A Wild Mentawai Escape

They had been tracking the swell off the coast of Africa for two weeks. A slow moving, season-defining, system making its way across the Indian Ocean to our little island home. Waking bleary-eyed after a restless night sleep, I make my way to the hut barefoot and gasp as I stub my toe on a large chunk of coral. Limping in pain I gaze across the green grass, the light from the porch revealing several hundred more chunks of coral far up the bank. I’ve never known the water to come up this high before. It’s not a good sign.

I pour myself a strong cup of coffee and sit quietly, hearing the roar of the ocean, the lull between sets softened by the sounds from the jungle behind me.

It’s not a good day to go,” the voice of the surf camp owner breaks across the room with concern.

I can’t stay.”

paradise bikinisI’m on a remote island, densely covered in jungle. All the guests of the surf camp have left two days ago, leaving just me and the two owners of the camp, one my now ex-boyfriend.  My time in this tropical paradise has felt like a dream but it’s over and I need to go. Now.

As I find out, my journey ahead requires navigating one of the biggest swells in years in a dugout canoe with outboard for close to three hours.

The entire front section of the camp is flooded out, with coral strewn across every square inch of land. The darkened skies above threaten downpour. Further up the beach my old bamboo hut is starting to give way, as the tide gushes ferociously under its floor and over the embankment, filling the lagoon that lies behind it. With every set the water races up the beach smashing broken coral against my ankles.

10314010_10152088837690168_4730498726156155539_nMy surfboards are firmly strapped in the wooden canoe and wrapped under a large torn tarp. I wear a flimsy poncho,
well and truly not up for the task ahead.

It’s hard to gauge the size of the waves in the stormy conditions but it’s easily 15-20feet and building rapidly. We wait for the sets to pass before we can escape out to sea via the narrow reef passage before us.

Twenty minutes pass and there’s still no safe break between the relentless sets. We continue to patiently wait before I hear a voice:

Ok go, go, go, go, Shannon get in, satu, dua, tiga, puush, satu dua, tiga puush”.

I scamper into the boat, heart racing and adrenaline filling every vein in my body. Whitewash races over the edge of the boat instantly soaking everything within. The engine splutters as it attempts to start and we slowly begin to head out towards the rough sea. I glance back towards land with a heavy heart and see no sign of the man I thought I was in love with.

I pull my hat down over my eyes, not wanting to look ahead. I cling to the edges of the boat each time we reach the peak of a wave as we drop violently onto the flat water with a loud thud and I am almost shaken out into the rough waters. My love for the ocean fades in this moment as fear washes over my body.

ocean storm

I’m relieved as we miraculously make it around the back of the lineup but I glance up and am speechless at the sight of open ocean swell. I feel the boat climb a very steep section of swell for what feels like eternity and I continue to hide under my hat.

Uh oh.

The boat driver switches the engine off. I shut my eyes tightly, crawl below the broken piece of wood I’m sitting on and brace my knees. We surge down the swell and violently hit the flat surface. Gallons of water are thrown onto us once again. The entire boat gives way to the right side, forcing the edge to catch and sink beneath the surface. We come dangerously close to capsizing.

Almost three hours later and still numb with fear, I face an anxious twelve-hour wait in a small fishing village for a public boat. Another twelve hours follows, this time sleeping top to tail with hundreds of locals. From the mainland I wait for six hours for a connecting flight before travelling by car for two hours to the small airport. An hour later my small plane lands me at an international airport where I catch an easy three-hour flight to Bali. I finally touch down, two days later but safe at last, at around 3am.

The price we pay to ride waves of perfection.

For more stories from Shannon Davidson visit www.surfchickareta.com