A few months ago and many hits, Patrick Reilly had a decision to make. Did he take the first flight home or did he stay in Indonesia as the coronavirus pandemic began to escalate and travel became questionable?
“Everyone at the house was panicking and telling me I had to go back to the United States immediately with my daughter,” said Reilly, who had his 14-year-old daughter Emma with him in Nias. “At that point, I knew that if we left we wouldn’t be able to come back and we would miss a unique chance to be here without a crowd. “
So they stayed.
What followed was a surreal experience of waiting for the pandemic, hosting virtual classes at night for his teaching job in San Diego, and navigating fatherhood on a remote island – all while possibly scoring the The most uncrowded Nias in history, or at least since the Australians first showed up at Sorake Beach in 1975. And yes, Reilly and her daughter are still there, still scoring.
“Emma and I are very grateful for the sincere hospitality the Indonesians have shown us,” said Reilly. “We are guests in their country and consider ourselves one of the luckiest people on the planet to be here to surf and hang out with the locals. I still can’t believe it.
How long have you been in Indo?
We have been here for about 16 months now.
Have you decided to stay or are you stuck there?
We were here for last season, and I took a little time off from my teaching job to stay a little longer and it became the year. Then around March when things started to get serious with COVID, everyone at home was panicking and telling me I had to return to the United States immediately with my daughter. At that time I knew that if we left we wouldn’t be able to come back and we would miss a unique chance to be here without a crowd. My family and friends weren’t too keen on keeping my child here, but we are healthy and live a low-key life here, so I decided to roll the dice and stay.
What is the atmosphere like on the pitch?
The mood was super sweet, but you can feel the financial pain of the locals. Overall, I think the lack of people here has slowed down everyone – from the locals to the few tourists here. I know that’s cliché to say, but that’s what the 1970s must have been in Indo. The COVID tension is there, but overall it has been an extremely peaceful and friendly time. In my 25 years here, I have never experienced a moment so dramatically free, smiling and full of laughter.
From what you’ve seen, how has COVID and the lack of visiting surfers affected the local economy?
In Nias, there are around 35 host families. This season, only five of them had a few guests. COVID has totally decimated the revenue stream from local surf tourism. These summer months are when they make money to live the rest of the year, so it will become more difficult for them in the months to come. It has been a mess for everyone – from the driver picking you up at the airport to the kids selling coconuts. There are simply no clients.
Did you score? How is the crowd?
If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. It has been crazy. I have had eight foot Nias on my own sometimes. The crowd was very small. We were only ten for the summer and it was about 50/50 men and women. The last swell, a few people arrived from Bali, but we were all happy to be surfing with new people. Everyone in the water is as friendly as they can get. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many people say “no, go on this one” in my life. Everyone is just sharing and encouraging each other. The number of waves and tubes is probably 20 times more than a normal season. I still can’t believe it.
Have you ever traveled to Indo or just crouched in Nias?
We were in Bali most of the rainy season and spent some time at Lakey Peak. Then they shut down all of Indo, so we were stranded in Bali for a few more months than originally planned. Not a bad place to get stuck – Bali was and still is empty. Little crowded, Bali is truly paradise. We were finally able to go up to Nias in June as soon as domestic travel was allowed.
You are a teacher and took virtual classes at night due to jet lag, right? How did that happen ?
I have been working in San Diego since June and my hours are 11pm to 5am. When the waves are good, I get little sleep. It’s daylight about an hour after I stop working and I’m foaming so much that I can’t sleep then tend to surf all day. After a beautiful day of waves, come the Bintangs at sunset, then I fall asleep a few hours before the start of the lessons. I will have plenty of time to sleep when this dream race is over.
Your 14 year old daughter has been there with you as well. What was the experience for her?
She’s pretty good at catching waves when Nias is crowded, but this year she’s like all of us and has had so many waves. She’s charging, and this year without the crowds and the pressure of blowing a fat one with 30 guys in the water, she’s pushed her limits and launched into anything. She had a few 8 foot animals on her 5’5 ”. But as a teenager, she didn’t really like how quiet it is here. She usually has a team of Australian friends who come to Nias with whom she spends time, but this year there is no one there. She has local friends that she sails with, but she digs the energy when it gets crowded here. However, she enjoys online learning and does what she wants all day – Tom Sawyer’s whole life for her here.
Where have you stayed with your daughter?
I have lived with the same family in Nias for decades, so being with them is like being with family. They have a host family and we stay in the front house overlooking the wave and the family lives in the back in their own house. In Bali, we stay in Bingin… paradise.
Do you have any regrets for staying so long?
The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring more wax to Nias. I pissed off a lot of my loved ones when I made the selfish surfer decision to stay, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
“The number of waves and tubes is probably 20 times more than a normal season,” said Reilly, as evidenced by the edit above. Video : @_JoshSaunders_
Problems while you’re there?
I have had some concerns over the past few months. My wallet is gone and it’s a disaster trying to deal with my bank in San Diego and get new cards here. Additionally, Emma was hit by a board and had to stitches and staples in her leg and got out of the water a bit.
But the craziest thing that happened was I got hit by a police truck. Seriously, I was riding my motorbike in Nias and a police truck tried to pass me and hooked me up. I went off the bike and got seriously injured. I ended up on the ground and there were so many people around me screaming. They took me to a store and laid me down. My helmet was cracked and I was bleeding. But my head was fine, and no bones were sticking out, so I just wanted to get out of there.
They were trying to get me to the hospital, but I just wanted to go home. I ended up going home and realized I was quite hurt. My ankle and foot were totally swollen, my hip and knee were damaged. Too bad, it is that there was a strong swell in a few days, so I did not get out of bed for four days. I just lay there and froze my wounds as much as I could. The swell came and it was perfect. People laugh at me and still laugh at me when they talk about me hobbling in the water to surf. I could barely walk, but I was going all the way to the water and paddling and managed to get a few good ones, but it was in great pain. Fucking police car!
Do you plan to come back soon?
COVID has my school online for the first semester, so no plans to come home. I hope for another swell or two and then a good rainy season. I miss the black surfing in winter and good Mexican food, but I think we’ll stay put as long as we can and keep surfing empty waves.