By Daniel Ikaika Ito Photos Cid Kaneshiro
When non-essential travel came to a screeching halt in 2020 that didn’t stop a group of 10 Hawai‘i residents from another surf trip of a lifetime. These working-class surfers scored fun to epic waves on an Indonesian boat trip in 2019, and were planning to hit up Indo again the year after. Then the global pandemic happened, and the novel coronavirus pressed pause on those plans. The boys rallied though. Despite the challenges of furloughs, jobs, businesses, wives and kids this crew of blue-collar buddies in their 30s-40s made a boat trip in the Mentawais a reality in 2021. They’re all advanced surfers that know how to get properly shacked and won’t blow a set wave when it comes to them.
This is not a story about pro surfers – or even semi pro surfers – and how their sponsors or a production company helped get a crew past travel restrictions. Rather, this is a story about 10 members of the working class that made their dream boat trip happen. Three of them have careers in information technology. One is a culinary artist at Noe at the Four Seasons Ko Olina, and another is an artist and co-director of a mural festival. There is a Honolulu City and County lifeguard in this crew as well as a sales rep for Sambazon. One braddah is a plumber, and another is one contractor. The leader of this brigade of bourgeois barrel hunters is a tree-trimmer for the City and County of Honolulu.
“Everybody gets along so well. We all bring something unique to the atmosphere of the trip and we don’t butt heads,” says Dan House, who has traveled with this crew on two trips. “It’s a deep connection amongst friends. Some giant surf brand isn’t paying our way. We are all busting our butts at work and pinching pennies to make this trip happen. We are choosing to go on an adventure with one another and doing whatever it takes to make it happen.”
A trip like this during a time like now takes a special person to navigate a Mentawai’s mission, and Damien Strand is the Nainoa Thompson of this crew. Strand is a 38-year-old, regular foot from Palolo Valley who has forearms like Popeye from a career as an arborist, a killer voice honed at Karaoke Hut and a style of power surfing similar to Pancho Sulivan. His surfing is surprisingly light-footed in small waves at Diamond Head, but it thrives when Strand can put his board on rail in waves of consequence. He is a charismatic extrovert that does not have any kids of his own, but he compares wrangling nine of his friends to get on a surf trip to parenthood.
“Getting nine of the boys on a Mentawai surf trip is like managing nine toddlers that have money,” laughs Strand. “The whole inspiration of the trip was to go to a far, isolated place, and have the adventure of a lifetime with some of your best friends.”
This wasn’t Strand’s first rodeo though. He has been on an Indo boat trip three times and was also mentored by his older friend, Parker, who is a crane operator that goes on a boat trip twice a year. Furthermore, Strand is a tough guy that has been catapulted out of a 40-foot Banyan tree at work and shattered his right leg below his knee a month before his first trip to the Mentawais years ago. That is the kind of grit and experience he brings to this crew as their fearless leader. He’s not going to fold when you have to wire a massive amount of money to an address in Indonesia and your bank at home is looking at you funny.
“When I wired the money the first time they give you this address and this different information about this random Indonesian bank, you Google the bank, you verify the email address you’re in contact with,” explains Strand. “Then your bank goes to you, ʻuh, where?ʻ and you don’t even know what you’re doing and they’re the bank so you think they should know more than you do, but you just talk with people who have done it before and it helped that I personally knew someone who has done this before with the same business in Indonesia.”
From his past experience, Strand knows that this kind of trip takes at least a year of planning in advance. In the case of this voyage, he was on it two years in advance because of the 2020 lockdown. Strand was in constant contact with all of the members in this crew, and suggests open communication, especially when it comes to funds, to get everybody on the same page. On that same note, who you choose to travel with is huge.
“The best way to pick a crew in my opinion is to have people you know and trust,” he says. “It doesn’t take much for one bad apple to ruin the trip.”
Step 2: Research the Rules and Regulations
Although COVID-19 vaccines are rolling in to Hawai‘i like west swells in the winter we’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to the pandemic. Although all 10 of the boys were fully vaccinated there were no clear advantages in regards to getting around Indonesia’s travel restrictions. This crew did extensive research by asking others who had been to Indo as well as the World Wide Web. It definitely played in their favor that there are three IT guys that are used to problem solving via the Internet. Jeff Kakinami is one of those three and owns an Information Technology company.
“The biggest hurdle was to figure out if Indonesia was going to let us in and what was that going to cost […] it basically cost us $1000 more than any other year,” says Kakinami. “Next it was even flights. Are planes flying there? A lot of airlines that usually go there weren’t going.”
According to Kakinami, using a travel agent in Hawai‘i to book the 10 passengers was the key to unlocking the flights. They flew All Nippon Airways from Honolulu to Tokyo, layover, Tokyo to Jakarta and then Jakarta to Padang, which totals to 20 hours of flying. Kakinami has taken four surf trips to the Mentawais in his lifetime, and has noticed an increase in surfers and accommodations every time he goes.
“The Mentawais have gotten more and more crowded every year and there are land camps now,” he explains.” The first time I went there were no land camps now there is a bunch. Our hope this year with Australia and Brazil being closed and with all of this quarantine stuff is the Mentawais will be like how it used to be with less people and more empty waves.”
“Of course COVID is the biggest challenge of going on this trip compared to the trip two years ago,” says Strand. “We wanted to do anything we possibly can to get to the Mentawais because there wasn’t going to be anyone there and there is a lot of cost that comes with that.”
The bulk of that “cost” is in the form of the quarantine when they land in Jakarta. According to Indosurfcrew.com, an eVISA (B211 visa) is a necessity for a foreigner to enter Indonesia. Be aware that by law anyone with a B211 visa is not allowed to work in Indonesia no matter if you’re self-employed or employed by a company, and if you get caught the government will deport and you will be blacklisted. The B211 visa takes 10 days to process and will run you approximately $300 USD. With this you can stay in the country for 60 days and it’s renewable for six months. Since October of last year, the Republic of Indonesia allows a sponsor (company/agent) to apply for a B211 visa on behalf of someone. The eVISA can be processed by a visa agent in Indo, and all you need to provide is a copy of your passport and payment. Your eVISA will be emailed to you in a PDF.
Once you get your eVISA here are the documents you will need to provide to when you land in Indonesia:
- Valid passport (valid 12 months)
- Printed eVISA
- Printed PCR (polymerase chain reaction) negative test result
- Fit to fly letter from an authority approved by the Republic of Indonesia
- eHAC app on your phoneFill out / sign health check / statement letter at arrival (consent to self isolate 14 days at home)
- Health or Travel Insurance covering COVID-19
- Return or connecting flight confirmation via itinerary
There is no getting around the five full days of quarantine when you get to Indonesia and the two additional PCR tests (one when you land and one when you’re done with quarantine). All of this works out to roughly an additional $800-$1000 USD for the entire trip. When you arrive to Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta you’ll be directed to a bus to the designated quarantine hotel that was approved by the Republic of Indonesia. This crew of the blue-collar buddies were able to pre-book their quarantine hotel accommodations and are traveling with copies of their hotel reservations to show when they land in Jakarta. According to Indosurfcrew.com, “general instructions are that you may not pre-book, however, some people have reported booking at the 5-Star hotels on the list.” So pre-book if can, if no can then hope for the best.
In hotel quarantine there is one person per room; hotels and hallways are monitored by closed-circuit television and guards; and you are not to leave your room for the five days. There are exceptions for married couples (travel with your marriage certificate) as well as parents and children for these hotel rooms. Three meals a day are included in the hotel price and are delivered to your room.
Once they cleared the five day quarantine it’s a fantasy that becomes a reality.
“It’s a dream come true: you wake up, you surf, you have a chef on the boat that cooks three meals for you, you’re fed and there’s cold beers,” says Kakinami. “You’re watching each other get barreled, you’re coming in, talking about it, cheers-ing for 11 days straight with nothing but good vibes!”
Necessities To Pack
A Four-Board quiver in one boardbag: Three shortboards and a step-up
Medical supplies/First Aid Kit
Books or art project for five days of quarantine
Earplugs for sleeping on the boat
Spear gun and diving gear