With a variety of formidable waves, each posing their own unique challenges, the Mentawai island chain, just off the coast of West Sumatra, Indonesia, is bodyboarder heaven. The rolling surf and large swells make for a skatepark-style playground in the water, with perfect set-ups all a short boat ride away. “It’s a real adventure to get there, but it’s worth it,” says Rob Barber, director of Bodyboard Holidays.
A veteran himself, he’s used to taking people of all abilities to various locations around the world. But the waters of Mentawai aren’t for beginners. “Mentawai is really for boarders looking to catch some of the most perfect waves in the world,” he explains, “which you do need a level of skill to ride.”
Unlike surfing, the main aim of bodyboarding is to travel through the waves rather than over them. “It’s the ultimate ‘tube riding’ vehicle,” says Barber. “This area of the Indonesian archipelago is renowned for those fantastically clean tubing waves. That’s the ultimate thrill for bodyboarders—to ride within that vortex.”
Bodyboarding at this level is much more physically taxing, too. “The biggest demand is cardiovascular fitness,” says Barber, who recommends cycling as the best preparation if you don’t usually have waves to ride. “There’s a lot of paddling. Cycling helps strengthen your leg muscles and mimics the same sort of movement you’ll be doing in the water.” The shoulders and back feel the strain, too.
“You’ll need solid core muscles to be able to gain and maintain speed across the waves, and a strong lower back to be able to duck-dive big waves,” he says. “The most invaluable exercise other than bodyboarding itself is yoga—the flexibility and muscle strength it gives you will keep you on top of your game.”
While you’re at it you’ll definitely want to record the great waves and the unspoiled setting. “Make sure you take a GoPro,” says Barber. “You’ll get some amazing action footage from what you’re experiencing inside the wave. It’s guaranteed to make your friends jealous.”
“Get equipment that’s up to the task,“ says Bob Barber. “You’ll need a board with a light polypro core and a good stringer [a stabilizing rod that runs through the center]. And wear lots of sunscreen!“
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