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5. Surfing Indo: Kandui Firsts!

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

Karangbat, Kandui Resort, June 2019

This past June I went on a two-week surf vacation to Kandui Resort in the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. Though the trip was nothing like a “vacation” and Kandui was certainly not the most luxurious “resort,” I would put this up there as one of the most meaningful and awesome experiences of my life.

This ultimate surf trip was a far away, time consuming, and expensive affair, but Phil and I decided that we had to make it happen before we started trying to have a baby. So we set off from LAX on our some thirty-odd hours of travel. First leg to Tokyo, on to Singapore, Jakarta, Padang, and then the four-hour ferry on the Mentawai Fast to the western coast of Sumatra, where we arrived equal parts tired and stoked to the pumping reef breaks of the Indian Ocean.

I was the only female in the 17-person group that comprised our particular two- week surf trip on the private surf island that is Kandui Resort. Ironically, many of us on this trip were from Los Angeles, with a few others from Australia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica. Phil and I were the least experiences surfers in our crew by a long shot, and to be honest, our first three days of the trip were full of trials and frustrations!

When we arrived that first afternoon at Kandui Resort it was tropical humid, sunny, insanely picturesque, and the swell was 10-15 feet, or so said Surfline. Phil and I ate lunch in the main hall with the other new arrivals and then moved our luggage into Uma 3, our spacious oceanfront “thatched house” built beautifully by local craftsmen in the Mentawai style (the same Uma that Kelly Slater once stayed in). We slathered on sun block and went to the beach to watch the waves.

The breaks right out from of Kandui, called the Playgrounds, are comprised of three different waves: 4 Bobs, A Frames, and Karangbat. These are the more chill and fun waves that Kandui has to offer. These are the waves I had watched video after video of, and drooled over for months leading up to our trip. On the internet they looked small and consistent with slow gradual drops, maybe 3-5 feet in height. But now, as I stood on the pristine sand beach and watched the huge overhead sets rolling steadily in, the drops looked massive! The white water smashed onto shallow reef with explosive sprays that I could hear from shore. I was petrified, but there was nothing to do but face the waves.

I had rented a bright yellow 6 foot 4’ LOST shaped by Al Merrick; the shortest board I had surfed to date. I threw it into the dinghy and we took off on a ten second zip over to Karangbat, currently the smallest hitting wave. In-between sets, and on the inside, Karangbat almost looked doable, save the fact that it’s a left, which as a regular footed surfer, I would surf backside, something I had almost no experience at! “Please don’t die!” Phil said just before I dove into that 90 degree, crystal clear water in my bikini bottoms and rash guard and paddled into the line-up.

The line up on my first surf session consisted of Phil and I, and two goofy foot actors from LA (Adam Brody and Zachary Knighton.) The surf was pumping and we were the only four to choose this “smaller” wave over the fast pushing hollow barrels breaking nearby at Pistols. I was equal parts incredulous and mortified that the long beloved-by-me OC star known as Seth Cohen was going to watch me crash and burn in the gorgeous waves of the Indian Ocean. I had watched his show in my formative and very cold college years in upstate NY, dreaming of someday moving to sunny Southern California and becoming a surfer girl. Apropos.

I sat far on the outside observing with dread as the first set of waves passed through. The actors could see the fear in my face and they did everything they could to help; they encouraged me to into the smaller inside sets, told me to paddle out when they saw a big one coming from afar, made sure I was OK when I washed onto the reef, and cheered me into any wave I dared to paddle for. Adam gave me pointers, suggesting I paddle into the wave with my feet more tightly together and with my chest up. Zach told me that I was very brave. They were extremely nice and good surfers, who had fun on the long riding lefts of Karangbat, which looked so terrifying to me. With their encouragement, Phil and I braved this surf that we hadn’t quite been expecting and weren’t really ready for. We learned so much!

Holding on for dear life at Karangbats

In that very first session at Kandui Resort, I experienced many firsts:

I took my biggest waves on the head.

I was held down the longest I’d ever been held down, only to get one quick sip of air before another wave crashed to hold me under the water again.

I got caught on the inside, very caught, for a long time, when the huge sets came through and I washed onto the shallow reef as the waves pummeled me and my board. “You are fine. You are fine,” I said to myself in the kindest voice I could muster, as I covered my head and let the waves flip me, hoping desperately to avoid getting cut by the razor sharp reef I was being paddled against.

I rode the shortest board I’d ever ridden.

I took the biggest drops I’d taken to date (though as the trip progressed I'd take bigger ones), and glided along the largest most beautifully smooth blue faces, with the webs of cratered reef shining through the clear water inches below the surface.

I rode my first actual left, maybe I’d caught two or three before in LA, but hadn’t really gotten a ride on them.

I pushed harder on my board than I’d ever pushed before, trying to accrue enough speed to get myself out of the peeling waves before they closed on me, and sometimes I even did!

I survived a two-hour session, and in the end I was the last one in the water. I rode a successful wave in to the boat while everyone cheered for me. I accepted high fives from Adam, Zach, and the local Indonesian men running the boat and taking pictures of us. Though I’m not a beer drinker, I downed half a Bintang (the local lager). I washed off the one small reef cut on my foot, grateful and proud to have survived my first session at Kandui almost unscathed.

This is a Pocari Sweat (the Gatorade of Indo), not a Bintang, but you get the idea.

The next few days would be full of trials for both Phil and I, of doubts that we should have waited on this trip until we were stronger surfers. I told Phil on the second day that we should have gone to Europe instead, and in that moment he agreed. But by the fourth day of our trip, we began to feel differently. The swell died down a bit, Phil and I got more comfortable on our boards, and we started learning how to surf real waves on the consistent, uncrowded, and breathtaking breaks of Indonesia. There would be many highs and lows to follow at Kandui, but ALL of them worth it!

More Kandui tales to come…

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