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The Long Way Around

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Paul Robinson Tackles A Trip To The Mentawais

What Lies Between?
Climber, surfer, and prAna Ambassador Paul Robinson discovers adventure—and maybe a bit of himself—somewhere along the long and lonely path between Point A and Point B. By Paul Robinson.

When I head out on a trip, I always have a plan. I know where I’ll stay, what I’ll do, even how I’ll get around once I get there. It puts me at ease knowing what’s at the end of the journey. But what about what lies in between? That dark area between point A to point B—filled with airport terminals, taxis, and unexpected adventure—seldom gets discussed, but molds each trip in important ways.

I smiled to myself as my flight from Jakarta neared its destination in Padang, in the heart of Indonesia. After my previous trip the year before, how exciting it was to be back and feel like I had a grasp on the country. I was thrilled to be almost to the Mentawais islands, where days of perfect surf awaited. But I wasn’t there yet.

I stood at the baggage carousel, soaking it all in, until my heavy surfboard bag appeared. The sun was setting, and it was hot. I could smell the city all around me: the food, the people, the aroma of cloves. The hot air lingered in my nostrils as I lugged my bag, sweating, through the thick crowd.

Outside the airport it was even hotter. The pinks and purples of the sunset were beautiful, but the darkness worried me. I looked around, hoping to find my ride to the boat I was soon supposed to be boarding, but my driver was a no show.

I sat on the curb, wondering what to do next, as a mob of taxi drivers pestered me for fares. I had no way of contacting anyone, no phone numbers, and no idea of what to do next. I had unexpectedly encountered adventure and now nothing was certain.

“I stood at the baggage carousel, soaking it all in, until my heavy surfboard bag appeared. The sun was setting, and it was hot. I could smell the city all around me: the food, the people, the aroma of cloves. The hot air lingered in my nostrils as I lugged my bag, sweating, through the thick crowd.”

Paul Robinson Tackles A Trip To The Mentawais | prAna
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After half an hour, I reluctantly acknowledged the group of taxi drivers surrounding me. “Where do you want to go?” they asked, smiling. I told them and hoped.

From the back, a small, slender Indonesian man came forward through the crowd. He assured me he knew the boat captain. He made a phone call and handed me the phone, but the person on the other end only spoke Indonesian. My boat was leaving that evening. I had to make a decision.

“My name’s Paul,” I said, extending a hand.

Helping me grab my board bag, he introduced himself as Rangga, and we walked into the bustle of Padang City. Soon we were speeding along the ocean, which eased my nervousness a bit, as darkness fully fell. Motorbikes whizzed by with their lights on, honking. I began to question how far we were going, but Rangga kept assuring me we were almost there. Miles passed. He then abruptly stopped the car and told me he was lost. My sense of ease was now completely gone as I looked for ways to escape. But I knew that was impossible with a 7 foot long surfboard bag.

Rangga spoke urgently into his phone, then flipped a U-turn and we were off again. A few minutes later he stopped the car, announced we were there, and began hauling my board bag out of the car. I threw some Rupiah in his direction as he quickly introduced me to his friend. The newcomer helped me with my board bag and we ran toward the dock.

There was nothing there.

In broken English, my new companion exclaimed, “Tide low! Boat gone!”

I was crushed. I felt cold inside and the hot Indonesian air could do nothing to warm me up. But my new companion indicated hope was not lost. Talking fast, he threw my board bags into a small cut out canoe, and waved for me to get in. I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying, but I knew this was my only chance. I hopped in and we were off.

Paul Robinson Tackles A Trip To The Mentawais | prAna

“Soon we were speeding along the ocean, which eased my nervousness a bit, as darkness fully fell. Motorbikes whizzed by with their lights on, honking. I began to question how far we were going, but Rangga kept assuring me we were almost there.”

Now if this was James Bond, we would have sped off and been at the big boat in no time. But this was Indonesia. As the outboard whined, we crept along through the darkness at swim pace for what seemed like forever. We finally exited the harbor and I could see a boat in the distance. “Boat!” my driver exclaimed with a smile, pointing through the darkness.

“My boat” I hoped.

We yelled to the captain and he slowed the ship down as we pulled alongside. I climbed out and my boards were passed onto the ship. I was finally off for the 14-hour overnight ride to the Mentawai Islands.

Now, when people ask me that trip, I tell them how amazing it was and how good the surfing was. Somehow, however, I always end up with this story. I realize it’s these moments that push you. These are the times when you leave your comfort zone and discover more than you bargained for.

“It’s the journey, not the destination” is now so cliché. But it’s these lonely dark times, places somewhere along the path between point A and point B, where we discover ourselves. These are moments we take home.