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For surfers, Indonesia has never been better

  • Danae Mercer

    Bloomberg

| Sat, May 20, 2017 | 09:05 am
For surfers, Indonesia has never been better In Indonesia, surfing is being used as a conduit for good. And travelers keen to ride the waves can help shape the change. (Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

With its world-class waves, warm waters, and tropical weather, Indonesia is a surfer’s dream. Yet among the country’s remote island communities, malaria, infant mortality, and a lack of access to clean water persist.

But good news is afoot. Grassroots, surfer-led organizations are springing up in the archipelago. Keep Bali Clean spearheaded a local surf competition last April to benefit beach restoration efforts, and the established international nonprofit SurfAid is working to improve health care in the world’s most remote surfing destinations.

Luxury resorts, too, are leveraging their platforms to engage travelers. Two in particular are leading the charge. Kandui Villas, a 12-bungalow hideaway in the isolated Mentawai islands, works in collaboration with Waves For Water to bring clean water access to those who need it most.

And Nihiwatu, a 33-villa resort on Sumba Island, has launched a sizable nonprofit, the Sumba Foundation, to improve local health-care access and feed underserved schoolchildren. The total impact: $850,000 in 2016, and $7 million over the past 16 years. Thanks to a constant trickle of donations, the Sumba Foundation has been able to reduce malaria rates by 85 percent on the island and provide health care to 25,000 locals. 

Their message is clear: In Indonesia, surfing is being used as a conduit for good. And travelers keen to ride the waves can help shape the change.

On a recent spring evening, local Sumbanese children gathered with their horses on Nihiwatu’s mile-and-a-half stretch of private beach, waiting to race across the sand.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Sunset at Nihiwatu

On a recent spring evening, local Sumbanese children gathered with their horses on Nihiwatu’s mile-and-a-half stretch of private beach, waiting to race across the sand. It’s emblematic of the many activities Nihiwatu uses as fundraisers; here, guests were invited to bid on potential winners over canapés and drinks. On this night they raised only $400, but out here, small-scale events make a deceptively large impact.

Surfer Claude Graves knew he was looking for three things when he set out to create Nihiwatu: a location with good breaks, easy ocean access, and rich cultural appeal.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Great waves make a great resort

Surfer Claude Graves knew he was looking for three things when he set out to create Nihiwatu: a location with good breaks, easy ocean access, and rich cultural appeal. “Sumba was uncharted at the time. The best map I could find was from 1883,” he said. It checked all the boxes.

In addition to 33 serene villas with private plunge pools, Nihiwatu now has a three-bedroom treehouse atop a cliff, a boathouse, and private stable with Sumbanese horses—a cross between local ponies and those of Arabian breeding.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Fit for surfers or honeymooners

In addition to 33 serene villas with private plunge pools, Nihiwatu now has a three-bedroom treehouse atop a cliff, a boathouse, and private stable with Sumbanese horses—a cross between local ponies and those of Arabian breeding. There’s even an artisan chocolate factory, nodding to Sumba’s native cocoa plantations. The resort’s chocolate sales—at roughly $5 per bar—also benefit the Sumba Foundation.

Nihiwatu’s clientele—who pay upward of $1,000 per night at the resort—are well positioned to make a difference. (Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Luxury with a conscience

Nihiwatu’s clientele—who pay upward of $1,000 per night at the resort—are well positioned to make a difference. “They surf here, they spend a lot of money, but then they double down and put the money in the foundation because they get emotionally invested with the community,” said Graves. Here, some of the many Sumbanese children that benefit from the resort's giving.

Rather than accepting the disease as a death sentence, Kenny Knickerbocker, general manager of the Sumba Foundation, is out to prove that “malaria can be treated quite easily.” (Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Real problems, real solutions

Malaria is a big issue in Sumba, said Kenny Knickerbocker, general manager of the Sumba Foundation. But it’s getting better, thanks to efforts that range from prevention (via mosquito nets) to diagnosis (via nurse training and expanded clinics, such as the one shown here). But awareness is also a big part of the equation: Rather than accepting the disease as a death sentence, Knickerbocker is out to prove that “malaria can be treated quite easily.”

On arrival, locals rush forward, peddling beaded jewelry and traditional swords. But the sales push isn’t strong, and the smiles feel genuine.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

A true sense of place

Guests of Nihiwatu can visit Sumba Foundation projects, from water pumps to schools, or a Sumbanese village. On arrival, locals rush forward, peddling beaded jewelry and traditional swords. But the sales push isn’t strong, and the smiles feel genuine. Despite the arrival of visitors, many locals keep going about their day. Here, four men play a game of cards. Two have pig jaw bones dangling from their ears, a “punishment” for losing two hands in a row.

What surfers get in return is a true rarity: a nearly empty wave and one epic ride, with consistent sets, a stable and clean top just before the wave break, and an empty ocean stretching out toward Australia.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Tackling “Occ.'s Left”

Only 10 individuals can register to hit the waves at Nihiwatu daily—and the privilege costs $100. What surfers get in return is a true rarity: a nearly empty wave and one epic ride, with consistent sets, a stable and clean top just before the wave break, and an empty ocean stretching out toward Australia. “Occy’s Left, Nihiwatu’s private surf wave, has a lot of character,” Antonella Mascimino, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said. “When you catch it at the right time, the reward is a 200 to 300-meter-long, thrilling ride down the line, through sections of ripple walls and heaving barrels.” It’s a challenge for even the most experienced surfer.

Read also: Jakpost guide to Jl. Cipete Raya

While Nihiwatu targets honeymooners and surfers equally, Kandui Villas caters specifically to the latter. (Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Nothing but waves

While Nihiwatu targets honeymooners and surfers equally, Kandui Villas caters specifically to the latter. Its 12 duplex villas are spread out along the coastline, surrounded by nothing other than mangroves and palm trees. It’s possible to circumnavigate the island before lunch. As such, Kandui is a smaller resort that Nihiwatu, and so, too, are its philanthropic efforts. The resort focuses most of its attention on a single cause—clean water access—in partnership with Waves For Water. To get involved, guests are encouraged to buy water filters at home and pack them in their luggage.

Zachary Keenan, managing director of Mentawai’s most luxurious hotel, Kandui Villas, says a sharp drop-off from deep to shallow water creates the types of “challenging, hollow tubing barrel waves” that surf addicts chase religiously. (Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

A far-flung paradise

Mentawai, a cluster of islands off the edge of western Sumatra, isn’t easy to get to. Even from well-connected New York City, it can take three flights, a ferry, a drive, and a total travel time of 40-plus hours. For an intrepid few, it’s worth it. “Mentawai is a dream destination,” professional surfer Sebastian Zietz said. Why? Zachary Keenan, managing director of Mentawai’s most luxurious hotel, Kandui Villas, says a sharp drop-off from deep to shallow water creates the types of “challenging, hollow tubing barrel waves” that surf addicts chase religiously. Calm winds and a wide variety of surf, however, make the island chain ripe for beginners and pros alike.

Travelers are able get to know each other over communal meals and share boats to go in search of the island's best waves when they stay at Kandui Villas.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

The Kandui experience

There’s a certain conviviality that characterizes a stay at Kandui Villas. Travelers get to know each other over communal meals and share boats to go in search of the island's best waves. Then, around sunset, guests congregate around the pool bar to watch videos of the day’s surf over rounds of Bintangs, the local beer. At night everyone retreats to their private bungalow, where the beds are draped in mosquito netting and air conditioning is swapped for a salty sea breeze.

Dr. Joe Norton, shown here, is a 33-year-old physician from Australia’s Gold Coast. He's at Kandui Villas with a mission.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Vacation with the change-makers

Dr. Joe Norton, shown here, is a 33-year-old physician from Australia’s Gold Coast. He's at Kandui Villas with a mission. As a member of Surfing Doctors, he’s here to assist in emergency medical around the island, and scope out opportunities for more formalized philanthropic work. Others with Surfing Doctors have passed through Kandui—which has just started sponsoring medical professionals’ stays—to create pop-up clinics and offer basic life support workshops around the islands.

Children in Tiop, a small village 45 minutes from Kandui, peer from the doorway of a schoolhouse.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

Water, water everywhere—but none of it to drink

Children in Tiop, a small village 45 minutes from Kandui, peer from the doorway of a schoolhouse. Through Waves For Water, Kandui Villas has delivered enough filters to provide 6,000 locals with clean water for the next five years. To further support its neighboring communities, Kandui Villas also hires locals to become marine stewards: Agents are given housing, food, a boat, and fuel to help raise awareness for the fragile, coral-filled ecosystems that ring East Java. Kandui has created hundreds of jobs—including the hotel’s on-site staff—to boost the Mentawai economy.

In this corner of Indonesia, there’s as much to celebrate on dry land as there is on the water.(Bloomberg/Sarah Freeman)

An unforgettable ride

“People call Mentawai the Disneyland of surfing,” said Jordan Heuer, the live-in marketing director of Kandui Villas. “The waves here are among the best in the world.”

No matter what their agenda, the hotel’s guests—including Dr. Norton—rise early to catch the first surf. Many return for breakfast, then hit the waves again. But in this corner of Indonesia, there’s as much to celebrate on dry land as there is on the water.

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