There’s a storm brewing in the Mentawais, with growing tension between boat charters and the land-based Macaronis Resort. The dispute is over the Twin Mooring system, currently in place at Macaronis, that only allows two boats to moor at the world famous left per day. These have to be booked in advance and paid for. Charter operators feel that the Macaronis Resort is attempting to monopolise the break with the enforcement of the system.
A video recently went viral (see below) highlighting the situation: it showed the charter boat ‘Addiction’ and its passengers getting chased away from the famed left by a boatload of angry villagers from nearby Silabu, which caused a virtual mosh pit to erupt. Since then opinions have been flying across the net, with plenty of finger pointing and name-calling directed at both parties.
To find out more about the brewing tension in the Macaronis channel, we had a chat with Mark Loughran, the Macaronis Resort’s founder, and Steven ‘Chappy’ Adshade, a familiar face who’s been going on an annual pilgrimage to the Mentawai’s for as long as he can remember.
Where It All Began
The dispute started in 2010, with the emergence of a Twin Mooring System that permits only two boats per day at Macaronis. Boats are asked to book in advance if they wish to anchor at Maccas.
This has put a dampener on a few boats’ trips and ruffled the feathers of those who’ve found themselves on the short end on the mooring arrangement. Macaronis is a premium left-hander that surfers pay big money and travel thousands of miles to experience; to be turned away by a law goes against the ethos and spirit of surfing. Even if you book in advance, there’s certainly no guarantee the waves are going to be firing the day you drop anchor.
At a glance it sounds like the Macaronis Resort has privatised a world-class break for their own gain. But according to Mark Loughran, that’s not what is happening.
“It is not exclusivity,” Laughran stressed. “It is about industry management, creating a realistic carrying capacity at Maccas to ensure the enjoyment factor is there for all surfers, and avoiding over-exploitation. Non-commercial boats who occasionally visit can still book a mooring for a couple of days. Or if there is no mooring available, they can anchor at Silabu anchorage and come in for a day visit to the resort and surf the break. We just had some guys doing this last week.”
He goes on to explain how the figures work. “Two moorings allowing for two boats to visit each day with 8 – 12 surfers, and we cap our surfer guests at 18. With surf guides that brings the maximum carrying capacity of surfers at Maccas to approx 40 each day. It makes sense and it works.”
Spending the day at a spot like Macaronis when it’s firing with a maximum of 40 people on it, as opposed to double that (which it can easily get to) starts to make more sense and sounds like a deal – and this is exactly what the resort offers paying customers. But is it fair to impose number laws on any surf spot?
What Exactly Is The Twin Mooring System?
According to the resort’s website, the law was created by the local government. It states: “On Tuesday 20th April 2010, Silabu Village introduced compulsory use of 2 Moorings for visiting charter boats to Teluk Pasongan / Macaronis wave.” It then goes on to explain that the Twin Mooring System is “designed to protect the marine environment, while also preventing over-crowding in the bay, and promoting long term tourism sustainability and co-existance between Macaronis Resort, Silabu Village and visiting charter boats.”
“A charge of Rp.300 000 ($33) is applicable for daily use of mooring buoys, and when there is no Mooring Buoy occupied by a charter boat, Macaronis Resort also pays Rp.300 000 as a subsidy to the village, thereby guaranteeing a sustainable income to fund tourism management and to fund community projects, of approximately $US2000 per month.”
One of the leading concerns from boat owners is how unfair these figures sound. Giving the guests at one land-based resort first dibs at a spot like Macaronis eliminates several boats from Maccas every time the spot is going off. Considering the demand to surf there when it’s on, this is a rather serious downer. These concerns are contributing towards the animosity.
Steve ‘Chappy’ Adshade was in the Ments for his annual pilgrimage this year, and experienced some of the growing tension first hand, citing that it’s coming from both sides.
“[The situation] seems to be reaching boiling point,” says Chappy. “There is a huge vibe from the Maccas Land Camp owner and the villagers. The surfers generally seem against the whole thing and there are ‘Free Maccas’ T-shirts in the line-up.”
Whatever politics are going on, Chappy reckons it hasn’t seeped into the lineup yet. “On our first visit to Maccas this year there were two boats moored and we surfed without putting down anchor. A bunch of villagers came out and harassed our boat skipper. He was intimidated, but it seemed it was more idol threats than any action. It was bizarre, because none of the surfers from either the Macaronis camp or the moored boats seemed bothered, no aggression (towards us) whatsoever.”
The other issue that keeps cropping up is how the resort allows bookings to be made all year long, so one or two boats can buy up mooring days like lottery tickets and cash them in at will. But Loughran is upfront about opening the forum to all charters in looking to better the system or reach a compromise, but insists that not all charters are co-operative.
“Many of the boats supporting the system booked their whole season on the buoys this year, meaning there were not many spots left over for other boats to book – mainly those who chose not to comply with the system. We asked those boats to give support to change the system to make it fairer for them, so boats could only book two trips in advance (like 2010 – so everybody can get a fair go), but the opposing boats gave no support for this positive change, and still refuse to book moorings, so the Kepala Desa (village chief) decided to leave it as it is, and instead make the change at the beginning of next season. This could be fixed very easily if the half a dozen boats which oppose the system would co-operate to make positive change.”
The money issue has come up time and again. Limiting the break to two moorings also limits the revenue that could be made if boats could show up and pay the fee – which, to be fair, is peanuts for what you’re getting.
Chappy sheds some light from the charter surfer perspective. “Other boats chose to park around the corner from Maccas and drop the surfers off using their tender. We reckoned the villagers are losing money, as on any given day there are four boats at Maccas anyhow.”
But whatever the numbers say, Loughran employs Mentawai locals throughout the year and has followed official channels from the start – this is not to say that charter boats don’t give back. But Loughran’s business is a permanent structure that provides good jobs for the community and a decent place of work. To those ends it is important that the resort offer something special to guests. “It (the Twin Mooring System) is basically a pretty straight forward concept to share a wave equally between commercially operated charter boats and the Maccas resort. 50 / 50 sharing, with financial benefit for management of the moorings going back to the local community.”
Where To From Here?
Both parties have valid points and reasons for feeling bummed with one another. Loughran stresses it’s not ownership of the wave a-la Tavarua, while many charter operators and surfers resent being told a break is off limits. It’s unclear how the situation will resolve itself at this point. What is clear is that Loughran has the full support of the villagers, who have come out in force to make sure the rules are followed, and this strengthens his legal position considerably.