At the beginning of 2023, I was in the Mentawais enrolled in a surf training camp at the Macaronis resort together with 20 surfers from all around the world. Everyone was here with a common mission - to surf Macaronis, one the best left hand breaks in the world. It was my first time in this part of the world and also getting coached on surfing. I rode some of the best waves in my life here and left knowing exactly what I need to work on in my surfing. Would I do this again? My mind is already racing with plans. What boards I need for the next time and which organ I can do without to make it happen.
What’s the surfing like?
The surfing experience was pure luxury compared to other surf trips I have been on. Resort speed boats are always on stand by to take you to the break. If you need a break from surfing, you can paddle over to the “Surfalot” resort boat which stays anchored at the break all day. When you are done for the session, you return to the resort boat and the captain radios in a speedboat to return you to camp.
The intermediate surf clinic took place in Jan, when Macaronis receives smaller swell on average than during the peak period around May-Sep. It was still super consistent, with maybe only 1 day of the week being a bit too small on the lower tides. Mostly we had chest to head high sets, except for the last day when a fresh swell sent well overhead waves. Those of us that shook the hangovers from the party the night before and got a last surf in came back from the boat with wide grins.
It took a while for me to work out the take off points even with advice from the coaches. I have an ingrained tendency to go for the scraps and waves which people don’t want or miss. Especially when the scraps looked much better than the waves at home. But the smaller inside waves are much harder to get up and riding on before they inevitably closed out over the reef. It was better to be patient and go for a shoulder high + wave. Once you make it past the fast section at the start, you can slow down a little to practice turns, snaps and cutbacks. When the wind cooperated, the surface of the wave was so glassy and smooth, it felt like a skate park While there weren’t that many barrels, the better tube hounds in the group managed to sniff out a couple.
In my view, the best thing about Maccas was the mechanical consistency. Each wave lets you work on your turns, driving each one a bit more as that wall builds in front of you.
Is it a dangerous wave? Well it is shallow. It’s not unusual for wipeouts to be accompanied by a bounce off the reef. As for myself, my back was scratched up, fingers cut, boardies ripped and lost a fin. Other guys had similar encounters with the reef, dinged their boards and snapped leashes. Nothing too severe that kept us from surfing. But there is no way in hell I would part with my reef boots here. You sacrifice a lot of movement and sensitivity but it's worth it not getting your feet cut up. Making your way back to the channel after a fall in knee deep water while protecting your board at the same time ain’t easy.
During our stay, there were also half day trips out to Ombak Goyang, a right hander which offered natural footers a break from surfing backhand. A couple of beginner surfers started at Fish Fingers - a right hand sand bottomed beach break and mini maccas - which started to get going on bigger days.
The surf at Macaronis was super consistent
What was the coaching like?
Both our coaches had decades of experience competing and coaching. I tried to absorb as much as I could. They were really passionate about surfing, always talking about surfing, always open to questions.
During coaching sessions we had 2 coaches in the water. One at the take off point and one at the further down the wave. Dave would sit with the pack at the take off point giving advice on which waves were makeable and when and where to paddle to. Chris would watch your ride and give you feedback as you paddled back out so you know what to work on for your next wave. We were really lucky because you can’t get better feedback than this.
After each session, video footage is uploaded for a further technical analysis either on the ipad or on the big screen. To be honest, watching yourself on the big screen flailing around like a squid can be brutal. But the video analysis was extremely helpful. Being able to slow down the footage and have the coaches pinpoint when and what things went wrong was invaluable. Their points were spot on. Little things about foot placement, hand placement and which zone of the wave you work with become incredibly clear when you watch yourself.
It’s always fun to have a bintang and watch the wipeouts.
Each day there were 2 stretching sessions pre and post surf to get our bodies surf-ready. This is definitely something I need to add to my routine when I get back. In the middle of the day there are also fitness workouts and breath training lessons.
What surfing level do you need to be?
The program says that its meant for surfers at an intermediate level. Since this is quite a broad definition, I have listed some skills surfers should have.
Understand Surf Safety
Really important that surfers understand how to surf safely and practice safe surf etiquette. Everyone in our group knew about priority, how to get out of an approaching rider’s path and how to paddle out to the channel. What we picked up at macaronis was how to eject safely and minimize damage when wiping out over the reef.
Experience surfing reef breaks
Experience with surfing reefs is definitely handy. The water is so clear in the Mentawais that you can be transfixed on what is underneath causing you to nose dive and blow the take off. Having surfed other breaks like reefs around Kuta and Uluwatu I would say that Maccas would be the shallowest I have experienced. The smaller days are when you are more prone to making contact with the reef as you take off in shallower water.
Confident in your pop ups
Being a reef break, Maccas still packs some punch even when the waves are small.
Surfers should definitely be confident in their ability to take off and pop up smooth and fast, getting to their feet as they drop down the wave. There is not much room for error and trying to pop up in the flats going straight is not an option as you will end up on the reef in knee high water.
Able to duck dive
Although there is very little need to duck dive, you should still be able to do so in case you are caught inside or a bigger set comes through.
Less experienced surfers can also check out the 2 other breaks in the bay - fish fingers and mini maccas.
What do you do in between surfs?
You can surf as many sessions as you want at Macaronis, so there wasn’t much down time. But if you wanted a break you could always watch tv, read books or have a massage. Take some time out and succumb to the paradise. I was happy just resting and letting the body recover, while other guys went snorkeling around the reefs and kayaking through the mangroves.
For me, just hanging out with the other surfers was such a great experience. People came from all over the world for this trip, one guy even went to the same high school as me. I loved hearing about their home breaks and the surf trips they had taken to score perfect empty waves. Just an incredible shared experience where this tribe of surfers come together to advance their skills on one of the most perfect waves in the world.
Macaronis resort is situated at the end of the bay on the edge of the lagoon. All around you is pure nature - lush green jungles, mangroves and crystal clear water with abundant marine life. This was my first time being in a spot so isolated from the rest of the world.
Everything centers around the 3 storey pagoda like structure which houses the restaurant, bar and kitchen on the first floor, guest rooms on the second, and staff quarters on the third.floor. This building was designed to withstand Tsunamis and was one of the only structures left in the Mentawais after the 2010 event. On the grounds around the complex are villas, the swimming pool, pergolas and an outdoor fitness space.
They designed the resort specifically for groups of surfers. There are purpose built board racks and storage for your gear around the covered verandah. After returning from the surf, guests can shower off and dry off on deck chairs, or chill with beers in the covered verandah. Close by there is a board clinic where they can do overnight repairs and a medical center should you need patching up. A large selection of Firewire boards are also available to rent. In the restaurant a live feed of the surf break plays on the big TV screen.
Rooms are located on the perimeter of the structure and each has an outdoor balcony with a view. While they may not be exactly 5 star. The rooms were spacious with modern life luxuries like air conditioning, hot water and attached bathrooms / toilets. They were always super clean, house keeping changed the bed sheets every day, and left your clothes folded neatly.
The resort managed to keep a pack of hungry surfers fed and content with 3 main meals a day. Early morning before sunrise, there are pots of coffee, cereal, breads and fruit for surfers that want to be the first in the water. Proper breakfast starts around 10am, and you get a choice of Western and Indonesian items from the menu. I switched between the eggs benedict, bacon, egg and waffles and nasi goreng. Lunch and dinner comprised of set meals alternating between Indo and Western cuisines. If you didn’t like what was scheduled, you could pre-order something else from the menu. I found most meals to be delicious with good sized portions. Loved the Ayam Betutu which tasted just as good as in Bali and the Maccas burger with egg and pineapple. The kitchen has a supply of fiercely hot sambal for those which like some spice with their food. I always make it a point to have a Long Island on tropical holidays, and the bartender did not disappoint.
The pool and deck chairs looking out over the lagoon
Getting there & back
The Macaronis resort is located in the North Pagai islands in the Mentawais island chain in West Sumatra. To get here you need to fly into Padang, take a ferry to Sikakap port and a speed boat to the resort. The resort looks after all transportation from when you land in Padang through to your rider to the airport on the way back.
Minangkabau International Airport
There are 2 ways to get to Padang by air - via Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur. The arrivals and baggage claim area in Minangkabau Airport is quite small and gets crowded quickly. The handlers place board bags on the same conveyor as the other luggage, so try to clear customs quickly or your boards will be circulating around the belt taking out passengers waiting for their luggage.
Overnight in Padang
Ferries to the Mentawai islands leave in the early morning, so travelers need to be in Padang the night before as a minimum. I stayed at the Mercure which was one of the higher priced options and it didn’t disappoint. Clean spacious rooms, a pool and a restaurant/bar. Shame I was only there for a couple of hours. The next morning you need to be all packed up and ready to go before breakfast which starts at 5:30am. Giving you about half an hour to wolf down food from the buffet before your transport leaves at 6am. The Mercure put on a great spread of hot food with an egg station, mee goreng, nasi goreng, ayam kremes, bubur ayam and fruit and cereal options. Be sure to pack it in for that 6 hour long ferry ride.
Fast ferry to Sikakap Port
There are 2 ways you can get to Sikakap port in the North Pagai. The Mentawai Fast Ferry which takes around 6 hours and the Gambolo overnight ferry. Changes to schedules can occur due to weather conditions.
Everything was fine on the day, and we were led to the Fast Ferry. Our guide handled the buying of tickets and ensured our luggage was on board before bidding farewell. Once on board you get to know the other surfers and watch as the ferry leaves the mainland. After that there is not much to do but count the number of flying fish skipping across the wake of the boat.
Where to sit on the ferry
Once inside, you are free to move around the ferry. The top deck has a covered open air section with rows of metal benches. The local men like to come up for a smoke and a chat with their friends from time to time. The bottom deck has rows of padded seats separated by arm rests. If you manage to find one without, secure it immediately so you can lie across the bench. Some passengers manage to stick their legs in between or over the armrests.
For unknown reasons, the air conditioner downstairs is turned up to full blast. The locals seem not to mind, but make sure you have a long sleeve shirt or hoody on hand. A set of TVs on the in front play movies with subtitles so you can tell what’s going on over the ever present rumble of the motor. On our trip the videos froze on a bootlegged copy of Game of Thrones, which was fortunate as the noise would have been annoying.
Noise cancellation headphones. There is no escaping the constant hum of the engines and a pair of NC headphones would have been bliss.
The ferry has 2 toilet cubicles located in the back. Not the most pleasant, but fine in case of emergencies. There is constant running water, but no tissues. Both toilets lacked seat covers, so ladies please take note.
There are limited food options you can purchase at the back of the ferry - coffee, tea, keropok and Pop Mie which goes down pretty well during that long ride. I had some beef jerky which was great for the journey.
On arrival in Sikakap, as a guest of Macaronis you are greeted by a welcoming party of local school girls who perform a song and dance for you. While all this happens your luggage is loaded onto the speed boat for the final leg of the journey to Pasangan Bay - home of Macaronis.
On the return journey to Padang you have a bit more time to explore town.. On the main street, there is a small shop selling smoothies and snacks, and a masakan padang style restaurant. Both cater to locals, so a bit of Bahasa will help.