Catching up with Richard Kotch
Renowned photographer and former Lohis Surf program manager, Richard Kotch, recently re-joined World Surfaris as one of our surf travel experts. We caught up with Richard for this month’s Stoked article.
WS: Hey Rich, great to have back onboard the team at World Surfaris!
R: Thanks Steve, I’m stoked to be back.
WS: So Rich, how did you get into the surf tourism industry?
R: From the early 2000’s I’d been spending a lot of time in Indo and I’d made some good contacts. I wasn’t working exactly, but I’d regularly spend time on charter boats in the Ments – just helping out in exchange for surf time. One of my Indo contacts introduced me to one of the original Lohis guides – Jeff Sikand…Jeff came to stay with me one summer in NZ, and then a year later Jeff hooked me up to visit him in the Maldives. I ended up staying for a while on ‘mates rates’ and really got to know the North Male area.
The next year I was in La Libertad in El Salvadore, it’s funny, back then I’d probably had an email address for a year or so, and I’d check it once a month if that. One flat day I was sitting in a dinghy little cafe drinking dirty coffee whilst checking my emails, and I found one from World Surfaris asking me if I wanted to take over from Jeff at Lohis. To say I jumped at it is an understatement.
WS: You spent 13 years at Lohifushi/ Hudhuranfushi Resort and managed one of the best surf programs in the world – what were some of the highlights and what are some of the challenges of keeping things running day in, day out at a busy surf resort?
R: The biggest highlight was meeting Amy in the surf at Jails! But also high on the highlight list are all the epic guests we met – crew that we are still in contact with now, who came year after year. I really enjoyed the diversity of guests and I found their success stories inspiring. Of course it goes without saying that the waves are a major highlight…over the years we had some memorable sessions.
There are constant challenges in any area of hospitality, and once you add in a variable like surf conditions it can get very tricky, but generally Lohis was a good place to be based because it’s just so consistent. Over my time at Lohis I was in regular contact with the guides at other resorts in the Maldives, and the hardest thing for them was when they had a full camp but no waves…whereas Lohis made it easier for us to keep the guests stoked because it’s so reliable – you can pretty much surf every day of the season. Consistency can lead to burn out though so I had to ensure that our guides looked at each day through the eyes of a new guest. No matter how good the surf had been yesterday or last week, each new day was the first day of someone’s dream surf trip, so I expected our guides to be up and at it and amped to show the guests a good time.
WS: COVID has been a rollercoaster for everyone in the surf tourism industry, where are you guys now and how have the last 18 odd months been for you and the family?
R: The last 18 months have been interesting. It has sucked not having a pay cheque for so long, but I feel that we have been through some great, character building experiences that I wouldn’t change if I could. We were in NZ in February 2020, then we flew back to the Maldives to start work in March. We had guests in March but we soon realized that the resort was going to close. By May the resort had closed and was being used as a quarantine facility. Looking back it was a really strange experience – knowing that we were living on an island where anyone who was a Covid contact was brought to. I remember watching the sea ambulance coming and going out of the harbor with new patients and thinking about how much I enjoyed going to the arrival jetty to meet new guests.
It was tough on Curren – our boy. He didn’t see another kid for 6 or 7 months, but he did see a lot of people in full on head-to-toe PPE gear. Our biggest job during this time was to shield him from fear.
After the quarantine facility closed we had to wait a couple months before we were allowed to leave, but then we moved up the coast to Thulusdhoo (Cokes) where we rented a little house and re-connected with our good friends there (and scored a couple late season swells) Curren loved it and had a great time with the local kids.
In December we were offered a job in Sumba, somewhere I had always wanted to visit, and as our Maldivian work permit was expiring and it was still relatively easy to get into Indo, we said yes to the job.
Sumba was awesome and we were settling in nicely when Indo went into strict lockdowns and travel became much harder. Within days guests stopped coming. Long story short, we are now living at Lakey Peak in Sumbawa – somewhere I first visited in 1990. We’ve got a great community here and fun waves. Stoke levels are high and I’m really enjoying being back on the WS team and answering questions about my favorite subject!
WS: As a renowned photographer who’s travelled the globe, you’ve spent a lot of time shooting some of the best waves on the planet. What have been your most memorable sessions behind the lens?
R: Probably P-Pass on some of those big, crazy days. Fillepe Toledo at Lohis was remarkable!
WS: We’re all hoping that 2022 will see a broader resumption of international travel – anywhere you hanging to get back to?
R: I’m really keen to catch up with Allois at P-Pass. Amy and I spent four seasons helping out there but I was shooting 99% of the time so never properly connected with it as a surfer. Plus I love the fishing. Funnily enough we are also super keen to go back to Lohis for a visit. We never really said goodbye to the place or the people. I’ve got some great friends booked in there for August 2022 so we might just call in for a visit.
Thanks Rich, we are looking forward to catching up in person in 2022!
You can contact Richard at email@example.com if you’d like to plan a 2022 surf trip!