Sand so fine that it was like wading through crisp deep snow

Simeuleu gave us a glimpse into a tropical island that is as yet untouched by developer's dollars or the in-crowd. Vegan cafes, rooftop bars, crossfit hotels and oat-milk cappachuchus are non-existent. Cows, buffalos, geese and goats are abundant.

Boo hoo.

Sofie & I hadn’t been anywhere ‘new’ since 2016. Kit hadn’t been anywhere ‘new’ since 2018. We’ve been stuck with the humdrum of India, Sri Lanka, Portugal and the UK.

I know, I know, your heart bleeds for us. 

Honestly, we love these places, but we are travellers – a cornerstone of Soul & Surf was finding off-the-beaten-path surf locations in India, Sri Lanka, Andaman Islands, Banda Aceh, Lombok, Peru etc. We see, feel and experience so much more when we are out of our comfort zones. And that feeds our outlook on the world, home and work life. 

Also, it’s bonkers that we are in the business of holidays that challenge our guests to switch off from the day-to-day, to leave their comfort zone and to refresh, reset and review their life back home – yet not only have I not been anywhere new for eight years, but even in that time I haven’t taken a break where I did not check daily emails, slack and take calls and meetings. 

This time was different. 

We were heading to Simeuleu.

And the phones were off.

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These serene, wise-looking, primates couldn’t give two-hoots that we were bumbling through their jungle

Our trip began amidst the towering skyline of Kuala Lumpur, where we found ourselves on the 28th floor of a ‘skyrise’  - Sofie’s hybrid term. From bustling street food markets to sprawling malls and blockbusting cinemas, we got a little fix of urban excitement, before hopping over to Medan, the capital of North Sumatra.

Beyond Medan’s seemingly endless sprawl, we trekked to Bukit Lawang National Park to search out orangutans. We kept expectations low, but boy were we wrong. Our guides took us straight to them. These serene, wise-looking primates couldn’t give two-hoots that we were bumbling through their jungle, and carried on about their leaf-munching business. Drenched in cliches our souls were touched to be in such close proximity with these rare and endangered specie-neighbours of ours.

The gibbons on the other hand knew better than to get too close to us humans, but we followed their calls and saw them fleetingly between the leaves as they leapt from treetop to treetop to keep away from our kind. Thomas Leaf monkeys, hornbills, a lot of mud and very tired legs made up the rest of the story.


But it was Simeuleu where our adventure took flight, quite literally to begin with - our hearts missed a beat when we saw the size of the plane taking us there. Ten of us, including pilots, were crammed into a tiny prop plane, our surfboards strapped to the seats beside us. As we flew over and then touched down on the remote island, excitement surged through us like a wave.  

Leo, an old guest of Soul & Surf’s, had fallen in love with the island and its waves and, with his Roman surf-crew partners, had recently set up a good quality surf camp. Leo’s lifelong friend Emy met us at the airport and from that moment on treated us like family, in the way that comes so easy to Italians. 

We hit the ground running and over the first couple of days we surfed a range of spots, searching for family-friendly waves, and waves I could handle with my old herniated disc injury firing up again.

It was a tricky start, Sofie went backwards over the falls on a 9’2” at Alus Alus right, Kit’s leash broke at One Tongs and he had a long swim in over rocky reef against the current, and Ed fell off the scooter ferrying boards and people back to the car on an off-road track. Yet as we ventured off the beaten path, despite being bruised, battered and a bit broken we also encountered moments of delight.

Untouched landscapes, undeveloped beaches, happy, waving-locals - oh, and a lot of cowpats.

We scored the last remaining rental vehicle on the island to explore, and as we drove ‘the road’ our minds meandered, creating jungle-stories as we peered into the deep dense foliage, the jungle rearing almost vertically at times.

From the road side we glimpsed the bewitching, magnificent alchemy of the Sumatran jungle. Whilst over the treetops in the distant hill-country we saw tufts of cloud clinging to the jungle canopy - it looked like the sodden jungle breathing, exhaling and then compressing those clouds into waterfalls in front of our eyes. 

Witnessing nature that hasn't yet been tamed by humans stirs deep-seated intangible emotions, sparks the imagination - whilst reminding us of what we, as humans, have done to most of our planet.

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Sun-kissed, salt-crusted and dreamily knackered.

One morning our ‘Italian connection’ decided to check out Teabags, a world class wave on an island, off the island and invited us to join.

We set sail in a Sumutran jukung, a local fishermans outrigger canoe, spinning across clear, deep, cobalt-blue waters and over rolling swell lines to check the wave. None of us fancied it breaking so close to shore so we chugged onward to Minchao, an island, off the island, off the island.

We snorkelled a while around the boat, seeing live corals and rainbow coloured fish, then swam to shore where the postcard-worthy idyllic white beach had sand so fine that it was like wading through crisp deep snow. We had lunch in the shade, where the jungle overhanged the beach, explored a cave cut into the rocks from thousands of years of wave action, before swimming back to the jukungs to chug home.

Sun-kissed, salt-crusted and dreamily knackered. 

As the three of us meandered the coastline in our battered Toyota for our twice daily surfs a driving-game emerged that is now known as 'Pat Splats'. Each day, and with great regularity throughout the day, fresh cow-pats (somehow) appeared on the road. 

We splatted those pats. 

The squelch and ensuing explosion was so satisfying that we wanted more and more.

Kit made ding, brrring and pchow noises with each success, five splats in quick succession scores you a ‘dung heap’ - five dung heaps and you get a ‘poo planet'. 

Life was good.

The weather in the doldrums was tropically stormy and noticeably cooler than Sri Lanka, from where we had just come, booming thunderstorms and brooding clouds interspersed with bright tropical sunshine.

Our last day started heavy with the clouds, low and laden. Maybe this threat of rain kept the few other surfers at home and we got Ali Babas lefts to ourselves. A swell was arriving, there was more power in the ocean and finally, finally my body started to move and allowed me to surf a bit. Kit and I had some screamers, which was well overdue because Sofie had been stealing all the waves in previous days,  

We can’t help ourselves. There is magic here.


Photography by Ed Templeton

As the day drew to a close we checked our local spot Dylan’s to see if the new swell was beginning to light it up. It was still small, but this mechanical wave-pool like wave hand enough in it to give us a taste of what might be.

The Italian-dominated lineup made space for Kit and he was on fire, quick takeoffs, racing and pumping fast down the line before throwing a few turns and kicking out before the dry-reef section… he had one of his best surfs to date. We paddled back through the key-hole just before dark to join Sofie snorkelling just a few more metres down the reef amongst live coral gardens, swimming with turtles and shoals of wildly abundant tropical fish.

As Sofie pushed the gates of the airport open so we could catch the morning flight to the mainland - yep, it’s that kind of airport - we reflected that Simeuleu gave us a glimpse into a tropical island that is as yet untouched by developers-dollars or in the in-crowd. 

Vegan cafes, rooftop bars, crossfit hotels and oat-milk cappachuchus are non-existent. 

Cows, buffalos, geese and goats are abundant.

We can’t help ourselves. 

There is magic here.

This sentiment is how all of Soul & Surf’s destinations and pop-ups were born. 

We or our friends and colleagues discover somewhere that has that sprinkle of magic dust and we want to share it.

What do you reckon? 

Should we pop-up in Simeuleu and do a Soul & Surf week or two?

Who’s in? 

DM if you are.


No vegan capachuchus here