Our Captain Erwin, an immediately likeable and smiling chap who had kindly picked us up from the ramshackle Sumatran port, was now confidently speeding across a windless smoky silver sea steering a course bound for some innocent bluish wisps on the horizon.
It wasn’t until the mainland had faded from view, that the wisps morphed into a towering dark ooze that seeped toward our increasing lonely feeling boat, the first pitter patter of rain had barely registered, when suddenly we were engulfed, the bow began to bounce, we were in an angry cloud on top of a tempestuous sea.
When you’re in a small boat in a foreign ocean, captained by a man you met little more than half an hour ago, skimming blissfully headlong into a wall of apocalyptic darkness, there are few things that will bring comfort and defeat panic, however, Erwin did. Clearly, an accomplished seaman familiar with these waters, riding the rough sea with the adept skill and precision, swinging the bow to meet each lump head on, we carried on for an hour, then another, the storm had forced us south off course from our Island destination.
Erwin swung the bouncing boat north straight back into the storm and continued making slow but determined progress, as we got closer to the Island on the leeward side the fetch got smaller, the wind finally started to calm and I could see the palm trees getting bigger and greener, Erwin snuck through a narrow channel in the mangroves crossing calm flat lagoon, we had reached the fabled Bay of Plenty.
The Banyak Islands are a sneeze of coral and mangrove west of the Sumatran mainland and north of Nias. Endowed with decent mid-sized swells and tidy, user-friendly setups against ridiculously attractive tropical backdrops of mangrove and coconut palms, the whole place remains that clichéd vision of paradise.
A crescent shaped bay of plenty indeed, blessed with some textbook tropical set-ups, the main breaks being a right-hander called Gunters and the heavier left of Lolock Point with several other secret-ish spots in the local vicinity. I had been lured here by prospects of some decent quiet-ish Indonesian waves that didn’t require the sale of a vital organ to get to or a sizable queue at the takeoff.
The Banyaks didn’t disappoint.
Erwin brought us alongside our accommodations for the next seven days. As the name suggests the floating surf house has forgone thousands of years of house building tradition and has no foundations, opting instead to float on a series of tightly lashed blue plastic barrels, and it is awesome.
It’s like a boat trip without the boat, the open plan wooden building is moored inside the outlying surf clad reefs, with several tidy functional rooms, board rack, Hammocks, shower, snorkeling fishing gear and everything else you’d expect for a decedent week or more gorging yourself on tropical waves without a care in the world.
I’m prone to gluttony and the FSH’s kitchen didn’t disappoint mustering up massive plates of fresh tasty food, one advantage of your home floating on the sea is that you can have a fish holding pen right next to the kitchen, enabling you to get to know your lunch, which as you might expect is exceedingly fresh and delicious.
The surf is accessed by boats manned by Erwin and his staff who will ferry you out to the local breaks at un-godly hours and wait patiently while you deliriously roll around like a really, really happy pig in shit getting flogged and barreled for hours on end. It’s gloriously selfish and decadent rhythm to get into, wake up surf, eat, surf, eat, snooze, surf, eat, rest your weary sinews and repeat.
The waves are perfect Indo set ups with fast,friendly hollow rights and lefts.
The way FSH is set up it means can you can actually clock up some serious hours in the water which was my plan, unfortunately, on the third morning I got rumbled on a left, wrenching my leg in all kinds of ways it didn’t want to be wrenched, meaning I was out of the water by the third day hobbling around feeling sorry for myself- which was a shame, a cry-yourself-howling-at-the-moon kind of shame. Naturally, the surf was firing for the rest of the trip, for me, however, it was spent exploring the nether regions of the local mangroves and lagoons of this tropical idyll and perpetuating my complete failure as a fisherman.
To sum up if you’re looking for some quiet-ish, proper good Indo waves in a tropical never-never-land where you can really get away from it all then the Banyaks and the floating surf house are defiantly worth some serious consideration, don’t expect debauched nightlife this is still a remote and reasonably wild place, but what its lacking on the discotheque front it more than makes up for in barrels, seafood, and idyllic scenery.
Dan Kerins is photographer, writer, surfer and horticulturist specialising in ill-planned and under-funded excursions into the lesser known.