“If there was any question as 2 whether we’ve ruined the Mentawais, the sobering reality of 16 boats @ 1 average break tonight confirmed it,” tweeted Kelly Slater in 2012. If “ruined” is synonymous in this context with “crowded”, then the Mentawai Islands’ ruin was always inevitable: the demand for picture-perfect waves has only grown since the turn of the millennium, and the Indian Ocean — in combination with the extraordinarily dense concentration of ideal reef set-ups, and the even denser concentration of surf camps and charter boats — continues to supply them. And, by the same token, Nihiwatu, Pasta Point and the Ranch remain “unruined”.
But in recent years there have been movements in the direction of exclusivity, even if the prospect of fully exclusive resorts, after so many years of unrestricted access, is unlikely. The resort at Macaronis, for instance, is exclusive to the extent that only twenty surfers can stay there at any one time, and only two charter boats are allowed to visit the break per day. Meanwhile a new surfer tax is due to be introduced next year — nationalisation, as opposed to privatisation, of waves — although initially, at least, the amount will be relatively small, and the number of visiting surfers is unlikely to be affected. Each surfer will pay a US$76 fee in exchange for an obligatory plastic wristband, valid for a 15-day stay; charter boats will pay a presumably additional sum of US$380 for the same period, and any film crews will be charged US$1520. In theory the islands’ native inhabitants will be the direct beneficiaries of this money, although Indonesian politics are marked by widespread and systemic corruption.