I didn't plan on going to HT's. There was never the intention of surfing HT's, or Lance's Right. I booked a ticket from London to Singapore, and the plan was to get across to Sumatra and find a way to Nias.
Getting to Nias in 1996 was transcendental. After Singapore, I just started moving, and I would climb on board taxis, meet people in Sumatra and sleep in their houses and drink bitter kopi in the morning before moving on to the next cab. It took days to get to Sibolga and then a night there, before another full day to reach Nias.
There have been a few little rumours floating around in 1996 about the Mentawais. People spoke of the Indies Trader and Enggano. They spoke of a myriad of perfect reefs, but not much was known. At Nias however, a surfer had hired a feral boat and had headed down to the Mentawais. He had scored. The captain from Nias knew the deal.
We took the overland route, and head down Sumatra, aimed for Padang. The journey to Padang from Sibolga was torturous. It took us days and days of travelling through the poor heart of Sumatra. There was not much to see except poor people, wet villages, and TV's everywhere. Every shack had a TV, and some had two.
The jump-off spot to the Mentawais had seen very little surfer traffic in 1996, and locals treated us with curiosity and interest. The backstreets of Padang back then were wild. It was busy and poor, but it still felt strangely safe. People wanted to sell you things and to talk, but there was no chance of being robbed, or of having stuff stolen. We were in safe hands with the locals.
The Local Ferry
The ferry to the Mentawais was a junk ship, and it was a wooden pile of junk. The Fast Boat didn't exist, and about a hundred people overcrowded this local ferry. We were stuck in the sand in the harbour and waited for the tide to move before we got going. Locals slept everywhere, on our surfboards and our bags. It was unbelievably hot, with thousands of cockroaches crawling all over the hold.
The Other Side
When we landed in the Mentawais, at some arbitrary port, there was a market on the go. People flocked to the port to see their friends and families who were coming over. We were a curiosity again. There had been a few surfers, but no one head down the local ferry and had just breezed past in the luxurious boats like the Indies Trader. We ate some food, and I used the 'bathroom' – a tiny square on the edge of the food shop that had an open conduit that ran into the sea. The toilet had a door that didn't close and a low wall. People watched me.
We eventually hired a local outrigger to take us around, to where a hand-drawn map had an X marked in a little bay. When we showed the skipper of the boat the spot, he knew where we were going.
It took us two hours in the beating sun to reach the bay. The outboard died twice. We were safe, inside the reef, but we drifted for a while as he desperately tried to coach the engine back to life.
Eventually, we alighted at a small bay, and a few locals and the village elder came down to greet us. They grabbed our boards and our bags and helped us off the outrigger. They walked us in the village, and the village elder, Pak Hosien, invited us into his house.
Surfers had been here before. There were remnants of a surf magazine, and a few bits of surfboards lying around. There was a nose, a fin, and a piece of foam. We weren't the first, but not many had been before us.
We didn't have much of the language – this changed quickly – but we figured out that there had been a surfer before us who travelled alone to HT's. He had walked to Lance's Left – over the top – but had speared himself under his arm and had lost so much blood that he had nearly died in that very house. He had recovered, looked after by the locals, but no one knew what had happened to him when he left the island.
We slept on the dirty mattresses with make-shift mosquito nets that we all carried in our packs. We were exhausted, and sleep was comfortable. The next morning Lance's Right was six-foot, light offshore, with not a soul in sight. The view from the empty window frame was straight into the barrel.