Founder of Mentawai Surf Charters

Business Talk in the Mentawais

28th Oct 2020

We thought it was about time to get serious and talk business, so we linked up with one of the leading surf charter operators in the Mentawai region for a bit of a Q&A. Gaby Spinola, Managing Director of Mentawai Surf Charters kindly gave us the run down on how to set up a successful surf charter business in Mentawais: the challenges, the perks, the good times and the bad times.

World Surfaris: We all know Mentawai Surf Charters has been operating mind-blowing surf trips in Indo for years, but when exactly did the venture begin?

Mentawai Surf Charters: The company started officially in 2008, but the founder, Kadu Maia, was already in the surf charter business years before that. Kadu would help out on friend’s boats and sail around the islands on private charters, which eventually lead to a desire to have his own boat.

World Surfaris: From conceptualising initial ideas, to welcoming your first guests, can you talk us through the process?

Mentawai Surf Charters: The adventure of living in the Mentawai Islands and the fun of surfing perfect uncrowded waves is what sparked the idea to own a surf charter company. When we realised it was possible to make a living simply by bringing our friends over to surf, we turned the idea into a small business. Along with two other partners, Kadu started building the first boat: Star Koat 1. We lived in Padang during the 12-month construction process, which was a big reality check being so far removed from the tropical paradise we had dreamt of. Becoming residents in Indonesia meant a much smoother process in terms of running the business; and learning the language, understanding the Indonesian culture, and building solid relationships with the locals contributed significantly to our initial success. Finally, after dealing with builders, mechanics, extreme heat and bureaucracy, the boat was ready. Word of mouth in the surfing community spread rapidly about the new boat charter, and within a year Star Koat 1 welcomed pro surfers onboard and were represented by all the big travel agencies around the world. The reputation we’ve built has a lot to do with the quality of our services, as well as the love we put into every single detail of our operation.

World Surfaris: Setting up a business in remote Indonesia doesn’t sound like a simple task. Were there any significant challenges or bumps in the road along the way?

Mentawai Surf Charters: The Indonesian regulations didn’t make it easy back then (and still don’t) and 12 years ago almost no one spoke English. The uncertainty of success when setting up a business in a third world country is a real thing, especially when you are a foreigner. But the certainty of building something that would allow you to live every surfer’s dream – explore tropical islands and surf perfect waves – was a 100% guarantee, and for Kadu that was enough.

World Surfaris: With every challenge comes success, well, you’d sure hope so! Is there a proud moment that stands out to you? A goal you achieved, a dream that became reality?

Mentawai Surf Charters: Every time we park our boat in front of perfect 4-6 foot barrels and see the reaction of our guests, we realise all the hard moments were worth the sweat. Without a doubt the proudest moment we had was after we lost Star Koat 1 in a reef crash incident during a storm. We managed the whole situation really efficiently and effectively which we are super proud of, and it’s what lead us to build Star Koat 2, which quickly became one of the best boats in the Mentawais and North Sumatra.

World Surfaris: One of our favourite sayings is “Work hard, play hard”. What are some of the perks of the job, and what do you get up to on a typical “day off” in paradise?

Mentawai Surf Charters: We are a company built by surfers for surfers and we are also owner-operators, which means that in the end, we don’t like to miss any good swell! It is our job to be on the boat with guests and allow them to surf the best waves of their lives (and ours). On our off days and in between trips, we stay on the islands and make our own surfing schedule, such as right now… we’re currently sitting in front of Lances Right, one of the best waves in Indo!

World Surfaris: You’ve gotta see it to believe it, and we’re curious! What can guests expect from a surf trip with Mentawai Surf Charters these days?

Mentawai Surf Charters: We have learnt a lot since we first started out, so we know exactly what guests expect from an Indo surf trip, and we deliver it! Comfortable and powerful boats, safety, great services, delicious food and ice cold Bintangs are just a glimpse of what one can expect onboard. Add to that an experienced and charismatic surf guide who will sail extra miles to bring guests to the best surf on a daily basis. That’s our recipe…

World Surfaris: We’ll throw a tough one at you and end on a controversial note. Mentawai Surf Charters boasts a fleet of two top notch vessels: Star Koat 2 and Moon Palikir. Who’s your favourite, and why?

Mentawai Surf Charters: Star Koat 2! When we built Star Koat 2 after Star Koat 1’s reef crash, we knew exactly how we could perfect the original design, and we did just that. Although, it’s on our mission list to revamp Moon Palikir and give it the upgrades it deserves to match his younger brother!

A huge thank you to Gaby and the Mentawai Surf Charters crew for collaborating with us on this article! @mentawaisurfcharters

Welcome to World Surfaris. How can we help?