"To the bow!" someone yells. Bare-chested, wearing only board shorts, we're pelted so hard that we can tolerate the pain for only a few minutes before defying one of the captain's rules—dashing into the cabin drenched and dripping.
Above the laughter, someone again screams: "To the bow!" And so it goes for almost an hour as we test ourselves against the elements one last time. Our 10 days here have made us feel stronger, inside and out.
The adventure also has changed me in a deeper, more unexpected way, as I learn the weekend after our return when I go surfing with my 15-year-old son, Jesse. I've come back from the Mentawai Islands not only with great memories but also with a new perspective on the surfing life.
The water at Huntington Beach that day is dirty, cold and crowded. The waves are poorly shaped, about head-high. Before the trip, I would have paddled madly for as many of them as I could. This time, I calmly stroke beyond the masses and patiently wait for the best swells to roll in, remembering some wisdom Albert offered one day as he watched me struggling to position myself at Thunders.
Sitting on his surfboard, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, "Let the waves come to you."
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Getting on Board
Telephone numbers: The country code for Indonesia is 62.
Getting there: From LAX to Padang, Indonesia, connecting flights (change of plane) are offered on Singapore, United and Cathay Pacific airlines.
Surf tours: The following companies offer charter packages for surfing in the Mentawai Islands. I used boat broker Anthony Marcotti, who works for San Clemente-based Saraina Koat Mentawai, (714) 369-8121, http://www.mentawaiislands.com , and Indies Trader Marine Adventures, (877) 808-0813, http://www.indiestrader.com . Both offer packages on numerous boats. Prices include transportation from Padang airport, full crew, meals and beverages, including beer, for 12 full days of surfing. For the Adventure Komodo: $4,444 per person, based on nine passengers, or about $370 a day. For the Indies Trader II: $3,333 per person, based on nine passengers, or about $270 a day.
Other popular charter services include Wavehunters Surf Travel, (888) 899 8823, http://www.wavehunters.com ; and WaterWays Surf Adventures, (888) 669-7873, http://www.waterwaystravel.com .
Lodging: In Padang, Hotel Bumi Minang, Jalan Bundo Kandung 20-28; 751-37555, http://www.bumiminang.com . Doubles about $60.
For more information: To learn more about the history and culture of the islands, http://www.mentawai.org .
A visa is needed to visit Indonesia. Contact the Embassy of Indonesia, 2020 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C., 20036; (202) 775-5200, http://www.embassyofindonesia.org .
The State Department warns U.S. citizens to defer all nonessential travel to Indonesia. Americans who travel there should "observe vigilant personal security precautions and remain aware of the continued potential for terrorist attacks." For more information see travel.state.gov.
-- Joel Sappell is a Times assistant managing editor