It was time to go. The penance was done, the bitterness was over, and I wanted to go surfing again. In our squat in London, Dollis Hill, N3, 1996, there was talk of Indonesia, but Nias was beckoning.
For perspective, the first surfers to discover the wave called Nias at Lagundri Bay was young Australian surf explorers Kevin Lovett, Peter Troy and John Giesel in 1975. Back then, they were the only visitors, a local family quickly built them a losman, and that was the beginning of the surfing settlement of Lagundri Bay. The village grew around surfing.
It was an overnighter flight from London to Singapore, then a quick connecting flight from Singapore to Medan. With a backpack and a three-boards, board bag, I put my head down and strode confidently out of the airport.
The temperature hit me at the same moment as a frenzied cluster of Indonesian men started bellowing. The humidity was a cuff by a wet blanket. Lonely Planet Guides were invaluable back then, but nothing can prepare for a bunch of seemingly aggressive foreigners shouting all at once in an incomprehensible language.
All I needed was a taxi, and all they wanted was to offer me a taxi, but the language barrier was insurmountable.
Eventually, a young Indonesian kid came and sat. We shared a cigarette. He indicated a lift in his dad's taxi to a friend's guesthouse, and I took it.
The guesthouse was small but clean, and there were bottles of water and kopi, as well as an icy shower. The next day I climbed on a bus for a fun jaunt over Sumatra to the western port of Sibolga.
After that, it was a day and a night and a day there in Sibolga. I was waiting for a ferry over to Nias, waiting for a ship to come in. A lurker was hanging around, who invited me to his house. At first glance, he seemed sly, but I trusted him immediately for some reason. It was the right call. He was cool, and he opened up his house and put on a Bollywood karate channel.
There was no eating, just a few bottles of boiled water. The food was unrecognizable, and the risk of a stomach problem was lurking. I slept on the floor. The next day he put me on the ferry, destination Sorake.
It was the wrong ferry, and I ended up at Gunungsitoli, to the north of Nias. Sorake Beach was in the south. A taxi offered transport, and we headed down south. It was drizzling, the road was shoddy, with crude bridges made out of logs and planks, and it took us four hours.
On arrival at Lagundri Bay, it was clear that accommodation at Nias was never going to be a challenge. Losmens were littering the bay.
The waves were small. I found my losman, and fell into the deepest of sleep. The next morning the waves were six-foot on the point, and there were a few guys out. It was a relaxed paddle out with hair dry through the keyhole, before gradually drifting over to the sweetest of takeoff spots.
At six-foot, Nias is perfect, and a multitude of surfers got pitted several times. Drudging, as a construction labourer in London, had done little towards surf fitness and bravado. A wide swinger and a wobbly ride to the inside was my low-key debut in paradise.
The next morning was small, and flawless two-footers waves were reeling down Kiddies Corner. Just what I needed to restore the fitness and to reignite the fire.
Looking back at the bay from the lineup, the shoreline looked ancient, like it was from a history book. Smoke rose in tendrils from all the rickety losmans, small brown people walked the inside path along the shoreline, and it was business as usual at one of the greatest surf spots in Indonesia. I stayed for a full 2 months.