OVER THE EDGE…

No shrinking violet from sizeable surf, South African Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker took up the offer of a trip to the Mentawais to meet up with an old friend on the promise of a solid incoming Indo swell, and the lure of both epic surfing and surf foiling conditions in a paradise spot. It was also a chance for him to test his own limits on a foil. It turned into an unforgettable trip…

Words: Grant Baker
Photos: Luke Williams

Here I am, watching a ten wave set steam down the reef towards me and I’m doing exactly what I told myself not to do a hundred times before my arrival in Indonesia, I’m waiting to drop into a 6ft low tide reef break on a chunky 5’10 foil board made for extra paddle power. I’m praying nothing goes wrong and ends my holiday before it even starts.

I’ve been foiling for a number of years now and the progression has always been towards bigger, heavier waves but I’m beginning to have my doubts. Towing into bigger waves is one thing but it’s basically cheating. The ultimate test of the foil and its place in the surfing world is how big a wave we can paddle into, make the drop and ride out onto the flats. So the time has come to test my limits, and my equipment’s level of performance.

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But we are getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s start at the beginning and why I’m on a foil in 6ft waves in Indonesia anyway…

I was always an avid kitesurfer and have been sponsored by F-ONE for many years and had played around with a foil and a kite a few times over the years, as well as the boot scene, but neither resonated with me and after a few attempts at both, I decided I wasn’t too keen on the sport after all. What changed it for me was seeing the first few Hawaiians starting to foil on a regular type surfboard without straps. As soon as I saw the first few clips, I knew the game was on and immediately contacted F-ONE and we started to work on a foil/board combo that would work for us. It was tough initially as the kite foils weren’t ideal for the waves but we persevered and used all their knowledge from kiting to eventually come up with some awesome foils, and I was away.

Things moved fast and before I knew it I had a bunch of boards and foils to test and suddenly we were ripping around on wind swells, then little waves and soon enough proper waves. The evolution of the surf foil was fast and exciting and it was an amazing time to be involved in the sport and helping move it forward.

Around the same time as I felt we had some great equipment that worked well, I received an invite from an old friend, Gideon Malherbe, who had just opened a new surf camp, deep in the heart of the Mentawais. He had fallen in love with a particular part of the Indonesian archipelago, and most nights would anchor in a protected spot behind a beautiful sandspit on the southern end of Awera Island whenever passing through the area on his old charter boat, the Indies Explorer.

“ALL PRECONCEIVED IDEAS ABOUT HOW PACKED THE MENTAWAIS ARE WERE QUICKLY DISPELLED AS WE HARDLY SURFED OR FOILED WITH ANYONE ELSE.”

“I HAD THE REALIZATION THAT THIS IS TRULY THE FUTURE OF SURFING, AND WE HAVE ONLY JUST TOUCHED ON WHAT IS POSSIBLE.”

I wonder if one can ever truly say that you have found your little place in the world? Because in the end he sold his boat, swallowed the anchor, and settled on that very sandspit. 

Apart from all the well-known Mentawai gems in the area, he had found a few waves that get big, and are seldom ridden. So when the charts lit up with one of the biggest swells of the season, he got hold of me and reached out to come over. In his mail he raved about this wave he thought would be perfect for the foil and it took all of three seconds to convince me. The plan was to surf two big swells a week apart, and foil on the downtime in between and afterwards, basically a perfect holiday situation and it shows the incredible versatility of the area around Bilou Villas. Perfect long reef passes and big outer bombies for surfing backed up by ideal runners on the insides for the foil.

For two weeks we surfed and foiled our brains out with the two major highlights being surfing a massive outer reef righthander – just two of us out, with 12 to 15ft Bawa-style A-frame bombs horseshoeing onto the reef, and a tucked away roping 3-6ft foil wave that ended in deep water and then swelled towards the beach for the perfect surf foil setup. These waves, coupled with some epic lefts for both surf and foil – as well as some death defying shallow right hand barrels – confirmed that this was the place for anyone looking for a truly epic surf and foil holiday destination..

All in all it was one of the most memorable surf trips of my life and what the foil has done for us is offer so much variety to what we are doing. Big bombing barrels on the surfboard followed by fun, fun, fun on the foil in long, perfect, clean waves. No more downtime, sitting around waiting for waves. You can take advantage of every moment in paradise to ride whatever is available.

“IN HIS MAIL HE RAVED ABOUT THIS WAVE HE THOUGHT WOULD BE PERFECT FOR THE FOIL AND IT TOOK ALL OF THREE SECONDS TO CONVINCE ME.”

This amazing area is perfect for just such a trip and is also particularly uncrowded, and all preconceived ideas about how packed the Mentawais are were quickly dispelled as we hardly surfed or foiled with anyone else, and our favorite saying when approaching another empty line-up was: “Jeez, it’s crowded in the Ments!” 

So all this takes me back to the aforementioned wave. A solid 6 footer that I had no right to be paddling into on a foil. But I had been building up to it for a few years, then a couple months and finally the last two weeks, and now the moment had arrived… I lined it up, paddled as hard as I could, felt the wave lift the tail, jumped to my feet, drove hard over my front foot, and felt the power and energy of the wave come through the foil and shoot me at maximum speed down the steep drop, off the bottom and out onto the shoulder… Then I had the realization that this is truly the future of surfing, and we have only just touched on what is truly possible. It’s a good time to be alive.

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