The Drifter Journals
Mentawai Surf Co. | A Question of Destiny
‘Destiny’ is a grandiose term.
We think of it with excessive gravity, the stuff of fairy tales and Steven Spielberg movies, a prediction of the future that bears little connection to real-world circumstances.
But when you are able to tug on the strings of hindsight, peel back the curtain on former days and seek the story between the pages, destiny becomes the narrator’s voice.
Guy Morgan wasn’t born on a boat. He had no Swiss Family Robinson childhood, marooned on an island in the endless expanse of the Pacific. In fact, his infancy was spent in the Welsh city of Swansea, known for being the birthplace of poet Dylan Thomas, a roaring trade in seafood and a banging club scene through the rave era of the mid-’90s.
Cold, murky waves peel into the bay of Swansea, the Gower peninsula offering up a shabby, wind-affected break that can throw some punch on its day but is fickle at best and only for the dedicated and desperate.
But for Guy, the city on Great Britain’s mid-western coast would only endure under the Place of Birth title in his passport.
“I was born in Swansea - dad’s Welsh - but my parents split when I was young,” reflects Guy. “We ended up moving to the south coast of Durban in South Africa. At the age of about 12 I started bodyboarding and my life has revolved around the beach ever since.”
A marital separation, a trans-continental migration, a hunk of sponge and a thousand waves, all by the age of 12; destiny, it seems, isn’t only for Luke Skywalker.
Guy’s passion for bodyboarding grew and, living in South Africa’s capital of professional surfers, it wasn’t long before he too donned the contest jersey of the competition circuit.
“I went down the path of competitions, becoming South African provincial champ and hitting the circuit. After a few years I was given the option of going to either Hawaii or the UK.”
Hawaii - UK; there’s only one choice, right? And so it was that Guy found himself on Fistral Beach, Newquay on England’s south-westernmost tip. Though this may have been a more sensible option, given his British links and citizenship, in terms of surfing potential the decision was the demise of his bodyboarding. Fistral can get good, but on the other 362 days of the year its average conditions are far more accessible on boards of a different kind. Though it may have sealed the fate of his continuing pro career, Newquay did introduce Guy to a stand-up life and his thirst to pursue waves only increased.
Eventually, England’s bleak charm wore thin and Guy, searching for a career path, tripped the Atlantic to begin a new chapter on superyachts.
“I was going to pursue a career on the superyachts, working through America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. I got my skipper’s ticket and worked my way up, but after four years I realised that this wasn’t the way for me.”
Some are destined for a life of formality, of rank and file, making bank at the sacrifice of the soul. Guy was not ‘some’, and subservience to the oligarchy of the ultra-rich soon found him climbing the walls, yearning for the waves he had forgone, the ocean his bitterly pervasive reminder.
Indonesia had entered Guy’s periphery in his Newquay days. For the average English surfer, Bali is heralded as the wave garden of Eden, the perfect destination to thin their viscose blood and gain respite from the ubiquitous frostbite of cold-water surf. For Guy, the attraction was twofold: he could indulge once more in his passion for surfing, and he could chase his true desire of working on a charter boat.
“I had my skipper’s ticket and just started applying for jobs anywhere I could. I didn’t get a job straight away.
“I was working for the King of Qatar on a 127-metre yacht. During my holiday rotation a company in West Sumbawa - Nomad Tropical - contacted me to see if I wanted to take over a derelict hotel. I dropped my job on the spot, moved there and from this shell of a building built up a surf resort from scratch. That was 12 years ago, and that was when my whole life started in Indonesia.”
Guy’s path unfolded, the meandering route of destiny delivering him at the intersection of his passions. Working with clients - rather than for them as he had been on the superyachts - he found himself thriving on the joy of both hosting and sharing waves. Bouncing from one resort to another, through Bali, Aceh and Sumatra, he found himself in the Mentawais, at Macaronis Surf Resort.
During his early years in the Mentawais, Guy had connected with Eugene Tollemache, a fellow Englishman, boat captain and salt-water infused stoker. El Jefe of the 23-metre ironwood phinisi, Jiwa,, Euge has plied the waters of the Banyak, Telo and Mentawai islands for years in pursuit of perfect waves to share with his clients. Knowing of Guy’s seamanship, Euge asked if he might captain the Jiwa while Euge returned to the UK for several months. And so the dots of destiny were connected.
“By that time I’d met my now-wife Gemma. We’re both photographers by trade and were working together on the Bintang.
“After three years, we realised that we no longer wanted to be working for someone else, and an unmissable opportunity arose. We put all of our pennies in one basket and, with a taste of the boat life, bought into the Sola Gracia.”
The 23-metre Sola Gracia is the ideal surf charter. The steel-hulled, 12-berth luxury vessel is all one could wish for of a floating hotel that conveniently deposits you in a fresh-and-empty lineup each and every morning. With floorboards polished to a mirror-like sheen, state-of-the-art, eco-efficient engines and every comfort considered, it could be imagined that Guy was stepping back towards the opulent lifestyle of the superyachts. But his very reason for an Indonesian migration, his investment in the Sola Gracia and the subsequent establishment of the Mentawai Surf Co, Guy and Gemma’s charter business, was to achieve a greater connection, a camaraderie with his clients not found anywhere else.
“As everyone is, we didn’t want to be working for someone else,” Guy admits. “We had had various offers, but with our money saved we decided to take on a new adventure and see how we went.
“With the network we had been building over the previous ten years, and with the support of knowing we could always return to the Bintang or other charters, we decided to take a bit of a gamble and create the operation we had envisaged.”
A passionate surfer who, by his own admission, froths 24-7, Guy had no desire to be the swarthy, drunken captain with a swelling beer-baby paunch matched only by his engorged and arrogant bravado. He didn’t wish to deposit his guests at the big-ticket breaks, moored alongside a half-dozen similar charters.
“We wanted to be a little bit different from everyone else,” says Guy. “We wanted to give them the service and provide a frothing captain. I just wanted to dedicate my life to the clients and make sure the waves were always good, that I wasn't just sitting in a spot for the sake of it. I’d burn the extra fuel if I had to just to get the waves that would satisfy everyone.”
From a young age, first on bodyboards, then into his early adulthood on two feet, Guy wanted to surf for a living. Knowing he was never going to make the pro ranks or spend his years tripping the world winning prize money, he found another way. From the sterility of ultra-rich private superyachts to skippering his own surf charter with a constant rotation of new friends as stoked on surfing as himself, he found his balance… or perhaps destiny found it for him.
His dedication - both to his clients and to his own thirst for waves - has set him apart. Often the first in and last out of any session, he leads by example, captain, guide, surf rat and new best friend rolled into one. Gemma’s presence also offers a unique aspect to life on board the Sola Gracia. A trained pastry chef, she has a distinct passion for the culinary arts. The galley doesn’t offer the conventional cuisine of an Indo surf charter - nasi gorengs and gado-gados until you’re sick of them. Gemma ensures that guests are served delicious fine food that is nutritionally balanced, energy-rich and sourced from local ingredients.
Fuelling her guests from within, Gemma is also a qualified yoga instructor, helping them recover from long sessions in the water and prepare for a day of oceanic offerings.“The Sola Gracia isn’t just a boat,” Guy reflects. “There’s always a vibe onboard. Guests can relax and unwind, feel at home and be a part of the Mentawai experience, rather than just me anchoring up and telling them to go surf.”
The personal touch reaches into a connection with surroundings. During the brief moments spent on terra firma, guests are encouraged to spend a few moments collecting trash, meeting communities, experiencing real life, rather than simply passing through it as a tourist. It’s in these tangible moments, from buying local crafts and cleaning beaches to trading waves with the captain and sharing a beer as equals as the Indonesian sun slowly sets on another perfect day of waves, that defines the Mentawai Surf Co and all that Guy has created.
But life on the ocean has its limitations and, now with their first child, Guy and Gemma have cast anchor and found their dry dock, building a home overlooking the Mentawai break of HT’s. Drawing on the traditional skills of locals, their home has been crafted with an equal level of consciousness, supporting community, utilising local resources and materials and harnessing the tradespeople of the area, establishing themselves as an asset to the region, rather than a burden. The Sola Gracia remains their primary home when the season is on, but now - especially in these COVID times - they have a permanent berth on dry land.
Destiny can be a cruel mistress. She can be the tantalising carrot dangled in your periphery, the unattainable goal that flickers at the tips of your outstretched fingers. She doesn’t wish to be pursued and stalked and will evade any grasp. But if you take her offered hand, give her faith and hold onto your passions, she will take you to the ends of the earth… or the Mentawais.
After all, “if you’re passionate about something,” as Guy concludes, “you’ll always be happy doing it.” And in that place is where destiny thrives.
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