During this whole COVID thing, and related lockdowns, we’ve heard a number of horror stories about people getting stuck abroad. For surfers, however, the inability to travel home has been a different story. Historic swell seasons and (nearly) empty lineups, come to mind.
Just a few of those stories we’ve heard include the UK surfer who got trapped in Bali, the family stranded in the Maldives, and a handful of dispatches from a crew waiting out the pandemic in the Mentawais during historically epic surf – see here, here, and here.
And now, we have another one: Julian Werts, an American surfer who calls South Africa home, who has been stuck in Indonesia since practically the beginning of the year. We caught up with Werts below to hear about the journey he’s been on and, of course, the waves he’s been scoring.
When did you leave South Africa and what was the plan?
I left South Africa on January 28. The initial plan was to do a three-month trip. I did one month in Indonesia, in Ubud and Sumbawa, and I then flew to Thailand for three weeks. It was around March 18 when I came back into Indonesia. I had two boat trips lined up. One of them was going to Enggano Island and another one up to the Banyaks.
Sounds like it was quite the ambitious trip.
It was always going to be a slow trip, though. I was going to go to Sumbawa for 10 days. The plan was to go surf Yoyos and maybe get a little Supersuck if I was lucky. That was supposed to last until the end of March. The Enggano trip was for April I was going to hang around in a little warung with Supersuck as my view until the end of March. After that I was going to go on the Enggano boat trip in April.
Then what happened?
They closed the borders, everything got canceled, I got shut-in, and I stayed at Supersuck for four months. Pigdog heaven.
So, four months of grabbing your rail. Then what?
I came down to Bali and lucked into a little mansion above Padang. It’s pretty cool, sickest views. To stay on in the country, I have to get a social visa for six months. I can’t get into South Africa until February, according to the government, so I am officially homeless. But it’s pretty good right here. And there are girls around. There are a lot more around than there are back home.
Talk about that little warung above Supersuck – you had a balcony with a view and a hammock to chill on, right?
I spent four hours every day on that hammock, for 120 days. That’s 480 hours of hammock time, I’m proud to say. I had a lot of time to think about things.
Did you ever feel stressed about the situation? At one stage the Indonesia cops went quite hard on people during the lockdown.
Yes, there was some stress. There still is quite a bit, as Java seems to be increasing at about 2,000 cases a day. In the beginning, we were told to only go surf, or stay in our accommodations. Then things seemed to loosen up a little.
Do you think you would have made the decision to enter Indo the second time if you knew what was coming?
Maybe not, but I’m glad I did. Four months of Supersuck with only 10 guys as opposed to 60-80 surfers in the hood.
What’s it like in Bali? Still as quiet as it was over the lockdown, or are there people moving around again?
Bali is almost back to normal on the Bukit. It’s tranquil, but everything is open and really lovely. It’s like going into a time warp back to 1982. There’s a friendly vibe around though. It’s like a big family here at the moment, and everyone knows each other. Accommodations are, for the most part, totally dead. There are usually thousands of people around here at this time of the year. Everybody is just eking a living. The locals are having it quite tough but there does seem to be loads of support. It’s super uncrowded in the surf though, and totally mellow vibes in the water every day.
Do you have any regrets about going to Indonesia or about leaving loved ones at the time?
It wasn’t really a decision, it was thrust upon me, so I couldn’t really have any regrets. Overall, I’d say that I lucked out and by chance got stuck in one of the best places on the planet for a surfer to be stuck. The thing is, like this disease, the future is so unknown, so live in the present and soak up every beautiful moment.
Quite a ride so far, and you have until February inside the country. What’s next?
Well, we’re off to the Mentawai’s. There’s a South African boat heading up there, and there is no one around. The breaks around the Playground are all empty.
You know that when international travel opens up, so many people are going to go be heading to Indo again.
I know. I’ll be done by then, and I’ll go home just as everyone leaves.
This interview originally appeared on magicsseaweed.