Finding The Joy in Work

Twiggy Van Ryan runs Mentawai Joy a dedicated surf charter business catering for trips in the Mentawai and Telo Islands. The Mentawai Islands (aka the Mentawais) are a chain of about 70 islands and islets, which lie approximately 150 kilometres off the western coast of Sumatra. We spoke to Twiggy to find out about what he’s doing in this notable surfing destination and just how much joy there is in his work.

How did you get involved in operating Surf Charters?
It was the culmination of adversity and opportunity. I was involved with a surf charter business operating two boats - which I’d invested in – and a booking agency. In a freak occurrence, one of my business partners died unexpectedly. I offered to help his wife (also a business partner) and ended up managing the booking agency. I was land-bound for a few months following a bad surfing injury so I had the time but when it came to admin, accounting and excel spreadsheets I was hopeless! At the end of that year, there was an opportunity to buy shares in the booking agency but it didn’t pan out. I’d put a lot of heart into that business so was pretty disappointed when it fell through but one of the other partners suggested starting my own agency, which I jumped at and Mentawai Joy was born!

Why the Mentawais?
The Mentawais are like Disneyland for surfers – there are rides everywhere! I first went to the Mentawais when a friend was working there. I booked a boat trip, loved it and ended up staying on for an entire month. I came back to Australia, sold my house on the Gold Coast and moved to Indonesia to start a business. As it turns out, that path changed and after a year in Indonesia I was introduced to a friend who had shares in charter boats. He didn’t have the time needed to put into the boats so it was a good opportunity to hand it over to someone who was going to be more involved in the business, and that’s where I came in.

“The name ‘Mentawai Joy’ says it all; it’s what I want from life and it’s where I want to be.”

How much time do you spend working on the business? Does it impact on your surfing?
I’m actually enjoying being more involved in running a business. My life up until the start of 2014 was just about surfing. While the need to be more involved has impacted a little bit on my surfing you’ve got to pay to play! The official season is April through to October but in the Mentawais we don’t really take a break and there’s maybe only 15 days a year that aren’t surf-able. I encourage people to take advantage of the “off-season” months (November to February) as you can score epic waves with no one around. Padang is my home for six months of the year and the turnaround between charters might only be between two and five days so I spend a lot of time at sea. I like to be involved on the ground and when it comes to operating boats, there’s always something to do. I’m not a skipper, I’m a surf guide and I love it as it allows me to focus on the guests and helping them with their surfing. Being a skipper is a tough job - those guys are the heroes of the Mentawais as far as I’m concerned!

What are the challenges of running a business in Indonesia?
The mechanics of how things work in Indonesia can be difficult and there are days you’ll be banging your head against a wall. I’m lucky that my Indonesian business partner is really switched on and often foresees potential problems. At the moment, there’s talk of putting in a lot more moorings in the Mentawis. This idea is to protect the reef, however, there is the potential for land camp owners to lay claim on the breaks, which has happened at Macaronis [Resort]. I don’t think anyone should ‘own’ the breaks. If I was operating somewhere else in the world I’m sure I’d be equally frustrated but it would be for different reasons.

What are the best parts?
Being involved in a sport that I’ve love and that’s been a good balance for me is huge. The times when I haven’t had surfing in my life have been the most difficult – being on a board is like being on a yoga mat, it keeps me balanced. I love helping others and in this job that equates to helping surfers improve their performance to the point where they’re catching the best waves of their lives. It makes me happy to see that, especially in such an amazing location. Being in charge of my own business is also a new and positive challenge and I’m finding that I actually enjoy the pressure as it makes me want to do better. I am so stoked to be a surfer and to get paid to do what I do – it’s a blessing.

“I’m not rich by any means but I’m so wealthy because of the lifestyle.”

What advice do you have for others?
When it comes to business, it’s like life and I believe that it comes down to trust, feelings and finding the right people. It also helps having the right supporters behind you. I remember being overwhelmed by the support I got when I set up the Mentawai Joy Facebook page, it was a turning point and gave me the confidence to chase my ideas. If you’ve got a dream, just do it. You’re better off having a crack and not succeeding than having not tried. Happiness and success don’t come from the outside you have to find it within yourself. Sort out what’s going on inside and the right things will come to you.

You can find Mentawai Joy online at these locations:

Instagram: @mentawaijoy


Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on August 12, 2015
Categories: Interviews