For surfers, the arbitrariness of fate has perhaps never been felt more acutely than the last three months of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Depending on where you found yourself locked down, your surfing reality the first quarter of 2020 hung on a handful of variables outside your control.
However, after completing more than 30 ‘New Normal’ interviews over the last three months, we’ve yet to find someone more pristinely positioned than Tim Wood, a surf guide for Tropicsurf currently holed up out front of a world-renowned left-hander at the Nihi Resort on Sumba—owned by billionaire fashion mogul Christopher Burch—about which Travel & Leisure unflinchingly claimed: “This Is The Best Hotel In The World.
“The epitome of escape, adventure, and luxury” Nihi comes complete with perfect, private wave in front of truly, radically opulent living quarters, all spread generously over the resort’s sprawling, idyllically landscaped grounds (33 bungalows over 560 acres).
Hey, Tim. Glad we finally connected. How are you holding up, sir?
I’m well, thanks. I’m living the dream with my wife Giulia who is also a surf guide with Tropicsurf. For two die-hard surfers, life could not be better!
After three months chained up in Los Angeles, it’s hard for me to imagine what your experience has been like. Paint me a picture.
It’s hard to describe, but just close your eyes and imagine being locked down in one of the best resorts in the world on a 200-hectare private property, with 5km of exclusive beach and the cherry on the top….. a world-class wave named Occy’s Left.
Yes, there’s even a right.
Nihi’s iconic waterfront pool and bar.
Give us the situation. What was it like in the lead-up to the pandemic, and what did it feel like as the travel restrictions started to come down?
Giulia and I love Sumba. Hailing from Europe, we’d been globetrotting for a couple of years before arriving at Nihi in 2019. Before that, we were guiding with Tropicsurf in the Maldives.
We didn’t feel the need to bail home when the thought of a pandemic became a reality, partly because we were worried that there would be delays getting back here.
At the time, no one seemed panicked, and we hoped it would pass quickly. Plus, prime swell season was just around the corner, and I simply couldn’t miss it. Last season was off the hook. Actually they all are here… it’s an exclusive wave and never crowded. Just dreamy.
Did any lucky guests get stuck there with you?
Our last guests left at the end of March, when the world was going into lockdown. As other resorts were forced to close, our bosses at Tropicsurf were busy supporting their 40-something guides like us, and helping to repatriate everyone as flight schedules evaporated before their eyes. It was crazy.
How has this had an effect on the resort and community around the island?
Nihi Resort was actually really well prepared for something like this. Through its Sumba Foundation (whereby all operating costs are funded by Nihi’s owner Christopher Burch) it allows all the proceeds to go directly to relevant local causes. The Foundation also works together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was set up to support the locals for an eventual pandemic. Being located on the edge of wilderness, it feels like the chaos and toilet paper issues flew right past us.
There are over 200 local staff here, and they are all still being paid. There’s no Covid, and everyone’s smiling. The big difference is that there’s no guests, and for the first time ever, I can paddle out and be 100% selfish; choose any wave I want! (Unless Giulia is sitting deeper up the reef, never drop in on your Mrs., hey?)
Tim and his Missus on Nihi.
““it is the epitome of escape, adventure, and luxury.”
What are you guys doing in preparation for travel restrictions being lifted and how long before the area will be back to full stride?
From a personal perspective, just being healthy, living day by day, loving life, and using the opportunity to teach the Sumbanese staff how to surf and become more comfortable in the ocean.
There’s heaps of exploring to do, too. Sumba’s a magical island with secluded beaches, rice terraces, waterfalls and even stables with resident indigenous horses. Every afternoon they gallop along the beach and take a dip in the ocean just by the end-section. It’s epic (and keeps your insta game pretty strong.)
From the resort side, the hotel is getting ready to be better and stronger than ever. They are renovating, building, and adding all kinds of new things that aren’t possible when guests are in house. Every year a new surprise seems to pop up here. In my time I’ve seen them build a treehouse that you can stay in and a real-life chocolate factory.
It’s Fairy Tale Land, really.
Will the first few weeks after the restrictions die off be the most packed in memory, or is there going to be a short golden window for a few months where people are still nervous about flying, or can’t afford it post-economic collapse, etc.?
That is a tough one to predict and time will tell. I know the team at Tropicsurf HQ are speaking to clients who are queuing up to score the Maldives next month. (Apparently the Maldives will be letting private jets and superyachts into the country before commercial travelers.)
Here in Indo, the government is yet to make any announcements. Actually my Tropicsurf colleagues at Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay and COMO Uma Canggu aren’t even allowed to surf yet because the beaches are closed.
“Every time I paddle back in at the end of a session it kills me to think that I’ve left it pumping with no one out. It’s surfing blasphemy.”
How has daily life been most affected?
As the resident Tropicsurf Guides here at Nihi Sumba, our job is to coach guests into the best waves of their life. It’s not the stereotypical surf guiding gig. We don’t get paid in waves, and to be honest, we don’t surf anywhere as much as you’d think. Ours is a service business, so it’s all about the guest, and watching me get pitted up the reef doesn’t add any value to the guests’ experience.
Instead, I’ve learned to smile as the bombs slide by unridden. It’s my job to help the guest get those bombs and stay out in front with good coaching, wave selection, and encouragement.
But since the lockdown, Giulia and I are the only surfers here. We’ve been teaching a few staff when the swell is down, but literally there are endless waves on tap for both of us. You couldn’t dream this stuff up.
When was the last time that most of the waves in that area were this uncrowded? 9/11?
Actually, Nihi (formerly known as Nihiwatu) is always relatively uncrowded. It’s one of the only exclusive waves in the world. The wave is exclusive to 10 surfers per day.
But there’s something really dreamy about watching waves roll in all day with zero surfers in the lineup. It kinda makes you crazy, because the choices are limitless and I’m always trying to pick the eyes out of it, but I feel guilty when I’m not surfing too.
Arrggh… even right now, it’s probably a 6/10 and looks super fun out there. Every time I paddle back in at the end of a session it kills me to think that I’ve left it pumping with no one out. It’s surfing blasphemy.
But at Nihi, we have returning guests planning to come back in July and August. Some who have been coming to stay at Nihi every year for the last 14 years. But overall I know that occupancy forecasts are down, so it will be one of the best Indo surf seasons to plan a strike mission… if Scomo lets you Aussies out that is.
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