called Apotik's if you need to grab something on the fly.
Also 'Slip, Slop, Slap'. The sun is vicious and sunstroke will bite faster than a mosquito. I wore a waterproof hat most of the time.
Insurance - It is a good thing to take out travel insurance, even though I didn't (love living on the edge). This will cover you for unlimited medical expenses, unforeseen travel complications, and for lost/damaged luggage. Extra cover is needed for Cameras/Computers.
Water - Bottled water only. Once at Togat Nusa you will be given a bottle to refill. Too often in Indonesia one throws out so much plastic to stay safe (you cannot drink the local water in Indonesia), to then see it float by you in the ocean.
VISAS & MONEY
Obtain a Visa on arrival in Jakarta, or if you fly via Denpasar. US$25 or AUD$30 will get you out of trouble and is valid for 30 days.
There are ATM's accessible in most areas in Padang and at the airport.It’s best to exchange money before you leave or through legit looking vendors. Do the math before the exchange.
You will need US$10 for departure tax.
Best to fly Garuda Indonesia, who also recently got voted ‘Best Airline in Asia and Australasia’. They have the best connections to Padang from Australia. You can also fly direct to Jakarta from Sydney/Perth, and they let you take a surfboard.
The Mercure Padang is the place to stay for an easy transition to Togat Nusa Retreat. It’s a good place to meet travelling surfers, and a nice break from the usual Indonesian madness.
If you have a layover in Jakarta, which often happens, try the 5-star Sheraton Bandara.Mercure Padang - http://www.mercurepadang.com
Sheraton Bandara Jakarta - http://www.sheraton.com/bandara
Togat Nusa RetreatWebsite - http://www.togatnusaretreat.com
Instagram - http://instagram.com/togatnusaretreat
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/
Tumblr - http://togatnusaretreat.tumblr.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/mentawaiislands
Wonderful Indonesia Tourism - http://www.indonesia.travel
About Johnny Abegg
Johnny Abegg is a Filmmaker, Surfer, Photographer, and occasional writer who lives in Byron Bay, Australia.Website - http://www.johnnyabegg.com
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/johnnyabegg
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Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/johnnyabegg