Mentawai beaten but not broken

Rangga D. Fadillah and Syofiardi Bachyul, The Jakarta Post, Mentawai/Padang | Fri, 11/05/2010 9:16 AM | The Archipelago

The recent Mentawai tsunami may have flattened hundreds of houses and claimed the lives of 437 people, but surfers’ love for the islands has only grown stronger.

Jati Kumoro, a monitoring and evaluation officer Surfaid non-governmental organization, said the quake-triggered tsunami that hit the Mentawai chain of islands on Oct. 25 would not reduce its popularity among surfers.

These islands offer something rarely found at surfing sites around the world — constant high waves and natural beauty, he said.

“Some foreigners were out surfing even in the middle of a storm the other day,” Jati told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

While most people are afraid of high waves, surfers love them more than any other creature God created, he said, laughing.

Danger and challenge were elements surfers looked for to satisfy their thirst for adventure, Jati said.

Brent Mullen, a surfer from Strike Shot Sumatra surf club, said the Mentawai islands had all 18 types of waves needed in surfing, and such qualities were only be equalled by Hawaii.

“Surfing heaven is here in Mentawai, not in other places,” he said.

Mullen said he and three colleagues were on a surfing trip, but when the tsunami struck they did not turn around and head home.

They helped the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) to distribute aid to tsunami-hit villages in South Pagai, one of the largest of the four islands in the Mentawai chain.

Mullen said that they had seen aid workers struggling to reach several tsunami-hit areas, and decided  to help.

Mentawai’s coastal areas are very dangerous for those who do not understand them well, he said.

“We brought first aid to Maonai hamlet [in South Pagai district] when nobody else could reach that spot because of poor weather and rough seas,” the US citizen said, adding that he had taken the relief aid to the hamlet using his surf board since no boat could reach the shore.

One of Mullen’s colleagues, Matt George, also from the US, said they had seen people in several tsunami-hit villages suffering because they had no food and couldn’t go out to fish.

“The only way to help them was to take aid directly to their hamlets using our surfboards.

“Boats couldn’t pass the coral reef near the shore,” George told the Post.

Since the recent Mentawai tsunami — the largest since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Aceh, authorities have declared a two-week emergency status in the region.

A meeting is planned for Sunday to decide whether to extend the emergency period.

Meanwhile, the official one-week search and rescue operation has ended, and officials and volunteers are now focusing on distributing relief aid, assisting refugees and reconstructing damaged roads and bridges.

Jati said many surfers had volunteered to help distribute relief aid, in an effort to thank the Mentawai Islands for its great waves.

Surfaid, he said, was set up in the same spirit — to thank nature for what it had given surfers.

After noting the unhealthy and poor residents living in Mentawai’s coastal areas, David Jenkins, a surfer and doctor from New Zealand, set up the organization in 1999.

“Jenkins decided to create an NGO, which main goals are to improve people’s living standards and health,” Jati said.

In its early years, Surfaid provided only free medication and other aid to people in several villages, but in 2007 the organization — based in Tuapejat in South Sipora district — launched various programs for Mentawai, including community-based health services, clean water facilities and training for emergency situations such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

Jati said surfers were highly concerned about the places where they surfed and would do everything they could to help protect them.

“No matter what happens, Mentawai will remain a surfing haven forever.”


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