What if I told you there was a tropical island with perfect waves, with no one out? Ever. But before, you tell me to get f*cked, what if I added that these waves aren’t far from some of the world’s most popular breaks? The only catch…no one can surf them. Not me, not you, not Slater. No one.
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Where Is North Sentinel?
North Sentinel is a small island around 7 km in width located off the West coast of the Andaman islands. The islands technically belong to India, but North Sentinel is home to one of the last un-contacted tribes on Earth, so the island remains out of touch and off-limits to the rest of the world.
History of North Sentinel Island
Anthropologists believe that natives have lived on North Sentinel for around 60,000 years and there are an estimated 80 to 150 tribes people living on the island today. However, this could be as many as 500.
We don’t know a great deal about how the Sentinelese live regarding the local culture and customs, the only discerning characteristic–is their hostility to outsiders. But despite the frosty welcoming parties, there have been several cases of “contact” over the years.
The first of which came in 1771, when an East India trading vessel spotted lights, and life on the island. The ship sailed by though, thinking of it as nothing more than just another Andaman tribe, much like the “Onge” and “Jawara” tribes that resided on Little Andaman.
Then, for nearly one hundred years, the island was forgotten and left undisturbed, until an Indian merchant ship, named the “Nineveh”, ran aground on the reef, just off the South coast of Sentinel. Twenty crew members were stranded on the beach, and after surviving there for three days they were eventually greeted by the Sentinelese. The encounter was hostile, and the locals attacked the crew with spears and arrows, which they countered with rocks and sticks before being rescued.
After the British colonized India, the Andaman Islands fell under British rule and after occupying the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a party of naval officers, led by Maurice Portman, landed on North Sentinel to check things out. While they found a mostly deserted island, they did find 6 locals who were seemingly left behind by the rest of the tribe. Portman stole them away and took them back to Port Blair on Little Andaman.
Back in Port Blair, the Sentinelese shortly fell sick and the older of the 6 died. Portman then decided to take the younger children back to North Sentinel and dropped them off on the sand, with gifts. It’s not well documented whether this caused the rest of the Sentinelese population to become sick, but it did little to improve hostility toward visitors.
India gained independence from the British in 1974 and sent out sporadic expeditions to North Sentinel and hoped to make contact with the people. These expeditions were led by an Indian anthropologist named Triloknath Pandit. They were always met with hostility, but the Indians always brought gifts, including pigs, plastic toys, and coconuts.
The islanders took an instant dislike to the pigs, killing and burying them in the sand, while the coconuts went down well and were promptly accepted. In 1974, a National Geographic film crew also attempted contact but had to turn back after one of the crew was shot in the leg by an arrow.
These sporadic visits came and went for 25 years until the next major incident happened. A vessel named the “Primrose” shipwrecked itself off the North Sentinel coast in 1981. This time, the crew was rescued by helicopter. But returning salvage missions showed the locals had been onto the ship, to strip parts of the wrecked vessel for metal–believed to be for spearheads and arrow tips.
Through the 1990s, missions to Sentinel became more frequent, and while many of them were met with the typical Sentinelese hostility, one crew did manage to make contact. During this exchange, the crew gifted coconuts, this time by hand, directly to the locals, as opposed to throwing them into the water for collection.
Relations seemed to improve, until a local made a threatening (cutthroat) gesture to the crew, indicating they had outstayed their welcome. Since then, there have been few interactions with the Sentinelese and none have progressed past the small interactions achieved by Pandit and his crew.
In 2004, when a tsunami devastated much of the Southeast Asian coastline, a helicopter flew over the island to check on their whereabouts. Interestingly, the islanders seemed fine and even fired arrows at the helicopter.
The most recent contact attempt was by John Allen Chau, an American missionary who looked to spread Christianity to the island. John visited the island 3 times, with little success at making contact, before being killed on his third attempt.
Since then, there have been no contact attempts and the Indian government has imposed a strict “exclusion” zone around the island, banning anyone from venturing within 5.6km of the coast. The ban applies at the time of writing. And yes, this does include the many reef breaks that surround the coast…
Is there Surf on North Sentinel?
Yes. It only takes a short Google Map expedition to see the potential for world-class waves on North Sentinel. The coast is seemingly littered with excellent surf spots, from left and right reef passes, a strange sweeping beach break point, and even a couple of a-frames. It begs the question… What if?
Has Anyone Surfed North Sentinel?
There have been stories of people surfing on North Sentinel. However, the exact details of such trips are under wraps for obvious reasons. The only stories I could find were of a crew of professional surfers who surfed a left reef pass off North Sentinel while chartering the Andamans. The story, which you can read here on Swellnet, indicates that many of the surfers didn’t even know where they were, claiming to think they were still in Indonesia… I’ll let you decide if you believe that.
The crew had to promptly leave, as during the session, a local boat paddled out to the ship they were on but were apparently scared away by music on the boat. The crew was lucky this time, and the surfers on board were some of the only surfers in the world to sample the waves of North Sentinel.
Where do Things Stand Today?
So should you go and surf North Sentinel? In short, no. Surfing on North Sentinel is banned and the Indian government strictly enforces a no-go zone under a 5.6km “barrier” around the island. This is to protect both the local people from varying diseases they are not immune to and from visitors being killed.
Now, for anyone surfing on North Sentinel, being arrested by the Indian Navy, or shot in the chest by an arrow as you come out the barrel, remain the most likely outcomes. And things will remain this way for the foreseeable future, so if that sounds like you, be my guest… the perfect empty waves are all yours. I think I’ll stick to Bali…