Destination Telo Islands: Surfing Village X Sea Hearts Women's Takeover
This is a post I wrote two years ago after I returned from the Telo Islands in Northern Sumatra. I wanted to write a new destination guide about Surfing Village to give our Sea Hearts more information about our upcoming Telo Takeover (October 2019) but, I after reading this, my fresh-off-the-boat enthusiasm far surpasses anything I could write now in retrospect. So with a few minor edits, I present to you my Surfing Village experience. Now, all you have to do is sit back, read on, and imagine yourself in paradise…
I am almost afraid to write this post. I almost want to keep this place hidden way in my mind, accessible only to private viewing or to divulge exclusively to very close friends. But I know that the sheer difficulty of getting to this tropical Shangri-La will stop more than a few. Those that make the journey deserve the spoils. So I will let you in on the best kept secret of surf travel: Surfing Village in the Telos Islands in Indonesia.
Let’s start with the bad news… Getting to Surfing Village is a pain if you live in Australia and can be arduous if you live in other parts of the world. Sorry Americans. A few San Franciscans we met did 5 flights and 72 hours on airplanes before they arrived in Padang for an overnight crossing. Sound like too much travel time? It is. That’s fine, don’t come.
Even from Australia, we managed to make it a long journey. Learn from our mistakes. If you live in Australia, I’d recommend a direct flight to Jakarta on Garuda or, second choice, Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. You then fly to Padang, get picked up by SV’s lovely ground staffer, Henny, and chill at the pool at the Mercure Hotel until the boat departs. One thing I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy: flying on Lion Air (Note: today, we know this could prove deadly).
The boat that made the crossing to Surfing Village was sturdy and comfortable. It’s a massive, old wood ship with about 12 beds in the cabin and a funny Indonesian crew. We boarded the boat at about 7PM after dinner and a few Bintang and hung out on the deck for a few hours letting our motion sickness medicine pills kick in before bed.
When we woke up, we saw the most beautiful sunrise and dolphins jumping alongside the ship. I made Bulletproof and everyone else had cereal.
We arrived at Surfing Village at about 9 am. From the ship, we hopped onto to these 10 man, handmade, dug out canoes and were paddled through a three foot wide keyhole in the reef into shallow water.
I kept a snapshot of our arrival at Surfing Village in my mind. We were so naive, so unknowing of what was about to go down. Things that had very little meaning or seemed out of place became an integral part of an unforgettable experience.
On to the most important part of any surf trip: the waves. Again, I will tell you a bit about the surf only reluctantly. I still selfishly don’t want you to know how good it was.
We woke up every morning to the swell, swell direction, tides, wind and best bet for the day posted on the blackboard in the Surfing Village headquarters. The waves are sensitive to wind and swell direction so the Surfing Village team’s years of experience really came in handy. If it was onshore out the front, it was offshore somewhere else. As far as tide goes, it was really counter-intuitive. High tide actually was more dangerous than low tide as the waves tended to break closer to the reef. The reef is definitely everywhere, (except the beach break which I found to be one of the scariest of all) but some waves are quite deep. We had a couple beginner surfers on our trip who had a great time and caught the waves of their lives. There is something for everyone but definitely don’t forget your reef booties because you’re going to need them to cross the reef everyday.
Pasti, Loban, & Naggas
So out the front of the camp and in view of all the bungalows is a right point with three different take off spots each requiring that you kick off at the appropriate time to avoid the reef.
The wave you will surf the most at Surfing Village is Pasti which is the wave furthest down the reef. It has a very specific take-off zone just above the keyhole in the reef you use to enter the water. The current pulls you away from the take-off spot so you need to mark it and keep paddling to be in line with your marker. Once you paddle to the perfect spot, the take off is pretty easy and the Surfing Village owner, Mario, somehow slots himself into a barrel as soon as he stands up. For the rest of us and depending on the swell section, you get a whackable wall or a lightning fast racey section before the “fake barrel” section and then the actual barrel section where I usually would kick out because it looked too scary! All I can say that doing this alone over and over on repeat for 10 days could be enough to call this place amazing! The wave is fun and challenging even at 2 foot, I guess especially at 2 foot as smaller waves can be the ones that send you to meet the reef.
Above Pasti and the entrance keyhole is Loban. I saw the Brazilian Junior Champion get served more than once at Loban, while Mario, once again, got barrelled off his head over and over.
Even further around and accessible by foot is Naggas, which was called a “mellow” wave.* This is a bit bigger and a bit shorter than Pasti but pretty fun. You basically take off and do one power turn and kick out.
If a perfect right point is not enough for you because, let’s say you’re a goofy foot or something cray like that, well, just a 25 minute walk over the hill from the camp is a barrelling left. Rahasia is like Bingin except instead of 50 frothers in the water, it’s just you and a couple of other guests. More than 4 is definitely a crowd. If you’re a regular foot and have ever wanted a chance to practice your pig dogging, here’s your opportunity. Rahasia is what I saw when I dreamed of picture perfect Indonesian waves. Barrels. Crystal clear water. No people. The end.
Bagas is a left hander on an island across the bay from Surfing Village. Bagas is one of the more friendly waves which breaks in deeper water with less exposed reef. It is super rippable and a fun reprise to practice your turns on when you’ve been going mach speed over at Pasti for days on end. We surfed it just a bit overhead and way overhead and both times it was really fun!
Tantras is another more mellow right hander and another good place to boost your confidence and practice your turns. Long, fun rides. Tantras is accessible by boat and is near a few other right handers suchs Tangu and Sekolah which we did not surf but are supposed to be good. Also in the Tantras bay is an a-frame wave which is less challenging for those learning to surf and a good choice when it’s big or windy everywhere else.
Before I went to SV, a friend told me about the beach break (beautiful water, barrels) so I was eager to check it out.
No matter where you are, there is something exhilarating about surfing off of a boat especially when you’re not able to see the wave from the front. This fabled Beachy was no exception.
When we pulled up to the Beachy, I didn’t need to see the front of the wave to know it was sizeable. Yep, the height of the swell from the back of the wave was plenty. It was pumping. I reluctantly hopped off the boat and paddled towards the shore fully aware that waves were going to be pretty heavy. When I got near an area where you could possibly take off on a wave, I could see the swell rolling in and detonating on the shore. It reminded me of the west side of Cabo San Lucas where we used to go just to watch the magnificent shore break. The trouble was that I couldn’t really see a take-off spot, a place to hurl myself onto death shore pounder. All I saw was lots of fast moving waves and close outs. Down the beach the Brazilian World Champion, Pedro, and our own kamikaze Surf Stoked Dad, were getting some lefts in the midst of a back-washy detonation zone… The unlikely duo getting barrelled and smashed respectively.
I paddled closer to them and eventually caught three waves (always my goal in difficult conditions – just catch three waves) but no barrels and no beautiful water, just survival. However, I heard when there is very little swell, the Beachy picks up waves and can be more fun and manageable.
Facas & Jau
One day, based on a certain wind and swell direction, our surf guide Michel made the call to take the boat about an hour away to two waves called Facas and Jau. As soon as we came around the corner from SV, the swell started rolling. “This is going to be a long ride,” said Michel. We went over some pretty big swell on the way and we’re all holding on as the tin boat bashed into the water while we listened to Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” My thoughts fluctuated between “I love be on a boat” and “this is LIVING” to “am I going to barf?” Finally we came around a headland and just saw these massive waves breaking off the point. 5 minutes into the bay we stopped and watched in awe as Facas, named for Portuguese phrase, “Faca na caveira” or a knife in the skull, did its thing. A perfect 8 foot left reeled across a super shallow reef and revealed a heavy barrel section. Our Champion and our Kamikaze Dad were out there. Both took their share of beatings but got some amazing barrels too.
Just to the inside of Facas was Jau. Jau was yet another wave called “mellow” by the staff that was basically another shallow barrel. It was much smaller than Facas so I paddled from the boat and caught a few waves while managing to avoid the reef. It’s significant to note that this was the first time we saw another charter boat or camp of surfers for the first 6 days. There were two charter boats anchored up and the Latitude Zero (a land camp to the north) tenders cruising around. As they did anytime we ran into another charter, our guide negotiated with their guide giving each group an hour in the water so that for us we never surf with more than the 4-5 people in our boat. We saw the guys on the charter boat surfing shoulder to shoulder with 10 dudes, but, you know they’re all best friends so it must be fun!
You can pretty much jump on a boat to any wave any time of the day. Just ask a surf guide to call a boat for you, gather the select few other surfers who want to go with you, carefully walk out through the keyhole and jump on a speed boat. Surfing Village has two speed boats that can easily fairy around 6-8 guests, boards, a surf guide, a boat captain and a cooler full of Bintangs.
What crowd? Surfing Village is limited to 12 surfers. We had 10 people in our group. 1 did not surf and 2 were not avid surfers. There’s 3 waves out front. 2 Powerboats. Countless waves in the area. I can honestly say we did not ever surf with more than 6 people at a time. During the sessions where you weren’t just catching another wave while your surfing buddy was paddling back out and had to wait, we took turns. We’d have to eat dinner with that person and look them in the eye for the next 10 days. No snaking. No back paddling. No bullshit. I surfed by myself on more than one occasion. We saw other charter boats and tenders from other camps a few times. Not once did they surf the wave out front. Two salty old sailors on separate vessels shared a wave and then a beer on occasion. Other than that there were no other people… Even in 2017.
If You Don’t Surf
I will admit that this may not be the best place for a high maintenace non-surfing spouse. If you surf, you’ll probably spend 4-8 hours a day in the water. Then, you’ll come in panting and grunting in search of food and water so you can go back out. However if you learning to surf or a chiller, you will still have an amazing time. On our trip were three ladies that were new to surfing or did not surf at all. They had the time of their lives and were also crying as the boat pulled away to return to Padang. All guests can use the boats to go snorkeling, surf easy waves, go to secluded white sand beaches or just go for a cruise. You can walk to Rahasia, swim in the natural jacuzzi out at the end of the point and smash some serious hammock time.
The work they’ve put into this place is really remarkable considering the distance from civilization and the lack of resources. The owners build three houses for the staff, four guest houses, the main lodge and restaurant and basically a whole supporting village.
Our accommodation was two story tropical fort on stilts with no windows or walls, thatched roofs, mosquito nets and fans. It could sleep 6 but we only had 3 so everyone had their own comfy bed. Before we came to Surfing Village, we were really concerned about not having A/C. It was one of our biggest concerns. So glad we decided it wasn’t important. As soon as we got back to Bali and into A/C we both got nasty colds. Our hut at Surfing Village was cool, a nice breeze blew through our beds all night, plus it had a view of an endless perfect right hander.
The grounds of Surfing Village were covered in this really soft grass so you never needed shoes. I also especially liked the private toilets and showers which were housed in their own separate little thatched huts. When you used the toilet, you felt like an island queen using her throne.
We spent most of our time in the main lodge where we ate, drank, checked the surf and watched the nightly slideshow of each day’s surfing photos. The clubhouse was perfect for us. Down below there was a playground set up for the kids. Out the back was a pool table. Near the kitchen was a refrigerator full of cold Bintangs. There was a view of the surf from every hammock. Not much else we could ask for!
Interestingly enough, the local people are actually Christian and the girls wore nice outfits they’d later wear to church on Sundays. The locals who staff Surfing Village moved onto the property and have build their own village behind the guest accommodation. Surfing Village is their home and I think they love it!
Another thing I was concerned about but ended up not caring about at all was Internet. They have slow Internet that you can use at an extra charge. I went 9 days Internet free. Not important. Not even Instagram.
For breakfast, you’d wake up, check the surf, cruise up and order a burrito, omelette, toast, pancakes (don’t miss the coconut pancakes) or some combination of the aforementioned. They’d also serve fresh fruit, fruit juice and coffee (I did Bulletproof everyday, ate a burrito once and snuck a few coconut pancakes here and there).
Lunch was served at 12 if you weren’t out surfing. Otherwise they’d make you a plate for later. We ate lots of fresh fish that fishermen brought in at night after catching them with nets by while running across the reef somehow not stubbing their toes on every little outcropping. We had fish burritos, burgers, and the most amazing local curry.
At night, I’d come in from surfing, chug a bunch of water and then have a cocktail or a wine (tip: bring as many bottles as you can from duty free if you don’t like beer, because Bintang is all there is) while watching the sunset. Everyone would come back to the lodge after surfing and chill before dinner. The main event was usually an amazing spread of everything from Brazilian dishes to pasta carbonara to steak night. Again lots of fish, veggies and good fuel to keep you going for the next all day surf session.
One last thing, if they make a cake, get some! Their cakes were amazing and disappeared rapidly.
At Surfing Village, there is no staff; there is only family. When I booked, one of the owners told me that we would leave feeling like family. My over-sold Sydneyslicker soul didn’t believe him. But then, I cried the day we left and I did everything I could to try to thwart departure. We were so close to staying on ten more days and seriously, seriously regretted not doing it the second we came back to reality. We thought we were being punished by the gods for leaving paradise (The Curse came in the form of 24 hour flight delays, sickness, crowds, Bali).
Sure, the waves make it hard to leave but to be honest the people are what makes this place. The owners and surf guides are amazing. Not only do they make you feel at home, want for nothing (even though you are seriously in the middle of nowhere) and have the best time in the world, but they’ve absolutely got the surf conditions dialed. I got on boat at the request of a guest more than once where the guide said, “I’ll take you there but nowhere is going to better than Pasti,” only after speeding 20 minutes to the break, we’d come straight back to Pasti. They know what’s on and what’s not, just don’t trust their surf reports because 2-3 foot can mean a lot of things none of which is the 2-3 foot we know in Australia or the U.S. So “mellow”
Mario, Paulo, Michelle, Michel, Bruno, Kiwani and Raft and the kids make Surfing Village a place we will talk about for the rest of our lives.
We Will Be Back
One thing is for sure, Indonesia will never be the same for us. Surf travel will never be the same for us. By the time we got to Bali (after an extra 24 hours in Batam thanks to Lion Air), we were devastated. The Curse felt real. It seemed like a distant dream that we were trading waves with new friends, cruising around on the speedboat and having the time of our lives.
If you want to escape from the ordinary, avoid all the pompous rippers and score the waves of your life, look no further. I seriously am unable to. Every other option seems ridiculous after going to Surfing Village.
Surfing Village Porn: