The Situation in Indonesia
The waves have been firing in Indonesia the past few days. Nias was 8-foot+ and all time, with virtually no one there, and hundreds of other waves in the world’s best surf zone have been firing too. And that’s just the warm-up. The main event is forecasted to hit late this month, with crazy numbers topping out at around 15 feet at 18 seconds—a potentially historic swell for the Indonesian archipelago.
The problem, of course, is that Indonesia has been officially closed to tourism for the past year due to COVID-19. You might be wondering, then, how people keep finding ways to go to Indo and score epic barrels, then release edits of the emptiest Nias and HTs and Kandui since the 1980s?
For those who know the right people, there is a backdoor into Indonesia. By paying off government officials, it’s possible for surfers to get resident or investor visas that allow them into the country. These can be pretty expensive (between $600 and $1000), and they aren’t a free pass into Indo. You still have to quarantine in a hotel in Jakarta for five days (on your own dime), plus pass multiple COVID-19 tests. It’s a pain in the ass, but if you are starving for barrels, it’s sort of worth it.
Or at least it was—until around a week ago.
A friend of ours talked his way into Indo earlier this summer. We won’t mention his name, but suffice to say that he acquired a visa, did the quarantine, and was ready to chase epic, empty barrels all over the archipelago. And he’s a good surfer, too, so chances were good that he’d be logging a lot of barrel time. But then everything fell apart last week when Indonesia reinstituted country-wide lockdowns due to a huge resurgence of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant. For the first week it was sort of confusing—no one knew exactly what the lockdown was going to look like. But now that things have become a bit clearer—and the first major swell has hit since the lockdown—we can give you a report straight from the ground of what it’s like in Indonesia.
Many of the beaches on the main islands are restricted, and there are reports of people paddling at night to get to Padang Padang without being seen by police. On the outer islands and at the surf camps things are a bit more normal—boats are still running to surf spots, and waves like Nias are still open to the public. The problem is getting anywhere. Air travel is now restricted to people who are vaccinated, and because there are so few vaccinated people in Indonesia (relatively speaking), many flights have been cancelled. In other words, if you want to fly somewhere for a swell, you better have done it last week. Ferries and other forms of transport are also pretty restricted, so it’s getting more and more difficult to get around. Rather than chasing swells all over Indonesia, the best bet is now to find a zone that you are stoked on and post up there until things get better. But that’s assuming that you can even get there!
There’s also the issue of getting home. Many of the long-haul flights from the US to Indonesia are still cancelled, and flights through Singapore (the main hub in the area) are rumored to be restricted for anyone coming from Indonesia. So it’s entirely possible to get to Indonesia, not be able to travel within the country, and not be able to get home—which is pretty much what happened to our buddy this week (although he was fortunately able to find a little chunk of reef on Bali that delivered barrels).
Taking all of that into consideration, it is up to each person to decide for themselves if it’s worth paying for a visa and heading off to the emptiest Indo in decades. Things sound pretty bad over there, and it is likely to get worse before it gets better. But that being said—there is a historic swell on the forecast.