As contemporary surf tourism research primarily focuses on sustainability or socio-economic impacts, the materiality of waves tends to become simplified or overshadowed. By taking the latter more seriously, this article particularly aims to explicate how local human-waves relations offer nuanced and complex accounts of what it means to live with waves in surf tourism destinations. Drawing on Ingold’s (2000. The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge) notions of ‘engagement’ and ‘perception’, human-waves relations become illustrated here as ‘ambivalent’ given their practically complex interdependence and the irreducibility of waves and humans. On basis of field observations in Siberut, Mentawai Islands, Indonesia, this article highlights how local Mentawaian engagements with waves develop in terms of ambiguous and dynamic notions of ‘good waves’, ‘fear’ and ‘pleasure’, and practices of ‘avoidance/encounter’. These notions emphasize the often complex and everyday engagements Mentawaians have with waves, but also offer an avenue to recognize the importance of attending to the seemingly trivial matter of waves in context of a surf tourism destination.